Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What a Mess

Houses are money sinks. Just when you get something fixed, something else needs your attention. This year, I've been lucky to find people willing to do things I can no longer do. One of those things was cleaning the gutters.

Prior to May, I don't remember when I last had them cleaned. On the north end of the house, in the front, small trees had taken root. Birds loved the gutters because bugs moved in. I would hear them digging around and would see the flying of debris as they emptied a spot and ate the insects. Squirrels had also taken to burying nuts in the gutters. I could always tell when this happened by what I'd find on the deck or front porch.

I kept telling myself that it didn't take much to get up there and clean them out. I have a ladder. I would just need to get some latex gloves to put under a pair of garden gloves I really didn't like very much and I could clean out the gutter myself. But climbing a ladder is difficult. I feel so unstable now and the need to climb to the top of the ladder made me very uneasy. I can wash windows because it's 2-3 rungs, but climbing 4-5 was a problem. Fortuitously, Pam was given a flyer from the son of one of her co-workers. He would clean gutters and do other yard work, including mowing and weeding. I took him up on the gutter cleaning.

What a mess.

It was a rainy afternoon when he showed up. I told him he could postpone the job but he said he was going to get wet anyway so rain didn't matter. This was the debris in the gutter section over the door. It was nasty; black and decaying. The smell was "ripe". He had a power washer and, after removing the debris from the gutters, cleaned the front steps and the deck. It took him a couple passes to clear everything off. In washing down the deck chair, he actually cleaned it. I was impressed.

The next day, I used power scrub for one final pass.

I didn't get the deck sealed, I just had too much to do this summer and I actually wanted to use my deck; sit on it, enjoy myself, and not spend a weekend painting. It needs to be sealed and it needs another thorough power washing.

The best part is that the heavy rains of the summer have actually gone into the gutters and down the downspouts as they are supposed to do, not slide straight off the roof. If the gutters are clear, a heavy rain helps to flush out any debris which might accumulate. The pine trees on the north side of the house sluff needles in May and that can clog gutters if there is anything in them. This year, nope. My gutters are clear at the start of fall. I probably should look them over before winter, once all the leaves have fallen, just to be sure. Clean your gutters, folks. You'll thank yourself even if the squirrels complain they have no easy place to bury food for the winter.

Beverage:  Water


A Hearty Recommendation

With the clearing of the trash trees off the north and northwest sides of the house, I had a wide open section of yard to do something with. The first thing was to get top soil and mushroom compost and even out the land.

There were rather large holes under the downspout, where overgrown bushes were removed. I decided I wanted a raised bed here; something small-ish which would handle peppers and fit in this space. I searched all sorts of places which came up when Googling "raised beds". That can be something of a rabbit hole. Would you like the Cadillac of raised beds, lacking only a gardener to tend it for you, or would you like something which looks like two squirrels slapped it together with help from a chipmunk? And pieces; lots and lots of pieces. If you are the handy sort, you probably could design your bed and just buy pieces. Me? Not so much. I needed a kit. I just wanted something I could assemble and move into place, which would fit in the spot by the downspout. Those tiger lilies, with the trash gone, will just go everywhere.

I found a bed at Home Depot. The bed is by New Tech Wood. The current price is not what I paid for it back in mid-March. I settled on this bed and then watched sales and coupons. I think I spent $50 for it and I feel that's a very good price.

Shall we talk about how it comes?

Is this a box or is this a box? I came home in late April to see this sitting on the front porch. It was a bit heavy to pull inside, but there's my raised bed. I put it together the weekend after it arrived. 

I dragged it out onto the deck and opened the box. 

Everything is contained and nicely packed for shipping. Nothing was loose. I dumped it out. 

My heart sank. Man, this is a lot of stuff. How was I going to put it together. There also were not printed instructions. There was a parts list, but nothing else. 

One of the benefits of technology is having video at your fingertips. A selling point of this bed was the video on the product description page. I watched that and felt I could assemble this without need of many tools and it would be light-weight enough I could put it together on the deck and move it to the spot in the yard where I wanted it. I have an iPad. I can watch that video, stop it, assemble and move on. 

My deck railing is just a bit smaller than the iPad, but it was fantastic to be able to watch and find the parts and move on. That's the bottom of the bed. Here's a close up.

I guess you'd call this "modular". The bottom pieces snap together and everything snaps onto or into everything else. 

When the bottom pieces are snapped together, you add the sides. You can see the sides have a distinctive shape to them. The walls will slide into the grooves on each side so you need to make sure you put the indentation the right way, not that I would have knowledge of putting them on wrong. (Oh look! A Squirrel.) 

Here you can see one of the sides in place. The plastic sheet goes over the bottom. It acts like landscape fabric in that it lets water drain out while keeping dirt in and weeds out. It just lies on top of the base.

The walls are held in place by pegs. 

One of the tools you need is a rubber mallet. This was the part which was the most frustrating. You need to line up holes in the wall with holes in the end posts, insert a peg and pound in the peg. I tried to do this while the bed was on the deck railing but until the sides are anchored, the bed would fall apart. 

You can see on the far right corner, one of the peg holes. It can be really tough for me to a) get down on the ground and then b) get up once I'm down there. Some comedian did a visual joke about that. He fell to the ground and a friend offered to help him get up. His response, "Wait. Wait. I'm seeing what else I can do now that I'm down here." There are days when that's exactly how I feel. I wound up sitting down and pounding the pegs into the holes. Here is the bed with the sides on. 

The last things to attach are the end caps. They needed a light tap with the hammer to snap into place. 

Once completed, it's rather light-weight and very sturdy. It was easy to carry it to the location where it's going to go. Here's the finished and filled product. 

I'm very pleased with it. I'll be posting photos of what I planted in the box. The cats weren't interested in the cardboard box, surprisingly. I think it might have been too big. I wound up cutting it into pieces and recycling it. I will be getting another this coming March and putting it on the other side of the downspout. This would be a great raised bed for small spaces, including decks.

Beverage:  Water


Sunday, October 9, 2016


Bohemian National Cemetery is a very peaceful place, even while being bordered by two of Chicago's busy streets. When I was inspecting the columbarium, I stood on the front steps and gazed around the grounds. The one thing I noticed, was the overabundance of tree headstones. This is the view looking northeast from the front steps.

Notice, within this view, there are two right of center. I found the amount of trees to be very intriguing. There is a tree in my dad's family.

My great-great-great uncle, Mathew Thompson, is buried under this. It's the only one in the Monona, Iowa city cemetery. I don't think the Lutheran cemetery has one. I have not been in the Catholic cemetery to know if one is there. I'd not seen another and then, driving through Bohemian, there were trees everywhere.

I was told they were used primarily by Eastern European people. I objected. "I have one in my family; my dad's side. They were Scottish, from northeast of Edinburgh." The historian looked at me. "That is very interesting." He mentioned a book a woman wrote roughly 7 years ago, about the trees in Bohemian National, but was unsure if you could find it anywhere. She had spent a couple of years photographing every tree in the cemetery. She also deciphered what the symbols carved onto the tree meant. He could not remember the name of it and didn't know if it was still available. I spent hours googling any kind of book and came up empty. He said it was a $45 book because it was filled with photos, but I'd pay $45 to have something like that.

If you google "tree headstones", you will find web sites with information about this symbolism. The historian at Bohemian National said, if I brought in a photo of the tree, he would be able to tell me what the symbols mean. That would be fantastic, but I only have this photo. I don't have side or back photos. Those were lost in the great computer melt-down of late 2011. I remember there being symbols carved all around this stone. Perhaps I have the photos stored on a CD, but I'm thinking that's unlikely. While everything is backed up today, it wasn't back then. I would need to go back to the cemetery and photograph the whole thing to present a better view for deciphering. I am very curious what the stone could be telling us that we don't know. Plus, I wonder how this compares to trees in Bohemian National.

Looks like I have a road trip in my future.

Beverage:  La Croix Berry Seltzer


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Think on This

While out and about, I come into contact with a lot of different jobs. Of course, my job provokes the "I didn't know that existed" response. But I run across other jobs which need to be done that I wasn't consciously aware of. Take this job.

You're going, "Huh?" and you can be forgiven for not having this job on your radar. According to the maintenance man, these are crematorium coffins. Bodies need to be placed in a receptacle when they are cremated and these coffins are made to be those receptacles. The whole thing is cremated. For people wishing a funeral with a body, these serve as the coffin. They are minimally decorated, just tasteful enough to resemble a much more expensive coffin. They are wrapped in plastic to keep them looking nice. In the van were 5 adult size and 2 child size. I think that's what got me, the 2 child size. But crematoriums need to have those on hand.

Somewhere, people make these. And some delivery service picked up a delivery and brought it to where I was. It was a plain panel van. They don't need a lot, just enough.

This is a necessary service but we don't think about it. When you pass on, someone will have created the casket in which your body will reside. My friend, Patt, has made arrangements for a plain wooden box, crafted by monks. You have to order these a long time in advance. She doesn't want the gigantic padded casket so took the planning into her own hands. A monk is making her casket. It will be ready for her and will need to be transported from there to wherever she is buried. Someone will have to do that.

These are the kinds of jobs which fly under the radar. If you've read this space for any length of time, you know I champion these kinds of jobs. To do them, you don't need a college education. It disappoints me when well-meaning professors release yet another study that says college grads earn x times more than high school grads. That's nice, but are college grads driving panel vans making deliveries of coffins to the places that need them?

When you're out and about, think, for a moment, about all the minimum wage jobs you encounter. Those jobs have to be done by someone. Those people should be accorded as much dignity as some lawyer or banker or movie star. I rather think if all the minimum wage people went on strike, we'd shut down, completely.

Think about that.

Beverage:  Cookies and Cream Cocoa


A New Goal

Next year, my little guild in World of Warcraft turns 10 years old. Lasting that long in a video game is notable. We need to do something as a guild, something big and splashy. So I put this to the guild's Facebook page. Things were suggested but what stuck was a Walt Disney World vacation.

I started talking with a guild member, Liz, who goes to Disney 3-4 times a year. The more we talked about the things we wanted to do, the more we explored resort properties, the more confusing the options became. It seems, with Disney, why have 5 options when you can have 45. Liz suggested we should look into Disney travel agent. Enter Hollie. She is paid by Disney so even if we don't have a huge number of people coming along or, if it was just me, she would still be paid to help with a trip. She helped me price out a vacation and, at the July meet-up, I gave a presentation.

The one thing we needed to decide was when did we want to go. The cheap time is January, the week after New Year's through the end of February. But, if we want to spend a bit more, we could go in March, when the Flower and Garden Festival is, or go in October, when the Food and Wine Festival AND Halloween run concurrently. Well, when presented with these options, it became a decision about how fast you could save the money and we decided October of 2017 was the best time.

The big attraction is the two festivals going on at the same time. You know that Disney will do Halloween fantastic. When I went to BlizzCon last year, Halloween was only at the Haunted Mansion. Christmas hadn't quite wandered in but Halloween had wandered out. We will be going at the height of the holiday. It's going to be exciting to see the decorations.  We're going to do Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Rides. Trick or Treat. A special parade and fireworks and the Magic Kingdom all to ourselves and anyone else who buys a ticket to the party.

And then there is the Food and Wine Festival.

Located at Epcot World Showcases, this is a celebration of food. The World Showcase part of Epcot is my favorite place at Disney World. Even with a lot of people in that section of the park, it is peaceful. I love to wander through all the countries and see what they have to offer.

During the festival, each country has food carts and special food indicative of their culture.

Having been to Disney World 4 times, one of the things I've wanted to do is "Eat Around the World", stop at each country and eat something at each country. With the festival going on in October, I can do this just by eating at the food carts stationed around the lagoon.

It took the summer to figure everything out on what I thought I would want. Hollie and I met in mid-September to go over possibilities, and, after looking at everything, she gave me a price and I put down a deposit. Now comes the saving.

I have to say I'm excited. A year ago, I was excited to go to BlizzCon. I spent a whole summer and most of a fall, saving for that trip, which included 2 days at Disneyland. This is going to be a whole week. I'm going with guild members; people I respect and whose company I relish. I'm going to be sharing a room with Liz. I admire and respect her and her company will make this that much more fun.

We will be going for a week in the middle of October. We looked at going as a group, but the group discounts didn't amount to much and Hollie said there are usually always discounts on things which we wouldn't be able to take advantage of if we're a group. So, we picked the days and then let everyone decide where they wanted to stay and what kinds of additions to their vacation they wanted.

In case you are wondering, WDW shut down this month for only the 7th time since opening, due to Hurricane Matthew. People who couldn't use tickets for events slated for Thursday night through Saturday morning, received compensation and/or had their tickets rescheduled for other days. The price of the resorts in October is one step above the base rate and two steps down from "We're going tomorrow and it's Christmas" rate. We were told this is primarily because October still has the potential for hurricanes raining, literally, on your parade. I told guild members Hurricane Matthew is a good example of why trip insurance is a very good idea.

Liz and I are going to stay at the Port of Orleans, French Quarter resort.

It's a moderately priced resort and the theme is New Orleans French Quarter area; heavy on the jazz. I can't wait. They serve beignets at the cafe in the main building.

They won't be the Mickey beignets that the restaurant in the French Quarter of the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland had, but, beignets!

I've needed to make some decisions with regards to what we're going to do so people can plan. I'm arriving on a Saturday, so I've decided my "Eat Around the World" at World Showcase can start then. Liz assures me there will be ample credits from the middle priced food plan and I will be scrambling on the last day to use them up. I remain unconvinced, but, several of us are going to Epcot and will take turns buying snack items to share. I'm planning for needing cash for meals.

We're going to the Halloween party on Sunday evening, to give people a chance to get to WDW. A Halloween party ticket acts like park admission so we can go to the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 pm and get in. Costumes are encouraged, within reason, so we'll have to see what we can do about that. Eighty percent of the rides are open so I expect to cross most of my "must ride" off the list then.

I want a Character Breakfast and a final meal. Those were things I felt were important to me. What people did with the guild wasn't as important as those two things, such as going to the same parks or eating at the same restaurant. But people were coming in and leaving on different days so trying to schedule within those constraints was hard. I finally decided, as guild leader, I could pick the dates we'll go, as a guild, to breakfast and dinner and then hope that people can fit those things into their schedule. I also made the decision on where we're going to eat breakfast. Guild members decided they really wanted Goofy at our breakfast so I've settled on the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom on Monday. Look! Goofy!

Dinner is going to be a majority vote decision. Liz and I have looked at a wide variety of places. We're going to pick 4 and offer them to the group, with plusses and minuses for each place. Then, we'll let the group decide and that's where we'll go. We're going to do that on Friday night. I leave a week after arriving.

Also in my sights are a foot and leg massage, a Steam Train Tour, a fireworks cruise and game night on Wednesday night, where everyone will come to the French Quarter, if they aren't already staying there, and we'll play games. My feeling is that it's their money and outside of a few suggested things, they should spend it however they want. They don't have to come to anything I arrange. I hope they do, but it's not required. I feel requiring things takes all the fun out a special vacation like this. Ben and Natalie are engaged and may use this as their honeymoon. If they do, we have plans, oh boy. Wendy is going to rent a scooter as she has an issue walking a lot and you will walk, a lot. We've already decided to trick out her scooter.

So, that's the current savings goal. It's been kind of an expensive year so I'm very glad we decided to do this in October of next year. It's going to be such a fun time.

Beverage:  Cookies and Cream hot cocoa


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Things I See

Back in July, there was a rather large inspection project which started right when I got back from my Virginia vacation. Divided into two halves, I did the bulk of the inspection work which encompassed the Columbarium at Bohemian National Cemetery and a lot of homes on the far east end of the project. I've been in a lot of homes over my 16 years of doing this and I've seen a lot of stuff; some good, some bad, some horrible, some extremely interesting. I'm going to file this under the "I remember that" heading.

If you are a certain age, this might be vaguely familiar to you. The rest of you are going "Oh...my...god." Sears sold this wall paper at the end of the 60's and into the first couple of years of the 70's. I walked into her kitchen, where this is located, took one look and said one word, "Beatles". She gasped and said, "How do you know?" Truthfully, I don't know myself how I knew but I knew this was a) from Sears and b) inspired by the psychedelic phase of the Beatles, where Peter Max and Yellow Submarine reigned.

It was hard to put it up because it is plasticized. I remember Sears marketing this as easy to remove, back when removing wallpaper generally involved giving up and painting over it. You would not believe how many houses I find where that was the method decided upon to change the wall colors; paint over the wall paper because you couldn't get it off the wall.

The homeowner was living in the house her parents bought when they were newlyweds.  The original kitchen wall paper was yellowing and was stained in places with grease, but her parents weren't interested in removing it. "If you want to change the wallpaper," she remembers mom telling her, "you have to buy the new stuff, take down the old and put up the new on your own. I'm not helping because I don't care if it ever changes." She said she was fresh out of college, working in downtown Chicago at her very first job. She went to the Sears store on State Street, which was the flagship store of the whole chain and paged through the wallpaper books. She was a huge Beatles fan and Sears had a line of wallpapers inspired by the Beatles. She measured and bought enough, with one of her first paychecks, to redo the kitchen. This was in 1972.

The thing about this wallpaper, because it's plasticized, it wears like iron. I saw no fading anywhere and there is a big east window to the left. Oh there are corners which have come undone over the years but a little rubber cement will push those back into place. Grease and stains wipe right off it.

She said she sometimes thinks that she should pull it down and redo the kitchen, "...with maybe more tasteful wallpaper or, perhaps, just paint." She looked around. "But there is something about walking into this room and feeling like it's 40 years ago and I was so excited to show my parents that I could be responsible and do something for the house. How kind they were to let me put this up when I know my mother thought I was nuts. It's a link to them."

Perhaps, if she wanted to, she could pull it down and sell it on eBay for a princely sum. We looked at a seam which had come loose and it seems that a slow tug would get each strip off the wall in one piece. "You probably could make a lot of money since this kind of thing is worth a lot," I agreed. "But what would you lose in the process?" She smiled. "You get it," she said. This wallpaper represents something much more, something that repainting in a lovely buttercup yellow isn't going to capture.

Beverage:  Water


Got Me

I'm working on a long-term project. I won't start in earnest until the after-Christmas sales, but we'll say it involves a Halloween costume pattern and fabric. As Halloween patterns are on sale right now PLUS I had coupons, I entered JoAnn Fabrics last Sunday with the blinders on to get one pattern and one pattern only.

Yeah, that didn't go so well.

The cat print was on the end of a row of splashy Halloween fabric. The way this particular store is laid out, you're going to see brightly colored, distinctive fabrics when you walk in. In the store where I take my stuff to be framed, I would not have seen this, but I wasn't going all the way up there for a pattern, when I knew my local JoAnn's would have it.

I resisted for about 10 minutes. I actually had to pull up the costume pattern and look at it, to make sure it will do what I need to have done. And then I started paging through the Simplicity book, looking at shirts. I have an ancient camp shirt pattern which I've used for a wide variety of shirts, but I had no idea how much material it took and there was nothing like it in any of the books. There was one shirt I liked mainly because of the location of the pockets. But the variation I really wanted, long torso and elbow-length sleeves, did not have a fabric amount on the back. I'm no good at estimating the amount of fabric needed. Here was this kimono-themed jacket. It's not lined and it's reasonably simple to assemble. There was a variation for contrasting trim. I liked the look of the pattern.

Now, Pam was not around to talk me out of this purchase. I was running errands on this date; groceries, Target, JoAnn, cat food. Probably, both the pattern and the fabric will be around at the end of December, but I could make this and have it for my trip to Virginia at the end of November. I'm going to do the contrasting trim in black satin. I almost bought blanket edging, instead of the satin, but I wasn't sure how it would work around the neck. The pattern piece is curved to accommodate the neck line. Blanket satin is not.

So, I am testament to the power of putting eye-catching items on the end of a row. The gal helping me liked this material as much as I did. I could see this as a vest with a quilted lining, since you can buy quilted fabric now. Add a gold shirt and a bow tie, topping the look off with a top hat and a cane, and you have a Halloween costume. I'd probably wear the vest year-round.

I need to make room on the table in the living room to cut this out and get it made. We won't talk about the boxes of fabric in the closet.

Beverage:  Water


Oh Heck No

I was nearly out of cereal so a saunter down that aisle of the grocery was in order. I tend to buy what's on sale although not all the time. Cheerios seems to be perennially on the sale list in a variety of sizes but, as much as I like Cheerios, I'm not interested in eating only little oat circles. I'll look for one box of something interesting and buy a couple of boxes of sale stuff.

It's fall. When did that happen? Man, I could have thought we'd just gotten through July and here it is, the first week of October. Trying to make the memories and time last seems to speed it up. But fall brings apples and, horrifically, pumpkin. In addition to the large squashes placed strategically by the entry to the grocery, pumpkin-flavored this and that is in almost every aisle, even in cereal. Have you see these?

Now, you know I will eat things just so you don't have to, but, folks, I'm drawing the line, right here, right now. Nope. No way. I like both Special K and Mini-Wheats, but there is just no way I'm buying either of those in a pumpkin flavor to try them. You do know neither of these is flavored with real pumpkin, right? These are chemically created pumpkin flavors. There's no health benefit from real pumpkin here. It's another way to part you from your hard earned greenbacks. Be strong. Don't succumb. 

That being said, I might, if it goes on sale, try the apple cinnamon Special K. I'm old enough to remember when Post put out cereals in square boxes. Designed, they said, to fit better into a cupboard, they had freeze dried fruit in them. I remember apples and strawberries for sure. I can't find when they came out or what were some of the names of the cereal but I remember them in our pantry. It was situated under the stairs to the second floor and the shelves were not very wide. The square boxes were a boon to us and we could have a variety of cereals and not have them take up as much space. Alas, consumers thought the change to the shape equalled a change in the amount contained in a box and these disappeared after 3-4 years. Freeze dried fruit bits have never really gone away so I expect the apple cinnamon's fruit will be the same kind of thing. 

I read an article last month which said manufacturers introduce dozens of new cereals every year. You might think your grocery has all of them, but quite a few are for specific regions of the country and you won't see them. Cereal is a very cutthroat business and manufacturers don't make a lot of money on a box. This is why many cereal producers snapped up beverages, pastas sauces and crackers. With food trends heading toward non-GMO's and protein, you can expect to see more, not less, specialty cereals vying for space on the shelves. 

If only they'd bring back Kaboom. 

Beverage:  Water