Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yule Blog

Our Christmas update is below. If you prefer it in a more traditional Christmas-cardy look, click the pic below for a full-size greeting-card style text. Otherwise, scroll down for our Christmas blog.

The Year of the House

It's been a pretty outstanding year for the Ménage à M. We finally became homeowners, buying a dear little early-20c. farmhouse in Elgin last March. It's got a stone façade, almost half an acre of land, and 9½-ft ceilings. We've spent almost all our free time, money, and energy refurbishing it, from floor to ceiling. And although by now I've now got latex paint instead of blood running through my veins, we're nowhere near done.

Fortunately, we've had a lot of support from our friends and family. One of the really neat things about our house is that every room has been touched by someone's generosity, from the Fulda's paint to Mattchew & Bianca's herb garden, Keith's outlets, Kate's yellow closets, Cathy's trim, Ladonna's curtains, Chuck's electrical work, and Mom and Dad's antique doors.

In light of this DIY frenzy, it's fortunate that I found a new job. No more red shoes! My old contracting company called me up and offered me a permanent position. I'm now with a much more flexible, creative, and versatile company, working on technologically hip projects. No more lacerating my self-respect every day in a toxic atmosphere of fear and mismanagement! It's a good thing. And the pay is better, which helps with all the new light fixtures and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Matt's managing a landscape crew at a home for the cognitively challenged. His job involves training the residents, and he really gets a kick out of working with them, in spite (or perhaps because?) of all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Which is a good thing, because his ongoing quest to find a job with competent, sane management seems doomed to failure. So at least there are compensations.

He's also been working on his business, which now has a name and website (—check out the cool logo our friend Linda made for us). He's been moving part of his growing operation to Elgin and is finishing a greenhouse in the back yard. In addition, Mom and Dad gave him their old Jeep and he bought a trailer, so all in all it's been a good year for the infrastructure.

This year we also got our first pet, a slightly deranged polydactyl kitten named Po. He's a very cute little tabby with giant clodhopper feet and, apparently, voices in his head. That's okay. We like him like that.

Preternaturally well-adjusted, Stepford-sounding holiday newsletters really creep me out, so I'll just mention that on the down side, we got carpenter ants this year, we gouged a few planks of our new bamboo floors, I'm still allergic to housework, and Matt still won't eat his vegetables.

We hope you have a warm and happy holiday season!


Matt and Mel

To Do Before Xmas

Okay, as blog entries go, this one is pretty lame. But I need a central location to track everything I think I'm going to do in the next 5 days (ha!):

  • Paint furring strip in bathroom
  • Touch up living room baseboards
  • Clean upstairs carpet
  • Sort out guest room
  • More edging/mulch?
  • Prep xmas food for Vests/Ulrichs
  • Paint dining room ceiling
  • Move baseboards to hall
  • Install quarter-round
  • vacuum sofa
  • clean guest bath
  • Remove Poindexter's nub (heh heh.Actually just part of a door renovation project)
  • Move outdoor fridge
  • Move plants to orangery
  • Bathe cat
  • Clean study
  • Pick up linens
  • Clean indoor fridge
  • Install guest sink
  • Install guest toilet
  • Install guest tub

Once again, I have latex in my hair. I've been working on painting some baseboards that I had somehow never gotten to before. In the den, this entails painting around and under the Christmas tree, so you can imagine the opportunities for smearing latex all over the place.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Season of Mists and Malevolent Fungalness

Up till around 9am today, I would have said that this was a pretty darn good weekend. Let's start with the good stuff.

Turkey Fryers for Everyone!

Care to fry a turkey? Or three? Bonus points if you can spot the naughty kitty.

I ordered a turkey fryer for Matt for Christmas. As of last night, three turkey-frying sets had shown up on our front door step. I had initially ordered a set from 1 company who told me that the model I wanted had been discontinued. So then I ordered a different model from a 2nd company. Apparently, the first company found a couple of the discontinued units and mailed the to me anyway (Why 2 though? No one knows). Meanwhile, the second company shipped me their model. I'm supposed to mail the first 2 back (and get a reimbursement) but until then, if you have an urgent need to fry 3 large turkeys all at once, you know whom to call.

A juvenile aside: check out the logo from company #1. Is that as wrong as I think it is?

I'm not sure this is legal in Texas.

Let There Be Light
Matt installed the new dimmer switch for our chandelier and got everything up and running. It looks terrific, I think. We still have to patch the sheet rock, but this project is very close to happy completion.

Our new chandelier

You can also see in this picture that I've finally pulled down the tissue paper we'd been using as curtains. As a temporary but less objectionable solution, I draped a couple of panels from previous residences over suspension rods. It's less déclassé than the paper, and it should hold us through late spring, when I will (hopefully) be able to buy custom shutters.

At the same time, I dragged out all the Christmas stuff and altered it to fit the new house--we have garland out front with twinkle lights and faux luminaries (I have mixed feelings about these, but they were just so much more practical than the real thing. And Santa Fe uses faux luminaries, so I guess if they're good enough for Santa Fe, they should be good enough for me and Elgin.) So the house is looking all pretty and illuminated.

Our modest Christmas decorations

New Knobs
It is a curious fact that the four exterior doors on our house are not keyed to the same keys. In fact, the deadbolts and knobs on some of the individual doors don't even match each other. When we moved in, we were given a key that opens the kitchen knob and the living room bolt and that's it. The rest of the locks effectively operate as deadbolts. We could have just gotten everything re-keyed, but they were also in mis-matched finishes, and none of the finishes were at all stylish, so we are instead replacing them.

So on Saturday we picked up our first installment of brand-new knobs and bolts in utterly au courant oil-rubbed bronze finish. The installation was more or less painless, and our house is now that much more genteel.

A new knob

The Orangery
Meanwhile, the Orangery is making good progress. Matt used pipes from the old hurricane fence that he had dismantled as the frame and today attached PVC pipes to hold up the roof. He'll hopefully have it covered by tonight, keeping our citruses and his propagules nice and warm.

In future years, we hope to build a more permanent structure out of cinderblocks and recycled windows (following the example at the San Antonio Antique Rose Emporium and the smaller, cuter version at the Independence ARE), but this early prototype will do for this winter.

...And that brings me to the bad news.

Rose Death
That horrible fungus that attacked the roses earlier this summer has returned. I noticed this morning that our lovely mystery red rose had a bunch of dead stems; when I investigated the rest of the garden, I found signs of this supercharged canker/dieback on most of the roses. Some were minor; I could just cut back the stems and the plants will probably be good as new. But some of them had developed fungus in those little short stems right near the crown; I can cut off the stems, but the fungus has probably already begun to invade the rest of the plant through the crown.

The mystery rose was pretty far gone; I didn't really have any choice but to dig it up. I did take some cuttings from the healthy side of the plant, but I think we need to be prepared for the worst. In imminent danger due to the location of the canker on the plants are one of the Cramoisu Superieurs, Graham Thomas, both Duchers, Buff Beauty, and one of the Green Ices.

I also dug up the roses that had already died this year (which I obviously should have done a long time ago). Here's a roll-call of the honorable dead:
2 gorgeous red cabbagey mystery roses
1 Spice

1 the pink miniature that John & Ann gave us (neighbors back at Wolverton)

1 Belinda's Dream
1 Climbing Peace
1 Penelope
1 Will Fleming yaupon (possible victim of same disease)

The only roses that appear untouched are the neat striped rose that was here when we moved in and the thrice-accursed Knockout. I know I shouldn't hate Knockout. I mean, how perverse is it to resent a plant on the grounds that it is healthy, has an attractive form, and blooms constantly? Particularly as these are the same reasons I love roses like Mutabilis, Cramoisi, and Old Blush. But it's such a strident shade of pink, and the flower form is so bleh; and because it blooms so much, it feels somehow artificial. It's not a sincere rose, like those old-school Chinas that I love. Which is perfectly ridiculous and utterly Luddite, but there's nothing I can do about it. I don't like Knockout, and I don't think I ever will. Although in 6 months' time, it may be the only rose left in my garden.

In other News of the Weird...

The Ladybugs are Swarming
I didn't know ladybugs could swarm, but they're crawling all over the kitchen and study doors (perhaps they came to admire the new knob and bolt in stylish oil-rubbed bronze?). We also have some 2 or 3 dozen inside the doors, which conclusively answers the question, "Are my exterior doors weatherproof?" They're not even laydbugproof, so I guess fixing the weatherstripping and trim around our doors needs to go on my to-do list.

Many, many ladybugs inside the house

Hmmm... hadn't quite realized how this pic would show off the remaining tissue paper shades... A little shaming. The study is the last untamed room. Everything else had assumed some kind of order and has moved on from the tissue paper stage; the study is still a bit of a wilderness. I'll get to working on that... sooner or later.
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