Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fireplace Progress

We've got our first two layers of paint on the new fireplace. I'll put on a third layer tomorrow or Friday, and then we can move our books in. Hurrah for new bookshelves!

The bare parts are where the tiles are going to go.

Weirdly, neither of the two plumbers I've left vmails with have called me back about hooking this thing up. Not sure what to make of that. Also, we can't put in the tile until the gas is hooked up, so plumberly coyness is putting the whole project on hold. (Except for the painting, naturally. In my dreams I see sinister black-robed paint cans aspirating, "Luuuke, I am your destiny...")

Still need to order the tile, as well. Have narrowed it down to two suppliers--just need to make time to wrap up the deal. Will be Mexican brown glazed squares with sort of blotchy, Arts-and-Crafts-Movement-y coloring.

And also, Matt needs to install an outlet in one of the bookshelves into which we can plug the fireplace's fan unit.

So, there remains much to do on this one. But just installing the books on the shelves will be pretty thrilling.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Snuggle On Over

The new fireplace

Exciting weekend.

Javier (of JD Woodworks) built us a surround for the gas fireplace we bought as our mutual Christmas present. I'm amazed at how fast he works: on Wednesday, he came out to finalize the plan & the measurements, on Thursday/Friday he and his guys built it, and on Sunday, he installed it. Badda bing. Handsome, no?

The middle section, awaiting installation

Now I have to paint it (being the resident Painter Laureaute of Chez M), have a plumber hook it up, and get it tiled. And then--ahhh!--sweet warmth! Defrosting my poor chillblained toes. No remote control, unfortunately. We're going to actually have to get up, walk to the fireplace, and manually turn the thing on or off. Uf! Still worth it, though. Plus, it looks nice.

You may remember that in my original plan for the fireplace, I wanted it to go in the corner. However, our room is not very large, and when you add in the tile surround and mantlepiece, the whole thing would take up a really disproportionately large triangle of space. Plus, there was no room for a bookcase between the fireplace and the window--that was the clincher. So there was a bit of a design change, but I think it otherwise looks much like the plan, allowing for some adjustments in proportions.

While Javier was here, we also had him hang the last three antique doors from Mom & Dad. They still need more paint removed, not to mention staining and varnishing, but we wanted to have as much done at once as we could. Even in their present raw state, they look miles better than the dinky styrofoam things they are replacing. And the hinges--they look so much like real hinges.

Oh, yeah--and some day we need to replace the baseboards in the master bedroom. Kinda forgot about that till I saw this picture.

Meanwhile, in all things woodworky, Matt's been working on other baseboards around the house--he finished installing quarter-round in the dining room, caulked it in, and even painted it (he hates painting).

And, most impressively from a DIY perspective, he has begun hanging gutters on the house. We tested them this afternoon, and they transported water beautifully. The wooden windows and doorframes of our house will be so grateful.

Next step: trim ends and install downspouts.

I asked Matt if he had learned anything about hanging gutters to share with the blogly audience. He said:

(1) Be sure to give them enough grade or the water will sit.
(2) Drill and install the nails into each gutter piece before hanging.
(3) If you're working by yourself, hang each piece of gutter by its middle nail first.

So there you are.

Et voilà! Water coming out of the gutters (at the end, as is preferable)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I've Learned about Fuel Efficiency from My New Car

2010 Honda Insight

So this is going to be a slight departure from our usual house-garden-food trifecta, but I figured it'd be useful to document. At least for me, if not for anyone else.

As I mentioned previously, I recently bought a Honda Insight (hybrid), and it comes with all this exciting and glowy instrumentation to tell me when I'm driving efficiently and when I'm not. For example, the speedometer changes from green (good) to a sort of Gillette-shaving-gel-aqua (okay) to cobalt blue (bad).

In addition, there's a little bar chart that shrinks and grows to tell me my current mileage while also displaying my overall mileage for the current tank of gas.

If I drive well, I get some little plants at the end. A history of good driving gets me more plants, with increasing numbers of leaves, then with flowers, and then I finally get a trophy and a new dinette set. (No, not that last one.) Everyone I describe this to grimaces at what they presumably consider the unbearable twee-ness of it all, but you have no idea how quickly you start wanting to propitiate the computer.

The speedometer is cobalt, and the driver only got 2.5 plants. Apparently, she/he sucks. And is driving in British for some reason--what's with the kilometers? My car displays in good old, red-blooded, apple-pie consuming miles. Yeah.

And here is what I've learned.

(1) Acceleration sucks. (Gasoline, that is. Har, har.) I knew that stops and starts were bad for mileage, but I didn't realize how bad, nor did I realize that seemingly modest and leisurely increases in speed while cruising could have such a bad effect on one's mileage. For good mileage, accelerate slowly. I mean really, really slowly. Pull into the slow lane and let all those speedsters in the fast lane blast off without you while you put-put along like Goofy in his Model T.

Oui, oui! Regarde bien la tactique!

(2) Use your declivities. You can accelerate going downhill with far less pain to your mileage than at any other time, so make use of your downhills to get your speed back up if you've had to slow down for any reason (like trying to climb up the other side of that hill).

(3) Plan for your inclines. If you know you've got one coming, get the car up a few mph over your desired speed so that when you start climbing you can ease off the accelerator just a hair. Also, be willing to drop below your desired speed by 3-5 mph--if you pre-plan and accept a little speed reduction, you can often stay in the green on almost the entire incline of a modest little Elgin-sized hill.

(4) Embrace the long, slow, glide. Mileage a little lower than you'd like? Consarned stop light approaching? Take your foot off the gas well in advance of the light--as your car coasts, you get wickedly good mileage than can pad your overall score. Just don't blow it all accelerating on the other side of the light.

(5) Look ahead. Both the inclines and the glides require a lot of lead time if you want to use them to best effect--look far ahead on the road so you can adjust your driving early.

(6) Accept variability. If you attempt to go a steady 65 mph, for example, hastily accelerating after slow downs and pushing it on hills to stay up to speed, you'll blow your mileage. Accept slow downs, recover from them slowly, and don't fight hills. Cruise control is not your friend.

(7) Spend some quality time in the slow lane--your fellow slow lane drivers are a lot more patient with your fluctuating speeds, slowness on green lights, and creeping up hills than those crazy kids in the fast lane. On a straight, flat stretch of road that isn't too crowded, you can very comfortably hang out in the fast lane. During slow-n-go traffic or over hills, though, you're apt to have speedracers nipping at your bumper if you don't pull into the slow lane.

Objectively, these sound--even to me--like intolerable driving practices. I'm impatient. I've got a lot of ground to cover between home and work. I don't need any Sunday-driving lollygaggers clogging up the already glacially slow Hwy 290. But weirdly enough, my desire to stay in the green, to get my little trophy animation, and to edge my cumulative mileage ever closer to 50mpg, all seem to trump my innate impatience. Other people may think Honda's game-like interface is twee--I actually think it's brilliant.

Note: I realize this list is far from the last word in efficient driving strategies. Some dude on the internet, for example, is boasting about getting over 60mpg without even trying. Well. Bully for him.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BRRR!!! It's---Actually Not That Bad

We've been all abuzz for the past week about the miserable cold weather we were supposed to get this weekend. And DID get, for that matter: it was 13F when we woke up this morning. Ick. I dislike the cold. And Matt entirely loathes it.

But weirdly enough, we finally ventured out, nervous and blinking, around 12:30, and it wasn't really all that cold. The sun was brightly shining, there wasn't any wind, and it really was almost kind of pleasant, in a brisk, 38-degree kind of way. All I had on was a long-sleeved shirt, a microfleece pullover, and (look, it keeps my ears warm, all right!?) a snood. And it was fine. More than fine--it got up to 52 degrees, believe it or not. A temperature swing of 40 degrees!

So--why the heck not?--I started burning that big old pile of abelia twigs from our transplant project. And then--it really needed to be done--I started cracking those pecans we picked up from our old pecan tree back in Oct/Nov. And then--because, really, when you get down to it and approach it in an unprejudiced fashion, it's actually a positively lovely day--we grilled out.

So, completely contrary to all my expectations, I was mildly productive today. And the whole fire-in-the-firepit-while-cracking-pecans thing was so homey and cozy. Mind you, by 5pm, we scarpered. The mercury plummeted and we took our hamburgers inside (to watch Our Man in Havana--damn, that was neither fun nor funny. Netflix led me to understand that it was a madcap spy caper starring Alec Guiness--well, that sounds fun. But it wasn't. It wasn't madcap. It wasn't a caper. It was limpingly plotted, insipidly peopled, and since when did Alec Guiness look like John Mahoney [see right]?) But for a little while, we were productive. And now we're back down to 26F.

Nevertheless, we were out long enough to collect a little garden news.

First, here's the former home of those pruned and transplanted abelias. Looks like a demilitarized zone, doesn't it? Grow little 'Mutabilis' roses, grow!

Former site of 4 big abelias, moved to make way for the 'Mutabilis' roses

And here they are in their new home, where they will give the shade patio a more private ambiance. The abelias are looking okay at the moment--not too shell-shocked, fortunately. They were huge and very established--I was a bit afraid that the move would simply kill them.

Newly transplanted abelias in the shade garden

About those pecans, by the way. You may remember that they were weirdly lightweight and bendy when I first harvested them. Then the internet told me to let them cure for a few weeks. Nasty weather and late nights at work combined to stretch that into two months. Anyway, they're a pretty seedy crop--wizened, discolored, and fungal. Even the better ones look kind of like the pecan version of raisins--sort of shrunken and dessicated. And there aren't many of those--I get one "good" pecan for every 10-15 toxic ones. And it takes a lot of time. I'm only about 1/9 of the way through our whole stash. I have to keep reminding myself that I love pecans, and they cost about $8 per pound at the grocery store. While these are free.

Dessication: Good for grapes; not so good for nuts.

Interestingly, each rose seems to respond a little differently to the freezes we've been having. Mystery Leggy rose promptly dropped every last one of its leaves. 'Duchesse de Brabant' (top right corner) is hanging on to all of hers, even though they look droopy, sickly, and mostly dead. 'Comtesse du Cayla' looks healthier and more dense than I've ever seen her look. 'Autumn Damask' looks badly drought stressed and crispy. 'Knockout' turned dark burgundy on top. 'Graham Thomas' looks--well, much as he ever does. Chlorotic, thin, and blackspotty. He's lucky his flowers are so awesome.

The dark burgundy foliage of my rose nemesis, 'Knockout'

And finally, some ominous news: that chitalpa that we bought last spring, that was doing so astonishingly well and blooming so plentifully is cracking at the base of the trunk and has weird blackish streaks at every crotch angle.

Split bark at the base of our chitalpa

It seemed so happy--and now it looks like death. I don't know if it's freeze damage, if the plant will come back from the roots, if it's some horrible parasite... I just have no idea. I did find this bit of information on the subject "Chitalpa tree bark splitting: Splitting bark is a common occurrence with chitalpa trees. Experts believe the lack of water causes the splitting. Pull back the split bark, and you'll find new growth forming to cover the wound. Immediately after splitting, trees set up defense mechanisms to wall off damaged areas to prevent pathogen entry. The tree will heal itself." On the other hand, another source points out, "There is also a 'Bacterial Wetwood Disease' that causes slime flux."

Slime flux. Not sure what that is, but am pretty sure I don't want it.
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