Archive for the 'Domesticness' Category


Cooling down

I am not one that does well in the heat. It gets above 70, I start to sweat … it hits the 90s, I basically dehydrate and want to die. As a friend of mine once said, I am “built for killing Nazis on the Russian front in winter,” which is partially correct — I have no Russian ancestry, but I don’t like Nazis and I do like the cold. So there’s that.

But for years, I wanted to hang some ceiling fans in my house … mainly because I can tolerate the heat much better with shade and a breeze. After all, while growing up in South Florida, my dad would never turn the A/C on until it got into the 100s — and I found I could sleep well enough with just a ceiling fan going.

Now, it was time. I had worked an OT shift, plus worked over the July 4th holiday, and it was my turn to be on call for the weekend … so as you could imagine, a big check was coming up.

I bought 2 52″ ceiling fans (Harbor Breeze at Lowe’s), and hung them up. First was in the bedroom, the second in my kitchen.

After playing with fun wiring for a bit (remember, my house is 90+ years old, so figuring out what was done in the first place is the hardest part), we got it going. I was solo for my second install.

Here are the pics (excuse the mess and shabby decor):


Now, I have to admit, at first I had a little buyer’s remorse. The first thing I hated … the bedroom fan was too low for my taste. If I can find a shorter downrod in the future, I will probably end up replacing it. But for now, it’ll do.

The second fan is simply too big for the kitchen. I wanted to get a smaller size (44″), but they only came with light fixtures that I hated. So, I went big … because a 36″ fan does no one any good unless you are directly under it.

However, I can’t argue with the results of these installs.

Both fans are super quiet. I kept the bedroom fan going last night and my sleep was dreamy, especially compared to running a window shaker a/c unit or a direct fan.

The kitchen fan made things so much better in terms of clean up. Before, when I would go to do dishes, I’d have to do them shirtless and I sweat my balls off. Now, I can do them shirtless, but it’s comfortable. Same with cooking. Just keep it on low for cooking and medium for dishes or moping or whatever, and it’s perfect.

Yeah, I still have to repaint the ceilings since both have rings from the heat shields that accompanied the lights.

With the temps going into the 90s this week, they’ll both be put to the test. But I am confident I will be tolerate it much better than in the past.

And this hot weather has determined the next project on the list: The basement.


Another step done

With the Furries leaving town, it was time to get things back to the ole normal routine. I wanted to complete the back flowerbed (aka Phase IV), because I had been kind of obsessing over getting it done.

This was one of those things I’ve wanted to do since I saw the house. I hated that ivy. It was just … blah.

So, while not *actually* done, I do consider this to be about 90% complete. I had to buy some Japanese Painted Ferns (which I did on the way to work) and Japanese Ornamental Grass (which my girlfriend will find at the store where she got me the other one). Then I have to clear out the rest of that ivy on the right and continue the stone wall … but that will come later, as part of like Phase V or VI or something equally blah.

But right now, I’m basking in the glory of how well this came out.

See that jungle to the right? Imagine that covering this back area. I could never run the lawnmower over that because those rocks were actually buried, but jutting up just enough to scrape the lawnmower blade. So, yeah, dug them up and built a crude, small wall with them, cause hey, why not?

From a different angle:

Then came the plants. 5 astilbes, 2 “ghost” dead nettle, and 1 cora bell later, combined with 2.5 bags of mulch … and this was the result:

Oh, and to give you an idea of how much stuff I cleared? That section of it in the bottom picture is probably thigh-high (and not even close to all of it).

Obviously, it needs a few more plants, which is where the Japanese painted ferns and the Japanese ornamental grass will come to the rescue. I will plant the ferns tomorrow, and the grass when it arrives.

About 4 hours of work total, and under $100 spent, and that bed is nice and spacious for those perennials to grow into. Perfect by no means, but it works and I’m happy with it … it looks 5,000% better than what it did.

Now, a job that I’ve wanted to do since Day 1 is finally realized.

Next, back to Phase III. Well, once I plant some grass and such.


A first!

It man not seem like much, but after years of trying to grow lilies, I finally got one to bloom. My own ineptitude and raids by ravenous deer took their toll … but persistence paid off.

Let’s hope the others grow flowers, they all come back next year, and bloom some more …

Side note: They were supposed to be purple and white, not pink. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.


Stupid and simple

Let me tell you about my kitchen.

My kitchen is a horror show.

If it was actually a horror show, it would be called “The Kitchen That Time Forgot.” Really. It’s still pretty much 1950s, and I’m being generous in my guesstimation. No dishwasher, no garbage disposal, and old wiring. Cabinets are very basic. Shelf space is limited. No pantry, either.

But one thing my kitchen has going for it? It’s actually pretty big. You could have 2 people cooking in it and not be stumbling over each other. It just needs to be updated, and boy howdy, do I have plans for that … later on … you know, after I get the first floor wiring redone.

But in the meantime, I needed to do something. My girlfriend had already done A LOT of cleaning and some slight rearranging in the kitchen when I was on vacation, and it was so much better. So I felt kinda the need to take what she did 1-step further.

I created a small “prep station” using some old wood that I had in the basement.

This wood was from an old futon frame that I had disassembled and stored. I figured it would be good for something … I had already used it on my baker’s rack to create shelves. But if worse came to worst, I could always throw it in the woodburner. But I’d hate to throw out something that I know would have a use later.

So I grabbed 2 pieces, and cleaned them up. I painted them black, and then created this stupid little shelf.

This isn’t a magical thing. But man, what it lacks in personality and style and finesse, it makes up for in sheer practicality.

Before, I had these utensils randomly thrown in a big drawer, and finding what I needed was a pain in the dupa. This stupid little shelf solved a lot. I actually feel dumb that I didn’t think of this sooner. 2 pieces of leftover wood. Leftover paint. 20 L hooks (cost under $4). Leftover screws and anchors. Done and done.

(Oh, and that picture? That’s my Italian grandma holding me. I learned my basic cooking skills from her, so it was only fitting that she share that space. And that potato peeler on the wall with the ribbon? That was my Slovak great-grandma’s potato peeler. My great-aunt Pauline gave it to my mother, who gave it to me. She probably peeled tons of potatoes with that thing … and I’m honored to have it in retirement on my wall.)

Then I started thinking what else I could do. The baker’s rack! Why don’t I hang some pot and pans on it instead of stacking them there?

I have a million pots. OK, not a million … probably about 8. But they were all leftovers from my mom and grandma, and I never needed that many. So, I weeded some out, and am going with a smaller set for now (not including soup pots and such). And again, I grabbed some hook screws, and created this:

Now, again, this is simple, stupid, and non-stylish at the same time. But it’s a temporary and cheap fix (hooks were less than $2 for 5) fix to what has been a long-standing problem — easy accessibility and space. I just need to get a few more hooks for lids, and wham, done. If I find I don’t need the extra pots, they will go to the VVA.

But all of this will change when I’m ready to tackle the kitchen full on … in a few years … I hope.


Phase IV

My first planted lily ready to bloom!

When I first bought my house, I would go in the back yard and see the ivy growing there. And I would say to myself, “This shit has got to go.”

And for years, I never touched it. I thought about clearing it, but every time I would mention this particular notion, people would gasp like I had just threatened to slap a puppy. “YOU CAN’T GET RID OF THE IVY!” they said. “IT’S GREAT GROUND COVER!”

Yes. The infamous ground cover argument. Except for the fact that I would rather have grass there, because ivy is pretty much useless at best and a menace at worst. And for me, it was in the menace stage … climbing the back of my house in ever-growing numbers.

See, I can deal with mowing the lawn. Neglect your grass and it gets a little high, makes it a little tougher to mow, no big deal. But neglect ivy, and that shit is everywhere.

So, today I was starting on Phase II of my plan to reclaim my back yard. Except the weeds were dug in, the sun was brutal, and I kept having to wipe sweat from my eyes every 2.6 seconds. Not fun. I would need to poison the shit out of that area and then wait for a cloudy day to rip it all out. And with this being Western PA, this could happen sooner rather than later.

I looked around at what else I could do. Last weekend, my girlfriend and I had been looking at the ivy that was climbing my house. She pulled some of it and noted how easily it came down. This was likely because of how dry everything was, combined with an earlier poisoning spree.

I figured if I had to wait to move on Phase II, I could at least start on Phase IV. Phase IV involves clearing ivy from the back of my house, and the area is in the shade … so I figured I could rip the ivy down that was climbing up by my kitchen and feel good about my day. And as I pulled it down, I pulled down some more. And some more. And an hour later, I had a pile of ivy and weeds up to near my waist, and had basically cleared the back bed.

You can still see the remnants of it on the walls …

Phase IV just needs about another few hours of weeding, some small wall building (because there’s already some “stone walls” in place, which is why I could never just mow it in the first place) and some planting, and it will be off my “to do” list.

I still feel kinda dumb that I’m kind of excited about landscaping and reclaiming my back yard, but it’s as though with every few hours that I put into my house, the better and better it looks. And the better it looks, the more I want to do. Unlike weight lifting or whatever, this stuff has immediate and tangible results. I don’t have to wait weeks. That’s pretty satisfying.

So, yeah, not according to plan … and humble beginnings. But as long as it all gets done, right?


Domesticated sheep

Never did I think I would see this day.

The day when I became excited about landscaping.

It still seems foreign to me, even as I type this.

But time has finally caught up with me. I’m beginning to turn into the guy who gives a crap about his lawn. Well, technically, that’s not true … I hate my lawn. But I did start to give a crap about my landscaping. The credit lies with my girlfriend — not because she hounded me to do it — but because she was super knowledgeable about plants and gardening and such, and with her help, I was finally able to get an idea of what I wanted to do around my house. It all started with the idea of a patio on the side of my house that currently is unused — but to start work on that, I have to clear the space.

Now, I have an asston of creeping ivy in the back that I’ve absolutely hated since day 1, but everyone always convinced me to keep it. By this time, years had passed and it grew over everything. I decided to break up this project into phases …  Phase 1 being a reclamation project of what I call “the Step Garden,” because, you know, it’s by my back steps. This is what I was up against:


As you can see, it was a complete mess. And you see that dirt on the steps? Plants were actually growing on the concrete there. So, the steps were impassable unless you wanted to walk through ivy, poison ivy, and other assorted weeds.

I won’t lie, there was a lot of chemical warfare to help my clearing efforts. No mercy, ivy. You gotta go.

Well, after hours of work over a few weeks and several trips to Lowe’s and Michael Bro’s nursery in Russelton, this was the final result …


Two hostas (the big bottom one moved from the side of my house, where the hostas are absolutely huge), some phlox, two Japanese ferns, some deadnettle, 2 coral bells, and nine lilies.

Still a shitload of work to do, but the steps are now passable. Now, on to Phase 2: Clearing the bottom of the steps and creating another flower bed for more lilies and hostas. Phase 3: Take out the tree and azalea bush at the top of the steps so then I can work on the other side of the steps, which is Phase 4.

And then I can move on to Stage 2 (back of the house). And then Stage 3 (sunny side of the house).

This whole project will probably take me the rest of the summer and fall to complete. But my house desperately needs it, and as much as I hate to admit it, I like seeing the results my hard work.

So bring it on, projects. Because I will win.


Serial Killer Cake


When it comes to birthdays, I will admit, I am usually “the suck.” It’s not that my intentions aren’t good, but birthdays are right up there with holidays in my book — just a big “Meh.”

Before you say it, I’m not a Scrooge. It’s just that after being in the newspaper industry for almost 20 years and having worked pretty much every birthday and holiday and missed a lot of significant events, it’s hard to get worked up about them — cause, well, I’ve grown used to not being a part of them.

Except this time, it was different. It’s not just me anymore.

My girlfriend’s birthday was upon me … and therefore, a celebration was in order. And thus began one of the funniest yet scariest kitchen adventures I’ve ever been a part of.

Bear in mind, I’m no baker. I’m a fairly good cook, but baking … I fail and fail a lot. Brownies? Fail. Cookies? Never had one come out right. Not ashamed to admit it — it’s just not my thing.

Now, my lady LOVES Hello Kitty, so I went out and bought a Hello Kitty baking tin. My goal was to make a vanilla cake with chocolate icing and fresh strawberries in the middle, and then use the chocolate and strawberries for the eyes, nose and bow.

The cake itself turned out OK.

But then the dilemma: Do I make a second layer, or just keep it one layer? After a few texts to a couple of friends, I opted to cut this layer in half.

Then it hit me: I had to cut Hello Kitty’s face off.

Now, I’ve watched a bazillion bad movies and probably half had someone’s face cut off in them.  But when it comes to actually doing the deed — even on an anthropomorphic cake — it felt a little weird.

Halfway through slicing, I was interrupted by a little girl selling candy bars for her science class. I’m a sucker for science, so I returned $2 poorer and began eating the candy bar as I proceeded to slice Hello Kitty’s head in half.

Soon, the deed was done:

Those eyes will haunt me in my sleep forever.

Then came the chocolate layer, and a layer of strawberries. Notice the number of knives increasing.


Now, you’d think that the blended strawberries were bad … I was laughing, thinking “What the hell have I done!” But NO! IT GETS WORSE!

Next came actual strawberries, which I had sliced. They took on a vaguely muscle-tone appearance when put in the confines of a Hello Kitty skull.

Now it was time to put the face back on it. By this time, I knew my imagination had gone too far — I felt like Leatherface — and I couldn’t stop laughing.

The “bloody” cutting board and wet knife…

Next came the finale: actually decorating Hello Kitty’s face. This proved to be much more difficult than I imagined. It rapidly became clear that cake decorators have nothing to fear from me. But, I put down a chocolate icing base for the bow, and then filled the eyes in with icing, and added a sliced strawberry for the nose. The result?

And there she was in all her glory: The second cake I have ever made, and the first that I’ve tried to decorate. She came out looking fairly scary, but her tastiness could not be denied — so I was sorta “proud” of what I had done.

The final result? I made my lady close her eyes and sang happy birthday to her. When she opened them and looked down and saw the cake, she grinned from ear to ear … and as she giggled in amusement, she kissed me.

I will call the cake a success.

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