Monday, October 29

On Family, Furniture and Herb

Our old furniture was looking pretty funky. The cat has never been declawed - is any further explanation necessary? Also we use our living room to, well, live in. This means that beverages have been consumed there, and sometimes spilled. Rumps have been cozied into corners nearest the best reading lamp and said corners are now permanently rump-imprinted. Our chairs and love seat were napped in, cried in, laughed in, snuggled in, lounged in, stood on and generally abused for 11 years. And it showed.

Mom and I had mentioned the future shopping trip to relatives and friends. Friends were very encouraging. Relatives were critical. Friend asked "What color are you looking for?" "What store are you going to?" Relatives said "You have such a small room, don't get such big furniture!" "You don't need all recliners in that little room." "And get rid of that big tv stand while you're at it, it's much too big for that room." Sigh. Family. Gotta love 'em. It's like a rule or something.

So Mom and I went out to a well known store and found a great salesman named Herb. Yes, there are still Herbs out there in the world and they look exactly like you expect them to. I'm pretty sure they're all salesmen too. We explained to Herb what we were looking for, that we had just a small room, that my mom's back is a mess so comfort and easy access for her are priority.

For Mom at least one piece had to be reclining. In X-rays, Mom's lower back looks like a suspension bridge and it's only through the skill of a fabulous neurosurgeon that she can walk at all. The most comfortable position for her is semi-reclining so that no one spot on her spine receives all her weight. So comfort was our main priority, as explained to Herb. And I must say, when you next go furniture shopping, or shopping for anything, ask for Herb. I am convinced that the Herb's of this world make the best salesmen. He was great, steering us away from the more formal, for-looks-only, stuff and mentioning which brands, in his opinion, had the better reclining mechanisms. Then after pointing us in the right direction, Herb left us to ourselves for a few minutes. This is the hallmark of a good salesman: knowing when to back off, to give the customer a little time. Nobody likes to feel rushed, and if you are rushed you may come to regret the purchase.

We fell in love with this one chair, a rocker/recliner, and a reclining loveseat. Yes, all reclining and all overstuffed as well. They had smaller pieces, but once you sat on this stuff you just didn't look any further. Or at least we didn't. And we loved the colors too. Deep wine for the loveseat and pebble gray for the chairs. So that's what we got and on the way home we giggled at each other because we knew we were going to get harrassed by the relatives. It needs to be said, though, that it's not BIG furniture. Its simply that our living room is so very small. And sure enough when Mom was telling my aunt about the stuff we bought, my aunt questioned the size. My aunt even asked, get this, if my feet touched the floor. When my mother related the conversation to me I just stared at her and asked if this was the same aunt or some other long lost relative who had never met me, because my feet NEVER touch the floor unless I'm standing on it. I'm seriously short and I have no idea what my aunt was thinking.

The big day arrived this weekend, and so did our furniture. Well one piece is back ordered but we should have it next week so that's okay. The delivery guys were very timely and organized and had everything set up and in place quite promptly. Mom and I sat on our new furniture, petting it (it's microfiber, but feels just like suede), and giggling to each other because it really is too big ...

AND WE DON'T CARE.

It's so pretty and so comfortable regardless of what position you choose. Mom says it feels wonderful to her, and it's easy for her to get in and out of too. We're happy.

So thank you Herb and my friends are welcome to come over and check it out any time. As to those relatives .... ppffflltttt! Don't sit on it if it bothers you so much.

Wednesday, October 24

Simplify, Simplify

Those are the words I am chanting under my breath these days. I'm trying to simplify my life, to relax a bit more. To take the time to do things that give me pleasure without stressing over how to fit it in. My problem is that I have a very organized soul trapped inside a very lazy body. My soul demands that things be done right and that life operate efficiently. My body thinks it should wait until later. Then later gets here and my soul stresses because it doesn't have the time to do the job properly. At which point my body points out that I might as well skip it then which causes my soul to have a hissy fit. And so the battle rages with first one side and then the other winning minor battles but neither emerging completely victorious. Clearly a little d├ętente is needed here. Time to head for Geneva and begin negotiations.

Last month in her blog, Argh Ink, NYT Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie took her fans through 12 days of office cleaning/organizing. No, I'm not going to do that here. But in some of the comments there was mention of a website called Fly Lady which sounded interesting enough that I decided to check it out. According to Fly Lady, we become overwhelmed by day to day tasks because we set the bar too high. This results in what she refers to as CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). Sound familiar? Fly Lady's answer to the problem is to break up all the things that need doing into smaller, more manageable chunks. Don't try to clean the whole house at once, just concentrate on the desk. Or even just the desk drawer. And limit it to 15 minutes at a time. You do this until you've eliminated the worst of your clutter and disorganization and then you create and stick with a daily routine of small tasks to maintain order. And apparently Fly Lady has encountered perfectionist souls before because she also suggests that it's better to do something half way than not at all.

I think she has a point. I'm not going to sign up for the program, even though you can follow along for free, because I am not much of a joiner. But I've been browsing the site and I can see a lot of stuff that I can start incorporating into my own life. For instance, instead of putting off dusting until I have time to move objects and wield a can of Lemon Pledge with enthusiasm, I could focus on keeping the majority of the dust off the easy to reach surfaces. Instead of devoting a day I don't have to reorganizing my paperwork, I could work on just one stack at a time. And so on to include my closet in which I am sure the lost treasure of the Aztecs is hidden somewhere. And setting a time limit is a good idea too, because once you start blazing trails it's really easy to wander down side paths and end up lost. The beauty of this system, in theory, is that by nibbling away at the edges of all those chores they will eventually become smaller and more easily managed. Then the idea of breaking out the Pledge won't seem so daunting.

I decided to put this to the test this past weekend. A friend (hi Dee!) and her DH came by Thurs. evening to take away some old furniture in order to make room for our new stuff. With all that empty floor space it seemed like a good time to tackle a little fall cleaning. So I got out the dust mop and Swifter Wet Jet. But rather than mobilizing like a crazed Russian general, I broke the job down into sections. Dining room, living room, hallway. I worked one section and then took a break for a cup of coffee. I worked another section and then spent a few minutes on the deck brushing my cat. And so it went. Okay, my remaining furniture is still pretty dusty, but my floor now looks really good. AND I still had time to go to the library that day and to work on my latest crochet project that evening. So this may be working.

On Sunday I decided to implement my new simplicity system a little further. While at the grocery store I stocked up on those wipes you can get for counter top surfaces and those little disposable duster things. My theory is that I can keep the counters in bathroom and kitchen looking nicer if it's a simple matter of swiping over the surface with an already treated cloth. And likewise if all I have to do is flash the duster thingy over and around tabletops and shelves the dust shouldn't build up so badly.

Of course this is all theory so far, and will require my sticking to some kind of schedule in any case. We'll see. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 23

What's In A Book?

Below is an excerpt; well two excerpts, but from the same page, from Bradbury's Farenheit 451. The last time I read it was probably when I was a teenager. A long time ago anyway. Certainly before I could really appreciate it. This book is one of many that have been challenged in schools and communities. Challenged, but not technically banned because we don't do that in this country. But what is it about this book that makes people worry? I think this one page explains it best.

***

“And the second?”
“Leisure.”
“Oh, but we’ve plenty of off-hours.”
“Off-hours, yes. But time to think?”

***

“It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, 'What nonsense!’”
“Only the ‘family’ is ‘people.’”
“I beg pardon?”
“My wife says books aren’t ‘real.’”
“Thank God for that. You can shut them, say, ‘Hold on a moment.’ You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlor? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth. Books can be beaten down with reason."

***

Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, pg. 84, MM Paperback

This is the real reason that some people object to books. Books are ideas and ideas are dangerous.

Wednesday, October 17

Gloria Steinhem Would Spit On Me

Last weekend, among the dozen other things I accomplished (yes, I did get the air trap cleaned out and it works much better, thank you) I bought a bunch of plants and some mulch. I bought mostly pansies because I like to put them in during the fall and know that they will probably provide me with small splashes of color through the winter. Come spring they will really take off and I'll get a great deal of pleasure from them. I also got some mums to go in the big planters because mums just go with fall and they'll look good there in their various colors. With luck I can make them last.

Then it came time to buy the mulch. I've put this off because of one major obstacle. They'll put it in the car for me at the garden center, but they won't come home and transfer it to the back yard for me. Have you ever hefted a bag of mulch? First of all, a bag is nearly as long as I am tall. Second, they are heavy at roughly 40 pounds. But if that was all, I probably could still manage it. My problem is the way the mulch is always packaged: in nearly flat bags only a few inches thick. This makes for a very awkward weight unless you can throw the bag over your shoulder, and I can't. My shoulder is barely wide enough to hold up my bra strap. The only access to my back yard is through the house and down one story. I gave serious consideration to tossing it over the deck railing but I'm pretty sure that would have created a big mess when it hit the ground. Whump! There'd be mulch all over the yard and little left for where I really need it. What do do?

Well there was only one thing to do. I swallowed my pride and put on my very best "I'm just a helpless person of the female persuasion" expression. I know, I know - I am woman, hear me roar and all that jazz. Listen, God might have created us all to be treated equally, but we don't all have equal upper body strength and this would be true even if I were taller, say of average height.

I found a guy at the garden center who looked easily mani- uh - understanding, and I pointed out that the companies that package the mulch (and, FYI, top soil as well) are unfairly inclined to assume that a man will always be around to handle the bags. Which doesn't make much sense to me. In most households, men might do the mowing and raking, but the women usually attend the flowerbeds. It's a cliche, I know; but it's also true. Also, these days more and more women own their own homes and so are handling more and more of the chores usually relegated to the male in the house. It doesn't matter so much for the most part because, for the most part, a woman is just as likely to be capable of dealing with the chores as a man is. We may not have the muscle strength, but with a little ingenuity there is little that we can't accomplish.

For instance, take my recycling bin. I have an open plastic bin less than two feet high which is more than adequate. But it doesn't take the addition of too many glass bottles and jars before the bin becomes really heavy. And again, I'm small so it's also an awkward weight, although not as bad as the mulch bags. The bin sits on my back deck and only needs brought through the house and put down on the front walk. Easy when it's light. Not so much when it's half full. This is where a little ingenuity can accomplish a lot.

Last winter I got new flooring put in on the first floor. It's the laminate stuff and it's beautiful and lives up to every bit of the advertising. I would definitely and without hesitation recommend it to anyone. Upon getting the floors put in we had ceramic casters fitted to the bottoms of most of the furniture - the heaver stuff at least. These things are easy to find in hardware stores, Walmart, and so forth. They're great. They come in various sizes and shapes and are self adhesive. They make moving even the heaviest piece of furniture a very simple job and it just so happened that we had some spares left over. So a few weeks ago I got smart and put a few on the bottom of the recycling bin. Let me tell you, I can slide that baby through the house now like nobody's business. And since they aren't obtrusive, like wheels would be, I don't worry much about them getting broken off when I drag it down the few steps out front. It works brilliantly, if I do say so myself. Next I'm drilling holes at one end and attaching rope handles. Then it will be perfect.

But I have digressed. Back to the mulch situation. As I explained to the guy at the garden center, I can get the mulch through the house, just not the way it is packaged. It's simply not very portable for the weight. I looked as pitiful as I possibly could during my explanation and then launched into what I thought would be a fairly easy solution, with his help. Since the problem was the way the weight was distributed, the solution was to break it up into more manageable packages. My concern was that this would violate some kind of store regulation. However, I guess I pulled off the 'poor pitiful Pearl' act pretty well because he agreed that if I went ahead and purchased a bag, he would collect some plastic grocery-style shopping bags and distribute the mulch amongst them. And it worked. He had to break it into six separate bags, but I'm able to carry up to four of them at a time so it's really just a matter of two trips, and won't involve a nasty wood chip explosion in the back yard.

Yes I resorted to playing the helpless damsel which is a role I usually sneer at. But honestly, Gloria, we're not really created equal to men. They have all the brawn and sometimes we have to bat our eyelashes to get things accomplished. However, the distribution of assets is not entirely unfair because we got the brains. All I did was employ some of those brains to a satisfactory conclusion.

Thursday, October 11

On First Impression Worth a Second Look

A few things have happened recently that have me wondering about the value of first impressions. I am not by any means saying they have no value. If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's just conceivable that it might be an ugly swan. On the otherhand, it just might be a duck. There are people who rail against the unfairness of judging on first impression. Phooey. If you don't know someone or something, then first impressions are all you have to go by. And they should not be ignored entirely even if you find yourself unable to justify the impressions. While I'd never be intentionally rude, I'd rather trust my instincts and impressions than ignore them and pay a price.

That said, I want to tell you about something I witnessed at my home subway stop the other evening. Picture some guy, a big guy, in oversized, baggy trousers nearly falling off his hips, bandana wrapped around his head, dark sunglasses, head jerking to a rythym only he can hear. This guy just screamed 'urban cool.' He looked like a real bad ass who spent his grandmother's social security checks. Fifteen years ago he would have been carrying a boombox on his shoulder (think about that the next time you see someone hooked up to an iPod). Got the picture?

So there we stand waiting for the elevator to come. Normally I take the escalator but it was mobbed and I'd rather wait than feel claustrophobic in the crowd. So this guy is standing there too, right next to the elevator doors. A few other people walk up. The elevator comes and the doors open. This guy grabs the edge of the open door right away ... and then stands back to let in someone pulling a suitcase on wheels. He also lets me and everyone else get on before he does. So. Clearly not the bad ass of my first impression.

That came to mind yesterday as I was rereading Agnes and The Hitman. At the start of the book Agnes idealizes Brenda. Brenda is who she wanted to grow up to be, to the extent that she bought Two Rivers, Brenda's house. She even argues with Lisa Livia who, really, ought to know her mother better than Anges. And when Brenda does something even Agnes can't ignore, Agnes makes excuses for her until finally she sees Brenda for what she really is. Brenda, of course, went off the deep end at the end of the story; but what she was at the core really wasn't any different. What Agnes had really envied all those years was the mask that Brenda wore. Brenda knew how to say and do the right things to ... wait for it ... create an impression. And thinking about it, I've known a few Brendas, and you probably have too. Okay, maybe they didn't sabotage a wedding dress and try to kill you; but I'm betting you know someone who turned out to not be as great as you thought they were. And looking back, you can usually see all the signs you ignored early on. Just like Agnes did. So a first impression can conceal the bad as well as the good.

I was actually thinking about impressions before this, though. I have had the privilege of meeting several CBs now, and it's been amazing just how well we all click in person. A CB meet is just like hanging out at the Bar&Grill, except you probably laugh even longer and harder. I think many of us have marvelled at this. But is it so surprising really? We got to know each other long before we ever met, dispensing with that whole awkward first impressions thing.

And you know, I'd rather have the duck than the swan anyway. I've heard those big, fancy birds can be pretty viscious.

Wednesday, October 3

Happy Harriet Homeowner Rides Again

The thing with owning a home is that there always seems to be some little thing that needs doing/fixing/updating/tweaking ... you get the point. Just lately there are two items at the top of my list. When we run the dishwasher, water flows out of what I now know is the air trap. FYI, that's the metal thing on the corner of the sink. Water is not supposed to come out of there, but I think it will be easy enough to fix. From the Internet searches I've done (don't you just love the Web?) it looks like the hose just needs cleaning out. I think I have a snake (of the plumbing variety) thingie which they apparently call an auger. See I thought an auger was something you used to drill holes. Anyway, I think there's an auger snake (snake auger?) among the stuff under the stairs and I should be able to insert the snake through the top of the trap after removing the metal covering. If that doesn't work it might involve disconnecting the hose. I'm crossing my fingers but I might be able to handle this myself. In the meantime, we just line the edge of the sink with sponges to collect whatever overflow misses the sink.

The other item is a dripping bathroom faucet. I knew enough, thanks to listening to my Dad, to be fairly sure it was a worn washer or something of that nature. But I don't know much about the inner workings of a faucet so I checked my favorite homeowner's helper website, DIY, to find out what I didn't know. And one of the things I didn't know is that there are many different types of faucets but they fall into two basic categories: those with washers and those without washers. The kind with washers are also known as compression faucets. That's what I have.

The innards of compression faucets come in different shapes and sizes but have two things in common: the aforementioned washers and the "stem" on which they are fitted. Ideally you just replace the washers when they get worn; and being just little circles or discs of rubber, they wear out easily. But that is also a fairly easy fix compared to some of the other faucet designs so I guess it's a trade off.

The first thing every plumbing instruction tells you is to turn the water off. That seems pretty obvious, but you know there are all kinds of people out there and I'm sure many people don't think of it. After clearing a lot of junk out of the way I turned off the cold water, no problem. The hot water, however, was a problem. I could not get that knob to turn no matter what. Part of the problem might be that it is an awkward reach. The cold water knob was straight in, but the hot water is behind a pipe and it's a tricky angle to work from. After ripping up my hand trying I decided to save that one for later and just tackle the cold water. With luck, that was where the problem would be.

So with the cold water turned off under the sink I disassemble the decorative knob and use my wrench to remove the packing nut and take a look. According to the instructions I should be able, with a little twisting, to pull out the plasic stem that sits down inside. I tried. Bob knows I tried. I could get it to turn a bit, but no amount of twisting and tugging would get it out. There wasn't that much of the stem to hold onto anyway; two fingers was all I could use and I couldn't get a tight grip that way. So I found a pair of needle nose pliers and used those. I was able to get a better grip but it still took a lot of twisting and tugging to pull the stem out. Lo and behold it was damaged, more than just a worn washer. There was a crack in the stem and one of the two parts just fell out and wouldn't stay back in securely. This might or might not have been the source of the drip; but even if it wasn't, that stem clearly needed replacing.

I took the damaged pieces with me to the hardware store so I could compare and make sure I was getting the same thing. That's the other thing that all the instructions tell you: take the washer or other part to the store with you. You might think you'll know which one it is but, trust me, you'll get confused when confronted with the sheer variety of parts available.

I didn't used to like hardware stores much. They are huge buildings with rows and rows of towering shelves that intimidate me. I am getting better about it, though. I went right to the plumbing section and found that portion of the aisle devoted to little bitty replacement parts. Wow, what a selection. Fortunately I had brought the damaged stem with me and could compare. Also, fortunately, they had one. And just one. See, I had thought that as long as I was doing this I would replace both. But I got the one they did have and trotted (well, okay, actually I drove) back home. The new stem slid into the appropriate place with satisfying ease. Unfortunately there is still a slight drip.

I did check on the hot water tap after shutting off the water at the main water shut off valve. Thank you, GP and Louis, for assuring me that this would work. The hot tap came apart with much more ease than the cold, and I'm not sure whether or not that is a good thing. This stem was not damaged that I could tell. The washers looked okay, but since it was just a little drip, it might involve just a little wear. In any event I'm not giving up until I get the stem replaced in the hot water as well as the cold. And if that doesn't work I'll call for a plumber. I know my limitations; I may someday be up to the task of replacing the whole faucet contraption but not just yet. Also, by that time we might have decided to replace the sinks anyway because the bathroom sinks all have nasty cracks in them and will need replacing at some point.

This is much longer than I had intended, but before going I did want to let you know that I did tackle snaking (auging?) out the air trap in the kitchen. It didn't entirely fix the problem but I do think it's much better now than it was. My plan is to keep cleaning in out periodically and hopefully it will continue to improve. For now, while we still place the sponges around the edge of the sink, there doesn't seem to be as much water for them to absorb. So that's good, right?