Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Where are the mosquitos?

Knock on wood (just in case).

I've seen a few. Giant, slow, bumbling creatures that are almost too easy to swat. Where are the mosquitos? Those rapacious, lightning-fast creatures that can swoop in for an itchy, welt-inducing nibble before you even realize. It has been so wet that I imagine this is prime mosquito-breeding season. And yet, we just had a comfortable family dinner outside on our deck, and I don't think that we were bitten once.


My older daughter and I are like dark chocolate truffles to mosquitos. Impossible to resist. During mosquito season in Austin (which seemed to run from March through November), we couldn't be outside without a thorough drenching in insecticide. I loved being an outdoorsy gal. Really I did. I fantasized about sitting out in the sun enjoying a book. I love to hike and bike and eat alfresco. Unfortunately, the bugs (and/or heat) inevitably drove me indoors. It was even difficult to enjoy our swimming pool. My daughter and I would often come inside after a swim with our upper arms, upper backs, and shoulders covered in red bumps.

I'm not sure how normal this is, but I plan on savoring every last, cool, mosquito-free moment of this summer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The urban life

We were grooving on the urban life yesterday when my husband discovered that his Volvo had a flat tire. It wasn't a surprise. They were balder than Jean Luc Picard. He drove the car to a tire place in the neighborhood and walked the half mile home. We congratulated each other on having found a house in such a perfect location...easy access to many routes, pretty close to work, and walking distance to shops, restaurants, and tire places.

Then this morning.

The sun was forecast to make a guest appearance today after rain's long run. The kids desperately needed to get out of the house, and I wanted to explore a local park that I'd glimpsed while running an errand. I gathered kids up. Two headed out. I was waiting for the third to get her shoes when I heard the frantic voice of my eldest.

"Mom! Mom! Mom! Someone broke into your car!!"


I dashed outside. Shattered glass gaped jaggedly at the passenger window. I gaped along with it. I was dumb. Numb. Then it struck me. My purse. I ran inside and checked the usual places...kitchen counter, kitchen floor, laundry...no. Hands shaking, I ran inside and called my husband. We both hit the phones canceling credit cards and notifying the bank.

The police came quickly. According to the policeman, this sort of thief is usually only interested in the cash. They suggested taking a walk to look for my purse...or "pocketbook" as they call them here. I took the kids and wandered around a bit, but didn't find my purse. And it's supposed to storm tomorrow. It was a nice leather purse, and I'm a bit pissed that the thief took it. Just take my dang wallet and leave me my favorite bag!

So I'm without credit cards. Without checkbook. Without driver's license. In a new state. Sucks to say the least.

Did I mention that I also have a sinus infection? Yes, that rains/pours saying is very apt at the moment. And the Boston forecast reflects this as well.

Luckily I'd just renewed my Texas driver's license before I moved. I haven't received my new license yet so hopefully I'll get it soon. Meanwhile, we're going to be much more diligent about security and bringing things inside. Toto, we're not in the Austin burbs anymore.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The world's tiniest powder room

We're the proud owners of the world's tiniest powder room. Previous owners had cleverly turned it into a sheltering nook of a potty with black slate floor, black painted wainscoting, and a dark wallpaper. It holds a miniscule toilet and equally petite sink. My hand could probably span most of the sink. Here's a photo of said sink. Note the bar of soap. It's a smaller than standard bar of soap on a tiny soap dish. I particularly like the old-fashioned faucet with separate spigots for hot and cold water.

Yesterday, I was enjoying some bathroom cleaning time. (On a related note: Why did I pay for both a housekeeper and a gym membership when cleaning one's house by oneself provides a darned good workout? Lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down four stories is especially effective.) I was polishing my brass faucets, feeling somewhat like a parlor maid in an Agatha Christie novel ("Rose was polishing Colonel and Mrs. Luscombe's brasses...")

I noted that my mini-powder faucet was labeled "Barber Wilsons...London 1905." The children's bath upstairs also has this brand of faucet as well as a particularly elaborate bath/shower contraption. The faucets had quite a bit of tarnish which I attacked with Brasso and a rag. Brasso, by the way, provides enormous satisfaction. Rub and the tarnish comes right off. Then polish to a warm luster. Was this unlacquered brass? Intrigued, I googled the manufacturer. This is what I found.

"Manufacturers of exquisite kitchen and bathroom faucets and mixers for over 100 years, the traditional and contemporary designs of Barber & Wilson's carry the Royal Warrant of the royal family of England by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Located in the United Kingdom, Barber Wilsons offers a custom manufacturing service and a wide range of commercial and in-home bath and kitchen faucets and fittings such as drains, pipes, and valves."

Oooh. So our house has posh faucets. Don't think the rest of the house meets this standard. Note the previous entry with its crumbling pegboard pantry and dilapidated countertops. Quite an interesting mix.

Friday, June 12, 2009


After the shelf paper shenanigans of yesterday, I rethought my kitchen strategy. I'll just unpack things and put them away. Shelf paper will be installed later, and I'll just wash everything before using.

Two boxes later, blinding headache. Could it be due to my diet of Kashi GoLean bars, Diet Coke, and water? Could it be because I haven't had my large coffee? Or could it be due to an overdose of scary kitchen surprises? I think I vote for the last.

Now before you see the details, I have to say that we knew that the kitchen needed to be entirely redone. And frighteningly, this wasn't the most tragic kitchen we'd seen in this town (in our price range). In other cases, kitchens not only needed to be gutted, but also expanded in order to work for a family. We had hoped to live with this kitchen for a little while before figuring out what to do. After this morning, the kitchen renovation might have leapfrogged air conditioning and garage as top priority.

So, this is what I'd thought was just a pantry. See? It looks like a pantry.

Unfortunately, this is what I found upon opening the doors.

No shelving. And it's covered on three sides with crumbling pegboard. In the kitchen?? You can barely see the base, but it's an elevated cabinet base. So I can't even stick a shelving unit inside because the weight would all be resting on the cabinet floor (and not the actual floor). There are also a few hooks around the upper perimeter. What are those for? Aprons? Did the housewife of the...what...50s? 60s? have such an extensive wardrobe of aprons? Really...the mind boggles.

I noticed earlier, but I have to share. Just what exactly is this countertop? It has these metal framed insets, and also metal rimming the backsplash pieces. Ugly. Rusted. Odd.

And finally...our dishwasher. Our house inspector said that he wasn't even going to try to run it. That we should replace it at once. And I will. As soon as Appliance Man gets back with our little ones from California. What do you think? Vintage 70s? How remarkable that it's still here with us. You probably won't be able to say the same for our modern, flimsy appliances. The Kitchen Aid Superba...what an old kitchen warrior.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Sometimes (maybe too often), what you think of as a simple, straightforward project becomes something much more. For example: shelf paper. I'd never used shelf paper before. Our new houses had new shelves, and it was something I'd never considered. However, this older home with its older shelves bedecked with odd stains and glops of mystery stuff (bright yellow!) was a different story. Before unpacking and setting out our kitchen, pantry, laundry, and linen closet stuffs, I decided to zip to Costco and grab some shelf paper. Line the shelves, shielding my stuff from all that mystery goop, and then unpack. Easy peasy.

The drive to the Costco was very straightforward. No asterisk today. Dedham, by the way, is where all the big box retail seems to be. It also has a McDonald's with an actual drive-through. Woohoo!

I filled my cart with stuff, including eight rolls of premium shelf liner...non-adhesive, clear, ribbed plastic stuff. After a delicious lunch of Costco hot dog, time to get to work.

Unfortunately, this wasn't as straightforward as it seemed. First of all, I couldn't figure out how to cut a straight line. The stuff was thick (think a thinner version of a rubber bath mat) and large and flexy. It didn't crease like paper. It didn't hold a fold. I ended up playing Twister on my shelf paper...one hand and one foot holding down the ends and one hand wielding the scissors. Did I mention how thick this stuff was? Premium, indeed! The scissors didn't slice cleanly through. No nice straight cut, but choppy little waves. Not pretty. And apparently, I'm far too old to play Twister for long. And how does this non-adhesive stuff actually adhere anyway?

So...I've given up for now. Suggestions on how to wrangle this stuff are very welcome.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Generally speaking, a good GPS combined with a dash of common sense can get you around just fine. However in some situations, a GPS is useless. This morning the GPS's metallic female voice directed me to "turn...left...at...Galen Street." Fine. Except that intersection confronting me was a point at which six streets joined...none at anything resembling a 90 degree angle. The intersection looked something like a deranged asterisk. (Which reminds me of the drawing from Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions)...But I digress...I was on a street with three lanes. The left lane was designated left turn only. The middle lane was only straight, and the right lane was designated right turn only.

Now if I'd driven straight ahead, I would literally drive between two streets...right up the middle of a vee. And left turn only? Did that mean the more acute left turn or the gentler left? Or the hardest left that was really more like a u-turn? Should I be in the left lane? The middle? You see my conundrum. And my helpful GPS friend was curiously silent. Of course, I immediately started over thinking. I did survive that intersection, but really. Massachusetts should consider more informative signage, perhaps with some illustrations...like in Vonnegut's book.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pictures while waiting

Photos of the overgrown back gardens taken from the girls' window. Taken while waiting for the moving truck to arrive. (Sorry about the quality. My camera cords are all packed. These were taken by phone.)

The birds

Sometime around four in the morning, I was awakened by what sounded like the avian equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor outside my window. Or what I imagine the NYSE trading floor sounds like. Voices shouting to top each other. Shrieking to be heard. Swelling in volume. Sheer cacophony.

And I lay wrapped in a blanket in the unbelievably chilly morning trying to ignore the noise. And the growing light. And failing until I checked the time. It wasn't quite five o' clock.

Blackout shades are climbing quickly up the must-buy list. And as for the birds...They've gone quiet now. I'm imagining children being awakened at four in the morning. Grumpy, grouchy, sleep-deprived children. At least I have one week to figure this out before they arrive.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Things learned in my first hour

When I first stepped foot into my new house as its owner, I didn't do a couple of things. I did not dance about humming a Mary Poppinsesque tune. I did not hug myself and twirl around with glee. Maybe I'd watched too many sappy movies, but I thought I'd feel a certain joie de maison. Nope. It was a house. Slightly shabby. Littered with random cans, bags, and boxes (left over from my husband's brief residence...tidy he is not). I found certain unexpected things. Like scattered bee corpses (ewww) from the previous owner's hive extermination. Like I didn't know how to open storm windows.

I decided to defer the bee corpse disposal and the tidying. My first order of business would be to try to find some dinner. Preferably a quick dinner. Preferably drive through. I decided that McDonald's would be my first dinner as a Boston-area resident. My new and most phenomenal GPS took me to spot less than a half mile away. I took one lap of the building. It's a large McDonald's with a large parking lot, but where was the drive-through window? I took a second lap. Yes, it took that long to dawn on me that this McDonald's did not have a drive-through.

How is that even possible? Isn't drive-through one of the basic food groups? And for those of you who are shaking their heads about my children's diet, the drive-through food is not for them. It's for me...usually my lunch...usually Chick-fil-a...as I try to cram in some chemically enhanced calories while running errands.

I was so confused by the non-drive-through McDonald's that I ended up at Panera Bread for dinner. There, I almost ran over two high school girls as they sat on the curb in the parking lot. Silly girls. There's an exceptional school system here. Didn't they educate their students that angsting must be done in a visible, safe location? Not hidden by parked cars? The girls were still angsting (one draped dramatically over the hood of a car) when I left. They made me smile.

Oh...and one more thing. Just an FYI in case you run into this situation. Bee corpses are very, very hard to spot on a medium-stained oak floor.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Treasures from under the carpet

First, can I say how ridiculously pleased I am that I now have a home with flooring under flooring? How cool is that? Those of you with older homes are probably thinking, "Okkkaaaay," and mentally shrugging your shoulders. But for me, someone who has always owned new homes bought straight from the tract builder, this is exciting stuff. This is architectural excavation. This is history!

A pretty profound load to lay on pulling old carpet from the underlying hardwood. Anyway, that is what Will did this past weekend in the third floor guest room. This is what he found (along with a zillion nails and staples...the installer was apparently concerned that the carpet might up and run away):

A stamp from Tunisia...


What's the story? Was the person who laid the carpet from Tunisia, and this was a relic of his beloved homeland that he carried as a talisman?

We know that this house and the house next door were built in 1935 for two sisters. So sweet, especially since the house will now be the home of our two girls. Perhaps one sister was a stamp collector, and this one errant stamp fluttered out of an album?

And the card from a child's game...

Will found another relic...I hesitate to say "treasure"...under the old grill in the laundry room. You read that right. According to our realtor, it was trendy to have a grill in a non-kitchen room to cook burgers and such. As he was trying to disconnect the thing, he discovered a mason jar of old, black grease screwed under the grill. No photo, I'm afraid. We're thinking of giving the jar to Alfalfa's best friend for next year's science fair.