The Cool House

Monday, September 25, 2006

Even the bunny couldn't stand it

We had to reseed the front lawn. Over the past few weeks a large patch died off and some marsh marigolds took up residence instead. The huge rabbit that used to come out every evening at dusk decided there wasn't enough to eat so he hopped off elsewhere and looking out at a large brown patch with a few weeds that won't even flower until next spring was getting to depress us.

I asked Neil, landscaper gardener and font of all knowledge about the house and property, what we had caused it and he blames global warming, the fertilizer that went on last month and sunshine. He swears that the season is two weeks longer here than it was seventeen years ago when he took over the business. He now works well into December rather than stopping the week before Thanksgiving as he used to. He also thinks the grass used is becoming unsuitable in the North East as warmer summers make it more susceptible to die-back. Then he thinks that the fertilizer we put down may have scorched the grass but only the areas that get direct noon- 2 pm sun are affected. Whatever the cause, we applied round-up to the marigolds, raked the thatch off, dressed the soil and seeded and hopefully in a few days we will have a touch of green again.
We also removed all the ivy on the entrance to the cul-de-sac and added a couple of loads of topsoil to prepare for the stones and viburnum we are going to put there in an effort to placate the neighbors and beautify the road. I don't have a photo because my camera won't play nice and anyway who needs a photo of soil? But trust me it looks a lot better than the ivy mess that was there before.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Originally uploaded by modernemama.
Little Wilba hanging out in her favourite spot - the herb garden in front of the kitchen window. It was a good spot to leap out from and capture the wildlife on the lawn or the dell.
The day this was taken she brought home two chipmunks and laid them out on the kitchen doorstep. She had already been sink for thre years at that point.
Wilba was a wild Belgian kitten we found in the garden in Overijse twelve years ago. She was so tiny her eyes were only just opening. Her mother, a wild cat who lived next door, moved her from her nest because she was relatively healthy and placed her under the rhododendrons in our garden.
After we rescued her she liked to sleep on top our old dog Sam, but once she grew bigger she returned to her first love: the great outdoors. She survived three moves, including one to a new country and adapted each time without a problem. She was feisty but a great companion and even though she was a little incontinent towards the end we were all sad when she died.
Wilba 1994-2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I said light not heat

Today's big project.......

As the days are getting shorter I've noticed that the fourteen floodlights in the kitchen give out great light but some of them also emit a fair amount of heat too. In fact yesterday evening we were eating in the kitchen and I swear my head started to fry.
I tried to do something about this problem last year and bought half a dozen low-energy bulbs to put over the kitchen table but they "sang" and it was so irritating that I took them out again and used them outside instead.
This time I replaced one 90 watt indoor fluorescent with a GE Reveal 65 watt as an experiment. It certainly doesn't singe my hair but when it is unlit it's a lilac colour and stands out like the kid with the black eye in the annual school photo.
So, do I replace all the bulbs with the GE Reveal? At $8 plus tax that'll be pricey and will purple kitchen lights be weird? Or will they set off the blue and purple Impala chairs? Or should I just try something else?
Sometimes you have to sweat the trivial details too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk
Originally uploaded by modernemama.

This guy has been around a lot this summer. He must have been bugged that a lot of trees were felled after the storms, because I have never seen him on the wires before.
He or she is a Red-tailed hawk and when he flew off a few moments later the wires were really shaking. He flew right towards the house (and me) and then veered off at the last moment.
Wildlife, trees, it's definitely scary living here right now.

Danger all around

You never know what's going to hit you.
Some people won't let their kids go into the city because they are frightened of all dangers that they think abound there. Well, I'm not sure that living in the incorporated village is any safer.
I was walking the dogs down to the beach this afternoon just before the rain started. It's been a beautiful week, warm, sunny, with little wind so I thought we should make the most of the late summer weather. Just as we reached the end of the road there was a loud crack and I jumped, luckily to my right, because a large maple branch came crashing down six inches to my left. Doubly luckily, the dogs were in front of me, pulling me along as they usually do.
The crash, more like a thud really, could be heard by the neighbors back up the road. Damned dangerous these maples.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Back where we started

This time last year we were bemoaning a damp patch that had appeared on the front stairs that we attributed to the master shower. Our temporary solution was to not shower in the master and use one of the other bathrooms. Then we discovered that the boys' shower was also leaking so we were forced to take action. We caulked the hell out of both shower pans and that seemed to work until last month when the master bathroom starting leaking on to the stairs but in a different place than before.
Our solution, however, did not vary. We closed it down, the leak dried up and we continued using the boys' shower. Until this weekend when I noticed a new wet patch on the ceiling below the boys' shower. So we've stopped using that one again and as there doesn't seem to be a problem with the caulk we are facing the probability that we will be renovating two bathrooms at the same time.
Apart from the imminent expense, the mess and the inconvenience, what is bothering us at the moment is having to choose tiles for these rooms.
We spent all last weekend and Labor Day weekend looking at tiles and we saw nothing we liked for our bathroom, never mind the other one. Everything seems to be either very traditional, or Tuscan or blah. None of it would work in our unique space. So if anyone knows a good resource for inexpensive, modern bathroom tiles in NY metro area, please shout out.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day is for........

working. Of course. It is if it happens to be the only free day of the summer when you're at home, it isn't too hot to move, it isn't lashing down with rain from the latest tropical storm and you don't have visitors.
So it was that we spent all day yesterday washing windows, inside and out, including the screens. I hate washing windows because they usually look worse after I've done them than before but we still had some wood stain on the window panes from last November so we had to so something before the bad weather sets in again and the stain becomes permanent.
I've tried every method of window washing from newspaper and vinegar to Windex and paper towels. The current method involves a sheepskin mop dipped in a light solution of dishwashing liquid and really hot water and a squeegee to wipe off outside and Windex inside. I throw the upstairs screens in the shower and wash them there and put the hosepipe on the downstairs ones.
The first couple of hours flew by and then we made the mistake of taking a lunch break. That's when the sun came out and revealed that what had looked like sparkling clean upstairs windows were in fact streaked with grey. There was some heated debate about whether the marks were on the inside or the outside and who was therefore responsible but a redo was in order. We finally finished at 5 pm with the kitchen window. It is so badly washed it looks as if it is fogged. We didn't care, we didn't have the strength to go over it again.
Steven has promised to clean it next weekend but I think he will have forgotten all about it by then. It only looks bad when the sun shines on it so if I avoid the kitchen between 4 and 6 pm I won't notice it either.
The plan was to jump in the pool when we finished to cool off but as the water temperature was only 70 F I settled for cleaning the pool and Steve for a hot bath. We were in too much pain to light the bbq so we settled for chips and beer. And we didn't make it to the informal gathering down at the beach to celebrate the end of summer either.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

MEM's the word

We did something totally out of character today. We actually left a plumbing showroom on speaking terms, without screaming at each other that "one of us has no taste, and it's not me", or without the despondent feeling that comes after looking at every faucet in the showroom and knowing you hate them all equally. We were so pleased with ourselves we rewarded us with lunch overlooking the water.
And what had caused peace and serenity to envelop us in this manner? The stunningly simple but arrestingly beautiful MEM bathroom faucet from Dornbracht. We looked at it and simultaneously declared it THE ONE. It comes also as a waterfall bath spout, which will make it perfect for the master bath, as well as the large spread for the basins. The only teensy weensy little issue is that we seem to have set our hearts on the most expensive faucet in the store, and we'll need two sink faucets, the bath faucet and a shower system, which flies in the face of our philosophy and promise to do this renovation as economically as possible. Still, it's a small price to pay for marital harmony, no?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bathroom woes

It's official, we are going to have to do a total renovation of the master bath. I came down the front stairs a few days ago and noticed not only that the crack in the ceiling has got much worse and is bulging and pulling apart, but that there is a new damp spot in the middle that is an ominous blue colour. I don't know if the crack in the shower pan is responsible but as that has been there since we bought the house more than two years ago I would doubt it. I think it is more likely to be a leaky copper pipe somewhere.
A plumber once said that bathrooms weren't meant to be on the second floor and I would agree with that. I'd add that they should never be sited over beautiful waxed parquet floors. I'd be beside myself if the ceiling came down over the floor, so we've stopped using the shower in the master bath and are just using the tub, toilet and sinks. The damp spot hasn't got any bigger and it has dried out so I'm assuming it's the pipes in the shower that are the problem.
We will be spending the Labor Day weekend in the tile shops looking at options and I guess then we'll move on to looking at plumbing fixtures. As the weekend looks like being a washout I suppose it could be worse, but I was hoping we could spend it in the pool and barbequing. We don't seem to have spent as much time outside this summer as we have in the past. I can't believe that summer is over and we'll be thinking about closing up the pool at the end of this month.

Monday, August 28, 2006


That's what we've got after four days of relentless rain. Every so often it will stop for a couple of hours and the driveways will dry off but where the new asphalt was laid on the cul-de-sac we have a large pool of water that's been there since Friday morning.
At least the smell has gone. I had forgotten what freshly laid tarmac smelt like, it's quite disgusting and hangs around forever. I'm sure this stuff isn't environmentally friendly. No one has mentioned to us yet why we had a new sealcoat laid only twelve months after the road was paved. But someone did come and remove the remaining "no entry" tape that was tied around a pole on our property. I was so tigged off I was planning to leave it there until it rotted.
In other news, someone called the police on our neighbor opposite because the contractors had started work at 7:50 am instead of 8. I wonder if it was the same person who called them on our roofers last year. The police didn't ticket these contractors though because it was after 8 am by the time they had got into the police car and driven the three houses to the "disturbance".
Strangely enough no one seems to be bothered about the landscaper two doors down who starts at 7 am every week. Or the other landscaper at my next door neighbor who comes every Saturday. Seems to me the police don't care unless someone actually makes a complaint. I wish I knew who it was.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Manners, please

I'm constantly amazed at the difference in what I consider to be good manners in the incorporated village and elsewhere. In our last country if there was to be any disruption to the daily routine e.g. closing the road to do repairs or someone having a grand piano delivered, then the police would be informed and three days before the event they would post warning notices so you had plenty of time to make arrangements to move your car or order earplugs. Whatever, it was considered "normal".
Here, not so much. Last evening going to fetch the mail we found stuck to the mailbox the following note signed by the neighbor: I have just had word that the road will be sealed tomorrow. All cars out by 8 am, should be dry by 3 pm. No sprinklers." Nice to know but this is a private cul-de-sac that we agreed to have asphalted last year. We certainly did not agree to have it top coated, and as there is no wear on it (at least on my end, who knows what damage the trucks and plant did up the other end over the past few weeks) I can't see the reason for it either. The other private roads haven't been sealcoated since we lived here.
I guess I'm just feeling a little out of control but there are actual reasons for my ire other than hurt feelings: firstly, the yard floods and two years ago the village built a 6" berm around the front of the property to keep the flood off our front lawn. With every inch of asphalt that defense is threatened.

cul-de-sac before

cul-de-sac before

Secondly the neighbor across the courtyard entrance from me and I had agreed last month to build a wall at the entrance to smarten it up. We had spoken to the landscaper and ordered the boulders. Now the existing stones are buried under another layer of tarmacadam. Thirdly, since the first layer was laid, the end of the cul-de-sac has formed a nice puddle every time it rains that takes days to clear. I can't wait to see what will happen now. Fourthly, it looks like freakin' suburbia. Yuk, yuk yukkity yuk.
Oh and one more thing on the good manners front. Two cars that couldn't get up the cul-de-sac because of the crime scene tape have parked on the berm. The one that is nicely planted with hostas and day lilies. If they are reading this, please let me know where you live and I'll come park on your front lawn. Yes, I am royally pissed off.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Everyone else is busy

All our neighbors, every single one of them. It sounds like a symphony orchestra from 8 am to 4 pm. To the right hammering inside (floors I think); opposite hammering outside- replacing headers and clapboards; next door to that house is a wonderful stable conversion, they are at the shingles, windows and air conditioning installation stage; to my left new plumbing fixtures have gone in and work is being done on landscaping. Behind them, I haven't asked but a lot of heavy plant has been going up and down the cul-de-sac daily. Next door they just finished a kitchen remodel and behind us the tree guys have been doing their work. Sawing, banging, sanding, power tools.

Everyone. Except us. There is an oasis of calm just here. We are doing nothing at the moment or for the foreseeable future. And I'm madly jealous.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Everything in the garden is lovely

Well, most of it. These lilies are almost over and only the everlasting hydrangeas are still blooming. Except for a couple of tubs, I don't bother with annuals as I'd rather put the money into something that's going to give me a few season's pleasure. But it does mean that I don't have much of a summer display.
I'm giving some more thought to the side entrance of the property. Last year the neighbours wanted to "improve" the entry to the cul-de-sac but we never got around to a proper plan. I've heard via-via that an ornamental half fence is being proposed in place of the arborvitae but there is no fence that will go with our unique house so I'm sure I don't want to go down that road. I nixed the moss stone border idea as large trucks back up the cul-de-sac and it's a tight turn. The garbage truck and delivery vans already move the boulders that are there now. I don't need to spend the $$$$ it costs to lay the moss stones only to find I have pebbles after a few weeks.
Another suggestion was large boulders, which I'm more amenable to but I need to think about planting shrubs there that will fit with the stones, the evergreens and won't be destroyed by the snowplow and the sand in the winter. I'm also thinking if I want to remove the arborvitae I'll want to do it before the big boulders go in.
Nothing will happen before the fall, but these things have a habit of catching up with you if you don't have a plan.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beach House?

Maybe I'm writing this blog under false pretences. After we signed the contract but before we moved into this house we used to go down to "our" beach, the one we are deeded to, to check out the views and pinch ourselves that we could have ended up in such a perfect spot. Then while we moved in and we were in the thick of opening boxes and cleaning up we walked down every evening to relax. After that we went regularly a couple of nights a week to enjoy the sunsets and most early mornings to walk the dogs.
Last summer we went a few nights for the sunsets and to most of the events held at the beach: lobster bake, bbq etc. We walked the dogs on the beach in the winter when it was mild enough.
This year we have been zero times. Zero. I can't believe it. No sunsets, no bbq, no lobster. We've hardly taken the dogs down there either. Halfway through the summer and we haven't taken advantage of the natural beauty of the area or the facilities that we pay for. It's not like we have to drive to it or make any big effort. I'm not sure what the reason is but I'm certain of one thing: this won't do at all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Crazy Batcave Bathroom Tile in Boston

Originally uploaded by modernemama.
Whoa, you go on vacation to the historical city of Boston to escape the renovation mania back home and what happens? On the Freedom Trail of all places? We spy the same bathroom tile we have in the 1970s boys' bathroom in a North End appartment entrance. They also used it on the floor and walls. I thought ours was unique and maybe should be preserved as such but now we'll definitely have to redo the crazy batcave bathroom.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mr Fix-it

Yesterday was set aside for fixing those little things that have been on the melon list for months. (We're not American so we say Honeydyew, which makes no sense). Steve put three screws in the side gate latch so that it's no longer hanging off, I used the wood hardener on the bridge and I'll fill the hole with epoxy sometime this week. Steve fixed the girls' WC that has been running for months by turning something 180 degrees: zero cost and almost no effort, his favourite kind of repair.
Then we examined the garden gate in daylight. It wasn't a pretty sight: the bottom and one side have almost rotted away and several uprights are looking pretty dodgy too. Steve rebraced it and added some extra pieces to strengthen it but realistically it's due for replacement. The question is whether we make a new one now (or get someone to make it for us) or wait until we re-fence the property. Eventually the posts will need replacing as they all have some rot and there is some old termite damage at the end farthest from the house.

The fence was custom made on site, probably not very long ago but it has some quirks. On the inside of the part with termite damage the original owners put a second layer of fencing in a different style to strengthen it. On each side of the property the fence stops twenty feet from the property line but there's some rather attractive blue nylon chainlink linking the fence to the neighbours' fences. I can't understand the rationale here - you pay a carpenter a bundle to make a really nice fence, then you leave the original chainlink in the corners why? So you can push it down and haul stuff through rather than going through the gates? Because the blue nylon is a nice accent? Because the neighbors have different types of fences and you weren't sure how to tie it together?
I guess I'll never know but I 'm working on a solution to the different fence styles now so we'll be ready to roll when the whole thing eventually falls down. Mr Fix-it thinks we will have to re-think the project timeline and move the fencing up to next year. The question is what do we move down?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fixing the Gate

Managed to do a temporary repair to the temporary fix on the garden gate last night. Rushed out to the Mom and Pop hardware store before it closed at 6 pm so I wasn't forced to waste an hour looking for what I needed in Home Depot. $10 worth of brace plates, extra long screws and some gungy stuff to harden rotted wood seemed to a bargain. Didn't used the gungy stuff but the brace appears to be holding the pieces in place. Had to stop when darkness fell and someone was in danger of getting their finger screwed to the post. Must buy a flashlight next time I go to the hardware store.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Redoing the renovation Part II

And when I went out back to check the new gutters, and to make sure the guys had closed the gate behind them, I discovered that the gate had finally fallen to pieces. This is the gate we turned upside down because the bottom was rotten on one side and re-hung, attaching the hinges to the "good side", thinking the temporary fix would last a couple of years. It did. Two years exactly to the day.

Redoing the renovation

In a previous life this blog was called So Not the Money Pit because although at first glance it looked like it needed a lot of work the house was far more forgiving than we first thought. Ha. That was based on the engineer's report. A $925 catalogue of obvious statements and omissions that was supposed to tell us what we were getting ourselves into and so save us from severe financial hardship down the road. Spend close to a grand but save yourself from possible ruin. Cheap at the price.
One of my favourite passages concerned the roof, which the engineer said would last another five years. But his contract did not allow for him inspecting it at close quarters i.e. going up on it or looking at it with binoculars, so he was not responsible if it failed at any time. Hum. So his inspection was as good as mine but a lot more expensive. Then there were the gutters. As these were hanging off, he suggested we should replace them. Rocket science.
We, poor simple house owners, followed his advice. Thinking the roof would last a few more years we replaced the gutters as soon as we moved in. Well here's the thing. The roof failed the first winter and ice dams formed cannonballs that rested on the new gutters and buckled them.
I know I should have got the guys to come in and fix it then for free but I knew we had to have a new roof so I thought I'd call when it was all done. Then the roof couldn't go on until the gutter guarantee had expired. When the guys tore off the roof nails and bits of asphalt clogged the leaders. With the torrential rain this spring and summer water poured over and behind the gutters so I called for a repair. Repair, which was free, meant large amounts of caulk that totally failed to solve the problem.
So today I am replacing the gutters and leaders at the back of the house with 6" ones because the gutter guy is convinced that with our large flattish roof we need the wider ones. He's giving me a discount because I asked him if I needed the larger width two years ago and he said not. But it's still costing me almost as much to replace this side as it did to do the entire house last time.
This is why I blog. So I can remind myself never to trust a piece of paper no matter how much it promises; that when renovating you work from the top down: roof, siding, gutters; ceiling, walls floors. So I can vent my frustration without harming anyone. And to let my friends know that renovating houses, be they forty years old or a hundred and forty is always surprising and usually costly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

When are you going to finish?

This post is for my friend Fikirte over at The Concoction who asked me yesterday when we were going to finish the house i.e. stop spending money on it already.
Here's what we've done so far:
2004 Replaced refrigerator.
2004 Taken down 70s vinyl vertical blinds in den, dining room, living room and kitchen
2004 Taken out the faux 70s paneling in three rooms.
2004 Removed the mirrored closets in the master bedroom (mirror on the ceiling I can live with, mirrored closets, no).
2004 Replaced skirting board in master.
2004 Shortened the pantry in the mud room so I can get into my office without turning sideways.
2004 Rewired lights on drives, dining room, kitchen and master closet.
2004 Replaced light fittings in master closet, bath, landing, bedrooms, foyer and dining room.
2004 Removed 70s shag carpets from six bedrooms.
2004 Installed hardwood floors on landing and balcony.
2004 Installed bamboo floors in bedroom.
2004 Removed carpets from front and back stairs and back hall.
2004/5 Refinished stairs, installed bamboo on back hall floor.
2004 Capped the chimney.
2005 Replaced corroded faucets in bathroom. Rebuilt one toilet, fixed two more.
2005 Replaced 15 windows.
2005 Stained 15 windows.
2004/5 Stripped wallpaper from foyer, front stairs and back hall, bedroom
2004/5/6 Painted master, office, two other bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, back hall and the interior of all closets.
2005 Primed foyer and front hall.
2005 Re-roofed house.
2005 Stained siding and painted original windows and doors.
2004 Replaced guttering.
2004 Removed dead and dangerous trees from yard, pruned back other shrubs.
2004/5/6 Replanted, planted, weeded ad nauseum.
2006 New window treatments den, office, dining room, master, bedrooms.
2006 Replaced dishwasher.
2006 Replaced 5" replacement guttering with 6" guttering

Here's what is still needed, with approximate timeframe:
2007 Renovate master bath.
2007 Replace another 7 windows.
2007 Replace flooring in den and dining room
2008 Bring gas to house and replace oil burner and water heater with gas boiler.
2008 Renovate kitchen and laundry room.
2009 Replace fencing.
2009 Marble dust pool and replace pool heater. Replace steel doors on bar and barbecue.
2010 Finish basement.
2011 Sealcoat drives.
2011 Plant up north side of yard.
2012 Whatever else we've forgotten/overlooked.
So my friend, I think the answer to your question is, possibly never. The chores never end and are constrained only by our limited finances.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

That's One Way to Get a New Washer

I think I've finally killed the washing machine, or at least made it terminally ill.
I spent all morning power washing the slime off the slate terrace and the brick patio (again, the last attempt was not up to snuff) and when I'd finished I tossed my cruddy clothes and sneakers straight in the machine. I guess there was a lot of sand and grit mixed in with the moss because the washer started making a squeaky grinding noise like a mouse got caught in the agitator and the clothes didn't wash at all.
I'm washing them for a second time but the machine is still squeaking so I'm not hopeful for a happy outcome. Or maybe the happy outcome will be finally putting the thing out of its misery and getting a new one.
On the other hand the new dishwasher washes cast iron pots and delicate stemware and leaves them sparkling, no pre-wash required.

Friday, July 07, 2006

It's here

The new Bosch dishwasher is installed, just finishing up its first load and it's soooo quiet. All this a day earlier than planned. Thanks Appliance World and Harvey the Installer who phoned at 11 am to ask if he could perhaps install the dishwasher today rather than Saturday morning. Could he? If it meant I didn't have to wash any more dishes he could.
I'm waiting for the beep noise to tell me its cycle is complete, I can't actually tell if it's on or not because it is sooooo quiet. I hope the dishes come out clean too.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I bought the appliance

No, not the washing machine. Even though it's July and the new Bosch Nexxus model came out it really isn't much different from the old one. It's still big and ugly-looking and I keep hoping that a new 1200, or even better 1400 rpm, super efficient but cute model will be launched on the market so that when I skip into the appliance showroom it will call to me "Modernemama, buy me and I will answer all your laundry demands with ease while satisfying your need for clean lines and cool design".
No, we had a dishwasher crisis. On Wednesday the 38 year-old cream coloured Maytag dishwasher clicked off halfway through a cycle leaving behind a couple of inches of dirty water in the bottom of the machine. There is no drain programme so Steve had to bail it out with a spoon and a cat dish. Then he took off the bottom plate and discovered that the drive belt had broken. That's a $16 part but he didn't think he could reach in to slip it on and I didn't want to pay a service charge for something so simple (I know, flaky economics) so I seized the moment and rushed out to order this beauty:

OK, so it was $1000 but after thirty eight years I think the old dishwasher has earned its retirement. They deliver the new one on Saturday and I'm sure it will be more efficient and quieter, and it will certainly look smarter. And I'm another step closer to the dream kitchen.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Yet another rhododendron

Originally uploaded by modernemama.
Happy Fourth of July, American friends.
I'm celebrating with this photo of the rhododendron that I moved from another part of the yard a month ago.
It's obviously a special kind as it's blooming in July and it hasn't bloomed before so I guess it likes its new home in the dell in front of the dining room.
Taking that photo is the most taxing thing I'm going to do today. Yesterday I powerwashed the brick patio around the pool and the walkways and it tok four hours. My back is killing me and one muscle in my right arm is still clenched but at least the moss is gone. Most of it ended up on my legs but I had a fair amount in my hair too. Had to rinse off with the hosepipe before I could get back in the house for a shower.
Next job: washing the windows but that can wait until the weekend.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Kitchen Planning

We've already been through one kitchen remodel in the recent past (2002 in our old home) so we are really aware that the more planning you can do the smoother the process will be. So, although we probably are 18-24 months away from starting the BIG project on this house, we have been designing and refining the design since we moved in here two years ago. We want to stick to the original footprint of the kitchen and all the appliances will stay where they were originally with the exception of the refrigerator that used to be under the stairs. This was not salvageable and had to be replaced when we first moved in and as no one makes a five foot high fridge anymore we had to put the replacement next to where the old fridge was. We knew this was a temporary placement and now we have a plan to have one wall of pantry units with the fridge/freezer and double ovens in the center of it. We feel confident enough of the design that we are now looking at kitchen manufacturers to bring the dream to life.
Last evening we were invited to the opening of the new Poliform showroom. I'm really attracted to the clean lines of the Italian kitchen designers so I was excited to test drive their Varenna kitchens. Despite the complimentary ice cream and white wine I wasn't really feeling that the kitchens were right for us. They were a little too cool for this house which has a lot of warmth from all the stained wood trim, ceiling and floors and I wasn't thrilled with the quality which I felt was only acceptable and not wow. When I looked at the price tags -$75,000-$105,000 for the display kitchens, I was even less impressed and I felt that we wouldn't be being true to the spirit of the house which refelcts Andrew Geller's affordable leisure philosophy.
So we're still looking for a streamlined, modern quality kitchen at a reasonable price. This could take some time.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two Years On

moving day

Two years ago today we moved in to our dream house. We were so nervous about updating it, knowing that it was designed by a well-respected architect does that to you! No pressure, but it was rumoured that when Andrew Geller learnt that one of his clients had slightly altered his original design while renovating, he was so displeased that he never spoke to them again. We felt totally responsible for continuing the original vision: great practical design, first class but reasonably priced materials, simplicity in everything. Our mantra was "Do no harm". I swear for the first two months we held our breath most of the time.

Gradually, we learnt to relax and we appreciated the house more and more, for example the siting of the house on the property and the placement of the windows keeps it cooler in summer and increases the amount of sunlight in winter. Hardly a week goes by without one or the other of us walking through the door and saying out loud "I love this house".

I searched for a suitable way to celebrate our second Cool House anniversary and hit upon the perfect project. I have been asking nicely at regular intervals for the person with long fingers (pictured above on moving day) to take a kitchen drawer out so we could replace the cup partitions in it with the cutlery holder. I decided that this would be just the thing, it would cost nothing and make my life a ton easier. With two barbecue skewers to push back the pins holding the drawer in place and standing on one leg while balancing the drawer on my raised knee I got the sucker out in fifteen seconds. Twenty seconds to remove the partitions. Putting the drawer back took no time or effort at all and sliding the cutlery divider in was a cinch. Time wasted waiting for someone else to do this job: two years; time spent doing the job myself: two minutes. Amount of satisfaction? Incalculable.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Soaking wet post

One of the best things about living in the US is being able to put your outgoing mail in the mailbox, raise the red flag and have it taken away by the mailman six days a week. No walking miles to find a mailbox or driving around with the bill in the car that you finally unearth from under the dirty tissues and expired coupons five days after it should have been paid. It's a wonderful system and I enjoy walking to the mailbox in the early morning and posting whatever mail I can't deal with online.
This morning I dodged the thunderstorms with letter in hand and two dogs on leashes only to be totally thwarted by an enormous puddle that was much deeper than my trainers and stretched across the road from my property to my neighbor's. The only way I was going to get to the mailbox was in an SUV.
Now we have drains on this part of the road and I know that they aren't blocked because the five home owners on the cul-de-sac had the drain pumped last year and I took a shovel and cleaned the road of all the debris last month. The problem is that these drains are only designed to take an inch of rainwater and can't deal with a basic thunderstorm. God knows what will happen when a hurricane hits.
Anyway there are always solutions to any problem so I turned round and crossed the lawn and approached the mailbox form the back side. I had to walk through a shrubbery and hang on to the post (that supports the mailbox) to avoid falling in the puddle but I achieved my objective and stayed relatively dry. I don't know what the contractors working on the house opposite thought though.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tidying Up

front border
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
I know it doesn't look like much but this bed represents hours of work. From the middle of the photo all the way to the centre of the left edge there used to be a berm - a man-made mound of silt and mud that our landscaper had collected each time it rained. It had washed down our street for years until the village put in a 6" berm on the roadside of our property in 2004.
The amount of stuff that had collected made a pile 15" deep, 12' long and over a foot deep. For the last two years I have been raking, digging and pushing this mound around, I have used the soil to plant new trees and shrubs but I didn't seem to make any impression on the pile. Meanwhile, the ivy and weeds threatened to take over that half of the dell while the other half was a desert.

I was determined to improve the look of the front of the house and I started by adding small, low shrubs to the rockery last fall. These are now a good size and lift the eye up past the wasteland, but obviously more was needed. I moved three big rhododendrons that had been doing nothing under the hemlocks and put the in the bed. Then I planted some hostas between these, but I'll need to plant some more when they have the half-price sale at the nursery.
Last weekend I spent five hours moving earth with a shovel and a rake and got the berm down to level along 4'. I cut down one unwieldy rhodo to about 15" and moved another that I think was once half of a huge bush. The next day I couldn't move. But everyday after that I spent an hour or two chopping at the remaining berm, hoeing and pulling weeds. This weekend Steve did the heavy weeding and removed all the ivy, and I replanted all the pretty vinca we came across.
The berm is gone, the soil that has been revealed is dark and looks nutrient rich, so all that remains is to plant it before it gets covered in weeds again.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More colour

Before putting the house on the market the listing agent made previous owner have the entire house repainted Navajo White. We know that the house was originally painted a bright blue in the dining room and den. The bedrooms were originally funky late 60s oil blue, gold, green and yellow, and pink and purple. We discovered that early on because the painters didn't bother painting the insides of the closets. The mud room, maid's room (now my office) and the hallway and stairs were once wallpapered. We have found some of the original wallpaper behind light switches and when we replaced the thermostat in the foyer. I wish I could have seen the house in all its original glory.
wallpaper remnant
Apart from the Bronzed Beige customised walls, we have decorated the dining room, which we painted with Benjamin Moore Titanium on the walls and Cloud White on the ceiling and baseboards and the master suite with Ralph Lauren Blue Mesa. I also mixed Cabot Wood stains in Ebony and Walnut to get the colour I wanted on the replacement windows. I have touched up around the new windows in the den, Verity's and Fliss' rooms with the Navajo White. Although Navajo White is really not our style I'm not planning to paint there any time soon because the paint is new. The kitchen and foyer have only primer so far, and while it's bright, it's kind of boring, but there doesn't seem much point in painting until the kitchen project gets underway. I'm getting impatient here, can you tell?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Personalizing those custom colors

Checking on my site visitors with StatCounter this morning, I was fascinated to find someone had linked through a Google search on "Bronzed Beige" the Benjamin Moore paint color. I posted a year or so ago that I had bought two gallons of the paint the previous November (2004) and had yet to slap it on the walls. I never did post what happened to them.
Apparently you are supposed to toss paint you haven't used after six months but I abhor waste so that didn't happen. Last October I did open one can, stirred it really well and slapped a coat on the mud room wall that had previously had the wallpaper that looked like mold. Unfortunately on the wall the paint looked like mold too, sandy mold but not something I could live with. I decided something a little brighter would be better and bought a can of BM Yellow Highlighter and mixed a pint of that with a pint of the Bronzed Beige. It was too yellow for the mud room but worked really well on my office walls. I made up another batch of the mix, but this time 75% Bronzed Beige and 25% Yellow Highlighter and used that on the mud room. It's better but eventually I'll repaint it, probably when we do the kitchen. The kitchen project seems to be turning into an entire first floor decorating project!
The remaining gallon or so of Bronzed Beige I mixed with two gallons of Super White and painted the fern bedroom and, after a brief flirtation with an accent wall in Ravishing Red and a replacement from our local dealer who had given me Red Oxide by mistake, Steven's office, too.
Four rooms, three different shades from a couple of gallons of oops paint can't be bad. Of course I still have a gallon of Ravishing Red I need to find a use for before it hardens in the can.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Just another one of those things

Nothing much positive to report houseways (or housewise). The washing machine, a large toploading Whirlpool from 1984, started making an odd whistling sound and depositing about half a cup of water on the laundry room floor. The water wasn't a big deal except that I do the laundry in bare feet or socks so I was getting a little damp every day, but hey, there's a floor drain so no big deal. But the whistling was getting on my nerves and the knocking that periodically accompanied it made me think the bearings were going.
Now, I have zero knowledge of the workings of top-loader washing machines other than they do a great job of swirling the clothes around in dirty water and a pretty poor job of actually cleaning clothes, but I know that I associate that sound with bad news in a front-loader so I figure it's much the same. And given its advanced age I didn't hold out any hope that parts would still be available or it would be worth paying a service engineer to come out and tell me the inevitable. We were planning to replace the appliances when we redid the kitchen so it seemed sensible that we go out and buy a new front-loader and have done with it.
Huh. As other housebloggers have noted there is no such thing as an easy replacement appliance shopping trip. Our road to hell, however, started out promising only good things. A personal invitation to attend a "previous customers only sale" arrived serendipitously from the local appliance store where we bought the elephant in the kitchen. All we had to do was turn up between 5-9 pm, chose a washer, hand over the Visa card and we would get a working, cleaning, more environmentally friendly machine, and a rebate from the local power company. I was so psyched.
On the appointed day we showed up, picked out a Bosch and were just about to fork over shedloads of money when the sales guy uttered that wretched sentence: Are you sure you have the space?
This is where you see the difference between an optimist (my husband) and a realist (me). An optimist yells: We have a huge laundry room, the appliances we have now are monsters, of course it will fit. The realist says: Why are you asking me this? Have other people had problems fitting it in their homes? How big is it anyway? Of course you have all guessed the ending to this sorry story. The space needs to be 56" deep to accommodate the open door. I don't think we have 56".
Although Steve was willing to take a chance rather than have to come back to the store we left empty handed. (He was also willing to consider a bump into the garage if we bought them and they didn't fit, until I did the projected cost of construction versus the inconvenience of going home, taking measurements and returning to the store - not so much an optimist more an irritating cloud cuckoo land dweller!)
Anyway, in order to accurately assess the space I spent the next day disassembling some plastic shelving added by the previous owner and doing a major clean up in there. Then I measured. We have 58" depth. But do I really want it to be that tight? And we would have to swap the position of the washer and dryer because all the machines except one have the washer on the left. That would mean maybe moving the dryer vent, and extra hoses. Even more inconvenience.
Now, guess which machine has the washer door on the right side? Correct mes amis, the most expensive one. And guess where we would have to go to look at one? Yes, Expo hell. A store where they never have what you want, have no idea how to get you what you want, hell, probably don't know what you are talking about, certainly don't know what they are talking about. But that's where the nearest Miele washers were so we made the trip.
Oh god, it was a true Sabena moment (Such A Bad Experience, Never Again). The salesman first tried to tell me that the doors on FL washers could be swapped. So I took him to one, opened it and said "show me how". Then he said they could be swapped on top-loaders 'cos he used to do that for his last job. Great info. Then he couldn't find the Miele catalogue and started whistling for it and blaming other salespeople for moving it. We'd been there only fifteen minutes and I was beginning to freak out. We did eventually look at the Miele washer, which was not a sexy design, and cost $2000. If I'm gonna pay two grand for anything I want it to be HOT and to do a lot more than just get my clothes clean. And it would take a minimum of three weeks to be delivered. For $2000, I'd want it yesterday. Once again home empty handed, but at least the Visa card is still intact.
Two days of extensive research on the web and I've decided that all washing machines suck, that a little water on the floor hurts no one and learnt that Bosch are coming out with a new model in July. Procrastination is today's favourite word, and at least I have a neater, cleaner laundry room to show for my efforts.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Paul Mayen table

Paul Mayen table
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
I've been searching for nearly two years for a coffee table to go with the original sofa in the living room and I finally found one one ebay. Hooray for ebay! I'm thrilled because it fits right in, especially with the chandelier, which isn’t surprising as they are both by renowned designer Paul Mayén
Mayén was a protegé of Frank Lloyd Wright and designed the gift shop at Fallingwater. My next search will be for a rug to replace the one in the photo, which is a little too small and classic for this room. After that maybe the 70s track lighting will have to go and we can call this room "done". No major renovation, just a little gentle updating.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Need some landscaping done

I'm trying to decide what to do with the yard to the north of our property. It used to be fairly heavily treed with a couple of beautiful azalea borders but years of neglect have led to about a foot deep of accumulated debris, tree branches and weeds. Last year we got the tree guys in to take out the dead and decaying trees and they also took away the heavy branches and tree limbs that were on the ground. We then weeded and got rid of the debris: sprinkler hoses, bricks, bluestone pavers (we recuperated those by extending the path) and dead bushes still wrapped in hessian that never got planted.
What remains is ivy, smaller branches and some old tree stumps. Now what we need is a digger to come in and haul away the top 4-6" of ground so we can get a clean start. This area is about a tenth of an acre so it ain't gonna be cheap. What I was wondering is if someone were to tip off the FBI that Jimmy Hoffa was buried here would they dig over my yard for free? And could I sell souvenirs to finance the new landscaping?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Name That Room

One of the differences between Europe and America is what we call the rooms in our houses. Actually, the first difference is that Europeans call it a house, Americans call it a home, but further than that we (I am a European living in the US) tend to have fewer rooms and less creative names for them. For example in Belgium the typical house has a living room, a dining room (or a large living/dining room), a kitchen, a bathroom, a shower room and three or four bedrooms. Some houses may have an office, basement or rarely a playroom but generally you know what your getting.
When we first looked at property here we were confronted with terms like EIK. I phoned my American friend but she was no help, apparently they either don't have eat in kitchens on Cape Cod or this abbreviation gained popularity only after she left the US. And I still don't know what the difference is between an EIK and a kitchen with a breakfast nook. I was familiar with the term "den" from American TV shows but I thought it had to be practically windowless and have knotty pine paneling and I never knew what you were supposed to do there that you couldn't do in a living room.
Then there's the Great Room. I call the room in the middle of my house the great room because it has a great big ceiling but the previous owner called it the living room. The room where we do most of our "living" ie vegging in front of the TV, she called the den but it is full of light. Our neighbors watch TV in the Media Room; it's dark and windowless but please don't call it a den. I'm confused.
This posting was inspired by an email from Dream Home Source that features a room I had never heard of before: The Gathering Room. I have an idea that each morning the family gathers in The Gathering Room and picks out a room that they will occupy for the rest of the day so that they do not have to interact with the other family members. Although it has its attractions this doesn't win the prize for the oddest named room. In my opinion that goes to Home Plan 18913 that has a something called "Future Quarters". Any clue, anyone?
I love Dream Home Source. One of the search options you can use is "Secret Room". Isn't that the best? And one last question: if you have a Media Room, an Exercise Room and a Billiards Room, what the hell do you need a Bonus Room for?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Modernist Road Trip

Mother's Day, so I'm putting my feet up and perusing my favourite inspirational magazine dwell and making a list of all the things I want to get after I win the lottery, when I glance at the special advertising section for the Saturn Sky Roadster.
This takes the form of a suggested road trip around Long Island, NY to see the modern and post-modern architecture. And the proposed itinerary takes in the works of the celebrated architect Andrew Geller who worked on the Leisurama prefab homes for Macy's and designed the Pearlroth House and, coincidentally, who designed our house in 1968.
It's a long way to drive from Shelter Island to Manhattan without stopping to see some mid-century architecture. So I suggest, should you ever follow the indicated route, that you make a detour off Rte 25A and see another Andrew Geller masterpiece. I'm so lucky to live in this unique house and I want to share it with everyone.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

arty shot from under maple

arty shot from under maple
Originally uploaded by modernemama.

Notice the lovely hosepipe that is running to the pool. One day I'm going to take a properly staged photograph.


That's what May is for, getting ready for Summer.
We got the pool open on Saturday. It took five hours to drain off the water on top of the yacht sail that serves as our pool cover. Apparently a new cover runs $2,500 or so and the last homeowner didn't want to part with that sort of cash, so she went to the sailmakers down at the marina and got them to make a cover for the pool. It does a great job of keeping the debris out but the winter rain and melting snow collects on it making summerisation a time consuming task.
After the water is off we rake up the leaves, tons of them, and allow them to turn to mulch. Then we roll up the cover and put it away and bring up the pool steps and diving board. Add 30 lbs of what is effectively baking soda and we're good to go. Except this is New York not Florida and the water temperature is an uninviting 62 F. That little issue won't be solved this year, the heater didn't repair itself and we didn't win the lottery, so no heated pool for us this summer. Still the frogs don't seem to mind.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Flooring frustrations

Last week we had the carpets steam cleaned to get rid of the kitty pee and poop stains, and it worked fairly well but the cat must have snuck back in the dining room and peed again 'cos it smells awful in there. So we decided we would have to take up the carpet and put down hardwood floors.
That was the start of the process. Our first choice would be BR111 Brazilian redwood which is what we put on the landing two years ago (see photo). When we tried to order more of it then our supplier said there was a problem with quality and we'd have to wait a few months to get it. Well, it turns out the problem is more than a temporary hiatus in production and there is no more Massaranduba to be had.
This leaves us in a quandary. Do we continue to wait in the hope that more will be released at some future date? Do we pick another hardwood? If so, what?
We liked the redwood because it goes with the house (that's a close up of our Californian redwood siding that forms the background on the banner on this site). It is exceptionally hardwaring hard wood, and that's important with two big dogs and cats that are prone to throwing up and peeing in the most inappropriate places. The other issue is it has to fit with the parquet in the foyer and great room that is oak and mahogany. Light wood won't work, there is a lot of wood in the house: beams, stairs, railings, doors and moldings and it's all dark or red toned. And it has to be of the right depth so there won't be a huge step from the foyer to the dining room and the dining room to the kitchen.
I really didn't want to do anything about this carpet until we did the kitchen remodel so that at least we could tackle the floor level in one go. But despite copious amounts of my usual secret weapon Nature's Miracle the smell just won't go. I suppose we could just not use the dining room for the next couple of years until we're ready to redo the kitchen but that seems kind of limiting, and getting rid of the kitty and replacing the soiled carpet with new carpet is a no go.
So to sum up: we can't get what we want; we really don't want to settle for an interim solution; we can't live with the yucky carpet any longer.
Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Big landscaping project

front yard
Originally uploaded by modernemama.

Extreme gardening this week. We had to move a huge maple that was sitting on top of the fir tree. This was a seedling from another maple in the back of the property that had grown 4' in the two years we have been in the house.
It was the lesser of two evils: we could move the japanese maple or chop it down but it was compromising the 100' conifer that the house was designed around, and we don't want to lose the big specimen tree, it's the focal point of the yard.

(that's a view of the fir towering over the chimney from the other side of the house).

It took all Saturday to dig out a pit 6' diameter and 3' deep to accomodate the rootball and all Sunday morning to dig out the maple. The soil is great though, all loamy from the leaves that have decomposed over the years. We've had the soaker hose on it since we moved it to its new home and we can only cross our fingers now.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


It's sunny and warmish outside so we're planting and transplanting, hoeing and weeding. Of course this is what we'd rather be doing

Pub Rush-Hour BBC - David Belle. Don't you want to have a go too?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mailman's here

Normally our mail consists of junk: offers for credit cards we don't want and catalogues we'd never buy anything from, but a few times a year we get something that is so exciting I have to stop whatever I'm doing and read it. Today was one of those days. The Frontgate Catalogue had arrived.
I don't know how we got on the mailing list for this but it has changed my life. Never before have I had the opportunity for so much mockery, and it doesn't cost me a dime. I read it from cover to cover and pick out the most unnecessary item that I could, in fantasy Frontgate world, purchase for my house. In winter it had to be the mobile Popcorn maker, then there was the 7' Papyrus in Urn, a faux plant that would set me back $599, but the winner this issue was the Remote Controlled Pool Shark that apparently speeds through the water just like the real thing. Gotta have one of those.
The best thing about the Frontgate Catalog though, is the "lifestyle articles", where they feature a newly built luxury house, usually around 10,000 sq feet, and interview the proud owners. My favourite? The couple who bought a 1995 house and decided it was too aged, so they tore it down and built a newer, shinier one.
The laughter keeps me going so I can go back and tackle this:

lamp fell

and cracked basin

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


This is what I found while raking up weeds in the yard this afternoon. I rubbed my eyes a couple of times but it was what I thought it was and it was alive. No more than 3" long with an orange swipe on the side of its head it was looking right at me. I shot into the house to get my camera because I knew no one would believe me, and of course, when I got back he had disappeared. There was a fair amount of scuffling from inside the dell but I didn't want to go poking around in there in case I trod on him and squashed it. I've spent the afternoon looking up turtles on the internet and I think I've identified it as a bog turtle. It's strange because the yard isn't boggy at all, although the dell acts as a flood barrier (see below) and it is well shaded with tons of pachysandra and other low growing plants (and a few weeds). Also according to NYS Department of Conservation they aren't found on Long Island, but then again coyotes aren't usually found in Central Park.

Spring blossom

pink azalea
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
The pink azalea on the front drive is in full bloom and it's so arresting. It's at least six feet tall and has many more blossoms than last year. Can't wait for the huge white one that should flower in the next week or so.

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Dora Amateis" Rhododendron

"Dora Amateis" Rhododendron
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
The azaleas and rhodendendrons are coming into bloom. We are spending our time mulching and weeding and generally enjoying the Spring sunshine rather than tackling the icky caulk in the bathroom. You've gotta smell the flowers sometimes, no?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cherry Blossom

Originally uploaded by modernemama.
The cherry tree, magnolia and forsythias are in full bloom.


Originally uploaded by modernemama.
Not much going on inside the house but Spring has definitely sprung in the yard.

Monday, April 03, 2006


or, what were they thinking?

Can you guess what the door on the right leads to? Remember that this my kitchen. So it would have to be a pantry? No. Stairs to the basement? No. Panic room?
Nope, it's....
wait for it....... yes, it's a powder room, also known as a half bath here. Just what you want in a kitchen.

Actually, it makes great use of the space under the stairs and it's directly under the master bathroom so the plumbing must have been a breeze. What really makes me wonder is they used carpet as flooring. Carpet? In a bathroom? In a loo that's in the kitchen? It's got to go, especially as the little overflow pipe thingy inside the cistern keeps jumping out of it's mooring when the WC is flushed and spraying the wall and the carpet. Soaking wet carpet. In the bathroom. In the kitchen. Lovely.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Oh no, we made it worse

The master bath used to be quite cute. Not the same standard of workmanship as the rest of the house because it was remodeled in the 80s or early 90s but bright, white and clean. That was before we got our clumsy mitts on it.
First off, we needed to redo the caulk around the bath and shower. A visually challenged, fingerless eight year old could not have done a worse job. Then Steve "tidied up" his vanity, and opened the medicine cabinet door so hard he cracked the glass door. Then I tried to replace a bulb on the light fitting over the basin and cracked the fitting, which fell down, narrowly missing my head. It weighs 2 lbs and corresponds to the crack in this basin , so I'm sure this had happened before.
But the latest, and most disgusting? All that caulk around the shower pan has gone grey and moldy. Yuk. I asked Steve if he had a solution to the problem. His answer?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Originally uploaded by modernemama.
It's spring, although it's so cold outside you wouldn't know it. What is more cheery than sunflowers, though?

New windows are worth it

We just got the last oil delivery of the winter so I was able to do a definitive comparison between winter 2004-5 and winter 2005-6. Although this winter was much milder than last and we would have expected to use a lot less oil, March has been colder than normal. Our lovely oil guys, Dole Fuel, also do a projection of gallons you need based on the temperature and use last year. We used 312 gallons less than they predicted we would. We spent $153 less on oil this winter than last, and this despite an average price increase of 50 cents per gallon. I feel this is worth repeating: fuel prices increased and we still saved money.
Of course the windows were horrendously expensive and we would have to have savings of this level for the next twenty five years to pay for them, but we are much warmer than we were last year, and now I've got used to them I can see they are rather nice.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cleaning up

new floor
seventies pink shag

One of the big advantages in replacing the psychedelic seventies shag carpets with hardwood and bamboo floors is that when you stagger out of bed with a streaming cold to find that the cat has thrown up on the landing and in two of the bedrooms, you can take a piece of kitchen towel, squirt a little detergent on it, throw it on the floor, and slide it over the cat sick, and it will all come up, guaranteed. Even the dried-on stuff. And you can do this all while holding a tissue to your streaming nose. Bliss.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

New old table

New old table
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
The den has been needing something to prevent those over 6' tall from a nasty chandelier related injury. I finally found it, on eBay of course.

It's an original 70s glass table with chrome legs in fantastic condition and the glass alone would cost 3x what I paid for the table. I love a bargain.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

At last, the end of the Window Saga

At last, at last, the roman shade for my office arrived though not without one last drama. I got a call from a neighbor to say she had my shade: the Fedex guy (not the usual Fedex lady who can read an address label, knows what's what and more importantly, who's who), had left a package outside her house, and luckily she's a nice lady and also luckily it had my phone number on it as well as my name. She phoned my rather than phoning Fedex to come pick it up and deliver it correctly 'cos goodness knows how long that would have taken. Anyway, I jumped in my car and drove to pick it up, and eureka: it fits, it works, it is the correct shade. Hurrah.
And I got to meet and chat with a new neighbor so thanks Yvette, Fedex and smithandnoble.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Feline frustration

I thought the dining room was done but Wilba the Cat had a few other ideas. Wilba is ten years old and cross. I have no real idea why she is miffed, although it might have something to do with the two male kittens who joined the family a year or so ago, then again she isn't very keen on Sadie the big dog, but it could just be that she prefers salmon to cat food and she hasn't been getting any recently (salmon? we have a house to finish, you know).
Anyway, she likes to punish us by pooping in inappropriate places. For the longest time it was the bath, yucky but a cinch to clean up; we had a sparkling bath from scrubbing it down twice a day.
Now, though she has taken to using the dining room carpet as her personal litter box. The white dining room carpet. Except that it's not white anymore, no matter how much we scrub with carpet shampoo and Nature's Miracle the stains persist.
And because the drapes almost touch the floor and I'm paranoid about them being stained, today I made Steve move the curtain poles up four inches to avoid any kitty contamination. He is unamused: twelve new holes to drill, twelve old holes to spackle and paint over, and we still have to find a solution to the kitty poop problem.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bye bye blind

The nice UPS man has just been to pick up the roman shade that smithandnoble sent out without a locking mechanism, the one they sent to replace the first one without a locking mechanism. The customer service rep assures me that they have identified the problem and I will be getting a new working shade without further delay. We shall see. So far nine blinds sent out, six returned for one defect or another. It all adds up to a lot of wasted materials, labour, shipping and MY TIME and PATIENCE.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

no rest yet

no rest yet
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
I'm sitting updating my flickr photos as it's too cold to do anything else and I came across this one I took just after we moved in. A year later we would trim these bushes back and discover a pond, a waterfall and a pebble stream flowing under the bridge.
I can't wait to get out there again in the sunshine. Roll on summer.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The revenge of the leaking toilet

This is why I don't undertake plumbing repairs.
I got so fed up of the phantom flush on the toilet next to my office and the outrageous price the plumber wants to charge ($350 for a basic fix that involves $20 of Home Depot parts or what he would really like to do is to take out my nice one piece toilet that matches the tiles and replace it with a cheaper two-piece in white that will look hideously out of place for the amazingly low price of $750) that I downloaded the instructions from and prepared to tackle it myself. Reading through my eye was caught by the following tip:
Check the bowl-fill tube if you're still getting "phantom" flushing. If the bowl-fill tube is below the water level in the tank it can result in a siphoning action that sounds a lot like a leaky flapper. Adjust or trim the tube so that it's above water level - this will provide an air gap to break the siphon.
Aha I thought, that's the cause. So I pulled the hose out a little and replaced the cistern lid and went off to get changed to go to dinner. All dressed and ready to go, I visited the bathroom before venturing out in the February cold, flushed the loo and watched as water poured out of the cistern. Stupidly, I wrenched off the cistern lid, allowing the hose its freedom to spray cold water all over me, and the bathroom floor. Darn, darn, darn.
I think I need another fix.

Friday, February 24, 2006

It's really finished this time

I know I said we called the dining room done but soon after this photo was taken Magritte fell off the wall and cracked his frame. This poster from the Surrealism: Desire Unbound holds great memories for us. We bought the poster in 2002 after we had seen the exhibition at the Met in New York, we also saw it at the Tate Modern in London and we lived in Belgium for many years and saw the Magritte exhibition there too. So I had to get it professionally framed and for three weeks there was an empty space on the dining room wall. But today I picked it up and re-hung it, and all the drama has returned to the space. And now we are definitely done.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Phantom Light

We have a spooky light problem in the den. I kind of noticed this a while ago, but put it down to not switching the lights on properly. Although really it's either on or it's off, no?
The track lighting is controlled by a three gang switch. One turns on the socket to the left of the den, the other two control the track lights; you can have them all on, just a spot that lights the picture on the east wall, there's one that lights all the spots on this wall and another that lights the south wall. And then there are the dimmer options. Oh yes we can micromanage the lighting in our den.
When we first moved in, we worked out which switches did what and then we only used the one that controlled the socket where we plugged a table lamp. Easy. Then one evening I wanted some extra light to illuminate the laptop and I turned on that spot. Nothing. So I turned the switch the other way.(They are rocker switches). Also nix. Then I went to the basement to check the fuse. It was on. I came back to the den and the spotlight was on. I decided I was crazy and forgot all about it.
Then on Monday we were putting up the last curtain pole at dusk, so Steve asked me to throw some lights on and nothing. I switched it one way, then the other. He was convinced that the fuse had gone so he sent me to check. When I got back having touched nothing in the fuse box the lights turned themselves on, then off, then on again. I guess that was the order I had fiddled with the switches but the expression on Steve's face was priceless.
Anyway I am not crazy, we have a forty-five second delay on the switch that wasn't there a year ago. So my question is: Is this dangerous? Or is it merely quirky and we should plan to put the lights on a while before it gets dark?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Things that go flush in the night

One of the less well known universal laws is that one problem solved causes three new ones. For example, when we moved here eighteen or so months ago the engineers report noted that there were minor plumbing issues to take care of.
Like the leaky downstairs shower and the powder room wc with the phantom flush. Easy, I thought flush with my "building fund", I'll call a plumber. The adorable original house owner left me a list of her responsible service people and I duly called her plumber. He arrived, looked at the problems and left promising to call back the next day. Case One: the disappearing plumber.
A month later the builders were here tearing out closets and paneling. They noticed the dripping shower and offered to fix it. Great. Super. They bought a new shower head, cleaned out the accumulated yuck and proudly presented it to me. "It still drips, though" they said "but we'll fix that". A week later they were gone, but the shower still leaked, and the toilet flushed unaided.
Fast forward six months and the second contractor was looking for things to do while his spackle dried. Your shower's leaking. Very astute these builders. He fiddled with it. "I've cleaned it, but it still drips a bit".
Meanwhile, the phantom flush began to keep us awake. I decided to tackle it myself. I bought a new flapper and fitted it. Piece of cake. Didn't stop the flushing though. Finally it was enough to wake us up at intervals throughout the night and another shower starting gushing rather than dripping. I caved and called a second plumber.
This one came, looked at the gushing shower and decided it needed a part that would have to be specially ordered. He promised he would fix the loo at the same time as the shower. A week or so later the plumber phoned, the part was in but the plumber was busy so they were sending a different guy.
OK plumber and part arrived. Plumber Two or is it Three's verdict on the shower? Didn't really need a new part, just needed cleaning. "You got a lot of debris in there, ma'am". He installed the part anyway, I'd ordered it so I had to pay for it. And the loo? He left saying it was fixed, but all he'd done was put on a new flapper! This actually made matters worse, but I didn't notice this until after he drove merrily away. Instead of flushing quietly every fifteen minutes, it now flushed like Niagara Falls every five minutes.
A phone call to the firm and couple of days later, Plumber One (or Two) came to fix the toilet, spent fifteen minutes and voila no more noise. Three plumbers, two contractors, three call out charges for the last two plumbers, time and parts for five guys and the loo is fixed. It would have cost $20 at Home Depot if I had done it myself, huh!
And the dripping shower? I forgot to ask the plumbers to fix that one. Probably a good thing or we would be bankrupt by now.

Rant, rant

I do not believe it. Really I don't. I feel like Victor Meldrew, a British sitcom character beloved by grumpy old Englishmen for his incredulity at the spanners life threw his way and the incompetence of everyone he came into contact with.
Why am I so miffed you ask? Smithandnoble's replacement shade arrived at lunchtime today. Those paying attention to this saga will recall that in October I ordered four red silk roman shades for the dining room. When they came, three had white splotches on them so I sent the whole lot back and ordered three shades for the den in one fabric and one for my study in a different fabric. The den ones weren't great quality but at least they functioned as shades i.e. they went up and down but the fourth was lacking that essential part of blind structures- a locking mechanism. So it went back and I waited for another shade and guess why I am exasperated today. No, go on guess. Correct they have delivered a shade with exactly the same defect. When I rang them they were incredulous, this never happens they assured me. I think they think I am some sort of imbecile who cannot operate a roman shade. But wait I have three others and I can open and close them so maybe the fault lies with their manufacturer. Or as I believe, they opened the package that I returned, looked at the front side, thought well it looks ok, I don't know what the problem is, and RETURNED THE SHADE TO ME IN A NEW BOX.
My reason for this suspicion? One of the rings that the shade hangs from is bent in exactly the same position as the shade I returned a week ago. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Does smithandnoble read my blog entry or is it just coincidence? I checked my email just after I posted the last piece and weirdly enough there was an email from them saying the missing shade will be her tomorrow (FedExed no less)!
I hope it's the right blind, with a locking mechanism, and no pins, threads or wobbly bits on the seams. As the rod is already up I should be able to just slot it in place when it arrives.
Can't wait, I'll post a pic when it does, in the meantime a daylight photo of the den with the shades up.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Done den

Steve's finger has almost healed, although he hasn't had time yet to get the stitches out and I'm beginning to worry that he's grown permanently attached to them. What are the consequences of leaving them in forever?
It's President's Day, and that means he works from home instead of going to the office, so betwwen calls and emails and presentation writing he decided he could spare an hour to put up the curtain rods. We actually set the kitchen timer for fifty minutes to ensure he wouldn't miss his four o'clock conference call.
I'll take what I can get so I laid all the tools out, charged up the drill and did the measuring so all he had to was drill the holes.
Here's the result, and this is what it looked like when we moved in eighteen months ago.

I'm still cheesed off with smithandnoble for several reasons. The quality of the product versus price is dreadful: The seams are not hemmed, simply pressed and unsurprisingly there are threads hanging off the raw selvage; the edges aren't straight and the bottom rod that weights the fabric keeps sliding out. Their customer service sucks almost as bad as the product. I still haven't heard when I will get a replacment blind for the replacement blind for my office. My rule of thumb for an acceptable job is always: Could I have done it better myself? On this project Steven could have done a better job. Rats.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

the old window dressing

the old window dressing
Originally uploaded by modernemama.
July 2004: this is what the windows looked like when we moved in, all vinyl, all over. The windows were single hung, 6'x4'1" and the heat transference was tremendous. Now we're snug and the decor is improving too.
I love my house more every day.