Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Gall

Here's my new bae Andricus quercusstrobilanus, Mom. He's a fake pine cone that is in fact a gall, the space station of a gall wasp parasitical on oak trees. Fairly rare to see them so fresh and orange; usually they're seen and photographed in the dryish brown stage. I was just lucky, I guess. It was my moment. Their months are July and August and they seem to like wet, steamy weather. Is that more than you wanted to know, Mom?

Mom, did you ever imagine that your kid (nay, the fruit of your womb) would be curious about, like, strange growths like fungi, galls and slimes? Kind of be a geek about them? Wondering what the heck this planet has in this walk-in closet called reality? Remember spanking me with a hairbrush?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

That Is Our Choices!

Above: from the town's official newsletter
Pardon that I'm breathless, weak in the knees, I am so relieved. I fixed the dishwasher. It has taken all month. Please understand that the Divine kitchen sink -- a single sink -- is an inch too narrow to hold a nine-inch dinner plate. I'm not exaggerating. There is no space for a rack or drainboard. The dishwasher solves this. Otherwise I do dishes by washing and immediately rinsing, drying, and storing each piece before I can wash another; or do them outside.

After installing first a new latch and then a new motherboard and the dishwasher still wouldn't start, I put off and put off installing the third new part after it arrived. I couldn't face failure, nor $125 for an appliance-repairman housecall (that doesn't include labor and parts) after the $207 already spent on new parts; or a sickening $750 for a new dishwasher. Buying a used model would need a truck and friends to haul the used one in and haul the fritzed one away -- to where?

Fed up with being responsible for everything, absolutely everything, with yet more snakes wriggling out of my fireplace (!), I cried while unboxing the third new part and facing the screws and wires and pressure of high-stakes better-do-it-right -- without knowing how! Why not just call a repair place?! I almost did.

Yet if I installed the part and the machine didn't work, I'd be no worse off than I was. I gave it one last shot. It worked. The stress in my body released all at once. Shaking, I carefully placed a single dish inside, and sat next to it reading a book for two hours as it cycled, in case it flooded (flooded the new kitchen flooring and all the related, detailed wood-filler, paint and caulking?! I would die!) or exploded, etc. Works great.

I had promised myself ice cream if I repaired it. Actually, I promised myself fine pearl earrings but that money went for replacement parts. I was, and remain, too spent to go get ice cream. And so ends the month of Clean It Up, Fix It Up, Paint It Up -- the City of Pacific's motto. That is our choices!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Good Lord!

I have seen the 25-year plan for Pacific. In 25 years there will be no Pacific; it will be at the bottom of a man-made recreational lake ringed with McMansions, and somebody will make big money. Historic flooding in 2015, then worse in 2017, twice drowned half the town's housing and businesses; in 2017, the water topped the railroad tracks for the first time. The town was now floodplain and there was no two ways about it. Some residents FEMA'd and some didn't. When we're weary some developer will propose a glamorous lake in place of the sleepy little town and grease some pockets and make it so. But my mind was elsewhere when today I saw the little white country church lifted on pallets way up in the air, and thought, "Good Lord!"

I know buildings get raised and moved, a task I can't even begin to comprehend, and here I could watch it happen by hopping out of my car and telling a worker how amazed I was, and could I take a photo.

"Is the church being raised because of the flooding?" I asked, above the roar of the Bobcat. (Here, "bobcat" is both noun and verb.)

"Just like we raised the other houses around here," he said, and for the first time I looked around and saw that more than half the houses on the street, formerly ground-level bungalows, were now poised on new, high, solid concrete foundations -- ten feet high? twelve feet? More? The doors in front and back were now accessed with handsome new wooden staircases that one could tie a rowboat to. Those folks were staying put, flood or no. And my heart was glad.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Raisin Rye

Hankering for Raisin Rye bread I went from bakery to bakery inquiring. The bakers, sounding puzzled, said "Raisin rye?" "No, we never made that," as if they never heard of it. In Hermann, MO, where the German bakeries are, I again asked for raisin rye. None. Strange; I used to have it all the time (good with tuna salad, or for breakfast) -- or so it seemed. Friends hadn't heard of it. Did the world run out of it? Had I dreamt it? I googled it and it was not a dream.

I probably never bought raisin rye bread in St. Louis. It's not a German bread. Some say it has French origins but my hometown 400 miles from here is full of  Swedes and Danes, and they bake and are known for rye breads (as are the Finns) because in Scandinavia wheat won't grow but rye will. Dried grapes from warmer places on the continent came to Scandinavian port cities, and somebody put them in rye bread where they are very tasty. It's a food from my childhood. Thus my instinctual and inexplicable craving for it.

This fragrant home-baked loaf is probably a travesty because I added density and bite with a tablespoon of pumpernickel in with the wheat and rye flours. Recipes include shortening, molasses, cocoa, sourdough, coffee, cardamom, pecans or walnuts, fennel, orange zest, the water you plump the raisins in, grated Vitamin C, cinnamon, icing, buttermilk and starter, to name a few; such an array that raisin rye seems like an edible canvas bakers paint with their favorite flavors. Lots of bakers won't work with rye; it has no gluten so it doesn't assume the same lordly shapes of classic wheat breads.

Friday, August 24, 2018

DIYing is an Art, Like Everything Else

I lowered the Maytag's top onto an exercise mat, sliced into the dishwasher's bottom which is mere cardboard covered with foil, and used my voltage meter seeking weak electrical links. Taped it up when I found nothing wrong. Then it remained to lift the dishwasher upright. Tried and couldn't. (100 pounds? 150 pounds?) I wondered who I might call and what I should pay them, and imagined the gossip they would spread. Disheartened, I left it this way for four days.

The fifth day, after morning coffee, like Popeye on spinach I righted the dishwasher on the first try, a miracle. Then with a star-nosed screwdriver I removed the inside of its door, exposing wires both live and dead. Online forums and YouTube videos recommended a new latch, $12, as a first step toward repair. This didn't fix it, and God arranged a minor electrical shock to further humble me. Second-tier solution: a new $125 motherboard. While waiting for its delivery I dismantled and cleaned the machine's interior, down to its motor. Reassembly left me with two extra screws. I knew this was not right. Cue up the circus music, because I had installed a part upside down. Five or six days passed before I summoned the heart to undo and fix it.

A 1990s course called "How to Build a Computer" taught me it is insanely easy and no parts inside electronics are fragile, so replacing a motherboard does not scare me, plus YouTube demonstrations showed repairs on machines similar to mine. Installed the new motherboard. Now all the wires were hot. Still the dishwasher wouldn't start.

Online fix-it forums revealed arcane knowledge about secret codes for resetting dishwasher programming. Tried all of these codes. Glory be, three of the green LED lights lit up. Much heartened, I pressed the dishwasher's Start button but in vain. YouTube sages indicated a possibly malfunctioning touchpad. Paid $72 and the new touchpad is on its way.

Wouldn't it be nice if that fixed it? A new dishwasher is $750. I have learned a lot. A lot.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The High Sign

Final days of August, the dog days, are always hot, humid and unnerving -- what, summer is almost over? I lie low, work as little as possible, fix and serve summery lunches on the screened porch: here a favorite salad of shrimp, grapefruit and avocado with mustard-tanged dressing, and a glass of prosecco (sparkling dry wine, not quite champagne) to pay myself for being a good human.

Spooner's frozen custard, located up a steep driveway on a hilltop, is our local version of the famous St. Louis frozen custard called Ted Drewes'. My favorite sundae is called the "109-er" after the highway. One recent evening I went there. I am always alone. No one else is. This way I can concentrate on my ice cream. I order at the window, sit on one of the perforated metal benches and wait in the blanket-warm purple twilight until my sundae is ready and my name is called. Meantime I gaze at the green hills in the distance and up at the stars, slowly emerging like an understanding, and perhaps the moon, and listen to the passing trains. I look for the rabbit in the moon. Summer food, savoring summer -- is there anything better? Can it be late summer already? This August marks my 30th year in Missouri.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Out of Square

C'est fini.
Need I add that the Divine Cabin's kitchen floor was not only gouged and discolored but terribly out of square, its surface lumpy, with fussy millwork around its three doorways and 80-year-old baseboards seriously warped? And that it wasn't possible to move either the oven or fridge? One night my neighbor Terri and I finished laying the self-adhesive tiles on the kitchen floor -- Terri with the skills and tools from crafting, able to custom-cut the odd shapes to the millimeter. I mostly lay flat on the floor waiting to be handed the puzzle pieces and sticking them into place.

Here is the finished product. Very nice. Now I need a threshold. I bought one yesterday, and a hacksaw to cut it to the (odd, weird) 35.5 inches, and installed it, but it turned out I needed not a "bull-nosed" threshold but a square-nosed one which can be glued because beneath the floor is concrete and screws cannot be drilled into it. Besides that, there is only fine-tipped caulking to do, and then one last big, daring DIY.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DIYing for a Clean-Looking Shower

After 7 years the shower's caulk was permanently mildewed or God knows what and it depressed even me, who has showered in below-freezing barracks, in a hoarder's bathroom, in shower stalls stained orange with bacteria, in state-park shower houses where families were gutting fish, and so on (when I had no other choice).

c'est fini
My current fix-it mania drove me to buy a claw-like caulk-removing tool and dedicated kitchen-and-bath caulk. I laid down a bunch of towels, folded myself like origami into the shower stall and with rubber-gloved hands scraped off the old caulk, and thoroughly washed the gaps now open with a 50-percent bleach solution, and let them dry for 24 hours while I stayed at a friend's house.

I returned home to apply the caulk. With my inexperience ("Why isn't any caulk coming out? Oh, I have to squeeze this trigger really, really hard, with both hands") it took three sweaty hours to apply, and as soon as it was good enough, like a guy would have done it, I left the wet towels and caulk-choked caulking gun in a heap and ran back overnight to the friend's house to allow the caulk to cure.

Turned out okay, as you can see, even if imperfect. There is no "before" picture because it was too repellent to show. I also stuck "treads" on the shower floor for safety. This plus the new tiles on the backsplash means the bathroom update is complete. The Divine Cabin has a shower only. I get baths 64 miles away in The Original Springs Hotel in Okawville, IL, the only mineral spring in this area.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Out of a Fireplace

In mid-August, quite well grown, they're leaving the nest in my fireplace to find more mice to eat than are available in a fireplace that's capped and sealed. From the inside, the snakes might work at loosening the tape for two days before emerging. Sometimes they're blacksnakes, sometimes northern prairie ringnecks (Diadophus punctatus edwardsii) such as this one. With tongs I peeled the tape from the fireplace, snake and all, and put it outside on gravel where it had a chance to work itself free. The film is one minute long.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I'm Self-Adhesive, Are You?

Feeling that I couldn't possibly make it worse I bought some self-adhesive fake tiling for the bathroom backsplash area. My spatial skills are poor so it took time to figure out how the four sheets of fake tile fit together, even though they were lettered "B," "C," "D" and "E" -- where was "A"? And the walls and fixtures are themselves crooked. I did the best job  I could. I've seen much worse in photos of pre-World-War-I Eastern Europe -- and I like the stick-on tile very much, maybe just because it's a change.

So enchanting was the stick-on that I decided I would do self-adhesive tiles on the kitchen floor. There is no way I could make it worse.

I watched every YouTube about laying down self-adhesive flooring, and measured, and bought 50 tiles (you buy extra in case you mess up a few) and the right kind of grout and a putty knife for the gouges and ragged edges that currently expose the concrete floor just beneath. With the floor prepared and cleaned it is perfectly okay to lay down new self-adhesive flooring on top of it. Yes, that bruised and cracked stuff is my old kitchen floor. It's not dirty; it's as clean as I can make it. Even my amateur DIY can't possibly make it look worse and there is a chance it might look better.

I chose this gray-green flooring (68 cents per tile) because it's called "Basil" and will show neither white dirt nor black. I haven't laid it down yet. Am still mapping and visualizing the work the floor will need. I can't move the fridge and stove until I find a magic lamp and a genie comes out who will move them for me, so the whole kitchen can't be self-adhesive floored until then.

You might wonder why no one is helping. Or maybe you aren't wondering. It's because I'm self-adhesive. And nobody else I know would think this is fun.

Monday, August 6, 2018

It's White-Trash Repair Month

I truly loved July but felt something sad around its edges until I realized it was my beloved house, The Divine Cabin.

After 17 years without interior paint or new carpets or a working fireplace or insulation in the winter, it is, frankly, shabby. Squirrels occupied my screened porch after ripping holes in now-fragile screens worn by decades of weather -- ragged holes too extensive for normal patching. They chewed some of the wooden frames to bits. I couldn't enjoy my porch because squirrels ran around on it, destroying it, and I didn't see what I could do.

The dishwasher fritzed. The essential housekeeping tool, it saves hours of trying to wash and rinse dishes and pots in a sink the size of a salad bowl. When I could't revive it with fervent prayer and fasting, I had to unload it and do dishes in the yard. Fortunately it is summertime. Last time I phoned for dishwasher repair help, in 2014, I was jeered. "Aw, just run a couple cups of C.L.R. through it," drawled the Maytag Repair Man who is supposed to be so lonely. I called again and he made other addle-pated excuses for not coming. I figured he was on drugs. Finally I repaired it myself. This time I knew I would have to repair it again, and the problem is electrical. About which I know nothing except the red wire goes in the red slot.

Some corners and edges never get clean. They should be stripped of paint and refinished. I tried that with a cupboard door and the bathroom door. It took days and I sanded by hand because the garage has no electricity. The paint layers were a history going all the way back to lead paint and I couldn't help but breathe dust and chemicals.

The kitchen floor is the saddest case. It records all the bootheels and gouges laid into it by my husband, who died in 2009. The stained grout in the shower stall is also sad. Call the landlord? I did. They no longer bother with cosmetic improvements. If it's livable, they're not changing it. They also told me, this year for the very first time, I should be cleaning my own gutters and throwing broken tree limbs off the roof. I have never once been on the roof.

I had already bought, dumped and raked 1000 pounds of rock to make my own path through grass I couldn't find a cutter for. Not normally a DIY sort of person I finally had to tell myself, once again, the old refrain: "Ain't nobody gonna do it for you." And didn't I move here to be self-reliant?

In the coming days I will show you how I did something the hell about it, one item at a time. Today: the porch screen. There's a closeup of some of the ripped screen and frame damage, and also my solution. I patched the holes as well as I could and bolted hardware cloth in place. It looks nowhere near as horrid as I imagined. Measuring, cutting, fitting, finding wood screws and those ring things that go around the wood screws, gluing back as much wood as was salvageable, took an entire day, from cool 7 a.m. to hot 3 p.m. But now I can enjoy the porch.