Friday, January 29, 2010

Another Round of Home Improvement

We will be having a guest next weekend. One of Mrs Elliott's longtime girlfriends is coming up to stay a few days, see about some skiing, and generally cheer the place up, being the cheerful sort that she is.

I have learned to expect Mrs Elliott to get a home improvement bug right before a visit from friend or family. Last year, before the Great Big Official Annual Family Reunion, the front yard got landscaped with sturdy Zone 1 perennials and a bit of lawn.

It looked mighty nice and I'm glad we did it. It will look nice again when the plants wake up and turn green again, I go with the flow on these things.

So when she started mumbling about window treatments and we need to do something about the kitchen, I was unsurprised.

Fortunately we bought the services of Nancy Snyder, a professional interior designer, last year at a charity auction. I say this is fortunate because we have recently become aware of the dismaying fact that we are both totally hopeless when it comes to interior design.

And I'm proud to say that we seem to have driven Nancy very close to a nervous breakdown with our inveterate indecisiveness and baffling inability to visualize how the room with look with this tile, or this tile.

Which do you like better? This tile, or this tile?

I swear it's like getting your eyes examined with a phoropter -- "Is this better? Or this? This -- or this?"

When someone shows me a catalog of window treatments, all I know is that I don't want frilly. Beyond that I'm hopeless.

Mrs Elliott is not much help, either. I should call her "Mrs. Waffles," she dithers so.

Anyway, after much discussion, a few confidence-building exercises, and a couple sessions with a top-notch marriage counselor, Nancy managed to get us to pick a nice earth-toned tile for the counter top and back splash, this to replace the existing dark granite tiles and stainless steel bits; and we've decided to wrap wainscoting around the kitchen, painted white to match the cabinets.

I think it will look right spiffy.

So this morning I had a licensed electrician (Randy, from Chet's Electric in Redmond, I can't say enough about this guy -- he knows what he's doing) install a couple junction boxes in the kitchen ceiling over the butcher block island so we can drop a couple lights over it; and to put in under-cabinet lighting over the counters. BIG difference. Me likee.

With the counter tops nicely lighted I proceeded to re-aim the track lights for better overall fill, when p-twang! a little plastic tab and a dinky metal spring snapped off the side of one of the fixtures' swivel mount and launched themselves in two different directions. Without these parts there is nothing keeping the fixture from working loose from the track and beaning one on the head.

"You hear where that went?" I asked the electrician.

"Hear what?"

I found the black plastic tab in the sink, sitting atop the black rubber gasket thing at the opening to the garbage disposer. Could of fallen right into the maw of the thing, but the gods cut me a good deal this time around.

The spring turned up underfoot shortly thereafter. So I got all the parts, I just need to reassemble the thing. After a brief inspection it became clear that I'll need to take the entire fixture apart to put this bits in: to try to force them in would invite breakage. Best not to fuck with a good deal when the gods pitch one into your lap.

Now here's the thing: we're going to have to find some nice lights to hang over the butcher block island. Flipping through the online catalogs, I can see that there are only a million choices.

Is this better? Or is this better? This -- or this?

"Honey -- can you call Nancy?"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Missing Something

During the darker months of the year, the TV gets more of a workout in our house. Mrs Elliott's and my tastes in programming overlap about as much as they don't. But there is less programming for me than for her, overall.

There sure are a lot of "reality" shows. Such fare appeals much more to women than it does to men, something the industry is aware of. They stuff those shows with lots of emotional exhibitionism, lots of crying, and lots of borderline crazy behavior.

But they don't have robots. Not one.

I reckon that if they added at least one robot to every one of your standard-fare "who will save my baby" weepies, I might watch a few.

Even better -- can you imagine what it would be like if, in the middle of The Bachelor, a crazed robot were to break into the room where the girls were applying their makeup, and fling them around like toys? A-and then a few of the girls broke into the weapons closet (they have a weapons closet?? Cool!) to arm themselves and the producers turned off the soft-focus and let the show become a gritty tooth and nail struggle for survival?

The numbers for that show would shoot right through the ceiling.

Remember you read it here first.

Archiving 2009

Today was bill-paying day for the month of January at maison Elliott. I have trained my vendors, the utilities, the bank, and everyone else to expect their check by the end of the month. That way I'm not writing checks several times a month, but just the one time.

This month the bill-paying landed on a Monday, the ugliest day of the week. Making it a double-ugly day.

Grumbling and fretting, I worked my way through the bills and just now surfaced from under the envelopes, stubs, statements, filler and other crap that gets stuffed into the envelopes along with the bills, stamps, paper clips, and adding machine tape. I pulled off my sleeve garters and green eye shade and am taking a break.

Having once been audited by the IRS, I know the value of keeping bank statements, bills, and anything else some nosy Parker might want to read, so at the end of each calendar year I wait until the December bank statements come rolling in, then place the year's accumulated heap of dead trees into a banker box, label it with the year, and set it in the garage.

I have boxes going back to 1999. I know I don't need to keep anything longer than seven years, so if I run out of space I'll recycle some of the older boxes.

Into this 2009 box, I placed all the records of last year's ankle surgery. The prints from the x-rays, explanations of benefits from the insurance company, bills from the medical providers (still paying St. Chaz down, the one visit to the ER when the ankle blew in May took me more than halfway to meeting my deductible, they have graciously agreed to a payment plan), copies of prescriptions, invoices and receipts from the wheelchair rental shop, und so weiter, und so weiter -- they all went into the box.

I felt like I was closing a chapter in my life, a bad chapter, a really, really bad one written by a terrible, terrible writer, like, say, Dan Brown.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Unimportant Even By My Standards

I won't lie to you, this post is just a placeholder.

There's not much going on
right now at Maison Elliott. Work. Household chores. Maintenance of the physical plant (toilet handle broke this morning necessitating a run to the hardware store). Guy in the store asks, "So you got a square hole or round hole in the side of the tank."

"What do you got?"

He pauses to consider the shelf stock. "Square."

"I'll take square."

Hired some arborists to address two tree branches that partially broke under the weight of last November's surprisingly heavy early snowfall -- work too dangerous for someone like me (though temptation whispers to me to become another idiot amateur limb-cutter on a ladder on America's Favorite Home Videos and maybe win some money -- money easily spent while wearing a body cast).

Paul the Computer Guy is having his grand opening on Groundhog Day. He's been taking care of our networking needs, helped wire the shop and Mrs Elliott's office when we moved in, and he's provided good hardware recommendations, too. So I don't mind if I steer some business his way. He was working out of his house when we met him, but has moved into a storefront on Franklin between 3rd St. and the railroad overpass. I'll drop by and say "Hi."

I had a key made. And ... oh yeah: had to make a run to the bank, too.

So ... (pauses to find a way to fill time) ... anyone got anything to say about the Championship Round games this coming weekend?

Friday, January 15, 2010

You Have Been Genericized

Have you seen the ad for Tangerine Hair and Essentials on page 27 of this week's Source? It looks like the stylist is working on herself. Totally lookalike blondes.

I'm not sure what the intended message is, but what I get is something like: Your pathetic choice of hair color and haircut is no match for our superior styling-fu. Prepare to be assimilated into the blond.

Finding Housing for the Kids

Shortly after I posted yesterday's observation about foreclosure rates (we're number 11!), Mrs Elliott left on a jet plane to the Bay Area to attend to client relations and to meet with the contractors who will be helping her turn a typical low-end California tract house that she bought cheap into a livable space for our son and grandchildren.

I dunno. While it just doesn't feel right to me to buy commodity housing in California -- a state that has the fourth-highest number of houses foreclosed on in 2009, the children are living in a pitiful little apartment in, in a storage facility, less than a quarter of a mile from one of the busiest freeways in California and need some way to escape.

Epidemiological studies are clear: health risks for children are very high near freeways. One of the kids has asthma. Incidence of chronic asthma spike in areas where children live day in and day out in a cloud of suspended and vaporized toxins and pollutants which roll off the freeway, all day, around the clock.

So helping the kids move to a somewhat cleaner environment (between Sacramento and Oakland) is beneficial for the grandchildren. Our son will have a 30 to 60 minute commute each way every day, and that kind of stuff wears a man down. But a four-bedroom house for wife and children is often an adequate exchange for the soul-deadening drive. Kind of like giving your soul to the devil in exchange for mad guitar playing-fu. It's the sort of choice that men historically accept.

The house is really inexpensive, even by Bend standards. It's in a tract of similar houses (stretching as far as the eye can see!), a breeder community for raising kids (Jack is so pleased those days are behind him: raising kids isn't something that Jack signed up for when handed male genitalia, but what else are you going to use the equipment for?), a decent school district by impoverished California standards (vote YES on Oregon Measures 66 & 67, asshole), and it represents, pretty much, the only chance those kids have of getting out of Oakland hell.

There are reasons why they can't move all the way out of California to a quieter, healthier, prettier, and more honest place. I don't recall what all the reasons are. Mrs Elliott is pretty smart, I'm sure she explained them all to me. I do know that Bend is too small for our son, who operates a one-man towing company, to find consistent work, otherwise I'd be agitating to move them here, like we did our other son.

And the Oakland son's wife has family there, and there is built-in babysitting in the form of another son and family who live near the new location . . . reason, reason, and another reason.

So, really, Mrs Elliott is doing is the best thing she can do for the kids. She is also outfitting one of the bedrooms and a bathroom down there as a mini-office so when she visits (which she is planning on doing frequently; who wouldn't want a mother-in-law like that -- am I right, ladies?) she'll be able to claim her part of the mortgage payment as a business expense.

But even so, I wish that a nicer, sweeter place to raise kids had been found.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We're Number Eleven!

RealtyTrac just released their year-end report of foreclosures filed in 2009.

In terms of percent of foreclosures per number of housing units, Nevada leads the pack at one out of every 10 housing units foreclosed. Picture that: 10% of the houses are in, or went through, foreclosure.

Arizona follows with one housing unit per every 16.

We find Oregon down in eleventh place, with one out of every 47 housing units foreclosed on.

Their report is here.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Noncommittal Kind of Day

It's flip-flopping among showers while sunny, sunny without showers, showers while cloudy, and cloudy without showers.

And gusty, generally. A patio chair was tossed across the deck.

Place keeps you guessing, that's for sure.

My allergies kicked in this morning. I wonder what that's about: do any of the local floras release pollen this time of year?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which is not to say that Central Oregon lacks for Hard Wood

Only moments after posting our observations about firewood, I received several personal emails from readers wondering whether my complaint about the lack of "hard wood" in Central Oregon was meant as a double-entendre.

It wasn't.

Jeez, fellas -- I'm sure your wood is fine.


No -- wait.

Need a Blowtorch or Something

Central Oregon apparently does not have any hard wood.

Seems that the best a fellow can buy around here in the firewood department is juniper. I don't dislike juniper, I burn juniper in the office space wood stove downstairs, and it works brilliantly. But the stuff doesn't pack that many btu's per cord or pound as some hardwoods I am familiar with, like oak, or eucalyptus ("gum" to those in the antipodean hemisphere).

And unlike a lot of soft woods, juniper isn't very interested in burning. It takes a lot of baking to get the stuff to take off. A load of juniper in the upstairs bronze-age masonry fireplace, with its vertical grate, needs practically a freakin' Presto-Log to get started. Once I've built up a nice bed of coals (which takes, like, two hours), juniper burns quite nicely.

Convincing the stuff to get really enthusiastic about burning is the challenge. And I speak as a proud member of the select group of guys who can get a campfire going with just forest duff, some twigs, a few sticks, and a single match (I taught my son, Jim, how to do this when he was a kid. Now he gets campfire-building duty and makes his pa proud).

I'll work out something. Aside from the aforementioned Presto-Logs, I've tried "fatwood" which doesn't pack enough btu's to do the job.

Paper -- now, paper is just wasting your time and mine.

... this is important because I want to be able to easily give the functional and highly-attractive Mrs Elliott a cozy fire.

There is some hope that someday I will be able to plumb gas into the fireplace. Give me a little steady flame under the grate and I could get even wet firewood going.

We have plans.

(rubs hands together)

A Good Day to make Minestrone

Our Uncle Edith was many things: painter, hi-fi enthusiast, pianist, opera buff, aficionado of psychedelics, vinyl record shop owner, and cook.

On this lusciously sunny day, I am cooking Uncle Edith's wonderful minestrone soup and raising a glass of malbec wine to the memory of this courageous and resilient soul.

RIP Uncle Edith, 1982*, Lisbon, Portugal.

* Or so . . . maybe a brother will provide a more accurate date.

Monday, January 11, 2010

You Must First Dial The Area Code...

Thought I left 10-digit dialing back in SoCal. Surely little old Central Oregon was so sparsely-populated that I'd never have to go back to entering an area code to call the guy next door, thought I.

But no.

It followed me here like an ex-wife who's just been released from prison.*

* I'm talking about you, Destiny.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

We're Not At Sea Level Anymore

Until we moved to Bend, I lived my whole life at sea level.

I never had to deal with the fact that at higher elevations, sealed products packaged at lower elevations will have relatively high internal pressure at higher elevations where air pressure is lower. Potato chip bags may swell up like pillows due to this effect.

I opened a new bottle of a cleaning agent today and nearly put my eye out. No telling where the factory is where it had been filled sealed, but it was certainly at a lower elevation than Bend's 3,600 feet.

I didn't pause to consider that the stuff might be pressurized. When I popped the nozzle open, a jet of liquid shot out and hit my glasses.

Hydrogen chloride and citric acid. "CORROSIVE TO EYES AND SKIN" it says on the back of the bottle.

I have to get used to this.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Think The Shire was a bit of an over-reach?

How 'bout that "Biosphere Estates," then?

If the city acts quickly, we could buy the Biosphere (not actually spherical) and move it to Juniper Ridge, creating Biosphere Estates at Bend.

They Mean No Harm

That Bend has been selected for the first (of many, it is to be hoped) National Beard and Moustache Championship is a heartening sign of . . . something. It's not clear. The Magic 8-Ball recommends I ask about this later.

But anyways, mark June 5 on your calendar, and fear not the beard and mustache guys when you see them. Greet them with a smile and a hearty handshake.

They're gonna be here for the beer anyway, pretty much.

Conditions May Change. Act Accordingly.

I went out to the van last night to drive over to Abbey Pub and watched a car go kinda sideways down the street in front of my house. Then I saw that my van's windshield had acquired that bumply clear ice glaze that doesn't like to come off easily.

I went back into the house and had a nice hot bowl of home-made black bean soup instead.

I'm told that a metal paint scraper is the way to address that windshield glaze ice. I have one and will test this theory.* My son has a can of windshield de-icer which he says works like a charm. It's toxic, though, and VW Vanagons are prone to rust in body seams. I'm gonna check with the Vanagon user group about this stuff before I start spraying it around, willy-nilly.

This morning's fog is supposed to blow off when the winds pick up around 10am. Little chance of precipitation after that. It's a good day to haul firewood.

It says here.
* Later that same day: Nope, the paint scraper is no more effective on the ice glaze than the plastic ice scraper I normally use.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Could Use Another Week Off

Not that I'm complaining, mind. I close my business between Christmas and the new year, which most people don't have the luxury of doing. I traditionally have taken this time for reflection, something that winter inspires me to do. I have often driven up the California coast to Big Sur or places further north. Camping trips, stays at lodges, cheap motels, whatever. A chance to get out of SoCal where the weather refuses to recognize winter as a valid season, an oversight I have taken issue with throughout my life.

Here in Bend, I don't feel that need to seek signs of winter, it's all around us. Winter solstice is deeper here than down south. The place synchronizes with what my internal clock was missing.

So this time I was able to stay home.

New Year's Eve is also Mrs Elliott's and my anniversary, a crafty bit of planning which gives us an automatic excuse to avoid NYE parties. Who in our age bracket stays up to midnight? Willingly, I mean. We went out for dinner at Ariana restaurant on Galveston (the paired wines were a bit timid, in my opinion, but the food was exceptionally delicious).

But by the end of New Years Day I found myself in a brown study after the Ducks lost to Ohio. Such moroseness could only be lifted by puttering around the house.

The old man puttered constantly. Except for a dry spell when he and Mom lived in a mobile home place in Goleta, Calif., where he didn't have a garage or a workshop, he was always doing something. He restored a couple antique British sports car, he fixed various plumbing problems, and built things. His three sons are all putterers, too. I can't speak for the other two, but I've always had an abiding distrust of men who didn't own tools, who didn't know how a flashlight works, whose garages actually held cars...and not table saws and an air compressor.

During this break, I figured out how to use this secondhand Kirby vacuum cleaner and all its myriad attachments (actually a solidly-built piece of equipment); used it to shampoo the living room carpet after that KPOV party; got Mrs Elliott to help me sort out the mess in the garage after packing the Christmas lights; and I replaced the old basket grate in the upstairs fireplace with a vertical grate and cast iron fireback. The difference in efficiency between the new wood stove insert (w/ blower) downstairs and the upstairs Bronze-age tech fireplace is significant. We can't afford an insert for the upstairs fireplace, but I'm hoping this new setup will improve the fireplace's radiant heat output.

I also swapped out a couple of dodgy circuit breakers in the house's main panel. This I had to do with the breaker panel live, since this house is wired with no way to shut off the power going into the panel -- the nice man at Pacific Power said I could schedule to have them disconnect the entire house at the pole, which is just plain silly for the five minutes that the actual swap needed.

So I just asked Mrs Elliott to stand by in case I made a mistake and got electrocuted.

"What should I do then?" she asked.

I thought about this for a few moments. "Call 9-1-1?"

She looked at me for a beat, sighed, and went back into the house to pack some more Christmas stuff to put away until next year.

All told, it was a pretty good vacation! I didn't have to drive 300 miles for it; and best of all, winter solstice felt real.

Next year, I'd like to join with some folk that celebrate the solstice, to help me find a way to better appreciate the spiritual quality I feel at this time of the year, when the real -- as opposed to calendar -- new year begins.

Still, another week off would be nice right now.
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