Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Home Maintenance Marathon Continues...

How am I doing on that DIY list??

Let's see...

One item I didn't mention in my last blog post was the 320 pounds of sand and topsoil that I hauled home from the garden store, eight 40-lb bags carried, one by one, into my back yard.  The severe drought these last two years has caused the ground to shrink away from my house foundation along the back wall, creating a very wide and deep gap.  It wasn't as bad last year, and my yard man brought some sand in last year to fill it in, but I don't think he used enough and it quickly sifted down into the crack and disappeared. 

So last week I poured four 40-lb bags of sand into that gap and then followed it with four 40-lb bags of topsoil.  I worked the sand into that gap really well using a sharpshooter shovel and tamping it in with a hoe.  That gap swallowed up every bit of that sand.   I heaped the contents of the four 40-lb bags of topsoil on top of the sand, piling it up against the foundation, knowing that as the sand settled, so would the topsoil.  I hope this helps prevent any foundation problems that might occur from the exposure.

The patio crack repair looks good, although the new cement is a startling blue-white, while the old cement is more a beige color.  And I'm pleased with the tile repairs, too.  I know that both of these fixes are not going to last forever, as this crazy gumbo clay we have shifts, expands and shrinks through the Texas seasons.

Today I pulled a section of the rotten baseboard away from the short wall nearest the sliding glass door so that I could spackle the gap where the old baseboard caulking was, in preparation for priming the wall with Kilz.  The handyman should be here later this week to replace the entire baseboard section.

The carpet guys are here right now, stretching the carpet to remove some ripples that appeared after hurricane Ike.  I was without A/C for two weeks and the humidity and dampness from some roof damage caused the carpet to buckle near the foyer.  They're also steam-cleaning the carpet, something I've never had done in the 15 years I've lived here.  No kids, no dogs, no stains....so the carpet is in very good shape.  So far, from what I'm seeing, the ripples are flattening out nicely and the repairs will have been worth it.  FIY...carpet stretching is not cheap!

Only things remaining on this current to-do list is replace the outside porch light and get that baseboard replaced.  Both should be done later this week when that handyman shows up.  Hooray!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Favorite Store.....Home Depot

It's no secret among my family and best friends that my all-time favorite store is Home Depot.  Even my late husband was totally aware of this.  In fact, we'd treat it like a "date day," going to Home Depot, getting lunch or breakfast.  Totally romantic!

So this morning my ever-growing DIY shopping list could be ignored no longer.   As soon as I was fed and dressed, I jumped in the car and headed to my neighborhood Home Depot (HD) to knock off the items on this list....and of course, the household tasks that these items represent. 

I was surprised at how crowded the parking lot was on a Monday morning.  I avoided doing this over the weekend, figuring it would be packed with homeowner DIY's.  But apparently weekdays are equally as busy. 

I tried to arrange my shopping list to approximate the layout of the store....I do this with my grocery list, as well.  That's why I get totally messed up if I shop in a different store and end up doing lots of backtracking.  But fortunately for me, I've been shopping in this HD for 15 years and nothing's changed. 

First up:  a small can of Kilz. 
The project:  Seal and prime the slight water damage to the baseboard and wall next to the sliding glass door once and for all. 
  •      The damage dates back to Tropical Storm Allison.  I had several places suffer from the blowing rain, including the window sills of all three windows in my garage (which I had replaced several years later) and this little stretch of baseboard and wall next to the slider.  It backs up to an outdoor power outlet and caulking it with clear silicone solved the leaking problem but the damage is still there. 
  •      The Kilz is for the brownish staining on the wall, in preparation for re-painting.  The baseboard is getting professionally replaced on Friday morning.  Finally.  It's been an annoyance and I'm sure no one else has ever noticed it when visiting my home, but my eye goes to it every time I exit that door.  I'll apply it later this week.

Next up:  a small tub of pre-mix grout in Alabaster color (bone). 
The project:  Attempt to fill cracks in two tiles in the foyer and three tiles in the master bath. 
  •      If it works..... great; if not I'll go to plan B, which is two-step epoxy.  I got it home and immediately got to work, applying it first to the foyer tiles, with the idea that I'd try it and if it wasn't working, no big deal, since I could always have the cracked tiles replaced (I have extras).  It's even possible that the entire foyer flooring will get replaced (see the next item below).
  •      Well, I'm cautiously optimistic.  The foyer cracks are barely noticeable now - probably  not noticeable at all by someone who doesn't know they're there.  Much of the cracked tiles are covered by a beautiful area rug that my son bought me when he was in Saudi Arabia anyway. The grout has a latex filler, and that seems to be working. 
  •      Encouraged by the results, I moved on to the three tiles in the bathroom.  These are larger tiles and with a matte finish.  These came out even better.  The grout match to the tile color is perfect.  The cracks are nearly invisible now.  Of course, there's no guarantee that the cracks won't continue to widen.  But for now, I'm happy with the repairs.

Next stop:  Review my tentative selection of Pergo for the kitchen.
The project:  I have a carpet-stretching/cleaning company coming tomorrow morning to see if the ripples in my living room and hallway - thanks to having no A/C for two weeks after hurricane Ike - can be stretched out. 
  •      I'm hoping this will succeed and that getting the carpet throughout the house steam-cleaned will buy me a few more years.  Even though the carpet is 15 years old, it's a very expensive, dense plush and has held up extremely well. 
  •      If the carpet stretching/cleaning is successful, I'll go ahead and get the vinyl replaced with Pergo throughout the kitchen, breakfast room, and laundry room.  If the carpet cannot be successfully stretched, then I'll consider extending the Pergo into the living room, foyer, and halls.  Don't want to proceed with the Pergo until I know the carpet outcome.
  •      Yep!  After seeing it again today, I still like that Pergo Grand Oak!  Will look "mah-velous" with my white cabinets and light counters.

Next Stop:  Lighting Department
The project:  Replace the outside light fixture at the front door.
  •      The hanging brass fixture on my front porch is looking very sad.  It's multiple shades of tarnished and looking less than fresh, so replacement is in order.  I hung this fixture shortly after we bought this house new 15 years ago.  It replaced the dowdy, plain-Jane contractor grade light fixture and looked stunning when it was new.  But no longer.  The guy who's replacing the baseboard on Friday is also going to hang a new light for me.  I just need to buy it and have it ready for him.

On to Heating/Cooling:  A new programmable thermostat
The Project:  Replace the current programmable thermostat.
  •      The current thermostat is 15 years old and starting to act weird.  It has been possessed and will skip to the next time period, usually to the "sleep" setting which is cooler than the "return" setting.  Very strange!!   It's silly to put up with this any longer, given how inexpensive they are.  I bought a Honeywell 5-2 model. 
  •      It was easy to install, only took me about 10 minutes.  It actually took longer to drive back to HD to exchange the one without the instruction manual or the mounting hardware for one that had not been opened then craftily sealed back shut so that no one would know.  (grumble, grumble).

Last Stop:  The very far end of the store, past the lumber, and into the concrete/cement section, looking for a quart of Quikrete dry mix.
The Project:  Repair a crack and associated divots in the patio concrete.  
  •      Shortly after we bought the house we had the patio enlarged.  The crew did it right when they extended it along the back wall of the house, but did it wrong when they extended it out away from the house.  But I shouldn't complain.  It has held up well for about 13-14 years.  But through the severe drought we had last summer, it began to crack, a line parallel to the house and right at the junction point of original patio and extension where they did it wrong.  It wasn't a serious crack...that is, until I had my lawn guy power-wash my patio and driveway last fall.  The high-pressure water eroded the edges of the crack, widening it and creating small crater-like wide spots along the crack line. 
  •      Well, I can either have the offending extension chipped away and replaced, only this time done correctly using a wooden form between the new and old (oddly this is how they did the extension section to lengthen it) or I can try patching it to buy more time and save some $$.  I noticed that there were some very long-lived patches made on the sidewalk at our community center, so I thought I'd give it a try. 
  •      So late this afternoon, once the patio was in shade, I gathered my tools, mixed the Quikrete, and got to work.  I kept it moist with the hose as I worked, which also helped me to smooth and feather the edges.  It's a long crack but I'm optimistic.  I had some concrete mix left over so I went out front and built up a corner of one of the segments in my driveway.  It broke away years ago. It's not very big, maybe 2" by 3", but it's worth a try to fix it with what I had left over.  The Quikrete in no way matches the current concrete, which is more beige in color, but I'm hopefully staving off any further water erosion. 
My manicure went to hell in a handbasket, what with the cement and the grout work, but it was a day well-spent!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Motorycles On My Mind

These last few days my motorcycles have been on my mind.

A few weeks ago I brought my BMW over to Gulf Coast BMW to sell her on consignment.  They have a good reputation for doing this. I felt that I just wasn't riding her enough and it was a shame that she was sitting in the garage unridden.  That's anathema for a motorcycle.  Engine and brakes and clutch and tires and hoses really don't like that.

So late yesterday morning I drove over to the dealership to check on her.  I must confess it was very sad to see her still sitting there on their lot in front of the dealership.  They had her all cleaned up and I felt a bit of a pang as I walked past her to go inside.  I chatted with Tammy, the sales manager, and she is still optimistic.  She thought she had it sold, as it was the only R1200R they had in their inventory, new or used.  She had a couple of nibbles, one of whom came into the store to look at it but, as my luck would have it, another customer had come in earlier that day to trade his R1200R in on a K1600GT.  So when that potential buyer showed up, she bought the trade-in, not mine.  So close....!!  Drat!

Then, with motorcycles still on my mind, I promised my FZ6 that I'd get her out for a ride the next morning and as proof of my good intentions, I checked her chain and topped off her tires with air.  I have a destination in mind and even entered the route into my Garmin GPS.


Good to my word, I got up this morning and pulled on my riding pants and riding boots.  I wasted no time on showering or on eating breakfast.  I could do that after I returned from this little outing. 

 I had to rummage a bit to find my mesh riding gloves and the sunglasses that usually live in the tankbag on the bike, but then I had it all together and by 7:15 AM, I was starting her up and backing her out of the garage. 

The online motorcycle group that I belong to, The Motorcycle Tourer's Forum or MTF, has a "virtual" photo tag game going on.  Actually it's been ongoing for several years.  The initial start of the game was a photo that someone took of their bike in front of an item or location of interest.  To "tag" the photo, a rider must find a similar location or item and takes a photo of their bike in front of it.  Now the "tag" is complete.  The rider who has successfully tagged that photo can now find something else and take a photo of it and post it on the forum as the next "tag" challenge. 

The beauty of this game is that it can be played by anyone located anywhere in the country.  If, for example, a lighthouse is the current open "tag" photo, someone else can ride to a lighthouse near where they live, take a photo, post it, and the lighthouse has now been tagged.  The successful tagger must post a new photo of a new destination soon afterward, as the tag is not considered fully completed until the next destination is posted. 

I've contributed to this game a couple of times over the years, and have missed out on a number of other chances to contribute.  Lately the tags have been unobtainable for me....a ski slope for example, and a curvy road sign with the "next X miles" stated beneath the curvy symbol.  I'd have to ride many hundreds of miles out of my way to find either of these things. 

But finally the ski slope and the curvy road sign got tagged and the next new tag was a passenger train car.  Aha!!  I can get this one!  I know exactly where I can find one of those!

So with the destination entered into my Garmin, I was off.  I decided to take the long way 'round, partly to give my FZ some exercise, and partly to avoid the construction on Beltway 8.  I headed south on 288 to Highway 6 and then worked my way west.  My, but this road has become built-up in the last decade!  Many more traffic lights, but traffic was light, and we seemed to be catching about half of them in-synch.

At the US-59 intersection in Sugarland, I hopped on and headed south, my destination, Rosenberg.  It was a pleasant morning, the early sun at my back, the breeze fresh and cool through the mesh of my jacket and pants. 

I hopped off onto highway 36 which took me straight into Rosenberg.  A right turn and then a quick left onto 2nd street, and I was headed straight for my destination:  the Rosenberg Railroad Museum.  My photo tag:  A very old railroad passenger car built in 1879 sits on display outside, next to the museum.  I pulled up, put the sidestand down, and grabbed my camera.   Perfect!!

Now I must find a new tag, something different from what's ever been tagged in the past, but something not so hard that the open tag sits for months because folks can't find anything similar.  I considered maybe taking a photo of one of the many Texas state flags that are flying everywhere in this proud state.  The tagger would successfully tag this by capturing a photo of their state flag.   That would be my fall-back plan.  But I also knew that the historic downtown area of Rosenberg might hold several interesting possibilities. 

There was absolutely no traffic in downtown Rosenberg; I had the streets all to myself, perfect for cruising along slowly, looking for a good photo op.  And there it was!!

The next tag is a photo of a soda fountain or soda shop/shoppe.  This is an historic soda shop located in the nicely restored historic downtown Rosenberg area. 

I took a different, but equally as round-about route back home, stopping to top off the gas tank as I neared the house.  I even considered whether to pull in to the Starbuck's which was right along my route.  I've had good experience carrying a coffee cup home in my tankbag.  I talked myself out of it, in the interest of getting home and getting the two photos posted at the forum before someone else beat me to the tag. 

A nice little ride!   I beat the heat, I beat the rain, and I got the tags before someone else did!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Extra Luggage

A suitcase full of dirty clothes apparently wasn't the only thing I brought home with me from Alaska.

Don't get me wrong....it was an absolutely terrific trip, one for which I'd been planning and saving for a couple of years.  I wanted to do it right, make the most of this opportunity, since there's no guarantee I'll ever be back.   Yes, I ran a half marathon while there and, yes, I stayed in training mode for the few days leading up to that race.  But the day that I ran the race is the day that "training mode" got thrown out the window.

So here it is.  I am confessing here for all to see.  I brought back a few extra pounds along with all of those dirty clothes.  {Sigh!}  But...were they worth it, you ask?  Hell, yes!

I had a number of reasons to celebrate:  the successful completion of the Mayor's Half Marathon - and doing it with a good friend.   Getting to Alaska - finally!  My 65th birthday - a huge milestone birthday.  Heck, I even had to celebrate the fact that I was thousands of miles away from home and actually knew some folks there in Anchorage with whom to celebrate! 

And then looking back at those first 6 months of 2013....I needed to celebrate the fact that I'd completed 10 half marathon....in 6 months!  And in those 6 months, I placed in my age group - three times!!

So that's a whole lot of celebrating going on!  But truthfully, I was tired of the non-stop training and diet regimen.  I needed to cut loose and eat and drink irresponsibly and gave myself permission to do so.

While I didn't eat huge quantities of food - in fact I ate my meals rather frugally - I did eat and drink lots of "treats."  Heavenly chocolates from the Alaska Wild Berry Products store.  Ice cream.  Whole milk cappuccinos and decadent pastries from Starbucks.  I chilled out nearly every evening before dinner at the very pleasant bar at the Benihana's next to the hotel in Anchorage or at the bar at the Windsong Lodge in Seward, sipping wine or champagne.  When I think about it, that's a lot of extra calories I don't normally ingest when I'm home.

Now I must pay the piper.  But it was sooo worth it!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Short Family Visit

Short....but sweet!

Daughter-in-law and the grandkids are heading to California to spend a month with her family who are scattered about the Modesto-Sacramento-Lake Tahoe corridor, leaving my son alone to "batch it."  They discovered that they could save over $700 in airfare if they all flew out of Houston.  So a last-minute plan was hatched...drive to Houston, stay the weekend, then put everyone except my son on a plane.

I had two days to prepare for their arrival, so I scrambled to get ready.   It took multiple trips to the grocery store to remember to get everything and, in that process, I ended up buying way too much food.  Impulse purchases!  But better to have more than not enough.  I cleaned the house and the patio a bit, laid out fresh towels for them. 

On Saturday we had a belated birthday party for my son.  I had bought a cake and the makings for beef kabobs on the grill.  My son brought some fresh tomatoes and basil, and a log of mozzarella to make insalata caprese.   It gave me occasion to break out that bottle of Italian liquid gold:  high-end balsamic vinegar. 

I put my son in charge of the kabobs.  They were great!

And then I stuck some large candles in the cake, lit them, and we all sang happy birthday!!   It was a simple thing, but so precious!  It's rare that I have the chance to do this for my son now that he's grown and moving around as a career Navy officer.

It was a simple, relaxing, yet way too short visit before they were packing up and heading to the airport, my son dropping off his family and then heading home alone to Louisiana.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Ants Go Marching.....

The concept of actually luring ants into my kitchen rather than blasting them to kingdom-come with bug spray runs counter to my sensibilities.  But that's exactly what I ended up doing.

I had a cupcake the other day and threw the paper liner into the kitchen trash just as I always do.  The next morning, as I was preparing a pot of coffee, I noticed some ants running along the counter near the coffee pot.  The ant trail continued to the backsplash then headed up the wall, turned the corner, continued diagonally up to the ceiling, ran along the ceiling, and back down the opposite wall and straight into the trash can, where the ants had found that cupcake liner.  Well, good grief!

It's been a couple of years since I've had an invasion by these little Pharoah ants.  They're tiny, light-colored, move quickly, and will find the tiniest cookie crumb or sticky sweet drip on the counter.  They can make the most obsessive-compulsive housekeeper go insane.  Not that I'm obsessively clean, but I'm not a slob either.   I've lived in the South for almost half of my life...long enough to know that you don't ever leave any foodstuffs just lying around uncovered on kitchen counters.

I pulled out my trusty can of Raid bug spray and sprayed the heck out of that ant trail.  Yuck!  Once the thousands of ants glued to my walls with Raid had dried, I vacuumed up the carcasses, knowing that using bug spray only treats the symptoms, it doesn't solve the problem. 

So it was off to the store to buy ant bait.   Raid now has a gel bait so I bought that instead of a liquid bait.  Seemed to me like it would be more versatile and easier to use than the usual liquid bait products.  And it was.  It can be applied to vertical surfaces, even upside down and it won't drip.

Strips of masking tape with drops of the bait gel now lined the upper edges of my cabinets below the countertop overhang.  Most of the ant activity seems to be along this stretch, beneath the counter that runs under the window where the sink and dishwasher are located, so this is where I concentrated the bait.

Within minutes the ants found the bait.  Within half an hour each dot of bait was covered with hundreds of ants!  the Yuck Factor was huge!!  But once I got over the initial feelings of repulsion, I was actually fascinated.  I watched as they streamed out from the crevices along either side of the dishwasher, headed for the bait, poked their way among hundreds of other ants until they found an open spot in the "feeding trough," ate their fill, and then disappeared back into the crevices.

I'd always suspected that they gained access through an expansion joint in the exterior brick.  This joint runs a little to the left of the window and is directly behind where the dishwasher is.  After a couple hours of baiting inside, I walked outside and around the side of the house where that expansion joint is.  And sure enough.  There were serious ant trails going in and out of that joint.  Purposeful trails, not random ant wanderings like there usually are.  I put numerous dots of bait along the brick next to that expansion joint and ants started doing U-turns and heading for the bait. 

I felt like I was really onto something here.  The ants were chowing down on the bait inside the kitchen and they were chowing down on the bait outside near the access point to the inside.

Soon I was able to go about my business, no longer grossed out by the fact that I was actually luring ants INTO my house, not chasing them away.    After about 4 hours, activity at the bait had dropped off considerably.  By suppertime, the bait sites were abandoned.  Even putting out fresh bait didn't lure any more ants.  Refreshing the bait the next day didn't lure any more ants, either.

Invasion successfully repelled... for now. 

So now I'll be extra-vigilant for a while, cleaning up every mote, every crumb, every tiny little spot.  Until I forget.  Or I get tired of the hyper-vigilance.  I'll be ant-free for a year or two.  Then the invasion will happen again, all because of a cupcake liner.  Or an overlooked drop of honey.  Or a bit of jam.