Monday, October 30, 2017

Porch Project Update #3

First, a reminder of what the porch looked like before I started.

The entire time I spent preparing and priming the porch, I was mentally dithering about what color to paint it. (Or if I should paint it at all. I considered an acid stain.) The floor was red when we bought the house, and back then, the house was tan with a red roof, and no bricks in the front yard. Now, with the yellow house, green roof, bricked-over front yard and cobalt planters, red seemed wrong. I also wanted to do some kind of painted decoration - a stencil or faux rug or something of that sort. It has been my lifelong dream to paint a diamond checkerboard on a floor, and for weeks, I was committed to a diamond checkerboard porch. But that left me with the added difficulty of choosing two colors. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the front of my house is busy enough without adding a checkerboard porch. My final decision on color was black - but not a true black, more of a deep blue-black charcoal. I selected Inkwell by Sherwin Williams which looks quite blue in the can, but dries to black.

After all the work that went into the prep, painting the floor was a breeze.

Very very very very very dark blue.

To add a little interest, I decided to paint a single contrast stripe around the perimeter. Taping off the stripe was pretty difficult. I couldn't manage the chalk line, so then I just hand-measured (and eyeballed in a few spots) a one-inch stripe around the perimeter of the porch. I realized in hindsight that it would have been so much easier if I'd painted a wide swath of the contrast color first, then put down a single strip of tape and painted the black over it. 

The inside corners were particularly difficult.

I was so excited to pull the tape off! I'm pretty pleased with the result. The tape pulled away bits of the black paint, but I retouched it. I know the line isn't perfect, but it's good enough for me. The wider margin on the side closest to the bricks was done on purpose, to clear the posts, but I didn't want that wide of a margin all the way around.

This project isn't finished yet. Now I'm figuring out how to furnish and style it. I intend to use furniture that I already own. Also still need to protect this paint with some sealer.

Also, for those wondering, Jon is recovering. No new health emergencies and he has been able to return to work. Mobility is still a challenge, but he's getting around better than he was at first.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Zen of Power Washing

Progress on the porch continues! After the initial scrubbing, I got the idea to borrow my neighbor's power washer and clean the brick patio and also hopefully blast the dried linseed oil off the porch. Why has no one informed me how much fun it is to power wash? I spent one glorious sunny Saturday blasting all the old moss and dirt off my bricks.  Much of that time, my brain played a soundtrack of an imaginary pharmaceutical commercial for power washing as a remedy for anxiety.  "Call your doctor if you think power washing may be right for you. Side effects include wetness, hand cramps, and destroying entire small ecosystems. May be habit forming."

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on



The house faces north, so moss thrives in the front, and everything was exceptionally filthy because of how the city dug up our street every single day for three months.

At last, I could apply primer. We have a back door, but it's inconvenient, and also impossible for someone on crutches, so I had to paint in stages, so we could get in and out of the house.

A reminder of what we started out with.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Something to Occupy my Time

Jon's health woes continue. As soon as the fuss about the GI bleed settled down, he developed severe pain in his unbroken foot, which turned out to be gout. Caused, according to the doctor, by the GI bleed that left a lot of blood for his body to break down, and also from moving less because of the broken foot. Having just one kidney didn't help either. Let's hope this is the last thing.  At the moment things are a bit better. He got his cast off and is in a boot instead, although still on crutches and non-weight bearing, and the worst of the gout seems to have passed.

What I really want to write about is what I've been doing lately. Because the second stage of empty nesting is to take on a bunch of projects. (You'll recall that the first stage is wandering around your house like a ghost, wondering what to do with your time.)

The first project is to fix my front porch, which was truly an eyesore. It has never been particularly pleasant, and in the eighteen years we've lived here, we've gotten into the bad habit of dumping anything that's unwanted or too dirty to bring inside onto the porch. Not only that, the porch served as a workshop, so the floor, in addition to being filthy, was covered with blobs of paint, varnish, caulk, linseed oil, and other random chemicals. In our defense, our house is on a private lot, not fully visible from the street, so it was really just us who suffered from it. The thing is, when you live with something really bad, you cease to notice it after a while.

A few pictures of how horrible it was:

Weapons-grade filth

The first step was to get rid of all the crap. I put my bike away. I put the rocking chair at the curb with a "free" sign on it. It was gone within the hour. The Christmas tree stand had been living on the porch because it's such a pain to take it down to the basement. WHY, IN EIGHTEEN YEARS HAD IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME TO JUST KEEP IT IN THE COAT CLOSET WITH THE ORNAMENTS?

I'm guessing that the original porch was wood that rotted and that someone replaced it with concrete. For sure, those are not the original porch pillars, which someone replaced with wrought iron. The owners previous to us found the current posts in a barn and put them up in place of the wrought iron. The two posts that are agains the house, half embedded in stucco are the original ones. After the clearing came the scrubbing.

And the patching of the cracks. 

This crack looked a lot larger once I cleaned all the dirt out of it.

If you follow my instagram stories, where I've been documenting in real time, you may have seen where this project is heading, but I'll stop for now. There's still quite a bit to do, though in real life I'm further along than I've shown here. This project has been a lovely distraction from political and broken foot misery.

Speaking of Instagram stories, that's where I've been amusing myself lately. I love creating stories out of my days, in an ephemeral format that disappears after twenty-four hours. The stories are where I throw pictures that aren't good enough for my feed. I also love watching other people's stories. There seem to be people whose entire career and fame come from their Instagram stories. Snapchat has had the same thing for longer, but I prefer Instagram. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell

When I saw that Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of the delicious Cranford books, as well as Wives and Daughters and North and South, had written a biography of Charlotte Bronte, I knew I had to read it without delay. I was not disappointed. If you're feeling like you'd like to read a biography, any biography, or if you want to read about Charlotte Bronte specifically, I highly recommend this book.

I got my copy at UVA's Alderman Library

Probably like most of you, I had a general conception of Charlotte Bronte's life - isolated in a parsonage in Yorkshire with her siblings and strict father. This is generally accurate, but there are a lot of details I didn't know. For example, I didn't know there were two older Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth who both died in childhood. Maria was the model for the Helen Burns character in Jane Eyre and like Helen, she died at school after enduring cruel treatment there. Also, Bronte did enjoy some modest financial success from her novels and got about in the literary world more than I realized, although she was painfully introverted and encounters with strangers were debilitating for her. 

Charlotte Bronte

Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell and Bronte were friends and this biography was published in 1857, only two years after Bronte died. Bronte's father and friends were still living and shared their letters with her. The result is as complete a picture of Charlotte Bronte as I think you'll find anywhere, written in an accessible, beautifully descriptive style. I also liked Gaskell's treatment of the famed introversion of the Bronte sisters. All three sisters were close and enjoyed each other's company, but were acutely miserable when they had to go out into the world and mix with others. Gaskell describes this as a simple fact, no more unusual than their hair color or height. It's just nice to see introversion accepted as it is, rather than presented as a disability that needs to be overcome. On a personal level, this book has inspired me to write more than anything else I've read recently. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

A GI bleed, a hurricane, and the nazis return.

It turns out we weren't quite out of the woods with Jon's foot surgery. He had been taking ibuprofen over the six days that elapsed between his foot injury and his surgery. After surgery, he was told to take an aspirin daily to prevent blood clots. And so, a week after surgery he was back in the hospital with a GI bleed, a potentially life-threatening condition.

We're lucky that the ED is almost like a second home. Ian works there now and he stayed with Jon and me while he waited to be admitted. It was like a party with staff popping in to say hi. Ian streamed The Mighty Boosh (with Greek subtitles, because internet) on the computer in the room. Then we watched Father Ted and even got our super-cute ER intern interested in it. I wouldn't dream of trying to convert someone to Catholicism, but we take every opportunity to share the Gospel of Father Ted. We were as jolly as it's possible to be when you're bleeding internally.

Jon's bleed turned out to be relatively small. It responded quickly to an esomeprazole drip and after a night in the hospital and an endoscopy he was diagnosed with an NSAID-related ulcer and sent home.

Meanwhile, Brigid, down in New Orleans, was sitting directly in the path of Hurricane Nate. Her neighborhood is very low-lying and before the storm hit, she went to stay with a friend on higher ground. Then the hurricane veered slightly east, so NOLA didn't get the worst of it after all and she weathered the storm safely.

And finally, fucking nazi terrorists invaded Charlottesville again on Saturday night. The mayor of Charlottesville tweeted that they were looking at "legal options." Cville City Council have been warned repeatedly since August 12th that the nazis had pledged to return, and when it actually happened, they were unprepared. City police meanwhile, appear to be complicit with the nazis and flat out refuse to arrest them, though they run stop signs and march around in public with burning torches. This is now the fourth Richard Spencer-initiated invasion since May and the city still can't manage to stop them. Here's the thing, Richard Spencer is a terrorist and should be investigated as such. In particular, someone needs to take a look at who is funding his group. I don't think it's a coincidence that they chant "Russia is our friend" while they wave their ridiculous torches in our city parks. Spencer has been waging a guerrilla war on Charlottesville for five months and nothing official has been done to stop him.

But meanwhile, Mike Pence spent at least $250,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Indianapolis in order to demonstrate how much he hates black people. No condemnation for what happened in Charlottesville this weekend from the president or from our puffed-up, bloviating, Trump ass-licking congressman, Tom Garrett.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Mostly Jon-related

Jon's surgery went forward as scheduled and he's now recovering at home and doing well. I'm looking forward to a relatively quiet week in which Jon doesn't have to work. It's going to be tough after that when he'll need a ride to and from work every day. Our house, with its narrow doorways, rickety stairs, and uneven surfaces is far from ideal for a person with a disability. Our bedroom doorway is so cramped that the coiled TV cable behind the door narrowed the space enough that he couldn't get through it safely on crutches. That cable has been sitting there, in my way and unused, since we bought the house eighteen years ago! The first evening, I uncoiled it and tossed it out the window, and in the morning, severed it with a cable cutter.  (It is too firmly painted to the window frame to disconnect it the normal way.) If we haven't wanted cable TV in the bedroom by this time, I doubt we ever will. And cable is pretty much obsolete isn't it? (We have fiberoptic internet now.) Needless to say, we had quite a time getting from the car to the house after surgery and the post-anesthesia wooziness did not help matters.

Post-op and ready to go home

In other Jon-related news, I can now share that he's a finalist (one of six) for the 2017 National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care. We've known about this since the summer, but were told to keep it a secret until the official announcement was made. We'll be going to Boston for the award dinner when the winner will be named. Jon will still be on crutches then, and we're not flying together, so there are a few logistical challenges, but I'm sure it will work out.

One more thing - I haven't forgotten that this is something of a book blog. I'm currently reading The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell, and it is excellent. Gaskell is a great writer herself, so it's a pleasure to read. Also, she knew Charlotte Bronte personally and wrote the biography shortly after her death when many who knew her were still alive. This is what I read while waiting for Jon in surgery, in the surgical family waiting room, among all the other people whose phones rang incessantly. The ringing phones were to be expected, of course. The ring tones, however were a bit of a shock. I'm not out in public during the day very often, and most of the people in my office either have their phones silenced or stick with the apple default ring. I'm not trying to complain, but I have to say that if you choose the "Western Gun Song" from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as your ring tone, (WHY?) I don't want to sit near you when I'm reading a biography of Charlotte Bronte.

Anyhoo, I haven't written about books much because I've been reading multiple books by the same few authors and I thought I'd do a post about each once I have finished reading through them. Which authors? O. Douglas, Margery Sharp, Anthony Trollope, and our old friend Angela Thirkell.