Thursday, April 25, 2013

Past Deadline: Birdhouse for Lease

Here is the April 25/13 edition of Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier.
Birdhouse for lease
 A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the glacier covering my patio and how determined I was to help it along in its slow retreat.
Fortunately rain, sun and wind took care of the problem and the ice has disappeared – despite the fact that some days it feels as if winter has returned.
All I’ve had time to do, unfortunately, is watch as spring slowly unfurls in my backyard. The patio furniture is still tarp-covered.
I tend to keep an eye on things in the backyard while doing the infernal dishes (speaking of something that never disappears).
While I haven’t had much time lately to get the outdoor chores done, there are other creatures that have been very busy in the housekeeping department (and last week’s column serves to reinforce the fact I am not typically one of them).
I’m talking about the birds.
One day last week I was at the kitchen window doing whatever it is I do to get short people out the door and off to school, when I noticed a flurry of activity.
It was a nice day – cool (if you can imagine), but sunny. Robins were flitting around gathering debris out of the garden. Juncos were busy picking up birdseed from under the feeder whilst sparrows worked from above. Squirrels, chipmunks and a rabbit frolicked nearby.
Then I noticed a pair of little wrens.
A couple of years ago Boychild built a bluebird house as part of the Super Kids In Parks program with the Friends of Murphys Point. That spring, we attached it to a big wooden clothesline pole in our backyard and, very quickly, it was occupied by a nesting pair of wrens.
When they were finished I cleaned out the box so that it would be ready for new occupants but, alas, last summer it was unoccupied.
So I spied the wrens flitting about and thought to myself, “Self, you need to go check that birdhouse to make sure it is still clean.”
The kids went off to school and I settled in my office, where the front window faces the street and, in most seasons, is obscured by the branches of a very large maple tree.
Before too long I noticed movement in the tree and, as if they were trying to tell me something, there was a pair of wrens hopping about in the branches.
A little later I headed for the backyard armed with materials for birdhouse cleaning.
Birdhouses are much smaller than people houses and, thusly, the task is not terribly onerous. That said, one should be somewhat vigilant with this form of housekeeping as well.
Clearly I am not the Martha Stewart of birdhouse cleaning, either.
I opened the side and was greeted, not surprisingly, by an assortment of spider webs. What was a surprise, however, was the little wasp nest.
Fortunately it was unoccupied and was easily removed. That went a long way to explain why nobody wanted to reside there last year. Apparently they snuck in between my infrequent cleanings. Nervy.
Now that the house is clean, I haven’t seen a single wren.
In fact, things have been generally quiet on the bird front, which leads me to believe I completely missed Bird Moving Day. Is there some sort of Quebec-like tradition in the avian world, too? I did not get the memo.
Well, it’s still only April, and since it doesn’t even really feel entirely like spring yet I’ll hold out hope there is some procrastinating little wren-like bird couple out there that will stumble upon our wasp-free abode yet. It’s clean! And free!
Footnote: Spent a little time on a Patio Recovery Mission tonight! There’s hope!

Past Deadline: Avoiding "Hoarders" Bin by Bin

Here is Past Deadline from the April 18/13 issue of The Perth Courier.

Avoiding “Hoarders” bin by bin
After reading this column you may not want to come to my house. Ever. I understand – sometimes I don’t want to come to my house either.
I have never professed to be anything remotely like Martha Stewart. I would not be profiled in a Good Housekeeping article. When it comes to domestic prowess I have only one publicity wish: to never be the subject of a Hoarders episode.
Fingers crossed.
It has been a busy few weeks, so my usual lazy approach to housecleaning has become, well, an Epic Tale of Unproductiveness.
Things kind of came to a head with the whole dryer issue, which you may recall from a couple of previous columns. The last episode contained a statement full of hope that by the time y’all were reading about it, the dryer would be fixed.
Not exactly.
My theory that it would be faster to have the dryer repaired than replaced was torpedoed by the fact when the repair lady returned with the replacement part, the dryer still didn’t work. The new diagnosis had something to do with the electrical harness, which could take a few weeks to come in, etc. blah blah blah.
Long story short, the replacement dryer was delivered a few days after that and, thankfully, it appears to be working.
This is a happy thing because it appears good clothesline weather continues to be evasive. Our dryer woes had necessitated a return to the use of drying racks and draping laundry around the house. As much fun as it was to reminisce about being newlyweds just starting out, it quickly lost its charm.
With the dryer issue seemingly resolved, it was time to put things back in order. This weekend I knew I had to start a house recovery mission.
I had slacked so long it was a daunting task.
I started by resolving the dryer-related mess. Items that lived on top of the dryer were removed from the dining room table. Manuals were filed. Related clutter was sorted. Drying racks were returned to the back of a storage cupboard.
Now what? Where to start. The house is a disaster!
I looked around and figured I might as well start with the worst of it: the den. Oh, the den. Keep in mind that a “den” is defined by Oxford as a “wild animal’s lair.”
I have been glossing over the den cleaning for a bit too long, particularly under the futon. Did you know there’s hardwood flooring under there?
See, that’s where there are three bins belonging to Boychild that have been collecting toys and debris for many years. Purging them has been on my list since about 2009. Lately, I have been hurriedly shoving stuff further under the futon in the vain hope it would just jump tidily in the bins.
Time to face the music.
I pulled everything out from under the futon. I found 756 Nerf guns accompanied by 5,799 Nerf  bullets – about a third of them busted. There were approximately 698 toy vehicles in various states of repair and 6,755 plastic toy soldiers, not to mention the 88,765 assorted pieces of Lego, K’Nex and Bionicles.
I loaded all of this into the largest of the bins, and then Boychild and I methodically sorted through it. There will be donations.
That one task (complete with vacuuming, dusting and washing something weird off the wall behind the futon) took up the better part of the afternoon – and that was just one bin and a few square feet of space.
I haven’t even told you about Girlchild’s bins. Or the basement. If any Hoarders execs see the basement, we’re doomed….

Past Deadline: Slow-Moving Glaciers

Here is Past Deadline published in The Perth Courier on April 11/13.
Slow-moving glaciers
 On Sunday, I did what has become a habit over the last few years – I attacked the glacier covering my patio.
As patient as I have been with winter, I did hit the wall sometime in March and was ready for it to be spring. Stands to reason – after all, spring was scheduled to arrive on March 20. I strive to be punctual and I think it behooves the seasons to arrive on time as well.
Sometimes, however, spring forgets about our little backyard and leaves it stuck in a winter retrospective. When I stopped by my parents’ house a couple of weeks ago, their south-facing front garden was already bursting with crocuses. Our shadier gardens still snoozed under a layer of snow.
Finally this weekend I began to see the first peeps of green where my crocuses live. The section where the birdfeeder was situated all winter is also bare – exposing a shocking layer of bunny fertilizer.
The part of the backyard I am most interested in is our little patio, and it tends to be the last to be free of ice. My dad and I laid it a few years ago and it feels like an extra room in my house. I really miss it in the winter.
It is located in a cosy corner bordered by a workshop on one side and a shed on the other, which makes it nice and shady on hot summer days. Unfortunately it is also nice and shady in the spring, which does not bode well for ice-meltage.
So, every year, I grab my ice chipper and release some pent-up aggression by beating the poo out of a five-inch build-up of ice covering my beloved patio. One year I even employed boiling water to assist my mission – such is the urgency of my need.
Late Sunday afternoon I set out to complete this ritual. It had rained earlier in the day, so some sections of the blasted glacier had softened. I smashed away at it for a while, but I wasn’t at it too long before I lost steam.
I opted for a compromise. I grabbed a folding chair and plunked it on the small section I had cleared, sat back and chilled – literally. I was surrounded by ice, but it was nice! Birds were singing, the breeze was blowing, the sky wasn’t terribly overcast. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine it was a coolish summer day.
In fact, closing my eyes was fairly imperative in order to adequately set the scene, otherwise my sightline was obscured by two garbage cans and a green bin currently residing nearby until their usual warm-weather locations were more accessible and free of snow and mud.
Part of the reason for giving up so easily was the fact I had checked the long-range forecast earlier and saw warmer temperatures and rain on the horizon, which should aid my cause. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to easily finish the glacier removal next weekend.
This, however, is a risky plan, because weather forecasts are unreliable. In fact, I felt like a hypocrite for even consulting the forecast.
See, around our house Groom-boy spends great amounts of time complaining about the weather forecasts. “They’re never right.” “They’re always changing.” “No one knows what they’re talking about.”
“Dude,” I say. “Do what I do. Look out the window and, if it’s raining, take an umbrella. If it’s sunny, take your sunglasses. Weather changes. Get over it.”
This from the woman who can’t wait for ice to recede.
Anyway, whether the weather cooperates or not this week, I plan to sit on my patio again very soon. My ice pick and kettle are ready.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Past Deadline: Modern-Day Problems

Here’s Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on April 4/13.
Modern-day problems
Recently, I told the tale about how Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine had reached its life end, necessitating its replacement.
It was a 20-year-old faithful machine, but the part that died is not made anymore, and it was a valve that threatened to, at any moment, let go and flood the kitchen.
We limped along and manually controlled the taps and didn’t leave it unsupervised, but the drippiness continued.
This was an older-model stackable unit that shared one set of controls between the washer and dryer. The brains of the entire contraption, however, were located in the washing machine part, which meant that when the washer left, the dryer had to go, too, unfortunately.
The shiny new front-loading washer and its dryer partner are two separate, stacked units that don’t share a brain.
I have to tell you, I entered this whole exercise with great trepidation. The thought of our family not having a washing machine at the beginning of mud season was daunting. I needed this operation to be completed quickly.
In fact, part of me was content to limp along with the old machine because I have pretty much zero faith in things going smoothly when one makes a major new purchase. I try to be optimistic, but….
So the appointed day arrived and the delivery fellows took away Old Faithful and deposited the new pair in our living room. Delivery people do not do install.
Groom-boy and his dad tinkered with taps and dryer vents. We lugged the washer into place and voila! It worked! Hurray!
The dryer required some fiddling to get the stacking kit set up, and then Groom-boy and I hoisted it on top of the washer. More tinkering and …voila! It was ready to go!
No, really!
The dryer lights up and shows off its cycles and counts down…but the drum won’t turn and there is no heat.
It is, however, doing a bang-up job of holding down the washer.
After a flurry of phone calls (involving some runaround, of course), we were connected with the authorized warranty repair people.
Within a couple of days someone arrived. She did exploratory surgery – taking the whole thing apart – before finding a tiny broken switch. Everything else looks good, though!
Naturally the part needed to be ordered – so we were looking at another week. Or so.
The debate at our house ensued – do we go back to the company and demand a new unit or wait for the part and have the repair?
I argued for the repair. After all, the repairperson examined all the innards of the dryer and she won’t leave (in theory) until the new part is installed and the dryer is fixed. If we exchange it, the delivery guys will dump off the new one and we won’t know until after we install it (again!) whether it works or not, which could bring us back to square one.
Isn’t it lovely to have such trust and faith in customer service in 2013?
The silver lining is I have a new washer that’s working and I would much rather be without a dryer than a washer.
The irony is we had a dryer that worked.
The alarming thing is the weather has been iffy so I have been relying on indoor drying racks, which means my tiny house looks, more than ever, like an episode of Hoarders.
By the time you read this, I am hopeful the repairperson has come and gone and I have a functioning dryer and a lot less laundry hanging around my house.
Or, maybe there will be yet another column on this topic.
Footnote: The repair lady came, replaced the part and…it still didn’t work. She phoned the company and an electrical problem was diagnosed. We said thanks anyway, but enough’s enough and complained to the retailer. The dryer was exchanged a few days later and I am pleased to report several successfully dried loads.

Past Deadline: Do You Need a Cat Scarf?

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published March 28/13.
Do you need a cat scarf?
 I have inadvertently taken up knitting. It’s because I need more things to occupy my time. (Not.)
Back about a million and a half years ago, my Nan taught me how to knit. She also taught me crochet, rug hooking, needlepoint and baking. She was talented. I miss my Nan.
The baking definitely stuck with me, needlepoint eventually morphed into an interest in cross-stitching, but the rest kind of fell away.
Many years later I came to regret my abandonment of knitting. You may recall me writing in the past about a beloved knit toy that had been passed on to Boychild from my brother. My Nan made “Ducky,” who is bright yellow with an orange beak, for my brother. It must have been almost 30 years old when Boychild got him, and over the years he required some, shall we say, maintenance.
On several occasions my bestie, Cindy, has knit odd-shaped “patches” for me to then sew onto Ducky’s thin, worn areas. Over the years he has acquired, essentially, an entirely new patch-worked skin (see above).
Recently, Girlchild has expressed an interest in learning how to sew. This is another skill that has fallen away. I haven’t touched a sewing machine since about Grade 8. I can manage buttons and can sew patches onto things, but beyond that I need to turn to others. My dad, actually, is the sewing machine expert in the family, while my mom is the go-to-person for hems.
Girlchild asked about knitting. I suggested we bake. No, she wanted to learn how to knit. Ask Cindy, I said.
So, sure enough, when Cindy and her gang were over for supper last Friday, Girlchild ambushed her. Cindy was glad (or seemed glad?) to oblige.
Fortunately I still have a craft bag filled with long-neglected items, including samples of abandoned knitting and several balls of yarn (particularly yellow for duck repairs).
I found two sets of knitting needles. I grabbed one seriously warped pair and said, “You’d better teach me, too, because if you’re not here and something goes awry, I am going to have to deal with the Wrath of Girlchild.”
And so began the great knitting projects: cat scarves. MacGregor, our indoor cat, has been coveting a knit scarf for years. (Ahem.)
The next day we trooped off to the craft store to acquire a couple of pretty balls of colourful yarn, along with a set of larger, wooden needles that might work well for small, learning hands. I managed to cast enough stitches onto the new needles to commence a third project: a blanket for a small stuffed toy.

The new projects.
The new projects.

I see dishcloths in my future. Seriously.
Over the last few days I have been able to rescue a few stitches and come up with creative excuses when mistakes are made in the knitting of cat scarves and toy blankets, such as: “That’s a peephole” and “We can cover that with some sort of fun patch.”
MacGregor won’t mind. I’m sure of it.
Girlchild wouldn’t let Cindy leave the house until they had scheduled another knitting lesson. I will be attending, too, since I have to learn how to cast off once these scarves and blankies reach their desired length.
The good thing is, when our crews get together, which usually happens weekly, her boys and mine can all go off and do guy stuff, and Girlchild, the lone female kid in the bunch, can bring her projects and we three ladies can convene the Knitting Club. After all, the world is sadly lacking in cat scarves, toy blankets and dishcloths.

Past Deadline: A Billion Loads Later

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on March 21/13. Trust me…there will be more on this particular saga!
A billion loads later….
Back in January I wrote a column about how Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine was making a strange noise. The column morphed into something about how playing loud music is a solution to some noisy problems, not unlike covering your ears with your hands, rocking back and forth and saying “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” over and over until the annoying thing/person gives up and wanders off.
That may be a good strategy when you’re two, but it doesn’t always work for grown-ups dealing with major appliances. Denial can be a marvelous thing –for a little while.
Interestingly (or not), the ultimate demise of the washing machine does not seem to be related to a funny noise. In fact, it happened very quietly in the night.
One morning I came downstairs and, in those quiet moments of being the first one up, I heard a drip.
And then I heard a drip drip drip.
That’s seldom a good sound in a house.
So, I followed my ears to the washing machine, and discovered the tub had about three inches of water in it.
Long story short, the part that was wonky isn’t made anymore. Sure, we could probably find the part somewhere, but did we really want to replace an old dead part with one of the same vintage?
There was also speculation it could have been a grit issue. I know it’s hard to believe there could be grit in my pristine house, said she who just last week talked about turning her kitchen into a sandy beach.
We were told we could probably limp along with the old machine (circa early 1990s), as long as we were prepared to hover nearby whenever it was being used so that we could spring into action and shut off the water in the event the wonky valve got stuck open and flooding ensued.
So we pulled the machine out from the wall a little in order to easily access the shut-off taps and carried on for a while. It wasn’t too hard to hover since the machine is in the kitchen and I tend to spend half my life there.
The dripping slowed, but never stopped entirely, which (surprisingly!) seemed to rule out grit. Just to make things interesting, the shut-off taps at the back started dripping every time they got turned on or off. There was a lot of drippage.
As much as I wanted to turn up the music to drown out the drippage, I figured ignoring it in this case could lead to a lot of unnecessary drama.
Yes, it was time to say goodbye to Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine.
Silver lining: I got a column idea out of it.
Other silver lining: We found a few lost things behind the washing machine, such as the little toy wooden mallet Boychild lost when he was two, a couple of cat toys, a hair clip and a brown marker cap that Girlchild claims she had been looking for recently.
Naturally we also found quite a lot of debris that we would have preferred to ignore for a little longer. (The washer was heavy – it didn’t get hauled out very often.)
Again with the denial! One thing I have learned as I get older, denial eventually catches up with you.
RIP, Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine! I can’t even begin to count the number of loads you have washed, especially considering a family of four had you in service before us.
I only hope the replacement, made in this plasticized era, will be as faithful. After all, as much as I appreciate column ideas….

Past Deadline: Yes We Have No Vacation

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on March 14/13.
Yes we have no vacation
By the time you read this, March Break will be almost over, we will have mostly adjusted to the time change, we’ll have new batteries in our smoke detectors (Right? Do it now!) and life will soon return to whatever version of “normal” is currently in play. (The options are wide open on that last one.)
As I write this, however, March Break is just beginning and I have said bon voyage to several friends who have jetted away for holidays. Groom-boy and I didn’t make plans to get the family away, mostly due to work commitments. We’ll probably do some minor fun stuff with the kids. (As soon as I figure out what “minor fun stuff” means I’ll let you know.)
It’s been busy lately, so March Break kinda crept up on me. Suddenly it was here and it dawned on me just how much I could use a little vacation. (“Dawned” in this context means “hit me like an anvil.”)
So, here is my “Top Seven List of Reasons Why I Know It’s Time to Get Out of Dodge,” in no particular order. (Yes, I know a Top 10 is better, but three reasons got filtered out. See No. 5):
1. Every time someone says he or she is going away for March Break, you laugh heartily and say, “Well have a fruity beverage for me on the beach!” After a while it occurs to you that if all those people get together and talk, they will think you are an alcoholic.
fruity drink
2. If you’re not talking to someone about fruity beverages, you’re offering to “carry their luggage.” Of course this is a fairly common expression to suggest envy for a holiday, but apparently you are saying it with enough earnestness and/or desperation to make people back away slowly.
3. When people chuckle about the “carry the luggage” thing, you are quick to present diagrams showing how you can actually curl up in a medium-sized suitcase for easy stowing. You’ve been practising. (And so endeth the conversation.)
4. You spend a lot of time giving yourself pep talks about people’s vacation response e-mails, voice mails or countdowns on Facebook (e.g. “Only three more sleeps ’til the Caribbean!”) You learn to scroll through and/or delete quickly and adopt denial as a survival technique.
5. Your Sarcasm Meter™ is high, but your Personal Filter™ is low, which is a baaaaad combination. You find yourself sitting on your hands to avoid typing regrettable witticisms on public forums. And although your filters are hanging in there, your hands are continually going numb, which makes it harder to practice folding yourself into a suitcase.
(What? Ahem.)
6. Although you have previously stated you are growing weary of the grit on the kitchen floor from sandy snowpants and that no matter how hard you try to pretend it is a sandy beach it’s just not working, it’s getting easier. You’re thinking that setting up a lawn chair in the kitchen may help.
7. The joy you usually experience from not having to make bagged lunches for a Whole! Entire! Week! is just not giving you the same thrill it usually does. You find yourself imagining packing picnics for beaches…and pining for it. (Perhaps a picnic on the kitchen floor is in order?)
So…what’s the silver lining here? (No…really…what is it?) Well, I suppose I don’t have to get up as early as usual during March Break, which would be great if my brain hadn’t started betraying me by waking up at the crack of stupid every day. Maybe the time change will be good for something after all….