Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like Christmas

I woke up this morning around 5:30, anxious to get up and start on the floor. Having rested for a few days in the air conditioning, the wood was (I hope) ready to get hammered and poked with sharp nails.

But I didn't get up from bed right away. My thoughts went back to those mornings years ago when I knew the Christmas tree was waiting in the living room. I remembered my mom and how happy she was to tell us about Santa Claus and to see us open our presents. I miss her very much and am glad to get a chance to remember her in this way.

So today was like Christmas morning for me--after several weeks of waiting, the day was here, and I had a new nail gun to play with and some fresh, clean wood to put down. Maybe it will be there for a very long time.

I was at it for about 10 hours today and I'm not even half done. Here's Willow, pleased that the worrisome cracks in the floor are gone and the monsters down there can no longer get to her.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nuttiness and Air Conditioning

The world, as I'm sure you know, is full of nutty people. And now anyone can write a blog and spew their nuttiness out into the great void. Cheryl and I love to discuss these people and their nutty ideas. In particular, Cheryl teaches her students how to spot hoaxes on the web and how to use critical thinking when looking for information (she's a librarian on a mission).

It's a big responsibility being the only two sane people in the world, but we do our best. (Actually, I'm the only sane one but it's easier if I just pretend about Cheryl.)

So, I took it with some skepticism when I read on the internet that new hardwood flooring needs to "rest" in your house for 3 or 4 days before you install it. Immediately I assumed the blogger suffered from that acute, anal-retentive nuttiness often found in people with too much time on their hands. You know these people. They always have to pick up their clothes off the floor and make the bed every morning. Please.

I did more research and found a consensus on this point--wood flooring needs to sit for several days to adjust to the environment in your house. After all, in all of its time on earth, the wood has been outdoors or in a humid warehouse. If you install the wood on its first day home, it will then contract and leave cracks.

So I was wrong. Oddly enough, I was not able to believe the first writer because I am impatient to get started. It was not what I wanted to hear. I had to hear the bad news from several writers to convince me, and now it makes perfect sense.

Which brings me to the debate last night. Obviously Obama won. He won because I wanted him to win. He and I are possibly the only sane people on earth. And you have to admit that McCain is a nut sometimes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fear and Wood

The flooring finally arrived. I had it delivered to Bradenton so I could pick it up and also swing by to visit with my Aunt. I had to rent a truck for the day because I recently traded my van for a Honda Fit. Oh well.

The guys at the lumber store were having a terrible time--their computers were down, and the place was in complete disarray. I forgot to bring my invoice, so I had to call Cheryl (who was home with a cold) to fax it to the store. And even then, the store manager doubted that he could go on without the computers--in fact, he was descending into a catatonic state, as if his world was melting.

I told him what I did for a living, and we had a good talk about humanity and communication and trust and the deceptive, insidious effects of technology on our lives. He agreed (after some coaching) that he could always update the computer later, and we finished the transaction with a handshake and some signatures.

The warehouse guy and I wrapped the wood with plastic wrap all around the tailgate of the truck so that hopefully it wouldn't fly out on the way home. But halfway over the skyway bridge the wrap came unwrapped and began to reel out like a banner behind the truck. I had no choice--I pulled over to the narrow shoulder near the top of the bridge.

I have an irrational fear of heights. Just the thought of stopping on that bridge makes me ill. And I certainly never thought I would actually stand on it. When the traffic cleared I got out and the wind hit me and almost took me away to Mexico. A long string of plastic wrap was flapping across the road, and I pulled it back just before a big truck screamed by. At the back of the pickup the covering was torn to shreds. I wanted to stay as far away from the traffic as possible, but this put me near a 100 ft drop (I never even looked in that direction). By accident I discovered that if I twisted the wrap it turned into a very strong rope of plastic. Soon I had a few ropes around the back of the wood, and they lasted until I got home.

I hope the floor looks really good.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Stuff

Sometimes it becomes necessary to get new stuff. While Cheryl has elevated this practice to an art form, I approach shopping very reluctantly, possibly because I have relationships with my old stuff. I have a mini sledge hammer, for example, that has been with me for years, is always ready to work, even developed a crack in the handle but continued to work, etc.

Sometimes a problem pops up and none of your old stuff will address it. During the course of removing the breakfast room floor, I broke a couple of the neighboring floor tiles. I take full responsibility for this error even though I could easily pass most of the blame to the incompetents who laid the floor (over the planks of the breakfast room floor, if you can imagine such a thing! You can see the notch at the bottom right of the photo--dolts!).
Of course, there are no replacements for these pinkish floor tiles, so I thrashed around in my sleep thinking about what to do. The tiles are very wide. I didn't want to take up a whole row. I could cut the tiles in place but this is very tricky and the old dude at Home Depot said I should not even try. I told him my plan: first, use a masonry blade in my circular saw and then, for the pieces next to the wall, use a dremel tool to make the final cuts. He looked at me like a farmer might look at a sick chicken.
I got the masonry blade and Cheryl stood there with a vacuum cleaner to suck up the tile dust as I cut. Beautiful. The dremel tool didn't work at first (floor tile is too hard) so I went back to the store and bought a diamond tipped cutter--more new stuff, but it had to be done. The final cut is to the right. Sweet!
For this foot-wide section I'm going to put in a row of custom oak parquet, running at an angle to the breakfast room floor and with alternating light and dark oak. More on this later.
I bought other new stuff, like a new table saw, which had to done since my old saw is cranky and vexes me at every opportunity. And I borrowed a nail gun from my friend Allen. I am sick with shopping and new stuff. Also we bought two new windows that I will install, but more on that later.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ants and Bees

Lumber Liquidators is almost two weeks late on the delivery. I just called and they now promise it on Monday. Today is Friday and I'm tired and cranky and mad at the lumber people for being late and making excuses.

Oh yeah, and we have carpenter ants in our house.

I enjoyed having a swarm of bees move in with us a few months ago. We paid some bee guy a lot of money (when I could have done it) to take away the bees and give them a new home, and I was sad to see him drive off with them. Bees and ants are similar in their philosophies and work ethic, so you would think they deserve my equal affection--but the bees were not inside the house where I could see them. The ants have crossed the line and I want them dead.

Apparently, even if you wished it to be true, it is not practical to relocate carpenter ants and give them another chance. A single colony of ants will have a series of networks with satellite nests, some of which are within the walls of your house (especially old houses like ours) and some are outside in trees. Each of these nests has its own queen but these all pay allegiance to the main nest (which is usually outside in a big tree) and its supreme queen. Pretty cool.

All of this is according to our eco-friendly pest guy who came today. If a satellite nest gets into trouble, a lesser queen from a nearby nest will learn of it from the worker females who spread such gossipy news. That queen will lay extra queen eggs and have them transported to the troubled site, given them the ability to set up new quarters. So they are adaptable, doing such things for countless centuries.

And yet they must die. We are going to kill them. No, not just run them off, but kill them with this special bait that the ants will carry from nest to nest, infesting them with a horror that happens to be non-toxic to humans and our pets.

Maybe this is all we can expect from ourselves . We have good intentions but sometimes we just want to wipe our enemies off the face of the earth. I'm going to take a nap.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Green Papaya Salad

Cheryl and I painted the kitchen over the weekend, adding to the sense of disorder in the house because all of the wall decorations and our ceramics from Spain had to be taken down and stacked up out of the way. The kitchen is now much lighter and brighter and seems larger than before. The trim is next, but we need to scrub all the doorways and baseboards first, and we are pretending now that might happen magically and without our physical interference if we just wait long enough.

We still are waiting for the flooring to arrive, so it is difficult to ignore the painting that needs to be done. A diversion was called for, and we found one when Dar, our housekeeper, agreed to show us how to make green papaya salad. We've known Dar for years and have been to several events at the Buddhist temple she attends in Tampa.
If you have not had green papaya salad in a Thai restaurant, let me give you a reason to go on living. The basic ingredients for the salad include hot peppers (in this case, real Thai peppers from our garden), garlic, palm sugar, green beans, tomatoes, fish sauce, peanuts and lime. Not shown in the picture is the green papaya (from our tree in the side yard), which is shredded into strips along with some carrot. Green papaya has about the same consistency as carrot, and with a subtle flavor not at all like a ripe papaya. In Brazil we had the best ripe papayas, nothing like the sad excuses we get in the store here or, sadder to think, even from our own tree last year.

The garlic, peppers and sugar are put in a large mortar and smashed with a baseball-bat sized pestle and gradually the greens beans and papaya are added, pounding and mashing all the time. Dar was not tall enough to pound the mixture on the counter top so she put everything on the floor (which she had already cleaned) and pounded away. Cheryl and I sat down, too, and watched. Finally and after some whining I got to smack the stuff around.

During this process the kitchen filled up with the most wonderful aromas: garlic, pepper, lime and the sweet smell of palm sugar. As the pounding continued, the papaya softened up and began to absorb all the flavors. We threw in some peanuts and pounded more. Put in some fish sauce and pounded. Dar says that this dish is a staple in Thailand, eaten at all times of the day, and I can see why. We encouraged her to put in more Thai peppers. She gave us the same look that you see often in Thai restaurants when you ask for "Thai hot"--that amused look of a adult protecting a child from some silliness--but she finally did add another pepper, then more sugar.

The end result is to the right. Cheryl and I must have eaten a pound of it.
Because we started with a huge bowl of shredded papaya we put some aside for a second batch. Dar left us here mortar and pestle, so yesterday I took the leftovers and gave it a try. Not as good as the original but not bad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blue, then Better

After a disturbing day with a blood-red breakfast room, I decided to surprise Cheryl and paint the room turquoise blue. We saw this color everywhere in Sante Fe last year, usually as an accent or trim. One restaurant had an entire wall of it, and with an open skylight the turquoise seemed vibrant. Very cool and cheerful blue. Perfect for a breakfast room, right?

As I moved from wall to wall, replacing the red with turquoise, the room lit up. At first I thought this was just the red-blue contrast. By the time I finished, the cumulative effect was amplified until you almost had to look away. The room is only 10 x 14 and the turquoise glowed like it had its own light source, reflecting off of itself. No matter how many times I looked away and then looked back, it was a shock. Oh well, maybe Cheryl would like it. We had fun in Sante Fe, after all.

But Cheryl didn't exactly like it. We decided to give it a day. During the night blue fairies escaped from the walls and flew through the house, so much that we could barely sleep. I'm all for cheeriness and cute fairies flying around, but you have to sleep sometime.

So, yesterday I painted the room with the color that has no name (sort of butterscotch tan), the one Cheryl picked out, and it was just right to go with the green in the living room. Finally some peace in the house.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Painting the Breakfast Room

There are no pictures for this post because I thought they might be too disturbing for the web.

The new wood flooring won't be here for a few days, so we figured now would be a good time to repaint the kitchen and breakfast room. In the past we had a red dining room and we really liked it. The color was called Drumbeat, a nice red that was a pleasant contrast to our pine dining table and other light-colored furniture at the time (now our dining room is all dark oak). We couldn't find Drumbeat at Home Depot so we settled on a rusty red color featured in a brochure there. I think it is called Rusty Red.

I washed and prepped the walls, which is no small task because of the rough, swirling surface that the previous owners applied, probably trying to mimic the trowelled surface on the exterior of the house. The texture has absolutely no aesthetic value. It is good only for capturing dust and sucking up paint. I worked quickly, intent on getting a coat on the wall in time to see the new vampire series that started on HBO last night.

I got the paint ready and poured it into the white, plastic tray. Something inside me reacted. On my first pass at the wall the roller was too saturated with paint and a few long, rolling drops of rusty red streamed down, in and out of the textured crevices of the wall. I stopped for a second and watched. It looked sort of disturbing and familiar. We didn't get the flat paint--instead it has a slick shine (and it is still shining this morning). I needed to see a bigger area, so I moved quickly and the wall was soon bathed in ribbons of red.

Cheryl was working on her school work at the dining room table so I called her in to take a look. We just stood there for a second. "Looks like a scene from Dexter, doesn't it?" I said. She was not amused.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Back to the Floor

The flush-cut saw did its job beautifully. I can't say enough about the simple elegance and beauty of this tool. Nice and flat on one side with an offset handle that is reversible. If you hold it just right (not too tightly) it finds its own path and rips through oak with a sweet swishing sound. My teacher in college had a saying for how to hold the violin. You take the neck of the violin in your left hand and hold it as if you have a goose by the neck--not too tight!! or you will strangle it! OK, that sounds a little weird but the image stuck with me (and it has application to a variety of things in life).

Now the kitchen floor is completely up. I have pieces of peg board scattered around to cover up gaps in the subfloor, which I'm guessing is original to the house. There are few rotten boards, and I replaced some last night. There are some inexplicable patches from the past, like this one to the right. WTF, right?
It will take about a week for the new flooring to get here, so I have some time to finish fixing up the subfloor. We are getting unfinished 3/4 by 2 1/4 strips to nail down, and this will match the rest of the house. I will discuss the finishing in a later post.
During the course of this, I discovered that most oak planking now comes in strips that are between one and four feet. In an older home, you typically see some very long boards--eight feet or longer. Why is this? I was determined to find out, so I called a lumber yard in town. The lumber guy said that there are fewer tall oak trees harvested today, so it is very expensive to get long boards. I'm trying to picture a four-foot oak tree crashing to the ground. And then he asked "Why do you want long boards, anyway?" insuating some insecurity or defect on my part, which was compounded by my inability to come up with an answer.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kitchen Floor, Part 2

More of the kitchen floor is up. I was able to remove the pieces of floor from under the door jambs without damaging the jambs. Things are looking good.

It's Labor Day, and I'm looking for an excuse to take a break from the floor. Oh, right, it's Labor Day!