Category Archives: Home and Hearth

Root Cause, Sewers, Trees, and Toilets

Whenever there is a change within your community or your home’s infrastructure, there is a ripple effect.  In the case of this posting, I’d like to discuss the impact of landscaping and excavating.

Earlier this year, a new high school was started, which is great for the community!  Unfortunately, it came with a few concerns, one being the need to use dynamite during excavation.  Dynamiting went on for several weeks, even months, and during that time, we (me and the neighbors) could feel the shockwaves.  We wondered if this would cause damage to our homes.  Our glasses tinkled and books shifted, so imagine our concern for the foundations of our homes.  Then, I wondered, what about our water connections?

One thing I noticed during this time, is that the water supply to the commodes slowed, and I heard the water pipes ‘groan and moan’ after every flush.  Professionals call this ‘water hammer’.  This results when the momentum of the water following a flush makes the pipe rattle because there isn’t enough air at the end of the line to buffer the quick change in pressure.  So, how could this happen?

According to the professionals, this typically occurs if the vent pipe, the one over the bathrooms on the roof, is clogged with debris, cutting off the air flow in the DWV (drain, waste and vent) system.  The air buffer can fill with water over time as well, especially in older homes.  This does not exclude a disruption in the water or vent system during major building excavations.  Shockwaves can compromise connections or disrupt shutoff valves, causing the air buffer to fill with water, or set off a cascade of blockages.

So, what do we do?  If ‘water hammer’ gets worse or continues for more than a week (sometimes the clog clears up), call a professional to determine and fix the cause.  I don’t have the skills, equipment, or motivation to undertake such a task, and I am not qualified to advise otherwise.

If the vent is blocked, it is often because there is a tree too close to the house, clogging the vent with leaves and small branches.  This can happen any time throughout the year, during storms and when trees shed their leaves, especially in the fall.  If this is the case, a plumber will have the equipment to clear the blockage.  And while there, have the plumber check your sewer line too.  If a tree is close to the house, especially in older homes, tree roots can find their way into the sewer lines, slowly blocking the drain.  You don’t want sewer problems!  In my humble opinion, it is better to take preventative action rather than restorative action when it comes to sewers.

Plumbing Forum:  Moaning Plumbing | Home Depot

Plumbing Forum: Moaning Sound … | Do It Yourself

How to Clean a Main Line Sewer Blockage | Thumb Nail Ranch (informational purposes only)

Drains Not Draining?  Sewer Line Clog Solutions | Roto Rooter

 

 

 

Plants Get Sunburned Too!

It’s that time of year – high temps, sun and wind make for a scorcher!

My plants benefited from the rain in the spring, so they grew like crazy. Now, in the heat of the summer with no rain in sight, growth is under stress from the heat. Add wind, and the high temps cause major problems with flowering plants especially, including wilt and sun burn!  Over the years I’ve learned by recommendation and experience, that watering and feeding are quite a bit different during the hottest summer months than spring and fall.

When temps exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit on sunny windy days, I water potted plants twice a day.  I soak potted plants in the morning and shower them at night. Ground plants retain moisture better and drain well, so once a day is typically enough for them.

Best times to water during summer months is morning and evening:  AM – sunrise to 9am; PM – after 6 and before sunset.  If plants are wilting during midday, don’t be afraid to water them!  Best to water them at the roots to maximize uptake, but a nice misting on the leaves helps too.  I’ve done this for years to no ill effect.

Cutting back overgrowth in potted plants (below the bottom of the pot) also helps to reduce heat stress due to evaporation, and it encourages more top blooms on flowering plants. Shade helps too.  I locate my plants so they get some shade during the day.  This is why I like a patio, especially one with an overhang or pergola. These offer plants, even a raised vegetable garden, some shade during the worst heat of the day. Every living thing needs a break from the heat.

And one more tip – careful not to overfeed.  Too much fertilizer can add to heat stress, resulting in burned leaves and excessive lanky growth without blossoms (if a flowering plant).  Don’t stop fertilizing, just fertilize according to your plants’ needs and the fertilizer you use.  Every plant is different, so know your plants’ needs.  I recommend fertilizing during the morning, but you can do it in the evening.  Potted plants need food on a regular schedule, typically once a week.

Check online with your favorite gardening society for information about your plants’ preferences. There are some great books out there too.

American Horticultural Society

Container Gardening from HGTV

New York Botanical Gardens

Southern States Summer Gardening Tips

 

Is YOUR Town the Best Place to Thrive?

You know your town best – is it a great place for someone 50 and up to live a good life?  There are tons of reports on the Internet about the best places to live and retire.  Sites like Sperling, Money magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, and so on use similar scoring techniques primarily based on health, economy, and access to cultural activities; but is that all we care about?

By the way, I’m not sure why these studies differentiate between LIVE and RETIRE as if once we RETIRE we don’t LIVE anymore.  Personally, I don’t want to survive … I want to thrive!

I think the most important aspect of a place to call home is that it supports our passion for living, our purpose.  I’m not talking about climbing mountains; I’m talking about the things that make us feel ALIVE – feel joy!  Maybe you love pottery; or perhaps your passion is refinishing furniture; or you just like to sit on the porch and read a good book while enjoying a cool summer breeze; or maybe you do like climbing mountains.  Whatever makes you feel ALIVE, the place you live needs to have the resources and geography to support your passion.

Is your hometown a great place to thrive?

Sperling’s America’s Best Cities
Money’s Best Places to Retire
The World’s 12 Best Places to Live or Retire in 2016
Retiring?  Don’t Use a ‘Best Places to Retire’ List to Pick Your New Home
The Best Places to Retire in 2016
America’s 10 Best Cities for Retirement
The Best Place to Retire Isn’t Florida

 

 

Where Are You From?

We are all from somewhere.  The sum of our birthplace, past residences, current home, even non-physical emotional “places” combine to inform our senses of self.

I am “from” Baltimore, more specifically Fell’s Point, more specifically what was once Baltimore’s most heavily Polish immigrant neighborhood.  Baltimore was second only to Ellis Island as a point of entry for the immigrant waves of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After a typically arduous ocean crossing, many Baltimore-bound immigrants settled near where the ships docked at Locust Point or stopped after the short ride across the harbor to Fell’s Point.    

But even more precisely, I am from Ann Street, from the house my maternal grandparents built, a unique double row house that they constructed in 1930-31, first demolishing the two homes there and building upon the original 1855 foundations.   For grandfather Nikodem, or “Tata”, this was the culmination of his American dream, the reward for surviving the Russians, making the journey, learning a new trade.  In those adjoining spaces, he carved out his photography business, his family residence, a commercial rental, and a tiny residential rental.  With two additions, it maxed out at 5000 contiguous square feet of living space in all senses, with personality, breadth, and breath.

The studio closed in 1955, before I was born, so my siblings and I knew the house directly only as a family home.  We six and our parents occupied about half the total area in what had been the public space of the business and the residence of Tata’s (my mother’s) family.  Our maternal aunt and her husband lived in “the apartment” upstairs which was an amalgamation of the old reception room for customers waiting for their photography appointments, the former tiny rental apartment on the second floor of the second row house, and the “galleria” (gallery) –  the huge room that spanned the front part of the second floor of both row houses, with its two large skylights, street-facing double French windows fronted with ironwork, massive scenery backdrops, industrial lighting, and props for staging the formal portraits of the time.  

The first floor of the second row house had been rented as a tailor shop, then used for storage before my aunt and uncle fixed it up for entertaining.  There they put the “nice” furniture, including the brocade sofas and chairs that were worthy of placement in any local funeral parlor.  My sister, Claire, and I, who as very small girls were expressly forbidden from that space when it was storage, once got locked in the enclosed display window there until a woman knocked at my mother’s door telling her that there were two little girls in the window next door, crying, and did she know who they were?  Our adorable tear-stained faces gave us little leverage for having disobeyed Mom.

In the basement was Tata’s darkroom, its eeriness unrelieved by its tiny window, filled with the mysterious chemicals, tools, and accoutrements used to develop film.  The remainder of the basement – a cellar, really, partly concreted but with stretches of dirt crawlspaces and the clear aura of past energies randomly pulsing through it – was a work area for hanging photos to dry and storing negatives and equipment, plus the physical plant: boilers, water heater, pipes and such.  My father later used it as a place to write, having been forced from his study by the increasing number of his offspring.  How he managed to produce anything readable down there in the always slightly damp, always slightly uneasy environs remains a wonder to me. 

A concrete yard, a small garden, and two walk out porches were our outdoor space, small to any suburbanite yet expansive compared to that of the typical Baltimore row house.   There was room to hang laundry, to play our favorite games like “Heidi” or “Polish Refugees” (What? You didn’t play “Polish Refugees”?), to dig mud holes and build towns from appliance boxes and sheets, and to bury dead birds and goldfish.

My grandmother, Jadwiga, had died in 1947 and when Tata died in 1964, his four children inherited the house.  My parents and resident aunt and uncle bought out their siblings’ shares so the home remained in the family.  Through another generation of inheritance, it has passed to Tata and Jadwiga’s grandchildren – my generation. 

We have been renovating the house for some years now as money allows, recovering it from years of benign neglect.  We’ve made a big dent in the infrastructure repairs and refits and we’ve made headway on some cosmetic fixes, but it progresses slowly as none of us live there full time.  

But our true inheritance, and the Ann Street upshot is this: no one who has lived in this house has ever fully left it.  They did not need to.  Purchase overtures have been made and rebuffed, therefore no new family, and certainly no drooling developer in the now “gentrified” formerly working class, immigrant waterfront neighborhood, have been welcome.  Whether family, friend, or passersby, Ann Street is steward of something from every resident.  Some exited Ann Street on foot and others feet first; but not a soul took it all when they departed.  Some, in fact, left it all.  

Once the home was built, my grandparents and aunt never lived elsewhere. My mother was born in the house and while she nearly escaped its orbit after nursing school, she returned after a scant few years, husband in tow, to bear us, raise us, and take care of Tata as he declined.  The aunt and uncle who moved out, left behind clothing, scrapbooks, letters, and furniture.  Only Jadwiga, realizing her imminent premature death, had taken pains to dispose of personal letters and belongings, yet even she didn’t get to everything.  And having been laid out at home, her casket flanked by the living room wall sconces where the sofa now sits, Jadwiga left much more than tangibles.   Even my mother’s friend, Harry, who roomed at the house for a few years, breathed his heart attack-induced last breath before the front stoop, leaving behind all of his earthly chattels.

We six continued the contributions, starting our adult lives unfettered by our childhood paraphernalia.  The house was large and accommodated the volume, if not stylishly, completely.

As our labor of love advances, we have found ourselves the unwitting archivists of extremes: Along with literally thousands of photographs by Tata and others including many of community historical significance, family letters from Poland, personal notes and cards, precious pre-WWII Polish folk art tchotchkes from Jadwiga’s little Polonia Gift Shop, and wonderful genealogical finds, we have sorted through years’ worth of National Enquirers and Cosmopolitans, hundreds of newspaper-clipped articles and recipes, and a boxes upon boxes of flotsam of no significance. 

Why not just chuck it all?  Because among the Enquirers and within the deteriorating leaves of acid-papered hardback books, we will inevitably find a few sheets of a family personal journal; a baptismal certificate in Polish; an irreplaceable notebook of Jadwiga’s efforts to learn English; Tata’s naturalization certificate.  We assume nothing.  We leaf through everything.  We are often rewarded and we dread to miss something.  Of money, we found just one $20 bill and dispatched it by ordering pizza.  No hidden millions in this house!

Now we are five sisters and we like each other’s company very well, especially when telling family lore and laughing until we cannot breathe (we lost our dear brother, our “muscle” and humorist, in 2014).  A box of letters and papers that some could sift through in a trice is a full evening’s entertainment for us.  Faced with generations of treasures mixed with oddments mixed with castoffs, from a large family that loved and loves to read, and that is rife with unorganized artists and packrat writers, we despair that we will finish in our lifetimes.  Yet as each person is remembered, discussed, laughed over, sometimes lamented, they join us, they light up the room, they fill the house until it is bursting with their semblance.  It can be done no other way.

I am of this house, this family, this history.  I am “from” it and it holds me willingly, loosely, yet tenaciously.    Still, we are not its completely original inhabitants, and those keep their place here as well, typically secreted in the confines of the foundations, drifting up from time to time to remind us we aren’t alone, we aren’t first. I have traced prior ownership of the two properties back to 1876 and with a bit more sleuthing, I’m sure I’ll get to when they were just lots being developed in the burgeoning Baltimore waterfront of the period.   I hope I can ferret out details to supplement our sensibilities and guesses since while we don’t know many of the prior residents by actual name, we do know some by the names we’ve given their shades.  

But that story is for another time.

 

 

 

 

Zen of Soaking

One of the things I loved about living overseas was the soaking tub.  There isn’t anything like it, unless it’s a hot spring!

In the U.S., most people are apt to purchase large, balky hot tubs that require regular maintenance and large electric bills.  For me, I’d opt for the luxury of a soaking tub instead.  It requires cleaning and maintenance too, but at a fraction of the cost of a hot tub.  I really like the idea it is clean every time I use it.

Hot tubs have their purpose, especially when entertaining or used for exercise, but a soaking tub is an opportunity to truly experience relaxation.  Young or old, the warmth and comfort of a good soak provides a sense of well-being that is ephemeral.  Aches and pains are soaked away, blood pressure lowers, and your soul is rejuvenated.  With a soaking tub readily available in your own ensuite, this can be enjoyed much more often than a hot tub, making it much more cost effective and beneficial than a hot tub.

By the way, I’m not talking about a tub that just happens to be a couple of inches deeper than a regular tub, so it covers up to your navel instead of your knees.  I’m talking about the Japanese style soaking tub, a.k.a. afuro, that is 22 or more inches deep.  This depth allows you to totally immerse your body up to your chin while sitting.

Unfortunately, a good soaking tub costs a small fortune right now, but I’m hoping as they become more popular, the cost will come down accordingly.  Either way, it is so worth the benefits.

Believe in yourself and thanks for ‘listening’.

Apartment Therapy – Soaking Tubs

Cabuchon Soaking Tub

Dwell – About Japanese Soaking Tubs

Gloria Ferreira of G F Studio, LLC

Gloria Ferreira is a Kentucky native and artist who specializes in narrative and landscape photography.  As an adult graduate of the UK Fine Arts program, Gloria discovered a truly wonderful talent for fashion photography – particularly for the macabre.  You can enjoy Gloria’s artwork on her website, G F Studio, LLC. 

All photographs are for sale, so feel free to contact Gloria at dotgsf@gmail.com for pricing and information.

You Don’t Intimidate Me!

At least that is what I told myself before attempting to unclog the vacuum hose on my 8-year-old vacuum cleaner.

Recently, every time I attempted to vacuum, terrorizing the dogs along the way, the vacuum rollers would simultaneously collect and throw down the collections in neat little piles on the carpet.  This went on for a couple of weeks, until I finally gave up – it had lost suction.  It was dead to me, and couldn’t be fixed; at least that is what I told myself.  I didn’t have time to fool with it anyway, but in my heart, I knew.

Meanwhile, I dug out my 20-year-old vacuum, which was also broken, to clean up the surface dirt – no roller brush action going on with this one!  I found a broom works quite nicely as well.  But, eventually, Spring came, and like so many of us, I got the itch to really spring clean.  And the only way the carpet was going to get that spring clean feel, was to deep clean vacuum, so I had no choice … either purchase a new vacuum (I have my eye on that Shark), or fix the monster.  Unemployed workers don’t just go out and buy new vacuum cleaners, so I had to gird myself (isn’t gird a great word?) to just do it!  How hard could it be?

I realized immediately just how hard it COULD be.  As I awkwardly hefted the monster onto the kitchen island to work on it without back-breaking contortions (yet another reason), I scraped the skin off a finger, hit that ‘not-so-funny spot’ on my elbow, and somehow disengaged the buildup of dirt from the roller-well onto the kitchen floor.   So, I paused to ask myself, “do I really want to do this?”  I realized if I stopped now, I still had to get it off the counter and onto the floor again, so as far as I was concerned, I’d reached the point of no return!  After a deep breath and a few words of reward (yes reward!) to myself for getting this far, on to the next step – find a screwdriver.

The good news is, like many of us, I keep a screwdriver handy in the catchall drawer in the kitchen.  All I had to do then was locate the screws to remove the bottom roller plate and on I go.  That was an easy enough task, removing four screws, so the rest should be easy; or so I thought.  As I gently pulled the plate away from the bottom, I heard a ‘snap’ and a quiet ‘tink’ as something broke away and on to the floor.  “OMG” I say to myself, “what was that? Lord, I just hope I can get this thing back together enough to get it to the repair shop!”  What repair shop, I don’t know, because I haven’t seen a repair shop for anything in years!  I have no choice but to continue on.  Dang this throw-away society!

After a quick dig through the first mess, I find a very small piece of plastic that looked like it was a match for one of the screws.  So I attempted to refit it to the part (?) where the screw screws in, but it would not stick.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  I pondered on it for a moment, thinking I could glue it back on, but the thing was so small, I was sure it would get clogged with glue, and at worst permanently secure the screw, which I was positive would need to be removed in the future.  Ah well, there were three more screws to hold it on, so I tossed the whatchamacallit in the catchall drawer, and moved on.

Now the screws are out, the plate is off, and the roller is hanging on by a thick rubber band.  I must remove the roller to get to the suction hole that is, I see, clogged with dog hair, a lot of dog hair and some unknown pieces of floor crud.  I’m oddly drawn to discover what that floor crud is, and wonder how did it get on the floor in the first place … hmmm.  But, I’m getting close now, and I decide to save that adventure for another blog.  What’s next?

I must find something to dislodge the backup.  I quickly decide on my dryer brush to get the job done – and it does; at least for the first few inches, as the brush won’t curl around the bend in the hose on the back.  Stepping back to get a good look at my work so far, I realize with a slight thrill, I’m close!  I will not let this monster get the better of me!   So think, woman, think!  Ah!

If I cannot reach the clog with the dryer brush, perhaps a hanger will do the trick!  I get the hanger, unwind it, straighten it out, and gently snake it through the hose, moving back and forth to try and snag whatever is clogging the hose.  A bit of dirt comes out, but I can tell from the movement of the hose, it is not getting the worst of it, and if I continue, I’m afraid I’ll damage the hose.  Ugh!  “I’ve come so far,” I think to myself.  “Now what?”

Now I get my older vacuum cleaner and try to vacuum out the clog.  I wheel the green monster (it is green) into the kitchen, pop off the nozzle, and onto the clogged hose.  It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was enough to create a seal to suction out the remainder of the clog.  Voila, I’m victorious!

All that is left is to reseat the roller and reattach the plate.  Uh, uh, uh, not so fast!  As I reattach the plate, another ‘snap’ and ‘tink’; you’ve got to be kidding!  Yet another whatchamacallit has broken off, leaving another orphaned screw.  What now?  I need that screw to secure the front, so I attempt to screw it in, but no grip – it is too short.  Yet again, I step back, remain calm, and ponder.  I know, I’ll use one of those pointy screws that is a bit longer, and so I do, and so it works.

With renewed energy from a job well and nearly done, I easily hoist the vacuum off the counter and onto the floor, ready to terrorize the hounds once again!

Note to self:  believe in myself from the start; when things get tough, get creative; and more importantly, don’t give up!

Thanks for listening.

Spring is a Wonderful Time of Year … to Downsize!

Downsizing, what does that mean exactly?  Selling a large house in favor of a small house? Yes, and so much more.

After 35 years of working and collecting stuff to make my life comfortable, if not bearable, I realize I’ve got more stuff (clutter) than I need at this time in my life.  I’m not retired, but I’m getting close.  When I do retire, I don’t want to be shackled with so much stuff that it runs my life.  I want to do the things I love most like spend time with family, friends, and my pets; not take care of ‘things’.  “I can’t take it with me” is truly meaningful; and downsizing is not only about selling my 2 story home in favor of a much smaller ranch home, but uncluttering my life. 

The kids don’t want the stuff my husband and I collected, and I can’t part with it for pennies, so I donate my stuff and write it off as a tax credit.  Lots less aggravation and worry involved, and it helps a charity.  These days (as I get closer to retirement) I get a charitable donation tax credit almost every year.

Downsizing is more than just getting rid of stuff; it’s about getting rid of a few bad habits and regrets. For example, I used to ‘clutter’ my thoughts about my failures and regrets in life, especially regarding work – I’m a workaholic, and I’m not sorry for that; I love working.  I am sorry that I spent more time than necessary worrying about my failures; it was my failures that taught me the most.  As for regrets, I’ll probably still have a few, but I don’t let them run my life; I’ve decided to be kinder to myself.  I can only do what I can with the resources I have at any given moment, and to try to do more and beat myself up about it if I can’t is just unkind to me.  I strive to be kind to everyone, so why not myself? 

Anyway, downsizing is a great idea at any age, because it’s really about finding what is of true value to us.  How do you downsize?  What does it mean to you?

As always, I’ve included a few links that may be of interest.  Feel free to suggest other links.

Believe in yourself, and thanks for ‘listening’.

Downsizing your stuff

Goodwill

Habitat for Humanity

Lifehacker’s Downsizing

Salvation Army

IRS Tips to Donations

Eight Things You Can Live Without – Lindsay Schauer

Downsizing your life

Bloomsberg Psychological Center

Help the Hoarder in Your Life

Hoarding Cleanup

Downsizing your home

Tiny House Builders

Our Tiny House

Realtor.com

Zillow.com

Find a Charity

GuideStar

Money-Saving Tips on Grocery Shopping

We all find ourselves a little tight on funds these days, so I would like to offer some frugal tips on how to stretch your funds at the grocery store. Any grocery store will do; I happen to shop at Kroger’s.

First tip:  Only shop on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the double fuel points; Thursday for the 5% off your purchases if you are 60 plus.

Second tip: Use the electronic coupons through the store – most have them these days.

Third tip:  Cut out those Sunday paper coupons.  I learned the hard way that I don’t cut out a coupon or load it unless it is something I normally buy and my family uses, or it goes to waste and I waste my money.

When I shop, the goal is to get at least half off my grocery bill and a minimum of one dollar off a gallon of gas each month. Note that sometimes there are restrictions; for example, Kroger only allows 35 gallons at a discount, so I split my discount and use the 50 cent a gallon twice to get 70 gallons vs 35 at a dollar off.

Hope this helps!

-Z