Category Archives: D.I.Y. House and Home

On Almost Being Arrested, and other things to do on Wednesday night

Downtown Houston

As if nothing else in the world was happening at the Nolen household.

Today the house framers were hard at work on the garage apartment in the back yard. They completed the second floor. The roof was framed. I got an almost frantic call from the contractor. The engineer had called him and told him that on re-calculating the plans he discovered a mistake. This is after everything has been inspected and passed. He had a fit of conscious of something. He explained that they should use two by eight boards for the ceiling on the second floor instead of the two by six.

The contractor told me, no, insisted to me that it was their mistake and I wasn’t to be concerned. But they were going to have a slight delay with taking part of the framing down. I asked what the difference in price for the materials was and I insisted on paying for that.

After all, the house plans had passed city inspection on all counts. And they were willing to stop construction, deconstruct and start over again on their dime. That is integrity.

The air conditioning man showed up around this time. Our air conditioner worked part of the time and the furnace worked part of the time. We’d been spending a lot of time and money having parts and pieces fixed. With a lot of pounding and grating the air conditioner man removed the old electric furnace and air conditioner from our downstairs utility room.

The grand baby slept through it all.

At one point I heard some yelling and high-pitched man-screams and went outside to investigate. The air conditioning man had been under the house (we are on pier and beam so there is a crawl space beneath us for easy access to pipes), he was wiping his brow. His shirt was muddy. All work on the garage apartment in the back yard was suspended as the guys crowded around. Apparently from what I could understand Victor thought there was a bear, or a monkey, or a chupacabra under the house. It had frightened him. He couldn’t get out from under fast enough.

I calmed them all down and told them that my cats were serious hunters of dangerous under-the-house creatures.

Turns out when the other guys used flash lights and investigated, it was our Siamese cat (they called her the “kitty-kitty”). Of course Peanut can look like a bear, or a monkey, or a chupacabra, depending on her mood.

The process of removing and replacing the old rotten air condition and furnace took all day. He and his two workers stayed late, finally leaving after dark. The only thing left undone was hooking everything up.

Immediately, I mean minutes after they left, my daughter said, “Oh look! The police have pulled someone over right in front of our house.”

I looked and it was our air conditioning man. I thought perhaps he had run the stop sign. But while I watched the situation didn’t LOOK like a simple traffic stop.

There must be some mistake.

I went outside and stood inside the fence. I called out to the air conditioning man, “Victor, is everything all right?”

A policeman on the other side of the car (I didn’t see him before this) came around the car and yelled at me that I was interfering with a police investigation. Yelled at me.

What? I stood there, shaking my head. “These guys were just at my house. Did they run the stop sign?”

“No ma’am.” The officer approached me. “You need to leave this alone. It is none of your business.”

“I’m just asking if they are okay.”

“No you were NOT! You are interfering! You need to get back! You are making this a dangerous situation! This vehicle came up as a suspicious vehicle. It has nothing to do with a stop sign. You are being disrespectful.” He was angry. Incensed even.

Disrespectful? I felt like reminding him that he was the one standing in the middle of a busy street. Dangerous situation indeed.

I turned around and went in the house and got a piece of paper and came back out and took the plate number of the police car. (from a respectful distance) I then went and stood far enough away but near enough that the officer could see me. I caught his eye and smiled at him. (How’s that for respect?) I asked him what his name was.

He called to me, that I was to come across the street to him and talk to him. (Now, this is always a safe move in a traffic stop of a suspicious vehicle where the suspicious vehicle’s occupants could be killers escaping from the long arm of the law.) I joined him and he told me that he and his partner felt the occupants of the vehicle were suspicious characters who could have guns and that my interference was clearly wrong and I could be killed.

These guys just spent the entire day in the mud under my house fighting chupacabras why would they shoot me?

I stared through the front windshield of their van. Our a/c man had already been hand-cuffed and put in the police car. The other two guys looked frightened and defeated.

I want you to know that I did apologize for interfering with what the officers were doing. Normally, I would never get involved with a traffic stop in my neighborhood. I’ve seen officers pull a car over and draw guns just like you see on “Cops”. I live a mile from downtown Houston. It’s more of a “duck and run” kind of area than an area where you would pop over to the officer and say “hey, what’s going on?” during a traffic stop. But I had just bid these guys a good evening. I felt like defending them.

Thankfully the officer and I parted on speaking terms. He apologized for getting angry at me. He gave me his card so that I can call him if I see crack smokers or miscreants hanging about.

This is good.

Sometimes it’s hard getting through on the non-emergency line to report misdeeders. The last time I tried the woman kept asking me to “back up and repeat my description of the guys”. By the time I’d finished my descriptions so that she could get it down, the bad guys were long gone, and I’m talking about fifteen minutes of backing up and repeating, honey. Two police cars passed by during that time and she wouldn’t let me get a word in without backing up and repeating it several times.

Here is a side note: The “suspicious vehicle” thing couldn’t have happened quite the way they explained it.

First, they pulled them over as soon as the van pulled away from the curb beside our house. They couldn’t have run plates in that amount of time. Which means they had to have spotted the vehicle before this and run the plates. Second, the vehicle was not the problem. Turns out our a/c man had a warrant for his arrest. Before you get all excited about that – it only means that he missed a court date. Third, if the vehicle had been a problem they would have taken it and they didn’t. They asked our permission to leave it on the curb beside our house so that one of the guy’s wives could come drive it home.

And Fourth, (only because one must have a “fourth” if there is a “third”) I’m without an air-conditioner and furnace downstairs at the moment so excuse me while I go pile on some blankets and enjoy the Wednesday night line-up on television.

The Lamp Incident

Two lamps with lampshades.
Image via Wikipedia

The husband decided to replace the temporary paper blinds. I don’t think the paper blinds look so bad. From the outside, in the dark, and if you shut one eye they do look like those expensive pleated blinds. But no, he wanted to put something real up. He went and got some mini-blinds, which are okay in my book but not great. I like the expensive pleated blinds.

He was working on getting those mini-blinds installed. Beneath possibly fifty coats of paint the hundred-year-old window casings are made of petrified wood. At least that was what it seemed like around all the objects dropping and bad language coming from my husband as he tried numerous ways to get the parts and pieces screwed in place.

Different sizes of ladders were called for and produced. Different screw drivers. “Why is my cordless screwdriver never charged?” he asked me.

“We lost the charger three moves ago.” Was the correct answer but I hemmed around that with “I can’t find the charger, use this nifty T-shaped screwdriver I got you for your birthday.”

He cursed the T-shaped screwdriver and used it anyway.

He finally figured it all out and had the study’s blinds installed in a short hour and a half. Two windows down. Four to go.

He did the dining room because that only required moving the baby’s changing table, an old dresser, a lamp and a few dozen miscellaneous breakable things.

Now the living room seemed like it would go the fastest because the only thing to be moved was the couch. It’s a small couch. I left the room and when I came back I found him at the top of the ladder leaning forward with the drill poised to go at it. He had moved a side table, the one with the lamp on it. The lamp that wobbles because the lamp shade is so heavy. The ladder’s legs were straddling both the drill’s cord and the lamp’s cord. The lamp, a tall, rusted iron affair with this old, stained-glass lampshade. The lamp’s cord was stretched tight. This didn’t look like it would turn out well. I turned off the lamp and went to unplug it.

“I need that light.”

I looked up at him on his ladder. “But it will fall,” I said.

“I’m being careful!”

Best not argue. He is after all putting up blinds, which is one less thing for me to worry with if I were to ever get around to finding a way to sneak the expensive pleated ones into the budget. A far, far better thing for me to do was to walk the dog.

Back home, the dog and I walked in on the husband holding a broom and dustpan. “What’s up?” I asked because I hadn’t see the mess on the floor. Yes. It’s true. The nice, stained glass lampshade, bent and broken into unrepairable pieces. “Oh,” was all I could manage.

I didn’t need to say anything else. I could tell he felt bad about it. I found a spare linen lampshade and stuck it on the iron lamp. It was a little crooked, but keeps the light shaded and that’s all a lampshade is for.

The next day I took the glass bits and crooked copper-works across the street to my neighbor, Joan Son. ( She is an origami artist. I asked her if she knew of anyone who could use the old stained glass. She did. I’m glad to recycle old things into new ones.

I thought that was the end of that. I have more things to worry about purchasing than a new lampshade so I didn’t worry about the lamp after that.

Except it was my birthday this past weekend and my husband walks in from work with a sack from Pottery Barn. I love Pottery Barn. And you guessed it – it was a new lampshade. It was a good-looking one. But honestly Pottery Barn isn’t known for their lampshades. And when you buy a lampshade for a room you should buy the exact lampshade for all the matching lamps, right?

He could tell I wasn’t enthused. And I was sorry when my daughter came home from work and my husband asked her her opinion. “It’s pretty,” she said. And then paused. “Wait. Wasn’t that the lamp that you broke? You bought a lampshade for mom’s birthday gift?”

All of which didn’t make him feel any better. I apologize dear husband for how badly you felt about the entire lamp incident. Accidents happen. Let’s forget about it and move on.

I have to admit the mini-blinds do look better than the paper blinds.

The Before and Afters of Our House

I promised I would show before and after photos of our house. Here are photos from when the house was almost a shell. We saw through the ugly to what it could be. Now we are proud to live here. It is a grand old house of a period in Houston’s history when most homes being built were victorian in characteristic. But some neighborhoods were building in a new form called “arts and crafts“. Our house’s original owner liked the “arts and crafts” details that he had built into this house – the square decorative windows, the square columns on the bottom porch. These are identical to others surrounding us. However, what makes this house stand out in it’s uniqueness is the Victorian porch on the top floor with its round columns. Also the “arts and crafts” homes never had a rounded or “wrap-around” porch. Ours does. In fact when speaking to the ninety-year-old neighbor down the street whose grandfather was the second owner of our house in 1914, she said the porches have always been the way they look now.

This back porch was added in 1978. It doesn’t match anything.

The before picture of back of house shows how the bottom portion of the porch fell off during the raising and leveling of the foundation. Frankly I was surprised this was the only thing that fell off. On the inside a lot of the upstairs ceilings crashed to the floor, and great craters appeared in the walls. Here you can see the huge plant that had grown into the ground and COULDN’T be moved. It was taking over the back porch area so I had to hire someone with a chain saw to cut it out. Upstairs you can see the boards that are framing what will be the bathroom window. That had been a another door.

Now in the after picture you can see that the upstairs porch no longer has the lattice board, you can see the bathroom window of glass brick, and you can see the downstairs porch (now piled with the stuff that needs to go in a shed), the new steps, and the outside of the new mud room.

One of the most dramatic changes happened to the lowly downstairs bath/laundry room. It was located under the double stairs.

You can see the hole in the floor where the toilet had been. This is just next to the kitchen. So I decided this would make a better pantry than utility/bathroom. So here is the “after” picture of the pantry.

The original Victorian front door was re-purposed for this room. But we still had to put in a bathroom. Behind the original bathroom wall was an empty hallway. Here are the before and after pics of the downstairs bath.

First the hall is gutted. You can see the original wall.

Now everyone who sees this thinks it is an original bath room. It is tiny and I used the period details to make it seem very old.

And then the laundry had to go somewhere. My husband had the brilliant idea to put it upstairs next to our bedroom. We aren’t getting any younger and there is always laundry to do, right? So we took a huge, wide hall that led to the upstairs front porch and divided it into three sections. Hall to stairs, our room, the guest bathroom, next section became part for the laundry, and the next section part “sitting area” library in the master bedroom.

So first the laundry – This shot shows the laundry being framed out within that hall area. Two bedroom doors had to be moved in the process. You can see the one doorway being framed in now. Also to the left are the stairs down and the huge window over the stairs.

Laundry AFTER. This is a shot  taken in the same direction.

And this was taken with the laundry doors closed. 

Now behind this laundry room is the master bedroom library. There is a door to the right of the desk that leads to the upstairs front porch.

When you walk in the front door and look to the left there is the nice sized living room. We filled in a door and that gave us a wall there. (I will show you that view from the outside.) What struck us about the living room and dining room were the ceilings. There are nice beams there. They were always meant to be painted wood (low quality boards were used instead of lumber) but we painted them as to seem like wood. Here are the before and afters.

Here is the BEFORE

Of course books and furniture make a difference.

Here in the AFTER you will note that behind the chair is a pocket door. When we first entered, I knew the doorway to the left was much too wide. It made the entry room and the living room into a big odd-shaped area. I knew I wanted the entryway to be private and able to be cut off from the noise in the living room if possible so I said “pocket doors”. The great thing about pocket doors is they take up no wall space. When the frame from the super-sized doorway was removed some original tracks for a pocket door were revealed. I knew that was what was meant to be there!

Now to the master bath. The master bath in this house used to be a bedroom. We took one bedroom and divided it into a master bath and master closet. The closet can never be too big in my opinion!

The before picture of the bath from the inside. Here you can see out and across the porch to the neighbor’s yard behind us.

Now the after picture: You can see on the right the glass block window that is reflected in the glass rain shower.

Here is a picture of the outside side view of the house. That is the living room wall that used to be a door.The porch hasn’t been leveled yet and all the railing replaced, and the iron fence hasn’t been welded together where it had fallen apart.

The after picture.

Now I’m getting to the part everyone wants to see – the kitchen! When I showed pictures earlier in the year of the gutted kitchen with the holes in the floor, people were commenting that nothing good could come of this. I like to think that the kitchen redo reflects my style of creating any art piece. I have had people comment that my art looks like a mess before it becomes anything identifiable. When I work with gauche, I know this to be true. Everything must be broken down to its ugliest most prehistoric form before becoming what it is meant to be. With gauche you have to see the negative in whites before the positives can be applied in darker paint to create the picture.  It is the way with any reconstruction project or any creative attempt. Sometimes you just have to work backward to get forward.

Sidebar: this philosophy works when cleaning out a closet.

Here is the kitchen pre-gut:

Kinda depressing, huh?

Then the gut:Feeling worse?

But wait! Add cabinets, new floors, appliances, fun light fixtures, an amazing faucet and voila!

This is from the same angle as the gut picture. Note the mason jar lights. Cute, huh?

Let me share a few more angles.

Where the brick column is was sheet rock. We wanted to expose the column. This is an original 100-year-old chimney flue. There is a hole in the brick near the ceiling where the original kitchen’s wood-burning stove’s pipe took the heat and smoke up and out. This brick goes from the dirt, through the roof.

Here is a picture when they were taking out the sheet rock and ugly cabinet. This is a perfect spot for a Wine bar. Don’t you see it, too?

Not completely finished (this was one of those projects the builder decided he didn’t need to do.) but we will be adding the cabinet before long. Meanwhile it functions well in its capacity.

So how did we make all the porches seem like they belong on the same house? I mean after all the front porches are in two different styles and the back porches were added in 1978. Welllllll. We made all the porch railing match all the way around and up and down.

Thank you for viewing my pictures and the year-long effort of re-making a 100-year-old mess into the beauty it was always supposed to be.

If Life Hands You a Lemon, Suck It Up

We moved into the new old house. It has double wrap around porches, a new kitchen and laundry, and a large master closet.

One can never have too much closet.

We’d been here a week, when the builder showed up and told us that if we wanted the inspections to go through on the electric, the plumbing, and the mechanical (A/C), we’d have to give him more money. He said if we didn’t he’d have to put a lien on the house. Let’s call this what it is – extortion.

This is a sour note to start our life in this house with.

Where is Holmes on Homes when you need him?

But not to fear, we are in the house! Possession is 9/10ths of the law. We’ve paid the builder almost double of what the original estimate of costs would be. If he doesn’t pass city inspections on what he was responsible for it falls back on him, not us. I told him I would file a complaint before the permits board. He said he didn’t care, that he would never do a remodel for anyone again anyway.

He said it wasn’t fair that he made a nice place for us to live and he doesn’t get anything for it. According to him he didn’t make any money. He complained that because I was at the job site almost every day, that I messed everything up. I kept pestering his people. He had a long list of complaints.

Actually, I was amazed at the sloppiness of the job until I learned that he was pushing them on quantity not quality. So often, I would double back and encourage the workers to do what hadn’t been done. I was on the job site because I wanted to see where our hard-earned cash was going.

On this night we couldn’t get him to leave our house. How ironic since I spent a lot of time while he was working on it chasing him down.

At this point I wondered if my kickboxing-body combat would have to come into play. I look like the innocuous grandma I am about to become, but I do pack a pretty mean punch.

We just let him natter.

What he didn’t get was that there are times that no matter how hard you work, you don’t get what you expect. It is tantamount to farting in the wind. Of course, when you are in business it helps to keep orderly books and records, which is what we didn’t see from him after he started the work.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain. (Psalms)

In some of his budget cutting moves he cut his costs by hiring unskilled labor. We have tiles that aren’t laid flat, we have a tub that has deep scars and scratches because no one was supervising, we have paint all over windows and floors, counters that aren’t caulked, paper on electric lines, piles of trash in the back yard. What are we supposed to do?

After the other night, I’m pretty sure I don’t want him around. So I will make everything right with a little elbow grease and a ladder. I feel like that old geezer (Pappy) in the Real McCoys who would hitch up his britches, look toward the setting sun and say “We’ll climb that mountain.”

And so we will.

I Have Lived With Houses

Houses home our best or worst memories.

For those who watch the home improvement shows. I’m running circles around Suzie’s House. Ha!

This past weekend was one which will not be soon forgotten, or repeated. I went to a writing conference at the same time the moving van pulled up to our sweet Victorian cottage to load everything up and move us to the Arts and Crafts home that we’ve been renovating since January. I’d been packing for weeks, and getting material ready for editor and agent review for weeks. And biting my nails. There’s nothing like piling stress on stress. Does wonders for the neck muscles.

Like the characters in my novels, every house renovation jets me into some kind of trouble which seems impossible to get out of. The deeper one digs, the more trouble one unearths.

Foundation work took over a week because the 1910 house was that settled. Plus, the double porches on three sides of the house had to be raised separately. When they raised the back porch, the bottom one fell apart. So it had to be rebuilt to support the top porch. In rebuilding it I had them enclose part of it to create a mud room. Success! Then it rained. Whoops, forgot to waterproof above the sheet rock.

When exposing the chimney flue on the inside (at the kitchen) the builder found that there was NO support beam for the upper floor where it was needed. No wonder the toilet leaked. The upstairs bathroom was caving into the kitchen. I went to flush the toilet the day I didn’t know the sewer line was frozen and the black water shot out, splattered past me and into the tub. Yuck!

Now all toilets flush.

That is huge.

The only thing left is having the air conditioning, the electric and the plumbing pass inspection. Oh, and adding knobs to a few doors.

When we bought the Victorian cottage there was a pot-holed drive way and several street people sleeping under the house or in the shed. We paved the drive, tore up the none-existent sidewalks, and added a fence around the property. The house itself was not livable as the air-conditioning had irreparably broken, which we didn’t know until after we purchased the property. It had limped along until somewhere between signing on the dotted line and getting home warranty insurance.

The Victorian is perfect now. Ready for some fortunate person to purchase it and move in.

The house I grew up in was asbestos shingled, with a white rock roof. No one knew about asbestos then, just knew asbestos made it fire-proof. The shingles were painted daffodil yellow. I remember feeling proud that my house could be seen from a great distance.

Ha. Ha. A huge distance. That house was day-glow before day-glow existed.

There was a crack in the foundation. It was so wide you could see daylight. My brother and I would sit and wait for lizards to crawl in and capture them. To this day I’m crazed if a Palmetto bug skitters too near my feet. This is because for a period of time, after my parents built their bedroom and gave me their old room, I would go to my bed and flip the covers back. There was a Palmetto bug sitting there, waiting for me. It happened again and again. Go in, flip covers, Palmetto bug, scream. Palmetto bugs look like giant cockroaches. I am still afraid.

My grandmother’s house I remember with fondness. I spent a great deal of childhood with my grandmother. There was a painted wood staircase that led to an apartment upstairs. Instead of closet doors there were heavy velvet curtains. My cousins and I would put on plays. I discovered an easy-bake oven one day and burned my fingers.

That house was built in 1889. It didn’t survive Hurricane Carla in 1961. Termites had undermined the beams beneath it and the wind blew it sideways and it crumbled.

My husband and I bought our first house in 1987. It was one of thirty homes out in the middle of a field and across the highway from one of Texas’s finest prison farms. Unwittingly the phone wiring wasn’t sophisticated enough for the phones and so we all shared a party line. This neighborhood wasn’t Mayberry. You could pick up the phone any time day or night and someone would be carrying on a conversation. These people would get abusive when asked to give up some phone time. The first day my oldest went to Kindergarten, the police were searching cars as we left the subdivision. I thought it was a drug raid. As I pulled up the policeman shone his flashlight in my face, like they do on TV. I asked him what was going on. A prisoner had escaped and was seen crossing the highway and slipping over a fence. Shaken I took my son on to school and rushed home to make sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Turned out the prisoner had broken an ankle slipping over the fence and that yard was surrounded by big dogs so he had no where to go. That was two blocks from my house.

Time passed. We raised two kids. The area sprouted five thousand houses.

The p-farm sold to a developer.

We moved farther into the country, where we lived on the edge of a creek. And dealt with banana spiders the size of your hand, water moccasins, and gorgeous sunsets. I miss that house.

We moved downtown beneath the big city skyline to an ultra modern townhouse with a chef-designed kitchen. TOO many stairs in that place. Two weeks after we moved in, Hurricane Ike swept past not a mile from us. The big trees in the neighborhood were uprooted and left higglety-pigglety in the streets.

Felt like renovating a hundred year old house, found one, fixed it and moved in. In this house I learned that street people are important to get to know. There are good ones and bad ones. I got to know Reggie, The Razor, Robinson (former boxer), Cash (a former pimp), Bear (he always wears a clean white shirt, a tie, and a smile, and Reno (don’t trust Reno). I learned that if you pay attention, these are the people who either make your neighborhood safe or make it horrible. Street people know what is going on. They keep watch. They know when a car should or shouldn’t be where it is, etc.

Two years later, meaning now, my husband and I found another hundred-year-old house that needed love. We fixed it (mostly) and moved in.

What have I learned?

First, I don’t think I’ll ever move house on the same day as a conference again. That was silly.

Secondly, making alleys through the boxes isn’t such a terrible thing.

When in Doubt, Hit it With a Hammer

This week, I came close to hitting something I shouldn’t have with a hammer. Let’s just say for the record, we have all survived. And for the other record, I AM NOT a violent person. Do not read the last post. This has nothing to do with killing turkeys, renovators need not apply.

So the inevitable day of the big move to another house looms. The movers are arriving on the day that I am scheduled to be at a writing conference wooing two agents and two editors.

There is no stress like home renovation stress.

Thankfully, I have the dog going for a spa weekend.

I’m taking a moment between piling things into boxes,  to create a couple of pages of “blurb” for both my completed novels. One down and one to go.

In the middle of that I decided to add a few before and after photos of some of the renovation work to the blog to keep it new. The awful yellow color before I changed it to the pale gray-blue.

The bathroom where I tore out the 1995 sink and added a pedestal sink that matches the original 1905 tub. The tub has been re-enameled so they really do match. Also added a chandelier over the tub for a little “wow” factor. You can see this in the yellow picture. This renovated bit is in the Victorian cottage. We are putting it on the market in a few days.

What about the hammer? I had to make supply runs to Home Depot so that none of the workers (at the arts & crafts renovation) could take any time away from their finish work. Yes, those knobs were in the budget! Errrrr.

In all this last minute work (staining floors and adding doorknobs), no one had called anyone to come get the old 1970’s satellite dish out of the back yard. About twenty feet off the ground and about five feet across, the eyesore was a little more than I could tear apart. So I enticed my son and one of his friends to come over and knock it down by telling them that they could probably get some money for it at the scrap yard. I gathered up what I could find that workers had left, aluminum cans, pieces of pipe, and three bags of insulated wire. By the time they had sheared the satellite dish off the pole, torn the pole from the ground, and cut it all up into manageable pieces, the scrap yard had closed. They wouldn’t accept a dinner invitation for their trouble but did take a little money for their gas. It was satisfying to see that ugly thing take a serious beating.

I am very, very thankful, Son!

So the hammer didn’t come into play, at least at my hands. Though I did knock some things from the top of the dryer when I slammed the door.

Slip-sliding Down the Plumbing Learning Curve

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...
Image via Wikipedia

It was a cold and blustery morn. Over thirty states were covered in snow today (Wednesday). More snow than normal. Here in the south it was cold, though not nearly as cold as up north. Our wind-chill factor was in the single digits while the temperature hovered in the twenties all day. Unusual for us.

Britt and I went to the new old house to check the pipes. There is no heat working in the house and the project manager had turned off the water and emptied the pipes the night before the big freeze. I didn’t expect any problem.

We walked in and Britt noticed the frozen puddle in the dining room. There were mini-icicles hanging from a ceiling beam above it.

We went upstairs. Britt climbed into the attic. I turned the corner and stepped into the master bath just as a spout of water shot up from the drain pipe where the shower will be. Water spread out and ran beneath the two-by-fours of the framed closet. Britt went downstairs to look for something to mop it up. I heard him yell and ran down. Water streamed down along the ceiling beam in a cascade of water. He scooted the wheelbarrow that was sitting in the living room to catch water. It wasn’t enough. He ran outside and dragged two garbage bins inside. The swath of falling water was growing. The ceiling plaster was sagging in one corner. He took a broom handle and pushed up. Water gushed.

With nothing to wipe up the mess we drove home for some mops. We were gone about twenty minutes. By the time we made it back the water was frozen solid. We had to use a dust pan as a scraper to get it up off the wood floors.

I went upstairs to check the conditions of the second bath. It is the only surviving bathroom of the demolition work. The toilet was disgusting so I flushed it. Not a good move. Brown water shot from the wall behind the toilet, splashed across the floor barely missing me. I heard Britt yelling from downstairs, “What did you do???”

I rushed downstairs and water was pouring from another spot in the kitchen. At about this time frantic calls to the project manager produced the project manager. He came in calm as the morning breeze and told us that the water backed up because the plumbers had had their “pressure” test earlier.

They had left the pressure cuffs (that look much like blood-pressure cuffs) in the pipes. As the water froze and expanded around the cuffs the water pressure pushed them up and out along with the water. And the toilet? It is so old, they knew they needed to replace it and a few pipes around it. That was scheduled for this week.

The freeze just heightened the troubles a little.

So this week the house may get painted on the outside before it freezes again at the end of the week. And the toilet may get replaced.  And because the plumbers passed their inspection we may get some drywall and tile in so that we don’t have flooding from upstairs to down. I’m only hoping we don’t have to deal with any poop-cycles ever again!


Note on the diet: Salads at fast food places have as many calories as the burgers. Go for the chicken sandwiches – for over two hundred fewer calories – as long as the words “extreme” or “deluxe” isn’t part of the sandwich’s description.

Second note: Onion rings have fewer calories than fries.

On Days Like This

Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits biscuits
Image via Wikipedia

On days like today I am the most likely to cheat on my diet. Today I had some near misses several times but managed to only flub once.

Weight: 139 (actually lost one pound, can’t believe it)

fasting sugar: 120

Breakfast: Oatmeal-On-The-Go (220 C.) Tea w/canned milk (40 C.). Lunch: here’s where I flubbed, and I even searched Sam’s Club while I was there to see if they had any samples being handed out! They DIDN’T! AARGH! Popeye’s 3 piece nuggets (who knows how many calories – it was deep-fried, spicy and delicious) red beans and rice, and three slow bites of fried apple pie. Okay, I was good here, I didn’t eat the entire thing. Supper: Half (because of lunch) a chicken enchilada, another cup of red beans and ham (Toot! Toot!), and later when I arrived home, a glass of red Merlot (120 C). Oh! and I had a handful of pistachios. Mmmm.

I was at the Hyundai dealership across town at 8:30 with my car because my sun-visor had broken, so I was out of there by 9:30. Went to Home Depot in the middle of town to order a pedestal sink in BISQUE. They don’t have pedestal sinks in bisque. So I have to order it from the website. (I wish I’d known that ages ago, to save a trip). The sink is for the house I presently live in. I’m redoing the guest bathroom to update it to more of a period piece, more 1905, without the plumbing problems and cold, I’m sure. Then to work to pick up a grocery list.

Then back across town to my mother’s. She wanted me to go to Sam’s Club for her. I did. Then back to her place. She was dressed and ready to go to the library. On the way dropped off a manuscript for a special reader since I was in the area. After the library, out to eat (Popeye’s). What a beautiful day it was in Sugar Land. My mother and I sat in my car with the windows down and ate our chicken. I usually go to see my mother on Wednesday, but yesterday I had to wait on an inspector for one of the other homes.

After seeing my mother safely back into her sweet, senior apartment, I went home to let the dog out because it was about 2:30 and he’d been inside all day (awww). After that went to the grocery store for my job (my peeps) then to work about 4:30, though I usually try to make it a lot earlier than that, the day wouldn’t let me. Everything much smoother after that.

This was just the physical part of the day. I didn’t mention the worries, the concerns, (will I make it in time? [yes] will the dog have an accident? [no] is my car still under warranty?[yes]) I try to keep up, let it “flow” so to speak. While with the same breath attempt  to watch what I eat. I know that if I can keep this up it will become a part of me and it won’t take so much effort.

Thank you for your prayers.

The Bog Blog

Most will recognize that the word bog might mean many things. Here, especially in south Texas the word calls to mind a swamp that is “swampier”, perhaps with a little quicksand lurking beneath the green duck weed, and the faint odor of rotting vegetation.

In England the bog means different things also, not only a type of swampy marsh, but it could mean a toilet. It isn’t a nice word for toilet, more a derogatory term. The English have many words for toilet. If you visit, you could ask for the toilet, or the loo, or the “ladies” or the “gents”, only don’t call it a bog in polite company.

This week I had a bog experience of the worst kind.

Upon waking and getting busy around the house, I found the vacuum had broken, then as I was taking some paperwork to a certain government office to drop off, I discovered their offices closed due to flood. (No it didn’t rain. It was either a toilet overflow or a pipe burst type of flood.) So I had to drive back across town to await their office re-opening. I discovered in an email communique that the offices were open so I drove back. AND I’ve never seen such a line. I think it was the day to turn in papers, or something. At other times I have parked, walked in, handed in the papers, received a signed receipt, and walked out. That day I stood in line. After hour one I was well acquainted with a nice family who were in front of me. By hour two we had exchanged email addresses, by hour three we were discussing the politics of the world and specifically France’s responsibility in the Vietnam war.

It was during this time that my renter called. She had just moved in and the next morning when her son was showering she discovered water coming from beneath the toilet. Later when she was washing up the dishes, her sink wouldn’t drain, later she was bathing and noticed black stuff coming up from the drain.

Gross! Ack! Ack!

Then the tub wouldn’t drain, and yes more black stuff. I don’t want to write anymore about that.

I have a handyman who works on most everything to some extent. I asked him if he would go “snake” the trap line. The ‘snake’ is a long wire with a type of bent pipe at one end so that if you drop the wire into the line and wind it, it should squeegee out the blockage. The ‘trap’ is a pipe sticking above ground that leads to the intersection of all the main drain lines underground. He went after work and did that and said he could find nothing.

During all my adventures in house renewal and fixing up, which we’ve been doing for almost two years, my main disappointment is in finding a good plumber who was half-way affordable. And this was an emergency. My renter has young children.

I remembered in one of my trips to a local big-box home makeover store that I had discovered one of the employees in the plumbing department did plumbing as a side job. So I went back to that store and couldn’t find him. I asked another employee, “do you know one of the employees who does plumbing on the side?”


Now, hummmm, how frustrating is that? Here in Texas it isn’t customary for a customer to be brushed off in such a manner, I would have questioned his attitude, but I was tired. It had been a long day. “Okay”, I said. “Do you know where the wax ring seals are for the toilet?”

“Yep, over there.” He pointed, and didn’t move from his spot.

I nodded and dragged myself over to wax ring seals which go under the toilet where the sewer pipe meets the porcelain. It completes a leak-proof seal in the assembly. As I’m looking at the variety (who knew?) I heard a voice whisper, “You’re lookin’ for Milton. He works tomorrow from eight to one. But you didn’t hear it from me.”

It was the abrupt guy. “Okay.” I whisper back. “And thank you but I’m not speaking to you.”

“Right. I haven’t helped you in the least.”


This is top-secret stuff that we’re talking about. I figured Milton must be on some supervisor’s “watch” list or something. I have a name now and I determine to come back the next day.

So I let the renter know that her plumbing was not up to par(umm, she called me about it, oh yeah) and could she go back to our other rental property to give the children baths? Like camping, I say. I don’t think she thought much of that prospect. She said, “I’ll take the kids to my grandmother’s.”

Whew! So I went to the big store the next day about ten o’clock thinking Milton would probably be on break. I recognized him. He was in the plumbing department talking to some customers. I sauntered over, looked at valves, noted the impressive line-up of pvc fittings. Milton asked if he could help me. There were customers there and this was top-top-secret-agent-stuff so I said I had a bath that wasn’t draining. He finished with his customers and took me to the display of drain mechanisms. I said, “It isn’t really going to work. Something has plugged up the line and we can’t get it unstuck. I need a plumber.”

He pulled a couple of boxes off the nearby shelf and opened one of them, emptied out the various parts to lay them out on top of another box, and spoke into the open end of the now empty box, “I’ll need your number so I can call.” I gave him my number and the address of the house. He said he knew just where that was. He said he would call me after work and meet me over there. He would start work immediately.

I went home to await his call. He called. He set a time that he would come with his crew. They showed up and flushed the lines from the bath (Ack! Ack!) and the toilet and discovered that the trap was clogged with cement. Apparently when the previous owner poured his porch slab, some of the cement went into the trap. Whoops. It dried in little hills forcing the exiting waste to have to squeeze through. Or not.

The next few days he was able to come with his crew and dig. Thirty-eight feet of pipe was replaced. He discovered on uncovering the pipe nearest the house that the palmetto bugs were rushing out of the hole by the hundreds. The palmetto bug is a relative of the common roach, only they are about three inches longer. Almost the size of those Madagascar Hissing Roaches. Yuck! I hate palmetto bugs! He said that the reason there were so many is because the pipe was actually broken. They like the broken sewer lines. Double Yuck.

So tonight I report that the bog is finished! done with! FINIS! Except I can’t because the renter just called and her sinks won’t drain.