Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oscar or Felix?

Last weekend on CBC radio’s Sunday Edition, it was suggested that the whole world could be divided into Oscars and Felixes--you know, the quintessential opposites of neatnik and slob from the classic Neil Simon Odd Couple play, and later, movie, starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Jack Lemon as Felix (left) and dapper Walter Matthau as Oscar

Ideally, a couple should have one of each type—a Felix and an Oscar—to create an internal check and balance system. Unfortunately for us, especially now during spring cleaning season, we’ve come to realize that there is no Felix to be found in this house. We’re more like Oscar and Oscar light. Oscar light feels a vague pull to order at this time of year—a subtle yearning for clean surfaces, less clutter, fresh smells, and general organization. But, Oscar light being the daughter of an artist, also an Oscar light—no offense, mom, didn’t really learn the secrets of structured, orderly housekeeping. I learned instead how to paint, make things, solve problems creatively, and enjoy life.

Lately, though, the state of our house, which is a mobile construction zone (as our renovation efforts move from room to room), has been interfering with my enjoyment of life and my work (I work from home) and I have decided to become, at least temporarily, a Felix. The thing is, I could use help. I don’t really know where to begin or how to systematically tackle the chaos. Because some of our rooms are completely cleared out for renovations, and two closets have been eliminated, our intact rooms are stuffed full. I have turned for assistance to the excellent Home Ec 101 site and am taking their advice to begin by doing the laundry. So, today, the laundry machine was humming away. I would love to hear how anyone else tackles the spring cleaning ordeal, especially Oscars turned Felixes (because if you’re a Felix to begin with, spring cleaning probably isn’t much of an ordeal for you). Yesterday, after work, I thought I would make a start, but I couldn’t face up to the indoor mess and so I went into the yard to begin cleaning up out there. At least outside, spring cleaning has instant rewards. I found these early spring blooms bravely peeking through the leaves.

My favourite butter yellow crocuses in the late afternoon sun

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Will it Blend?

Here’s our dilemma. The whole point of our ongoing renovations has been the kitchen. It’s just that on the way to reach that goal we decided we first had to re-do the master bathroom and restore the floor plan to its pre-1940s glory (and a few other things as well). Our kitchen appliances are destined to be replaced when the kitchen is refinished, but lately it seems that our fridge probably won’t make it that far.

At random intervals, but every few weeks or so, our ‘frost free’ fridge requires defrosting. Each defrosting session seems to correspond uncannily with some other pressing event like an impending flight, or a Christmas family gathering. This morning, although the event was only to meet a friend for a spring hike, the fridge decided it too needed to mark the first warm spring day with a good defrosting. In winter our front porch made an excellent alternative to the refrigerator. We could bundle all of our food into a cooler and send it outside for the day, only calling it back in when cold was restored to the fridge. Today, though, the weather is warm (13 degrees C) and sunny. So, in an effort to save space in the cooler and to use some of our food before it sat unrefrigerated for hours, I filled our blender with frozen berries and yogurt. In my haste, I left a spoon in the blender.

It didn’t blend.

We shoulda bought a Blendtec

It broke the blender, not the motor, but the glass container. No yogurt smoothies (unless we were prepared for crunchy style) for us.

We may be forced to buy our new fridge prematurely. We have had our eyes on a fridge that hasn’t yet been released to the market. It’s the new Liebherr 36" 2062 Series refrigerator with French doors above and two freezer drawers below.

The Liebherr 2062

The question is whether we can live with our current fridge and continue defrosting at inconvenient random intervals, or buy a different new fridge now, or wait until the Leibherr model is available. Does anyone have any experience with Leibherr refrigerators? I know they are not widely known in North America, but the compact size of some of their models has made them popular with people with limited kitchen space. This dilemma will become more pressing as temperatures rise.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Yes I love technology, but not as much as N (does) you see

I admit, I love my digital cameras, my iPod, my computer, the Internet, light timers…in other words, all the technology that makes my life easier or more enjoyable. But this? This may be too much for me.

Exhibit A

Our control room is something N has been scheming about with the plumber. I have heard strange murmurings and hushed telephone calls to product managers not used to dealing with residential applications of their commercial systems, but I guess I never really believed it would happen. Lately, every time the plumber comes over, things get a little more Byzantine in the basement. Soon, I’m going to find myself living in a house that I have no idea how to control—in fact, not soon, but now. Already, I have no idea how to run my own home. These blue boxes require inputs, from a human.

I don't speak Tekmar, do you?

Today, after our plumber left, I went downstairs to see find this interesting informational display he’d left of all of the manuals I’m going to need just to know how to control the temperature in my house.

The learning station

I was really hoping to have some pictures to document the bathroom renovation taking shape, but while I’ve been up in my top floor studio, my house has been infiltrated from below. We’ve become strangers. I don’t know what N has up his sleeve, maybe this is the new command central for controlling the entire neighbourhood, or possibly the world. I’ll keep you posted.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

The maples look bare, but their buds are beginning to swell

Today felt much more like spring, at least for a while. The temperature climbed to 11 degrees C and it’s been raining—truly raining. The birds are singing again and the snow is retreating, but at a glacial pace (although these days that expression could mean anything). With the disappearance of the snow, some unpleasant things are returning to view. Besides the unmentionable signs of animals, there are piles of sawdust from late November outdoor table saw use; the garden hose, which we carelessly left on the lawn to freeze; a stack of those green plastic lawn chairs, which we had meant to donate to charity (assuming anyone wants them) last year, but didn't; the wooden skid that our tile was transported on; mats of wet leaves, crushed boxwood shrubs from our new hedge, which managed to get trodden on when it disappeared under the snow; hundreds of fallen twigs and branches from the sugar maples; a tangle of perennial stalks, piles of bird seed and sunflower shells like dark stains under the feeders, brown boughs that looked so lovely when they were first stuffed into hanging baskets and urns in December, the carnage left by the snowplow on our median strip of grass, peeling paint, and leaking eaves troughs. You get the ugly picture.

Just one of the discouraging scenes revealed by retreating snow

Spring is at once so welcome and so cruel. I can hardly wait for the lush green that will inevitably come, but right now the brighter light from a higher sun makes everything look impossibly dingy. The ground will be so wet from the snow this year that it may be quite a while before I can get out and take stock without permanently compacting our soil. Last year, by the last week of March, the snow had long since disappeared and I was out and cleaning things up. Except for ferocious bouts of snow shoveling, we have been indoors for four and a half months. Renovations prevented us from embracing the winter like we have other years (skiing and igloo building were past pursuits). I can’t wait to be outside again.

Current house colours (left), possible future colours (right)

This year we plan to paint the exterior of the house. Our house is painted brick (we bemoan this fact constantly, but can’t undo it) with a ton of wooden trim. When we first moved in we put aluminum storm windows on the second story and attic windows—I know, I know, ugly and non traditional—but we did it because of the danger and awkwardness involved in removing and replacing the heavy wooden storm windows every spring and fall, and because we don’t have air conditioning and so require screens. It was a practical decision, but not the best one aesthetically. Now that we’re going to repaint, we’ll have to figure out a way to paint aluminum windows, which are currently a creamy yellow and will become dark grey or brown.

Our front walk, in herringbone clay brick and square cut sandstone

Last year we had a painting company bid on painting the house and the estimate made our jaws drop. Though I won’t say what the actual amount was, let me just say that it amounted to nearly one fifth of our initial purchase price of the house. We said no and are trying to gear up to do the work ourselves. This will mean the purchase of scaffolding and who knows how many days of toil. I feel defeated just thinking about it.

The colour palette for the house will change substantially. Currently we have a new roof in a weathered wood colour, ivory painted brick, slightly darker cream window frames, a mid-brown neutral for porch, fence, gate, and window trim, bright yellow gable ends and soffits with a bright orangey-red accent. For the new paint colours, we hope to tone things down a bit, visually shrink the size of the house, and have the gables and soffits seem more a part of the whole. Our future palette constants are the roof and the mid-brown colour pictured above on the front steps. We want to paint the brick a medium neutral grey, the window frames a darker grey or brown, the soffits and gable ends a less intense brick colour (to pick up the brick and sandstone colours in the landscaping). We would love any feedback.