Monday, November 29, 2010

We can't have a party without balloons!

As you surmised from the picture, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our place last week.  There's always lots to do before having guests over--removing all of the papers from the kitchen table, straightening up the kitchen, removing the construction equipment from the kitchen...wait, other people don't do that?

I had an additional mission: get rid of the ugly board covering the fireplace.

The problem is that we don't have a damper in our chimney--so that ugly board was the only thing prevent our warm house air from flying up the chimney and heating the whole neighborhood.  And to add insult injury, the board wasn't doing a very good job of it.  It wasn't particularly airtight.  When the air conditioner switched on this past summer, we could often smell chimney soot.  Ick.

Ideally, we should install a damper.  But that's really far down on our very long project list.  So I figured that the ugly and not-very-good-at-its-job board would remain in place for a very long time.

That is, until my friend had the local utility company out to do an energy audit at her house.  And he told her that, even though her chimney has a damper, she really should also install a chimney balloon.

What's a chimney balloon?  Basically, it's exactly like it sounds: a balloon that's inflated inside the chimney to prevent nice warm heated air from leaking out of your house.

Cool!  Sign me up!  Where do I get one?

Google, apparently.  I'm always a little edgy about ordering from a website I've never heard of like  (.us?  Who does that), so I picked it up from a third-party seller on much more reputable.  (This one, if you're interested.)

It arrived, looking so darn gimmicky that I have to admit that I never would have ordered it if the man from our very reputable local utility hadn't recommended it:

I have to admit--this was the first time I had gotten up close and personal with our chimney.  I was surprised to find how narrow it was.  Is everyone's chimney this small?  Or are we special?

Inserting the chimney balloon was not as clean and easy an operation as I expected.  After a few tentative forays, I quickly realized that some specialized gear was required:

I totally would have gone for a dust mask, too, but it's hard to blow up a balloon while wearing something over your mouth.  :-)

Now either my chimney was far smaller than usual, or I was a little too determined and shoved the balloon farther up than the manufacturer intended.  Long instructions with some diagrams definitely would have been handy.  It took me a few tries to get it positioned so that it filled in all of the corners and gaps--and I'm still not at all certain I've got an airtight seal going.  (Which is why I totally need this thermal leak detector--but surely a product that advanced can't actually work if it only costs $30?)

Still, I decided that the situation was good enough for the time being, and look!  a nice, pretty fireplace for our Thanksgiving dinner.*

P still intends to install a damper someday, but now we can both live with the fact that that's about two years down on our to-do list.  :-)

*Yes, the easier and cheaper solution would have been to just light a fire at dinnertime.  But since our high on Thanksgiving day was nearly 70, we decided to skip broiling our guests.  And please note: every piece of packing on the chimney balloon is covered with warnings to remove it before lighting a fire.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A belated but happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  Hopefully you're still enjoying time off of work and with family!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baby's first big rig

How could I have forgotten to upload these pictures from our weekend away?  P's brother has a big rig--though it's not insured, so it doesn't really go out much.  Why does he have a big rig, you ask?  Well, he was approached with a great deal on a used truck, and who doesn't love a deal?

So P got to drive his first rig:

Friday, November 12, 2010

By request

P is a very good sport about letting me talk about him on here.  So when I received an email from him entitled "blog requests," I figured I should take heed.  Especially when the body consisted of:

"Picture of you on the mower

Picture of our nephew trying to tie my boot.

Sawzall taken to our dogwood."
I like being married to a guy who's easy to please.  :-)
(Plus, yesterday was his birthday--I'm not allowed to say "no" to anything this week.)
So, without further ado:

Here I am attempting to drive P's brother's $10,000 zero-turn lawnmower.  I think the bluebook on this must be higher than the values of both my car and P's truck combined.  (Don't worry--it's a commercial vehicle, not just for his own yard.) 
But speaking of the yard, it is the one my sister-in-law uses for their own house.  Luckily the blades weren't down, because it takes some practice to drive it smoothly around curves.  Not really my thing, since I'm proud of myself for having learned to use a push mower just last month.  I've got a long way to go to work up to this beast.

However, someone else is entirely ready: not only does our two-year old nephew love it, he knows more about operating it than either P or I do.  Not saying much when it comes to me, but scary with P--the guy knows his lawnmowers.  The little tyke knows every next step with the mower--but thankfully lacks the dexterity and strength to complete them.  P drove the mower around with the kid on his lap, and when he wanted to complete an operation, he could just look down and see which button or lever it was little A was reaching for.  The kid's going to be scary when he gets a little older--like three.

But for now, he has this amazing attitude--he tries everything for himself, and after a minute, he know when he's outmanned, and looks up, and says, "Help?"

Putting on P's work boots for him was one of those moments:

These final pictures are back in our own yard.  We had a (very) dead dogwood tree that needed to be cut down.  It didn't seem worth it to put gas in the chainsaw for such a small tree.  P is very diligent about not leaving gas in the chainsaw for more than a month.  (And what does he do with the old gas?  It goes in his truck, unless his tank is full, and then he wants to put it in my car.  And I give him the evil eye and say if it's not good enough for the saw, why should I let him put it in my far more expensive car?  Back to the story....)  We knew we wouldn't use the saw again for quite some time.

I came up with the brilliant idea of just using the sawzall.  I'm not used to having a yard so small that I can just run an extension cord anywhere it's needed.  Very convenient.  P was totally game, so:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weekend freebies and purchases

P and I spent the weekend visiting his older brother, A.  I've mentioned before that A runs a landscaping business.  He also maintains a nursery, of sorts, of plants that he may use in future installs.  Being the great guy he is, A toured me around the place and allowed me to take whatever I wanted.  I insisted that I just wanted one hydrangea; A wisely insisted that we take our own pickup so we would be sure that my selections would fit.

The final total came out somewhere between my and A's projections:

Plants never look very impressive when photographed against a background of grass. What you (sort of) see here is my hydrangea, plus a swamp magnolia, a chaste tree, some irises, a pair of knockout roses (a has promised me the moon and the stars on these--no need to spray, plus will bloom during unseasonably warm spells in the winter), a few southern shield ferns (which A assures me will grow in full sun, unlike most ferns), a few boxwood, and a butterfly bush.  Don't think I missed anything there...

I other garden news, I made all the right calls in regards to the weekend's freeze!  The pepper plants andthe basil are done in, so it was good I did a full harvest there.  The lettuce, beets, chard and radishes are all still going strong.  The jury remains out on the kale and leek seeds.  Give up on the garden?  Pah! 

A's wife T and I went to a local quilting store, and I came home with all this:

I'm hoping to make a holiday table runner from the fabrics on the left, those on the right are for other projects--or just to build my stash.

T is good with a sewing machine, but didn't know the first thing about quilting.  She picked out a pattern and fabric for a small table runner, and asked me to teach her.  I figured I could teach her to piece this weekend, and she could work on that until our next visit, when we could do quilting and binding.  Well, she had the whole thing pieced and quilting, and the binding machine stichted on the top by the time we left, and was sending us pictures of the completed runner by the time we were halfway through the drive home!  What a natural!  I need to be half so diligent about finishing the handstitching on my pile of projects that's building up!

Of course, one of the highlights of the trip was getting to see our nephew, who's just turned two.  He seems to enjoy sewing just as much as T does.  Saturday morning he insisted that she sit down and sew with him--she runs the machine, and lets him pull the pins out as she goes along.  He takes this job very seriously, and meticulously places each one in the pin cushion.  What an assistant!

Monday, November 8, 2010

DIY madness

P recently went three months between haircuts, and was starting to get a little shaggy:

Since we moved back in February, we haven''t been able to find a place for him to get a decent haircut.  Granted we haven't tried too hard--every time we end up a the local Wal-Mart, even though it disappointed us last time.

P got tired of spending $15 for a haircut he didn't like.  And when he found out that his sister cuts her husband's hair herself, he decided I should do the same for him.

Thus ensued weeks of back and forth arguing, where I insisted that: 1. I had no training, 2. I had no skill, and 3. I had no inherent "eye" for hair.  Seriously--I have no artistic streak whatsoever.  Plus, his hair's tricky!  He's go a cow-lick in a very unfortunate location, that makes it hard to shape the hair on the back of his head just right.

P argued, somewhat convincingly, that what I lacked in skill I made up for in emotional involvement--I care what he looks like.  But what really won the argument for him was sheer stubbornness--I realized that if I didn't cut his hair myself, it wasn't getting done any other way.  And eventually anything I did was going to be preferable to his shaggy mop.

Plus I made him promise, over and over, that he would be okay walking around with a shaved head because I had screwed up his hair beyond repair.

P ordered himself some scissors and a trimmer, and I reviewed pictures of what he was supposed to look like--it had been so long since I had seen him with a good haircut!  Luckily, one of the best he ever received was for our wedding, so it had been well-documented:

And the haircut ended up being something of a team effort:

P was pretty pleased with the results:

According to him, it's "not the worst haircut I've ever received."  Since it was the first one I ever gave, I'll take that as a compliment.

Good thing it worked out, too--we've got another 5 or 6 to go before we break even financially, what with buying the trimmer and scissors.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Refusing to give up

The weather service is calling for our first hard freeze this weekend, and the newspaper has declared that it's time to give up on the garden.  (Digression: the television reporters were doing their best to lather everyone up into a panic about what this means for children at the school bus stop, so parents would have to tune in to find out how to dress their children in the morning.  It's just a few degrees colder than it's been!  Do you really need a television reporter to tell you how to dress your child?  And this is why I read the newspaper instead of TV news.)

I spent a while outside after work yesterday, harvesting the more fragile parts of the garden.

I'm pleasantly surprised by how long the pepper plants all stuck it out.  And my one noble basil plant, doing its best to hang on after the others gave up at light frost.  I pulled up the cosmos in the front months ago, when they were too leggy and collapsed to work in the bed, but I let the ones in the back keep going.  They've bloomed constantly from the very beginning of July through early November--what more could I ask of them?

But I'm not "giving up" on the garden, as the paper suggested.  If this weekend turns out to be an aberration, and temperatures nose up just a little, I'm hopeful that I can eek more out of it yet.  I planted my fall crops woefully late, and am determined to push my luck.  I harvested the largest lettuce leaves, but left the plants intact.  I've got some beets that have a few more weeks before they're ready to be pulled--even as babies.  My radishes are just an inch high, and my swiss chard (and second run of beets) are even smaller.  I only just planted leek and kale seeds this past weekend!  I know both should winter over (as long as it's not as cold as it was last year!)--hopefully they'll be able to germinate and grow those first tender shoots at this late date!

This is my first year in this climate zone, and my first time with a real, in-the-ground garden (as opposed to pots on the balcony), so this is all one big experiment.  But I'm excited to be pushing the boundaries--how sad would it be to give up on a garden that still had life left in it!