Monday, January 26, 2015

Covered in Mystery Goo


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may have heard about the mysterious substance that is coating (and killing) aquatic birds in the East Bay.  The substance is the consistency of rubber cement -- in some cases gluing birds' wings to their bodies -- and it's chemical makeup is utterly baffling.  It is not a petroleum product, and every test that it has been subjected to comes back negative.

Luckily for the birds, there is a wonderful network of wildlife specialists who are working to help these animals.  Folks are patrolling the shorelines, and hundreds of birds are being treated at International Bird Rescue.  There's an amazingly capable staff, and a small army of volunteers.

I'm volunteering with International Bird Rescue, and will be writing about my experiences.  Today I did not take any photos, because we were far too busy. All of these excellent photos are by staff photographers at the Contra Costa Times.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

RIP: Robert G. Bauer 1931- 2015

It's been a difficult last few weeks.  We said goodbye to my Dad this week.  It's hard to know what to say so I'll just excerpt some of the remarks I wrote for his memorial service:

Last week, on the day that Dad passed away, I was wandering …and found myself out in my workshop. I think I went out there to take my mind off what was happening, maybe a chance to forget for a little while. There a was project I've been meaning to do lately. I found a piece of wood and I reached for my toolbox, took out some tools and it suddenly struck that this was the box my father had built for me and I was holding in my hand, a tool he once used. Then I realized, why I was in there.  It was not to forget, it wasn't to take my mind off things.  It was to remember him. 

When I was younger, if somebody asked me what my father did, I would tell them he was a lawyer but he was also a carpenter and an architect who built the house we lived in.  I was so proud of that.  Dad was also a blacksmith who built his forge out of parts from a washing machine and the wheel hub of an old truck; he was an inventor and a gardener and a cook and a lot of other things. And all of this enriched his life and everyone he loved.  The lesson I learned from watching him was that the work put into all these pursuits was its own reward and that doing things for others is its own reward. 

There was a time when I thought I'd had a pretty typical, ordinary, happy childhood.  And then at some point I realized that not everyone had a father who… built them a 3-story tall playhouse in the backyard… complete with a drawbridge and a crows nest.  Not everybody's dad would just decide, one day in the middle of winter to build his kids a skating rink. Not everybody's dad built the family a cabin in the woods and all the furniture in it.    

I think what he was really showing us was that if you have the resources -- the materials or the time or the talent -- the single best thing you can do is to use them to create an experience for the people you love.  And now it's these moments, these experiences, that I will never forget.

I'll remember the love, and I'll remember the laughter. I'll remember the time we laughed so hard we both fell off the couch. 

I'll remember how every dog and cat would instantly trust him.  They can recognize the kind ones.

I'll remember this political fervor and his courage in standing up for others.

I'll remember his pride at being a Williams College alum -- not because of its prestige, but because he was proud when the college stood up for equality and opportunity.

I'll remember how he met the good times with openness and joy, and the hard times with grace.

I know we're meant to say "goodbye" but I don't  want to.  And I'm not sure we need to.  Dad's life will continue to echo through the life of his community and everyone who loves him.  In a way, he will always be with us.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bikini Waxing the Bathroom Walls


When we last saw our heroine, she was stuck inside her bathroom, painting fake ceramic tiles and questioning her life's choices.   She knew there was one huge -- and unpleasant -- part of this project left to tackle.


Last winter we realized that the paint on the walls above the "tiles" was failing. It became uncomfortably clear that this problem was the result of poor adhesion between paint layers that had been applied decades ago.

I have a habit of assigning colorful names to situations like these, to help people understand what the issues are. In this case, we're going to refer to Bikini Waxing.

If you've done much painting, you may have run into this problem.  You apply your masking tape, and when you remove it, it pulls off the paint you were trying to protect.

This can be a catastrophe, or it can be a Brilliant Solution.  In our case, we knew that the paint was cracking, several layers deep. No amount of additional paint was going to stop that from happening.  We were going to have to remove the paint, until we found a layer strong enough to paint over.

So, I got the widest tape I could find, and I stuck it on the walls, and burnished it so that it was really well-adhered.

When I ripped the tape off, the paint came away from the wall.  Bikini Waxing.  Yup.

And what's more, there was no dust involved in this process, no struggling with heat guns, and no noxious solvents. 

I did all this with two rolls of automotive masking tape.  You can see where I ran out of tape, around the medicine cabinet.  And, of course, I still need to do the ceiling.  That is going to have a High Suck Factor.

The other thing with a High Suck Factor is this:  even though I've successfully removed several layers of poorly-attached paint, the layer that is currently exposed is riddled with fissures and cracks.  I'm going to have to remove that layer as well.  And I don't think that is going to be an easy process.

I won't lie. I'm pretty damn sick of working on this bathroom.  It seems that just about every part of the project is messy, awkward, and makes the room look worse than it did before I started.  I need a bit of praise, because I'm feeling somewhat demoralized.

I guess that professional Bikini Waxers find their job a bit grim at times, as well.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How long has she been in that bathroom?


For those following along at home, this is what our bathroom looked like when we first bought the house.  The tub was not really a functional shower.  There was just a hand-held shower attachment, but no way to hang a shower curtain, and no way of showering while standing up. There was also a really disreputable green plastic "mop shield" along the wooden baseboard.  The sink was cracked, and there weren't many towel racks.  The walls were made of plaster that simulated tile. And all the walls had peeling, damaged paint.

It was a wreck, and we loved it. 

A year ago our bathroom looked like this.  Not horrible, but not great either.  We had been ignoring it for quite a while, knowing that the process of restoring the room would make a huge mess.

Robb and I painstakingly scraped the paint off the 1925 plaster "tile," taking great care not to damage the surface of the plaster.  This was tedious, dirty work.  Few things are less fun than spending hours squashed in the space between a dingy bathroom wall and a toilet, scraping paint.

We spent hours and hours and hours transforming our not-so-bad bathroom into something that looked like the toilet of a dive bar.  This work could get pretty demoralizing.  We weren't making things look better.  Oh no. We were making things look horrible.

Once the layers of paint had been removed, the plaster "tiles" had to be repaired.  Another painstaking job.

It took a lot of work, building up "tiles" and then sanding away the excess texture.  In addition to doing all that work, we spent a huge amount of time cleaning up all the dust that we created.  I can't even imagine how many times we vacuumed that tiny room.

Eventually, we were happy with the surface that we'd created.  No more gouges or cracks or screw-holes.  We had a nice, smooth surface, with clearly delineated edges between "tiles."

Robb removed all the towel bars, and shelves and whatnot, and then I primed the walls and trim.

I spent the better part of Thanksgiving week working on the bathroom.  That's what normal people do on their vacations, right?

And finally, I got to the fun part:  painting the individual "tiles" to look like ceramic.  This was harder than I anticipated, because the paint I used changed color and got appreciably darker when it dried. So, I had to just paint fearlessly, and assume that most of the tiles would look fine.  I'll be adjusting a few of the weirder-looking tiles, but not this weekend.

I can't even guess how many hours I worked on this project over the last two weeks.  I've listened to more history podcasts than you could possibly imagine. I need a break.  A break from my vacation.

I can finally envision the end of this project.  There's still one huge (and really hateful) thing that needs addressing, but we'll deal with that anon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's Cookin'?


Regular blog readers may have noticed that Robb and I both appreciate the way maps can convey information.  The current trend for "infographics" hits a real sweet spot with us.

This week, the New York Times published a fascinating map, examining the Thanksgiving foods.  They teamed with Google to see what regionally distinct recipes were being researched around the country.  (Click here for the full article -- it's fascinating.)

So what do you think, blog readers? Does this map make sense?  There was a another recent New York Times article,  looking at regional Thanksgiving recipes that stirred up a bit of controversy.  I'm not clear what the hub-bub was about, but you can click here to compare.  Interestingly, both articles produced sauerkraut as the regionally unique food for my home state of Maryland. But I wasn't apparently from the right part of Maryland (and didn't have Marylanders as parents) to have ever had sauerkraut with turkey.

Where are you from, and are you going to be eating any of the foods shown on these maps?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Ready for Prime Time


After spending more time than I care to think about restoring the plaster wall "tiles" we're almost ready to prime our bathroom.  I've begged Robb to help me with the sanding, because I'm so sick of it all.

Oddly, both the projects we're painting at work involve some kind of fake tiles.  I'm on vacation today.  And what am I doing? Working on fake tiles.

Every time I think I've fixed all of the "tile" I find something else that needs work.  I guess that's just business as usual with an old house.

I'm taking the time to do this properly, but it is driving me a bit insane.  A painter who was less of a perfectionist freak would have had this project finished ages ago.  Sigh...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Garden Update


While other parts of the country were shivering, Northern California finally got a bit of meaningful rain.  I took the opportunity to transplant three baby pomegranate trees to better locations.  (There's no point moving plants around in dry, dry soil.)

I also picked up two car-loads of compost from my semi-secret municipal source.  Typically, they have mountains of wood chips, but at the moment they have beautiful well-seasoned compost, free for the taking.  Since we got this house, I've been digging organic material into the soil, again and again.  Un-ammended soil around here has the texture of concrete -- it's a dense silt with no drainage at all.  One of the holes that I dug for the pomegranate tree was in soil I hadn't worked much.  Even after two days of rain, the dirt was bone-dry once I dug down four inches.

This is probably the point at which I have to admit to myself that I've run out of room in the back garden, as far as fruit trees are concerned.  Sure, they're all babies now.  But they're going to become actual trees on day, and if I keep adding trees at the rate I've been going, Robb and I won't be able to walk through the back yard.  

With the winter time change, I don't have any opportunity to get anything accomplished in my garden when I get home from from work.  Tasks pile up. I'm ashamed to admit that I only just got my garlic and parsley starts planted this weekend.  Oh well, better late than never.

If you want to read what serious gardeners are up to, click here for the link to Daphne's weekly garden-party.


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