Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More grandparent spoils

I went home for my niece's birthday this last weekend and my dad agreed to let me take away his mother's Newton's cradle. Remember these?

It still has part of the "Scientific Demonstrators, Inc" sticker on it and apparently it was marketed as the Swinging Wonder.

According to the Eugene Weekly, this model was created by Lee Trippett for an assignment at the University of Oregon, where he was earning his certificate to teach physics. There's a section on him hunting Bigfoot (really) and a line that asks, "Are you the man with the swinging balls?" It's worth a read.

Boys' Life (March 1969) declared that "it doesn't anything useful."

It may not do anything useful, but I love it. Growing up we saw my grandma on my father's side pretty infrequently. The thing I remember most about visiting her house in southern California is this contraption. I loved playing with it, even if I didn't understand that it was demonstrating Newton's Third Law of Motion. I also have her sewing box, which still has her patterns for nightgowns that require four yards of fabric. Oddly, there are no instructions for adding words to the backside.

Now I just need to figure out how to polish the steel balls. Anybody know?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Air quality

I've always had a houseplant addiction. I figure it's healthier to have lots of living things around you, whether those things are people or animals or plants. NASA did a pretty rad study that compared different houseplants and their abilities to remove chemicals from the home. Because homes are increasingly becoming energy efficient and better sealed, indoor air quality can be quite poor. The cleaning products we use and even our furniture off-gas chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde.Things like carpet, draperies, or even kleenex and grocery bags release these chemicals.

The best of the best were published in the book How to Grow Fresh Air by B.C. Wolverton. The full 50 plants, if you're curious, are listed here.

He evaluated plants based on the amount of chemicals they remove, their ease of growth, their resistance to insects and disease, and their transpiration rates. The transpiration rate measures how much water the plants release through their leaves, which in turn pulls air down around the plant roots. This is a good thing because it creates air flow where there otherwise might not be any. Better airflow means better removal of chemicals from the air.

Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)

The number one plant for removing chemicals, transpiration rate, and ease of growth is the Areca Palm, followed by the lady palm (Rhapis excelsa) and the bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii), one of which I plan on acquiring soon. The author includes a lot of interesting facts about the plants, such as when they consume carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Snake plants (Sansevieria), Christmas Cacti, and Aloe Vera all give off oxygen at night, so they are great plants for the bedroom. I moved the boy's humongous snake plant into the bedroom recently, and while he hasn't stopped snoring, we're sleeping well. Because of all the oxygen, I'm sure.

I already had a fair number of plants listed in the book, which makes me think most houseplants are probably pretty good for you. This is a Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia "Exotica Compacta").

These are Dragon Trees (Dracaena marginata). The dragon tree is among the best plants for removal of xylene and trichloroethylene.

I won't even show you a picture of my peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.). It's a beautiful plant when you don't ignore it the way I do. I'm not crazy about it, truth be told, but it ranks really high in the list.

This is a rubber plant (Ficus robusta) that I also try to kill regularly. It ranks high and is especially adept at removing formaldehyde.

The "knows how to become a librarian" flag just looks cool.

This is heart-leaf philodendron (Phildendron oxycardium), which most people probably have at home. They don't need much light and they are super cheerful looking, no?

So, yeah . . . if you hate house plants but love good air quality, get an areca palm. And sleep with some aloe vera.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Garden fever, part deux

It was almost a year ago that I posted I was suffering from garden fever.

It's back, the garden fever. All day at work I'm thinking in the back of my head about what I could plant along the back side of the house. Do I have a place for another viburnum? What's a good low-growing evergreen for the area with the weird willow? Could I turn that suckering stump into a birdbath? Is 28 ferns enough? (No.)

It honestly makes me feel very manic. Fall and spring are really creative times for me, when I get very excited about EVERYTHING. I have a stack of interior design books, a pile of yardscaping guides, new music on the iPod, crude sketches everywhere . . . I catch myself bouncing in my seat when I catch wind of another plant sale. Everything feels full of possibility.

I was flipping through a plant encyclopedia at lunch one day and I felt like I would just die if I didn't get a goatsbeard (Aruncus) under the conifer in the backyard. I called Marbott's after work and found out that they don't carry it and I was so sad. I didn't want to drive all the way out to Portland Nursery during rush hour, either.

I saw this picture in this yardscape book of gas water heater flue baffles used in the garden and I. had. to. have. some.

Yanked from The Revolutionary Yardscape, p. 160

Do you know how freakishly hard it is to find those? Nary a hardware store in Portland (not even Wink's!) carries them, there weren't any at The Rebuilding Center, and the online stores that carry them (Sears, mainly) don't include the dimensions or a picture. Stymied again!

That's why it makes me feel so much better when I hear from friends who are just as antsy to get out in the mud to start planting. And then I saw this, from A Way to Garden.

"I garden because I can't help myself."

On Being a Gardener: From "And I Shall Have Some Peace There" from Margaret Roach on Vimeo.

That's exactly how I feel. I can't help myself--what am I going to do, just not garden? That's not an option. I honestly don't understand how people DON'T get excited by gardening.

In other news, I think this mystery bush might be a dwarf Canadian hemlock. Maybe? Either way, I want to move it somewhere else. That's the bedroom off the deck there and I want something that smells good so the scent will waft in through the screen door that I'll have someday. Can someone drop a hint to the boy that a screen door would be an excellent birthday present?

And one of these. WANT. 

'Fireworks' fountain grass

Monday, March 21, 2011

When crafting goes wrong

We had a power outage at the school where I work last week. I was back home by 10am so I thought I'd finally sew some pillows. I wanted to use a contrasting piping with some of my super rad Tonic Living fabric.

I had a hard time finding a good tutorial (with photos) of how to sew with piping, so I thought, "I'll create a tutorial and that'll be so helpful for the internets."

And then I made a franken-pillow and whoever invented the sewing machine rolled over in their grave and thought, "I really wish I hadn't."

Sewing is hard, guys.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The sun came out!

The boy helped me weed this morning and learned the hard way that I talk to my plants. Oh, fern! You're starting to grow back! How did you get a weed growing in you like that? and all that.

Did you know that when two people weed you get twice as much work done in half the time? It's freaking fantastic.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Update on the living room

I still need to switch out the lamp and figure out window coverings and sew new throw pillows, but the living room is starting to feel like a real room again.

Just a reminder of what it looked like before:

And the huge cracked mirror behind the artwork on the mantle . . .

 . . . which we had to dismantle . . .

We know the mirror wasn't original to the house because it was stamped with "April '52" all over the back.

Spackle, spackle, paint, paint, paint! Swap in the boy's couch for mine and grab the painting from the dining room.

My grandma was stoked to see her clock over the mantle.

I found this label in the attic when Greg and I tried to fix the noisy bathroom fan.

The last mention of the Albina Shingle Company in The Oregonian was on May 3, 1946 when the  factory burned down. So I think that label dates from pretty close to when the house was built in 1938. It very likely came in the package with the original roof.

The view from the dining room.

Of course, these didn't go anywhere. I will not apologize for my Battlestar Galactica prints.

What do you think? Are my modern pieces playing well with the boy's traditional couch or do I need to kick him out?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

That weird crawlspace

So that weird crawlspace that was added underneath the dining room is only accessible via this window in the basement.

The former owners made weird decisions (like burying things in the yard) and they liked to use the crawlspaces as storage.

There were, if I remember correctly, 23 bags of insulation in the main crawlspace. My electrician pulled them out for me (I don't get in the crawlspace because of SPIDERS, OH MY GOD SPIDERS) and my contractor friend took them off my hands.

The weird crawlspace was apparently used as a junkyard.

We found a bag of potting soil, a broom, an old window screen, and a lot of small pieces of wood. The boy awesomely volunteered to pull on his hoodie and his workgloves and fetch them through the window. I held the flashlight and SCREAMED when a huge spider came coasting down onto the boy.

Oddly, he didn't seem to appreciate this.

But it's clean and we didn't kill each other afterward, so I think we can call this one a victory.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wherein the boy should get a medal too.

Just a warning on this post: BAD PHOTOS, AHOY. I was working in low-light/flash situations and they look terrible.

I was doing some research on my house and I decided to ask for help from the Multnomah County librarians. I always feel a little sneaky doing that, being that I'm a librarian and all, but nobody knows how to use their resources better than them. They found this newspaper clipping:

One of the houses I blacked out is mine. My house is modern! Hell yeah it is.

I also found this historic map that showed the proposed design of my house. It doesn't match the way my house looks now.

My house actually looks like this, with no nose at the front of the house.

The boy checks pretty frequently on Zillow to see how my house is doing. I don't do that because it's depressing (and I don't think it's accurate). It turns out one of the OTHER houses mentioned in that newspaper clipping is currently for sale.  And from the pictures it looks EXACTLY like mine on the inside. The boy got megapoints for that find.

I've written before that I don't believe my dining room has always been this big. I think it used to be two rooms.

Exhibit A: the hardwoods in this room inexplicably end about six inches past where the carpeting begins. There's only subfloor under the grody, grody carpet.

Exhibit B: this window in the basement looks into a very small square crawlspace that runs underneath the far corner of the dining room where the windows are. It meets the main crawlspace only via a small ventilation hole. That's not normal. I think it used to see daylight.

Exhibit C: there's a high spot on the dining room floor where that wall with the window to the crawlspace hits. Something is amiss.

Exhibit D: variegation in the finish on the wall . . .

 . . . which makes me think a wall used to be here. 

I really wanted to look inside that house for sale, so I sent an email to the realtor and asked. We pretended we were househunting and I have such a terrible memory, would he mind if I took photos? Playing spies is FUN. I was worried that Greg wouldn't be able to play the part because he's an enginerd but he was awesome. He totally kept the guy involved while I measured and took photos.

Their living room is identical to mine. They have the same fireplace tile (many people told me mine wasn't original, *coughDADcough*), except that they have twelve tiles across where I have ten.


Oh, looky here. They have half as much dining room as I do. Their dining room ends right about where my wood flooring runs out. Hmmm.



We both have excellent taste in living room paint colors!

Into the kitchen we go. They didn't retain any of the original tile or fixtures, sadly.


Mine. We win because we have Gatorade.

That light fixture above the sink is going SOON. So what's on the other side of that dining room wall?

A breakfast nook!



We measured the depth of their breakfast nook, which was 78", corresponding exactly to the high point on my dining room floor.

Their house was really dilapidated and sadly had lost a lot of the original charm. They bumped out their attic, adding two bedrooms upstairs (but no bathroom). This is good food for thought, should we ever want to add on.

We also discovered in the basement that they have the original oil tank!

Their window looks into their front yard.

This is excellent news for me. I had assumed that the tank was buried on my property, which makes it a hugely expensive pain in the ass to decommission and remove. If the tank has leaked (and they always leak) they have to bring in a back hoe to remove ALL the contaminated soil. My neighbors three doors down did this and spent $15,000. $15,000 for something that doesn't even look pretty or improve the function of your house. $15,000 to basically mess up your yard.

I looked at the historical permits and theirs look the same as mine. Both are labeled as underground yard units.



It might explain what this random pipe in the side of my house is. Maybe where they used to fill the tank?

So, to recap, here's what I think happened. My house used to look like this in the front, with a separate dining room and breakfast nook.

They knocked down the interior wall between the dining room and the nook and brought the exterior nook wall out so it was flush with the outer wall of the dining room, creating a dining room on steroids and an exterior that looks like this.

Clear as mud? Am I crazy to think this or even care about it? Don't answer that.

I had so much fun being sneaky with Greg that I think we should quit our jobs and become grifters. Just think of how much more interesting this blog would be.