Saturday, July 29, 2006

Learning the hard way

Our weekend at the cabin was cut short by an apparent failure of the septic tank's drain fields. The septic tank was full of water, not just waste, as a result. This means that until we get the drain fields fixed somehow, water can't go down the drain into the septic tank because there's nowhere for the water to go. We learned this morning, the hard way, that showering in the lone functioning bathroom upstairs caused both the back bathroom and the new bathroom shower drains to back up and flood, and some of that water ended up in the new basement, too. Sigh. Our contractor came out to have a look and told us the drain fields were the problem. He's going to try to get the septic company to come out and take care of the problem, but no telling how long that'll take. In the meantime, we won't be going out to the cabin when we don't dare flush the toilets, take a shower, or do dishes or laundry. They're having a block party next weekend which we may have to miss - especially given the way gas prices keep going up, we don't feel like driving all that way for a party, just to turn around and go right back home again. We're crossing our fingers that they'll be able to get the drain fields fixed by the end of the week.

In other news, the sheetrock "mud" is done (covers the joints between slabs and the sheetrock nails) and has a coupla coats of primer on it. The utility room is mostly done, though the molding & baseboard got pretty dirty when they put it up and the molding around the window needs to be redone. (They used the old molding and neither cut it to size nor painted it. Looks really bad!)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Casting call

A's having another sing-in in NJ come September. Because 60-some of the 70-plus attendees had requested one role or another and there are definitely not that many roles to go around, she did her casting by lots. I'll be doing Buttercup's Act II music in HMS Pinafore. It'll be interesting to share a role; I know the woman doing Act I so maybe we can work out some silly theme. My voice teacher & I are traveling together, which should make for a much less tedious drive. Only trouble is, since we're both mezzos and used to singing harmony, who's gonna sing melody? I suppose we'll have to draw straws; whoever gets the short one has to sing melody. ;)

One last voice lesson this week before auditions next month and the post-Labor Day sing-in (Chief & I are on vacation the week after Labor Day). Guess I'd better make that lesson count!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The sheetrock's up now

Back to the cabin this weekend. The sheetrock's up in all the new and rehabbed rooms. We were both surprised at how much smaller the new rooms look now that you can no longer see one room through the joists of another. On the other hand, the white of the sheetrock makes things look fairly bright, even when it's cloudy. We're both getting itchy about how long this is taking - it may not be done for at least another month! - but it is exciting to come out and see appreciable progress. We'll be back out the next two weekends and are really hoping that the back bathroom will be usable again by next weekend, if the not the following weekend. (It's a pain, not to mention something of a safety hazard, to stumble up the tight spiral staircase to the lone functioning bathroom in the middle of the night.)

(OK, I give up trying to make the Before and After pics line up next to each other instead of offset.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Code Red

"Air quality unhealthy"! If you like breathing hot (near 100 again today), swampy, toxic soup, this is the place to be today. Hearing that, I asked the Chief if he'd do grocery duty for me so I could reduce the time I'd have to spend outside. Fortunately, it was a short list this week so he didn't have to spend too much time on it.

Asthma doesn't control my life, but at times like this, it does dictate what I can and can't do. I had planned a few post-work errands; to minimize my time outside breathing sludge, the only one I actually did was putting gas in the car ($2.96/gallon at Sam's Club, up from $2.92 last week but still cheaper than anywhere else along my usual rounds).

This is the problem with summer - oppressive heat, high humidity (not tropical but still quite wet), and rotten air quality. I guess I should be glad we don't live in, oh, LA, downtown Manhattan, or some heavily industrialized city. Then we'd really be breathing sludge in July and August!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Heat advisory!

Too darn hot! I don't know if we set any records, but the heat was certainly stifling. Walking into the kitchen from outdoors, the kitchen felt almost cold despite being about 82 or 83 degrees. I tried not to listen too carefully to the weather forecast, but couldn't help hearing that the highs are supposed to stay in the upper 90s for at least another few days.

The Chief watered the flowers again tonight; we're trying desperately to keep them from drying up completely, and we're mostly succeeding, but the impatiens are very definitely not happy!

Maybe tomorrow I'll take my potted impatiens and put them into the bed where my pansies & violas were. That'll fill the holes and make the bed look less pathetic, and maybe the impatiens will do better with some room to grow. And water, of course; thirsty impatiens really are very sad-looking.

The Alliance Francaise, where I'm taking my French class, is in a part of town with lots of very nice houses, many of which have very nice gardens. I was noticing tonight, though, that a lot of those flowers are looking less than their best now that the heat has set in. It's interesting to see which ones seem to be holding up and which are suffering. Of the ones I can identify, the petunias and other sun-loving plants all seem to be thriving, while the impatiens and other shade-lovers are considerably less pleased with the heat.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Garden update

Here's how my experiments are going so far:
- The mazus reptans (see photo) is thriving! It's slowly putting out runners, so I may well just take some cuttings to propagate for the rest of the driveway. Our summer weather is just starting to get serious (consistently very hot), so perhaps it's a bit premature to get excited about this, but it certainly looks promising.
- The rain earlier this month beat the living daylights outta the bed next to the front door. Between that and the local fauna digging it up, there's precious little left. :( The pansies and violas are completely gone and only 3 or 4 torenias are hanging in there.
- The impatiens I put in flower pots on the front steps are looking very sad and leggy. Part of the problem is that some neighborhood critter insists on digging in the pots, but I'm wondering if perhaps they've gotten rather root-bound.
- The impatiens on the south side of the house are hanging in there, but I think they get a little too much shade there. They also need faithful watering now that the heat has set in for good. They'll survive the summer, but I think I'll try something else there next year.
- The torenias I planted on the north side of the house aren't doing as well as I had hoped. The ones along the fenceline are hanging in there, but I've about given up on the batch planted near the side of the house. Part of the problem is the beating they took from the heavy rains before the Chief put up some drip-edge to redirect the run-off on that side of the roof, and the gate to the back yard (a double gate, one side of which swings over that patch) just made things worse. I think I'm just gonna plant a bunch of ferns on that side and be done with it.
- And the allium I planted last fall never came up - not one single bulb! I'm assuming something ate them all. I won't try planting that again.

That's some expensive rug cleaning!

Chief & I took our latest acquisition, a 3.5'x5' Tabrizi rug dating from perhaps the 1950s, to one of the local rug shops for cleaning. The cost to clean it and repair the knots at one end will cost nearly twice the original purchase price, but that was so low that we really can't complain; add both costs together and it comes to about what the rug would appraise for.

But that's not the whole story. We decided to let the woman running the place show us a "few" carpets, in case we saw one we might like for the entryway we'll have once the cabin addition is finished. She had 3 male staffers hopping, with two of them peeling back one carpet after another on this or that stack, while a 3rd took the ones we liked and spread them out for viewing. In the event, we ended up with 8 carpets thus displayed, all Persians (Sarruk, Shirazi, Kermani, Qashqai, Qomi - all spellings very approximate). Wow, did that look wonderful! And our tastes are sufficiently similar that it was easy for us to get down to two carpets, both Qashqais.

It can be dangerous to go shopping with someone so like-minded, though. We went back and forth between the two, talked about where this one or that one might go, and ended up buying both of them. As I said, a very expensive carpet cleaning!

And there's a further potential hazard to our bank balance; the merchant's lease was not renewed (the building has a new owner who doesn't want to deal w/ retail establishments) and the husband wants to retire, so they'll be having a going-out-of-business sale starting next month in hopes of selling their entire inventory before they have to move out at the end of November. If we go, we'll probably buy - the wife apparently does all the buying herself, and we both really like her taste!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gotta plug this.

I did a show (my Shakespeare debut!) with this company a little over a year ago. They do "concept" productions of Shakespeare but otherwise tend to be faithful to Will's intent ("Entertain 'em, dammit!"). If you can, go support them. I wasn't able to make the original run but am hoping to get to this, especially as I heard very good things about the production.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Part of the DC Capital Fringe Festival
Sunday, July 23, 7 PM
Saturday, July 29, 12:30 PM
Woolly Mammoth Theatre - Rehearsal Hall
641 D St, NW, Washington, DC 20003 for tickets and details

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Picture rail!

Our 56' of picture rail (for the new bedroom at the cabin) was delivered this evening! This will be cool - it will substitute for crown molding and be a spiffy way to hang pictures without having to put a bunch of holes in the new walls. They've got some pretty darn fancy (and expensive) hooks for that purpose, too. Now that we've got the rail, I can start writing off to find out which hooks will fit the size rail we've got. It seems that all picture rails are not created equal, any more than any other kind of trim. Sure would be a pain to get a dozen or so lovely hooks, only to find they won't fit on the rail.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Encore une fois

Tonight was my first session of an 8-week class - intermediate French review at the local Alliance Francaise. Tough neighborhood to find parking, but a nice, safe-looking neighborhood, so that'll be OK. It's been years and years since I've had any occasion to use the French I learned in high school and college, but I found that, at least tonight, I was tripping over holes in my vocabulary, not grammar, which is encouraging. There were only 7 of us tonight, including one brave soul who'd learned his French by enseignement a distance (distance learning), so he'd had little speaking practice. He's an engineer, two of my fellow students have worked for the World Bank, three are students brushing up their French prior to pursuing graduate studies; a nice, diverse bunch.

Our instructor is from Grenoble and speaks with nice, clear diction at a pace I only rarely had trouble following. Again, given how long it's been since I've used any French, I was relieved I hadn't completely forgotten how to hear it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Construction progress

Not as much progress as we'd hoped (the lack of flooring held up progress in the utility room & back bathroom, for one thing), and a few things need fixing, but most of the wiring and a major chunk of the plumbing are done. It was interesting looking at all the "spaghetti" and figuring out which boxes will be outlets, which will be light switches, and which will be thermostats for the baseboard heaters. The doors and sidelights are in place for both the front and deck doors, so now we have that many more keys to keep track of. We also got a look at the basement (although on the way back home we realized there are NO electrical outlets down there because we completely forgot to ask for them - oops!). The Chief has already asked me about curtains for the basement doors so no one sees what "toys" he has there. ;)

We have a problem with the plumber, who apparently isn't too great at following instructions. We had bought shower fittings (handle controls rather than knobs, and a pole-mounted adjustable-height shower head) for the two bathrooms, which our contractor says he showed to the plumber. However, the plumber went ahead and installed a junk knob control in the new bathroom's shower, and the water supply pipe is very high; we don't see how it could possibly work with the hose for the adjustable shower head. We've already told the contractor that we do not expect to be billed for the plumber to install and then remove the shower control that didn't belong there.

The water supply for the pedestal sink will have to be moved, too; in its current position, the sink will be crammed into a corner, so that righties would be forever banging elbows on the wall when trying to shave or brush teeth.

On the whole, we're pleased with how things are shaping up, though we're eager to have the construction over so we can clean up, decorate & furnish, and just enjoy the new space. We've got paired windows on 3 corners, so the views are very nice. We'll need to come up with some good, heavy curtains so we'll be able to sleep past dawn, but the Chief has been talking a lot about getting a nice little Victorian settee so we can sit there w/ our morning coffee and just enjoy the view. His Victorian chair is already slated for the new bedroom; it's just a matter of deciding where it fits best.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Making progress

I've been taking voice lessons for several years now, even counting the gaps every August for my voice teacher's family vacations, other gaps for illness, work emergencies, etc. I usually tape my lesson, then listen to the tape in the car on my way home. (I decided a while back not to tape the vocalizing; I'm not a masochist!) For the longest time, this was truly an exercise in humility; it was at least a year before I would hear parts I didn't hate, and at least another year before I started actually liking the odd note or phrase. Today as I was listening, I realized that I liked (or at least didn't cringe at) everything on the tape! I expect it will be a while before that happens consistently - asthma is great for screwing up vocal production - but I'm excited that all the time and money are paying off!

Even better, we've spent my last few lessons working on helping me find my "belt" voice (think Liza Minelli or Ethel Merman) and today's tape tells me I'm getting there. This is brand new, so I still have to remember the particular techniques for my "belt", but as long as I do, the sound is consistent - yee-ha! Power's never been a problem for me, just controlling the sound so it's listenable. My upper range can still be shrill or strained if I let my technique slip, but the lower range, always reliable, is now becoming strong and solid. This is exciting!

Now I'm really getting psyched to start auditioning for the fall season, if only to show off my "new" voice. :)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What was I thinking?

I've got a dentist's appointment at 2 tomorrow (routine cleaning), followed by a voice lesson at 4:15. Will the dental work stretch my jaw for better vocal production, make it so sore I won't feel like singing, or make no particular difference one way or the other? "Tune in tomorrow for the next thrilling installment..."

A minor construction setback

Our contractor called tonight to say that the flooring we picked out last fall for the rehabbed bathrooms has been discontinued. Since the power was out, cancelling our at-home plans for the evening, we went to branches of both the major Home Improvement Centers to look at flooring. Neither had a very impressive selection but one of them had a "selection" that was truly pathetic; probably no more than a dozen choices, of very similar styles and colors and not the best quality. So tomorrow it's off to a couple of flooring stores to see what we can find.

An end to darkness

And about time! The usual summer squalls blew thru the area yesterday but, being of unusual intensity, knocked out power to much of the area. We lost ours around 5 p.m. and didn't get it back until noon today, then had it go out again around 5:30, to return around 9 p.m. As a result, we didn't do anything for the 4th; our friends' pre-fireworks ice cream party was canceled (downed power lines in their neighborhood made it too dangerous) and with no electricity, we couldn't watch A Capitol Fourth on TV. So the Chief went to bed early (he'd been up on the roof doing some patching and gutter cleaning in the 90-plus-degree heat) while I read by flashlight and listened to the booms of local fireworks. Couldn't see 'em because of all the trees in our neighborhood, but boy, could we hear 'em!