Sunday, October 16, 2016

There's no business like house business (an instructional post about window repair. mostly)

The marigolds of October
This weekend in Seattle was, of course, all about preparing for and surviving the major storm that never happened. Oh, it rained a bit and some people lost power--including me on Harbor Island for just long enough to lose 40 minutes of unsaved work which, yes, was vexing--but the big storm never really materialized chez Aurora. This was sort of a pity since, emulating Alex, I had prepared:

Life-sustaining necessities: scones and tea and crosswords and Proust
And although the storm never materialized, we didn't let my preparations go to waste. We didn't plant tulips and instead stayed indoors having tea and scones. (I've also got Marcel nearly to Balbec.)

But all that's just by the by. This point of this post is to share last weekend's installment of This Old House of Aurora's. Earlier this month the window over the kitchen sink closed violently, causing the cute little crack that has been in the corner of the pane of glass since we first looked at the house to spawn a number of additional, potentially more troublesome cracks. We responded like the responsible owners of a 90-year-old house that we are and put some tape on the new cracks and headed to Boise for a wedding.

Scott assured me that fixing the window would be a simple matter of ten or fifteen minutes; the main thing was to get the old window up the hill to True Value so we could get the right size of replacement glass. That time estimate was before he'd actually removed the window to discover that whereas some people might feel like a bit of putty is sufficient to hold a piece of glass in place, "Ned" (as we call Aurora's imaginary son) had opted to keep the glass in place with a strip of well-affixed wood. Since getting the glass out was taking longer than planned, and since the cause of the sudden crash that started the adventure had been, presumably, the cord that held the counterweight breaking, I figured that I might as well fill my time while Scott worked on the window by removing the molding around the window so we could get at the weights.

The attentive reader will note that none of the photos that follow show me working on the molding. It turned out--and perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised--that the final piece of molding which was holding everything together wasn't a simple strip but rather a specially milled, sort of angled block of wood that was nailed in place through the wall of the neighboring cabinet. It wasn't a piece that came out without some destruction.

Fortunately, Scott is pretty imperturbable so he took it all in stride. (There are no photos of him finally breaking all the old glass out of the frame; he did that downstairs without telling me in advance.) The trip to the hardware store was successful and we came home with glass, putty, and glazier corners which Scott knew how to use. There was really a lot of me not doing much other than take photos. Maybe I'd rather be more useful, but I'm told my time will come when we get around to painting.

The ever so clever glazier point that you use to sort of hold the glass in place.
Scott applying the glazier's putty
The sash cord installation. Do note all the fascinating crap behind the wall. Some lath. Some plaster. A bit of drywall. 

There were a few casualties: Ned's screwdriver snapped under the pressure.

There's still some work to be done but the new window--with its new sash cords and re-attached weights--opens and closes like a dream.

I'm not sure what the horseman with a very fine hat I found in this morning's tea leaves might signify, but I tack it on here anyway:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Amounting to a hill of beans

Today was a gorgeous fall day in Seattle, though maybe a little warmer than most fall days tend to be. It was perfect weather for a long bike ride or a tramp through the woods. Naturally, we didn't do any of that. No, we got around to eating breakfast at nearly noon and then, after a visit to the Farmers Market, Scott settled in to putting a coat of paint on the garage doors while I raked leaves and did some tidying in the front 40.
Flowers, grapes, tomatoes, cucumber, dried beans, and raspberries!
 But such activities are not without their rewards. I can't speak for how Scott feels about the garage door, but I suspect we'll both be glad to have an extra coat of protection on it as the cold winter moves in, assuming we get a cold winter this year. (I've seen squirrels lately; do their tails seem extra bushy? I just can't say . . . .) You would think that finding a handful of fall raspberries would be the highlight of my hunter-gathering, and I've got to admit that was mighty sweet. I was also pleased, if confused, to find that the cucumbers have decided to get serious about flowering and fruiting and that the cosmos and marigolds continue to bloom up a storm.

 This year I've been oddly slack about some day-to-day harvesting; the scarlet runner beans I planted mostly for the flowers have gone largely uncollected--though the one time we french-cut and cooked some of the green beans up they were excellent. This means that a number of pods have been left to dry out on the vine. Today I brought them in and split them open. Opening the pods was maybe a little reminiscent of opening the reeds that you can use for mason bees but, having also investigated the leafcutter bee block today to find that it contained a dozen earwigs and nary a sign of bee cocoons, I've got to say the bean pods were more rewarding. The beans are beautiful! Looking at them I could see why you'd trade a cow for a handful of  them.

Scarlet runner dried beans
There are plenty of still-green pods on the vines that I hope will obligingly dry out as these did so that we have enough to use in soup or something this winter; this recipe for stewed runner beans with tomato looks pretty tempting.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Don't judge a book by its cover: The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter

So I've just finished up The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter, a book that deserves some sort of award for worst title ever and a close runner-up in the competition for bad cover design. (I give that title to Strange and Dangerous Dreams, however, which is such a fabulous book but it never got its chance, I feel, because it has such a godawful cover.) Take a moment, do, to look past the covers on both these books and give their contents a chance. They're worth it.

Sure The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter is 800 pages long but four of those pages are blank and everything after page 789 is backmatter that you can skip. Hell, page 789 has only about 150 words on it. You can probably knock it out in a long weekend.

 Okay, maybe not. But you'll try because it's a pretty compulsive, "oh, I'll just read another two pages" sort of book. It can be pretty intense: there are three 2 -3 page sections where I had to read with my eyes averted, picking up the general nature of the action without really reading every word as it was just too awful. But what is it about, you might wonder. That's not so easy to say.

 The story is structured around two families each of which contains two brothers (one of them also has a sister but she's pretty marginal, except when the plot needs her) who live in different parts of the south: Maryland for the black family and Alabama for the white. It jumps around in time but it starts when the boys are young, during the depression and ends in 2010. Most of the action is right around 1960, with the attempts at desegregation and voter registration so really not a lot of fun for anyone. (Those people who do have a lot of fun in this book are, for the most part, really very nasty people. Did you miss the note about the three 2 - 3 page sections I had to skip?)

But it's not all misery and you could even say it ends on a hopeful note. There are some interesting results from the way the book is written and structured which may have been accidental--and signs of a not-that-capable writer--or deliberate--and indicative of a really nuanced writer. More than once I forgot which family I was reading about and I'd have to remind myself: "BJ and Randall are the poor white kids whose father works in the mine" or "Eliot and Dwight are the Maryland sons of the black Pullman porter." So maybe Kia Corthron is trying to make a point about how, at some level, they're all people with a lot of the same problems and same relationships, and that among the many tragedies is their inability to recognize their shared humanity. That seems to be the note on which she ends and it could be argued that that is what each brother recognizes in his better moments. But the story she's telling is very much about how different it is for the different races: how much hatred and misunderstanding and willingness to see the other race as completely "other" leads to horrific, awful, and tragic actions, with most of the suffering being inflicted--deliberately--by the whites. It was troubling, I tell you, the number of times that I became confused about whether I was remembering something I'd read in my book or heard on the news.

I don't really seem to be selling this, do I? The thing is, it's a good read. The characters--especially in the first few hundred pages--are engaging and interesting. The kids haven't lost a certain innocence. You feel hopeful for them because they're hopeful. That sets up the later tragedies, of course, but it's also something you can enjoy. And the bulk of the book isn't relentless misery: some of it is hopeful and some of it is educational and, well, some of it is just plain gut-wrenching. In the end, however, you want the world to be a better place. And maybe this book is a step on the road to understanding which I suspect is a essential to getting to that better place.