Rodentia Update

If this were a real mouse it would be in trouble for being on my counter.

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

Because a war this has become.

The little mouse is taunting me, baiting me daily with its bold exploits across my floors.

The Pie and I have come to the  conclusion that perhaps there is only one mouse, and we simply see it on multiple occasions.  It’s always the same colour, same size, and it picks the same routes through the house every time.

It gloats over my frustrated attempts to keep it out.

Remember how I jammed dryer sheets into every crack in the fireplace?  Well it’s not coming through the cracks – it’s coming through the dripping, sagging, and fetid pink fibreglass insulation that is blocking my chimney.  There is obviously a hole in said chimney, as well, because the mouse, if thwarted coming out of the fireplace, can go through the wall some how and come out in the closet with the water heater.  From there it makes a bee line for the kitchen, goes under the fridge, behind the dishwasher, and then into the pan drawer under my stove.

Every day it poops in my muffin tin.

I used the muffin tins the other day to make blueberry muffins and so the tins were out for a wash.  You know what the mouse did?

It pooped in my loaf pan.

It pooped in my loaf pan.

I pulled that out to wash it.  This morning, I pulled the drawer open to take a peek, and what did I see in my other loaf pan?

TWO POOPS.

TWO POOPS

The daily deposition of that dessicated black grain is really getting to me.  I think the two poops were made out of spite for the fact that I chased the mouse through the house last night.

I have NO IDEA what this mouse is eating.  My floors are swept daily, and there are no crumbs behind the dishwasher.  My recycling bin, next to the stove, is full of clean plastic.  My pantry is impregnable and shows no signs of breach.  But every freaking day I have mouse poop in my drawer.

This is a call for vengeance.  If the mouse cannot be repelled, then it will be beaten back.  The Pie has convinced me finally to pick up some mouse traps.  Should I be successful I will look upon the body of my beaten foe and rejoice.

More bulletins as events warrant.

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Death to Beige – Painting Elizabeth, Summer 2009 and Winter 2010

Elizabeth is our house.  On the outside, she’s kind of pinkish, with an orange roof that leaks, and windows in need of replacing.  On the inside, she’s a cozy nest that we adore.  When we moved in, however, we were confronted with wall upon wall of the most disconcerting beige I had ever seen.  In no one’s conception could this beige be considered a neutral.  It looked to me like someone had taken a brown paper lunch bag and vomited on it, then left it for dead in the rain.

In other words, I hated it.  The Pie didn’t really care, but he’s a boy.  Something had to be done.  We had to paint.  We had an agreement with our landlord that we could paint the apartment any colour we wanted, and if she didn’t like it, then we would simply have to repaint when we left.  That is a good deal.  We had to leave the hallway as it was, because the ceilings were too high for us to paint safely, but the rest of the place was fair game.

We went with ICI Dulux Inspirations Paint for its low odor (very few of the windows in this place open so we didn’t want to fume ourselves out of house and home).

Office

Before

Because I was spending a lot of my spare time in my office, this was the first room to be painted.  I’ve always found green to be a good colour for productivity, so I went with “Kiwi Fun”:

I managed to only spill paint on the linoleum once, which was a high achievement on my part.

After: Nobody here but me and the freezer.

Bathroom

Cheers! was the name of the bright yellow I used in this tiny room.  All our fixtures are 1960s green, and all our accessories have blue in them, so it seemed only appropriate to make a tiny dark room a cheery yellow.

I taped up the toilet to avoid drips.

This was the job from hell.  This particular paint came out super thin and runny, and it took me SIX COATS to get it done, and that’s working with a tiny roller and sponge brush around all the fixtures.  I had also decided to re-do the woodwork and trim in the bathroom because years of dampness had caused it all to crack and mildew.  There’s nothing like scraping black mould out of crevices you didn’t know existed.

I had a really hard time getting the enamel to stick to the woodwork.  I think even that too four coats or so.  A smart thing I did was paint the ceiling with the same enamel, as well as the rusting out light fixture and the air vent.

I used rust paint on the ceiling.

Three lessons I learned from the bathroom experience: (1) don’t leave painter’s tape on any surface for longer than 5 days; (2) make sure the paint has fully cured before you stick stuff to it (even painter’s tape); and (3) sand the crap out of shiny surfaces before you paint them.

The sunny bathroom, finally finished.

Bedroom

I had hung curtains in this room that we were very pleased with: vertical stripes of brown, taupe, turquoise and green (sounds weird, I know, but they’re quite nice).  Having spent all that money on the curtain fabric ($250!) we wanted to paint the room to match them, as well as coordinate with our black bed and brown chests of drawers. 

Bramble Tan was the one we went with.  In the sunlight, it looks more like a warm, wet clay than anything else.  It’s relaxing and inviting at the same time, and I love it to pieces.  The consistency of the paint in this can was more like pudding than anything else, and we finished the room in a day with only two coats.

Living and Dining Rooms

Dining Room in progress.

Pie thought we should paint these rooms the same colour, so as to draw the eye to the magnificence of our kitchen, which we intended to paint a bright red.  I wanted something plain because our furniture in these rooms is a jumble of everything, and a bold colour would only make the place look cluttered.  In the end we went with Stowe White, an off-white that reminds me of cream.  It makes our hung pictures really stand out and yet it’s not a sterile white – cozy is definitely a theme in our place.

Photo stitch of the finished living room.

These rooms we did about two weeks before we left town for our wedding, so they were a little rushed, it was hot, and we had many other things on our minds.  Nevertheless, they turned out really well, and we made very few mistakes.

Stitch of the finished dining room.

Kitchen

We went with Cranberry Zing, to match the red tiles in the floor, and to make the white and black fixtures really pop.

The chaos before I began.

This room, I was determined, was going to be my pro job.  I was going to do it right, just like my dad does, and not take any shortcuts.

We had a leak in our roof the previous fall, which had since been repaired, but it had left some damage on the ceiling and the wall above the stove.  I took a wide, flat putty knife and used it to carefully lever away the damaged paint so I could assess the drywall underneath.  While spotted with dried mould and water-stained, it was still pretty solid, and so I just patched over it with Drydex.  I like this stuff because when it’s wet it’s bright pink, and you know it’s ready to sand and paint when it turns white.  It also doesn’t smell and is easily washable.

Step 1: Assess Damage
Step 2: Remove loose paint.
Step 3: Spackle!
One wall at a time.

I washed the walls down, then I sanded them, then I washed them again to remove the last particles.  I taped everything up well and I worked wall by wall, so we could still use the kitchen while I was painting it. It took three coats.  I didn’t spill anything, nothing broke, and it turned out really, really well.

I did this in January of 2010, while procrastinating on studying for my final comprehensive exam.  This is why I had the time to get it right.  I even managed to wait a week before putting all the stuff back up on the walls.

The one issue I had is one that had to do with my roller.  For some reason I can’t explain, the roller this time left bubbles on the walls as it passed, and when they dried you could still see them.  In certain spots it looks like I have sparkles on the walls.  It’s not entirely unpleasing, but it is a little weird.

In any case, we are both in love with our ‘new’ kitchen and we spend a lot of time in there.

Finally finished. My favourite room.

Ottawa Style Loves My Parents’ Garden

My parents’ garden is more famous than I will ever be.  But I’m okay with that.  Now you can see what I have to live up to in terms of DIY.

My parents' garden, as photographed by Ottawa Style Magazine

Unfortunately that’s the largest image I have, so I’ve transcribed it below:

Why:
All the exuberance of spring. Peonies, irises, lupins, and poppies.
Best Time to Visit: Mid-June
What: When Janet and John Bell moved to their grey clapboard house 12 years ago, there was no garden.  But they brought the backbone of a garden with them in plastic bins from their house near the Rockliffe airbase.  Hostas and peonies, irises and lupins, 13 varieties of thyme, clematis, lavender, honeysuckle, and pink poppies now thrive in this garden that wraps around two sides of the house.  “We started from the house and worked outwards toward the road,” says Janet, an artist who works in fine detail in pen and ink.

The garden is a history of their marriage.  The peonies, a colour card of pinks from deep to pale, were all given to the couple by the minister who married them 34 years ago.  There’s also a hosta that came from John’s father and is over 20 years old.  These plants have travelled all over Canada with them as they have moved from coast to coast for John’s work.  Irises are a particular favourite of the couple — there’s a spectacular example of the pink bearded variety ‘Beverly Sills’ — and they have grown several unusual varieties from seed.  In high gardening season, they spend about three days a week keeping up with the exuberant growth, and in fall they fertilize their sandy soil with sheep manure and peat moss.  The secret to this splendour is simple: “If it doesn’t thrive, get rid of it,” says Janet.

The Shining: This garden is a riot of colour in early summer, with peonies, poppies, irises, clematis, and all manner of perennials.  Irises (show to full advantage at right) are a particular favourite of the couple, who, over the years, have dug up and taken their favourite plants with them whenever they moved.

Salt and Pepper Dish

I like tobasco sauce, but Pie prefers pepper flakes.

We only have one set of salt and pepper grinders in the house, and they’re in use pretty much all the time.  We like to have them on hand when we’re cooking, and as well when we’re eating, so they travel all over the kitchen, to the dining room, and also the living room.

I got tired of making trips between rooms with all the little items under my arms, and I also got tired of cleaning up the little piles of ground salt and pepper left on the counters and table after putting down the grinders for the umpteenth time.

I think I got this idea from Martha Stewart, but regardless of where it came from, it’s a keeper.

Find a small dish you like and keep all your table items on it.  It makes transportation between rooms and counters a one-trip job, and it keeps the powdered spices off your tables and counters.  It’s pretty genius.

Hang & Level – Avoid Domestic Disputes

You can pick this gadget up from any Canadian Tire for about twenty bucks, and I highly recommend it.

Hung pictures look best if they are grouped, and if you line them up along their edges: top, bottom, or sides.  Because most pictures are framed differently, this is not as easy as it looks, and the Hang & Level will take the guesswork out of getting it right, as well as the annoyance of poking more and more holes into your walls, or telling your spouse, ‘no, move it a little more to the left.  No, that’s too far.’  You get the idea.

Get one.

Experiments with Tintex Fabric Dye

“it doesn’t look like you dye-it” – Stef

In February of this year, as I was procrastinating studying for my exams, I decided to try to dye my dining room curtains, just to see if I could.  Before the wedding last summer, the Pie and I painted both the living room and the dining room a cream colour, and the white cotton curtains (from IKEA) I had in there made the room look too stark. We didn’t have the money to purchase new curtains, so something had to be done with what we had.

I thought, why not purple?  A rich, deep, eggplant.  Yes.

I’d always passed the boxes of Tintex fabric dye in the grocery store and wondered how the process worked.  Now was my chance to find out.  While I was picking out my purple, I also picked up some forest green (in case the Pie objected to purple) and I read the instructions on the back of the box.  It suggested I remove all traces of the old colour or stains on the fabric with the Tintex colour remover, so I picked up two boxes of that, as well as two each of the purple and the green.  The dye amount is by weight, and I figured each curtain panel would warrant its own box.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I have a tendency to spill, drop, tear, break, or otherwise destroy things.  The idea of me in charge of a vat of purple dye was enough to give the Pie arrhythmia, but I promised to be careful.  And, to my credit, I was, very careful.  Nothing got dyed that shouldn’t have been.  I wore long rubber gloves, tied my hair back, and wore my oldest clothing.  And I didn’t spill a drop!

Everything ready and waiting for the colour remover.

In order for fabric dye to set it requires that the water in which it is dissolved be as hot as possible, boiling if at all possible.  There was no way I could put an entire curtain panel in even my largest pot, so I needed a new venue.  Luckily I had an extra-large Rubbermaid bin, and I set this in the bathtub to avoid spills.  I boiled up some water in my big lobster pot, and poured it into the tub.  I followed that up with water from the faucet.  Fortunately our water heater is brand new and about three feet from the bathroom, so the water that came out of the tap was near to boiling itself.  I also turned up the heat in the bathroom (which normally hovers around sub-zero).  This was the best I could do.

The instructions on the box also recommended that I dye each piece of fabric separately, but I didn’t trust myself to either time it properly or get a uniform water level between the two batches, and I needed these panels to come out the same colour, so I did them at the same time.

Having the colour removed.

First, I boiled the water and dissolved the colour remover in the tub.  I plopped in the curtain panels, which were white, but which did have a few stains and marks on them that could have stood to be removed.  I sat on the edge of the tub for the time allotted, stirring my cauldron of smelly, steaming liquid and poking the fabric back below the surface with a long metal slotted spoon (from Lee Valley – I highly recommend them).

When my time was up I tipped out the liquid and rinsed the curtains as best as I could.  It is really backbreaking work, and quite hard on the wrists to bend and squish (but not wring) a huge pile of wet fabric from your knees.

I repeated the boiling water process with the purple dye.  The powder itself looked black, and billowed up in a multicoloured cloud as I poured it.  I was wiping red, blue, green, and black dye particulates off the walls of the shower for a week afterward.  Once the dye was dissolved it made an opaque, wine-like liquid that steamed and smelled quite evil.  I dumped in my wet, rinsed curtains and poked at them for the requisite amount of time.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble.

Already tired from my rinsing of the colour remover, and solidly bored from having to sit by myself in the bathroom for over an hour, I was not all that enthused about rinsing the newly dyed curtains.  The Pie, bless him, helped quite a bit, running the removable showerhead over the fabric as I worked it with my gloved hands.  Eventually, after about the ninth rinse, I gave up and put them on an extra rinse cycle in the washing machine.

Draining the Vat

I figured there wasn’t enough dye left in them to do any real damage to the machine (we had a residual bleach accident when we first moved in that made us reticent to put fabric altering substances in the washer), but there was enough still in the fabric that it might rub off on something else when it was dry.  The nice thing about the rinse cycle is that it did a better job of wringing out the fabric than I ever could, so I didn’t have to worry about drips while it was drying.

Hanging from the shower rod to dry.

I hung the fabric to dry, and the next day I hung them in place in the dining room.

They weren’t a perfect job, by any means.  There are several patches of white remaining on the fabric.  I think this is either the result of me not rinsing them enough after the colour removal stage, or the dye didn’t penetrate that far into the folds of the cloth while it was in the tub.  Next time I might just time and measure it better and do each panel separately to ensure better coverage.  But for a first attempt, I’m quite pleased with them.  They turned out the colour I wanted them to and they really make the dining room much cozier.

Back in the dining room.

Cleanup was nearly a breeze from this experiment.  I was very careful to have no spillage, so anything and everything was fortunately contained within the tub.  The tub, however, is very old, and a lot of dye worked its way into the tiny scratches on its bottom and sides while I was doing the rinsing.  It took some scrubbing with vinegar, baking soda, and borax to get it out, but it was easier than I had expected.

Cleanup was a snap.

Flushed with my success, I took the remaining dye (the forest green) to one of the lampshades in our living room.  This lampshade is one of the cheap ones from IKEA, and is made of paper overlying some sort of plastic.  It was getting dingy and dirty, and during the day, when the light was off, it looked quite yellow.  I dusted it off with a clothes lint brush and took it into the kitchen.  I laid down a garbage bag and then several layers of newsprint on top, and took one of our sponge brushes from the closet.  The lampshade was too wide to fit into a pot, and I was concerned that the paper part of it might dissolve if I were to submerge it.  Instead, I planned to paint it.

Painting on the Dye.

I filled a 4-cup measuring cup with boiling water and emptied in the green dye, which also looked pretty black, and dissolved the whole thing.  I let it cool slightly, and then set to painting.  I let the sponge brush fill with dye and ran it gently up and down the sides of the shade.  I had to let it thoroughly dry between coats so that I didn’t destroy the paper, but I managed four coats before I was satisfied.  An unexpected effect was that the paper on the shade was actually crinkled, with wrinkles running here and there along the sides of the shade.  The dye darkened the wrinkles more than it did anything else, and so now the shade looks sort of like dark green leather.  When the light is on, the lines stand out even more.  It’s quite nice, actually.  Another decent first effort.

Finished, Greenskin

rodentia

From doyourownpestcontrol.com

Anyone have an earth and animal-friendly way to get rid of mice?

I saw one walking out of our fireplace the other night, and the Pie saw one coming out of our hot water heater closet the night after that.

I have since vacuumed up everything, shoveled out the fireplace (which is blocked off and broken), and done my best to keep the house crumb-free.

We read that fabric softener dryer sheets were a good repellent.  The stronger the better.  I’ve jammed them into all the cracks I can find in the hopes they will do the trick.  The problem is that neither of us is used to strong perfumes anymore, so we’re wandering around sneezing our faces off.

I also heard that peppermint oil or tea tree oil rubbed onto surfaces they might pass by is also a good repellent, but I have so far been unable to locate any in St. John’s.

Steel wool or copper mesh is supposed to work well, too, but I don’t think I could jam it into those cracks without severing the tips of all my fingers.

My landlord has told me that she will call Orkin if necessary, but I’m not too keen on poison, both for my own cardio-pulmonary system and that of the poor little mice (it’s not their fault, they’re just following a biological imperative).  If I can keep them out until the spring, we should be okay.

Any ideas?