El Café Nocturno

As I headed to work early last week, I found the trash bin tipped toward the porch and the lid on the ground beside it. The garbage inside seemed undisturbed.

I blamed the wind and the lightness of the new bin.

Then I found discarded sauce containers lying on the porch, licked clean. Drat! It’s a varmint.

But what critter leaves everything neat? A fastidious raccoon? A picky possum? Whatever it is, its raids occur almost nightly – even when the bin is empty.

My trash previously went unmolested. Perhaps my neighbors secured their more-bountiful cans, and the raider needed a new food source.

But I suspect the main reason is the bin’s “winter home” beside the porch. It’s convenient for me because I can reach it even during a blizzard.

Unfortunately, it also appeals to four-legged stinkers. Sheltered from rain and snow, a varmint can rummage without having to climb up or noisily knock over the bin. With a clear view of surroundings and handy trees for escapes, it lacks only cushions and piped music.

Obviously, Café nocturno must be shut down. Most likely, with a bungee cord hooked on opposite handles.


Desperate Sales

Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, all sorts of decorative items (and useful ones, too) are put on sale to make way for post-Thanksgiving’s “Black Friday.” The sales seem to have intensified this year. Due to inflation’s impact on the cost of necessities, customers have turned wish lists into wait-and-see lists. Stores are pulling out all the stops with incentives and gifts-with-purchase.

I had a (rare) day off Monday because of a morning appointment in Port Huron. I used the drive home as an opportunity to shop before crowds took over.

(NOTE: If you are on my gift list, ahead are SPOILERS. No peeking, Carlos!)

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Winterizing La Casa de Tontería

Yesterday it snowed. Not the fluffy, stick-to-the-ground snow. Not even the fluffy, melt-immediately snow. It came down in tiny crystals that rattled in the fallen leaves.

The cold weather meant no one was burning leaves. It was a perfect time to bag up leaves and pick up sticks. I hauled four bags and, with a bungee cord and a steady hand on the trunk, the fallen maple limb to the yard-waste drop-off.

When I said I’d be back with more, the man who runs the site warned me, “Don’t stay out too long. You’ll get soaked.” He’s a local who’s seen more than a few winters.

Sure enough, the snow changed to a thick mix of rain and sleet. By the time I put away the tools, I was drenched. It felt good to change into dry, thick layers and lunch on hot soup.

I made a mental list of accomplishments. The outdoor furniture has been stored. The compost can and the garbage bin have both been moved to their easy-to-reach winter spots. The snow shovel is in the front closet.

But the outdoor faucets need capping. Would suet or seed be better? Both? And this morning, when I stepped onto the cool floor, I remembered: close the crawlspace vents!

Real snow is coming Wednesday or Thursday.

SIDENOTE: The natural gas company sent its monthly report. La Casa de Tontería (aka The House of Nonsense) used 28% less energy (19 therm) than the 100 most efficient homes (26 therm) and much less than comparable houses (43 therm).

Why I Can Never Have an Electric Car

It’s not just the sticker price.

It’s not just that the car would be exposed to the elements because there’s no garage. And my plot is too small to build even a carport.

(My previous car died after just 11 years, due to rainwater collecting in the dashboard after the drainage hole was plugged by debris.)

The main reason is WILDLIFE.

I look back with amusement at the moment I learned that increased road-noise wasn’t exactly a mechanical problem. Nest-building chipmunks had removed the sound-dampening insulation from the car’s side-panels. I doubt I could reconcile myself to the smell of roasted rodent or the risk of a car aflame so close to my house.

Would an electric car work as a giant bug-zapper?

Every few years, wasps attempt to nest in the space near the door-hinges. That’s to say nothing of the spiders.

When my car was new, a yellow spider took up residence for the winter. When the car warmed to an agreeable temperature (for a spider), it moseyed up the corner of the windshield near me. It would hang out near where the glass meets the roof – you know, right outside my vision – like an arachnid version of the Sword of Damocles.

I smooshed its great-great-great-great-great-grandchild about a week ago.

Of Books and Budgets (with Asides)

My two-months-early birthday present will arrive today.

Aside #1: My parents wisely and generously give cash gifts with orders that the recipient buy something for yourself. The Old Man issues caveats which, depending on his children’s age, have included “Don’t spend it all at the bar” and “You could use a new set of tires” and (my all-time favorite) “Don’t buy a marriage license.”

I bought three books by Ciaran Carson: Collected Poems and his translations of The Inferno and The Tain.* I had read few poems of his, but an acquaintance told me he translated Dante Alighieri’s work without the prerequisite academic background. She thought it was a fine, fresh translation.

Aside #2: When I was a measly undergraduate, I translated portions of Rosalia de Castro’s El caballero de las botas azules for the pure joy of getting inside her beautiful words. My Chilean profesor encouraged me; the profesora from Spain, no.

When checking on my order, I discovered Amazon has started a points-earning program for booklovers. Or, as I like to call us, book-stalkers.

Aside #3: Although I regularly borrow books, I buy books that I might write in. Poetry gets a notes in the margins, but prose gets more. When I study plotting, foreshadowing, and the like, the gloves come off!

Alas! I cannot take part in Amazon’s latest scheme. I’m bracing for winter and increasing costs. It’s especially sad to read the electric company’s report. It shows how successful my conservation efforts were; however, kilowatts are more expensive, so the bills are the same or higher. I have kept the furnace off as much as possible and continue to air-dry most of the laundry; the gas bills are manageable for now.

Aside #4: I don’t wish to be political, the label applied to seemingly every philosophical difference. However, readers may be disappointed by the following paragraph:

I’m pro-human rather than anti-fuel. No one should be left cold and hungry when the power fails. I was happy when my English friend announced that her husband had successfully installed a wood-and-coal stove in their centuries-old cottage. My friends celebrated, too, when I found an indoor-use radiant heater that runs on small propane tanks.

Aside #5: Michigan has the largest residential sector consumption of propane in the nation.

To be blunt, budgeting is a nightmare around here. We pore over grocery store flyers like gamblers with racing rosters. The sale on pork rib looks good, but what about the unmentioned staples? What are the odds of winning the superfecta of bacon, cheese, coffee, and cooking oil?

Aside #6: Although some family members add milk and sweetener to coffee, we drink tea without it. However, we enjoy “flavoured” tea, which seems to horrify my favorite European home-and-garden YouTubers. My current preference is a mix of orange peel, dried cranberry, and loose black tea. It brings back fond memories of tea with my grandmother and my great-aunt Lorena.

This week, I set a limit of $60 for holiday foods. I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow (especially if you were kind enough to read this far). I walked out of the grocery store with cash in hand and immediately went to the $1.29 store (formerly a dollar store). I scored two four-packs of Faygo cola and Faygo Twist, which can be used for drinks or to flavor cake.

Final Aside: This is the Faygo Song, the jingle accompanying ads for the Michigan’s most popular pop. (The correct abbreviation of “soda pop.”) I think it came out in the ’60s, but my friends and I sang it decades later, along with the Oscar Mayer wiener song.

Changeable Autumn

If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. – saying attributed to various famous people

This week was so cold, the furnace kept turning on. (It’s set at 14 Celsius, 58 Fahrenheit.) My hometown, north and inland, had its first snowstorm. Here at La Casa de Tontería (aka The House of Nonsense), this weekend’s temperature will be in the low 70s (21-22C).

Statue of Little Girl, near Belle River. Even on an overcast day, it’s beautiful.

I love this time of year. It smells and sounds different. The sunlight has become more golden than green as the leaves have changed and fallen. I open the windows more often than in the summer because the temperature, as Goldilocks would say, is “just right.” *

Little Boy statue, not far away. He’s surrounded by variegated-leaf hosta.

*Except in the afternoon on beautiful and warm weekends, when various people burn leaves until the smoke hangs heavy over the entire neighborhood. This is a local custom which I do not understand.

Autumnal Greetings!

Thank you to all you readers who have stuck around despite my long absence. Just a brief update while I wrangle some photos onto my laptop and *fingers crossed* put them into a post this week.

In no particular order, here is current state of affairs:

  • My parents are still alive and doing fairly well. My mother’s cancer, defeated in several places, showed up in another. This week she had a trial run of a treatment that the oncologist will perform later this month.
  • La Casa de Tontería (aka The House of Nonsense) generated its usual seasonal to-do List for me. However, the abandoned next-door house added a variety of garbage- and tree-related tasks. (Note: It’s abandoned, not condemned. When it comes to housing, the Authorities are mucho ruido y pocas nueces. A lot of noise and few nuts.)
  • The Young Human Factory has returned to normal. Really. I keep waiting for emotional breakdowns, fisticuffs in the hallway, or a state-mandated return to masks. But so far, so good.
  • After reaching the halfway mark of my final draft, I realized boy-protagonist has a story-driving need unmentioned in the beginning chapters. Real writers say that one should note the change and continue as if it’s already been made. However, I’m a dilletante or possibly a luddite.

Going Old-School: Meal-planning

The first harvest from my lawn

I finally used dandelions in place of store-bought greens. It came about the usual way: An online discussion of gardens segued to cooking and then to family recipes using whatever is on hand. (Or underfoot.)

Wild leeks, burdock, and easily-identified safe mushrooms are unavailable in my region. But dandelions? There’s a PLETHORA of those.

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Jerkface MacGuyver strikes again!

Almost three weeks ago, the water heater began making gasping sounds after I ran a lot of hot water. I am hyper-aware of its age; it was original to the house. I consulted my go-to guys, who thought it was created by air bubbles in the tank.

(The exception was Mr. Mohawk, who opined, “It’s just laughing at you.”)

Long story short: I followed their advice and “burped” it like a radiator. Unlike most water heaters, there is no drip pan or drain. Therefore, I needed to place a pan under the overflow pipe… but I couldn’t.

Jerkface MacGuyver struck again!

For newer readers, that’s my nickname for the builder and original owner of La Casa de Tontería and several houses in my neighborhood. He and his crackpot team specialized in cutting corners, reusing factory rejects, etc.

In this case, the overflow pipe ran straight down to the floor – and through it. In other words, water falls into the crawlspace. The crawlspace is nothing but dirt and plastic – yes, plastic – no cistern nor catchbasin.

I’ve added “water heater inspection” to the list of things I can’t do myself.