25 December 2012

I haven't been around here much lately, but I've recently set up a new website and blog at www.ameliasmith.net

See you there!

14 April 2010

Cleaning an untreated wood ceiling

I have been scouring the internet for advice on how to clean untreated wood, and I've come up dry. I found articles about cleaning wooden furniture, routine cleaning of wood floors (almost all of which have some kind of finish), and washing outdoor decks. None of them seemed suited to my problem -- an untreated, semi-post-and-beam ceiling with about 40 years worth of woodsmoke, pollen, and general household dust built up on its surface.

Last fall, I washed it with a wood cleaner, diluted in water and mixed with bleach as directed on the bottle. I slopped it on with a rag, scrubbed it with a stiff plastic scrub brush, and wiped it down with another damp rag. It looked a bit cleaner, but it wasn't significantly brighter, and now, after a winter of construction dust, you can't tell the difference.

I read that oxygen bleach is the active ingredient in most wood cleaners, so I decided to try an experiment. I found some of my sister-in-law's oxygen bleach near the laundry machine here, mixed up a cup of it, and cleaned a spot. Just above it, I gave the wood a quick whack with 120-grit on a power sander. Here are the results:

The top part is sanded, the bottom part is bleached.


I began writing this post over a month ago, and now the project is mostly done. After messing around with wood cleaners, I found sanding to be faster, easier, and more effective, although it was also noisier and dustier. I drafted my husband to sand the living room ceiling. I had painted the kitchen ceiling after only lightly cleaning the wood, and it took 4 coats of paint to attain a decent shade of white. The parts of the living room ceiling which were sanded, wiped down, and painted looked better than the kitchen ceiling after only 3 coats of paint.

Conclusion: If you can sand it, that is totally the way to go to revive and brighten old, darkened wood. Otherwise (as in the case of rough-cut pine), oxygen bleach or wood cleaner does an OK job.

11 April 2010

Adventures and misadventures in Poultry

I haven't posted much here lately. We've been busy with one thing and another, including various experiments in backyard poultry. My brother gave us 4 hens and a rooster at Christmas. They were theoretically his birds before that, but they spent most of the time at our house, anyway, so it wasn't a massive change. They are entertaining and low-maintenance. The biggest hassle they cause is by hiding their eggs all over the property. Nova finds them entertaining and sometimes likes to collect the eggs, when we can find them.

Around about March, things started to get more complicated. I was told that this guy, Jeff, wanted to sell off some egg-laying ducks, so I bought three of them and threw them in with the chickens. At around the same time, my brother talked me into ordering more ducks, because I'd been talking about raising some for meat. Despite pregnancy, the renovation process, a new, short-lived job, and being generally over-extended, I ordered 8 Pekin ducklings from McMurray hatchery.

We were totally unprepared for the ducklings. They spent their first week in a couple of cardboard boxes in the living room, going through at least 6 rounds of water a day, spilling and pooping everywhere, creating a godawful stink. Ducklings are way, way messier than chicks. The stink was getting to me by the time we finally cobbled together a duck house. I started the project and Mike finished it on one of the days when I was off at work, and Nova was parked in front of the TV.

Here's a picture of them at about 3 weeks old:

We had an unusually warm spring this year, so the ducklings spent most of their days outside from the time they were about 2 weeks old onwards. There was a heat lamp in their house for nights, and I put a dimmer switch on it so they wouldn't broil and the electric bill would stay under control. One of them had had an eye infection of some sort, but it cleared up on its own only to return a few weeks later, but other than that they were all healthy despite the night-time overcrowding. Their house was built on a pallet, about 4' by 3' 4", for a total of less than 2 square feet per bird. They really could have used about twice the space, but at least they got to run around outside in the daytime.

All went along at a fairly even keel for a few more weeks until "processing" time came around. Processing is a euphemism for slaughter and butchering, but I guess I don't mind the less graphic terminology. This past weekend was supposed to be processing weekend. I was going to do it on Sunday, with a bit of help from someone or other, and as the day approached the household ganged up on me. My father and husband wanted to give the ducks away, my mother said she just wished I wouldn't do it, etc., etc. By the middle of the day on Sunday, I was a nervous wreck. So I threw the ducks' feed back in and put the slaughter off until Monday morning, when my cousin Jethro and his friend Rob had offered to help (as of Sunday afternoon).

Jethro had killed and butchered chickens, but none of us had done ducks before, so it was a learning process. We had a traffic cone, borrowed from a neighbor, a couple of big pots for scalding, a table, a board to hang them from for plucking, and a bunch of other stuff. It's all a bit of a blur. We got started at 8:30 in the morning, had a long coffee break a bit before noon, the guys took off at 1:30, and I put the last duck in a freezer bag just before 3. It was exhausting, but much better than the horrible, harassed build-up and delay had been the day before. I had great intentions to document the process and the set-up, but getting the job done was more important.

I now have about 56 pounds of duck in the freezer, and a vegetarian husband.

22 December 2009

The Family-Holiday Morass strikes again

I haven't gotten around to doing anything in the past few weeks. Ever since Thanksgiving, it's been one unfocused, vaguely hectic day after another. Nova has been struggling along with her teeth. She has horrible decay in her front top teeth because of my tooth-cleaning negligence combined with night nursing, and her bottom back molars were coming in.

Nova had her 2nd birthday, and I made two cakes for two separate celebrations of the occasion. The first, a Chocolate Brownie Torte with White Chocolate Mousse and Caramelized Bananas was a bit of a flop, but tasted good. Nova enjoyed blowing out the candles and eating it.

The second cake was equally mediocre, but held together better. It was a basic chocolate cake with orange frosting and chocolate-frosting decorations. I tried to decorate it with the traditional pastry bag and tips. Nova ate the bits of chocolate off the top. Obviously her diet is not as tooth-friendly as a dentist would wish for, either.

We have been doing a much better job at keeping up with the tooth-cleaning, though, and she has an appointment to get some fillings on Christmas Eve. Hopefully there'll be enough excitement afterwards that she'll forget the agony and forgive us for putting her through it!

Meanwhile, we've had a storm which had us snowed in, with the power on, for a good 36 hours. We all played in it together on the first day, making snow angels and throwing the dry, powdery snow around. Nova had no interest in coming inside until she was soaking wet. This morning, I introduced her to sledding. We went down the gentle slope of hill next to my parents' house a few times, and promised to come back to it later today, or tomorrow morning.

I intend to write Christmas cards and send them out in the next 48 hours. Ha!

07 November 2009

Renovation Update

I haven't been posting much lately, and don't have much excuse, but I'm logging on today to report that there is visible progress in our house renovation -- the floors are in (mostly):

In addition, we spent the entire day Wednesday on an expedition to Ikea to pick up the kitchen cabinets, which are piled in the basement, waiting for the plumbing, wiring, insulation, drywall, and painting to be done.

29 October 2009

"Shut Up!"

A few days ago, Nova started saying "Shut up!" loudly, emphatically, and frequently. We were puzzled and troubled by this development. We don't say that around here, at least I don't think we do. Where had she picked it up? Who was she telling to "shut up"?

Well, along came this morning's batch of pancakes, and Nova started the shouting again. "Shut up! Shut up!"

And then we took it out of the fridge:


21 October 2009

Beginning The Artist's Way

I don't remember when I first heard about The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. It must have been over a decade ago, but I never felt the urge to try out the program until a few days ago. It's just not my style, not what I really needed. I was pretty confident about my creative direction and the work I was doing. I was writing novels, revising them, sending them out, getting rejections, and starting the whole process over and over again.

The accumulation of rejections, without a single expression of interest in my fiction writing, was moderately discouraging, but not unusual. I was prepared for it. I kept going, knowing that persistence was the key to success. I could have kept going like that, but since our return to the US almost three months ago, I just can't find the time. You might think that with all the other adults around to entertain Nova, I should have more time to write than I had in Galway, but it doesn't work out that way. There, I could write while she napped, or find a quiet moment in the early mornings or evenings. Here, there's just too much to do, and too many people around all the time. I need my own space to write. I need a house or a cafe table to myself, where I know I won't be dragged off into conversation or into doing some minor housekeeping task for just a minute.

That's just not possible around here, not these days. I can beg a few hours here or there to write a newspaper article or go to a writers' group, but to write fiction? Forget about it. Not the kind of time I'd need to create anything substantial. I know what I need: To write or revise a novel, I need at least 1-2 hours/day, at least five days a week, for three or four months. And I can't get it. I've asked for it, and I can't get it, can't afford it, can't find it. I'm really frustrated. I have to figure what I can do, and how to deal with my stalled novel-writing career, my lost momentum.

I went down to the Bunch of Grapes on Tuesday and picked up The Artist's Way, hoping that it would help somehow. I don't know if it will or not, but I'm going to give it a half-baked try. The first chapter advises setting aside 7-10 hours a week to work through the program. If I had 7-10 hours a week, 7-10 solid hours, d'y'know what I'd be doing? Writing!!! Real writing, not just self-help journalizing! But the book also promises creative and spiritual renewal, which would be nice. So I'm going to give it a shot, at a rate of about a half-hour a day, half the recommended time, because that's all I can find in my current situation.

We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I hope to keep blogging about the miscellany of life around here.