Monday, November 21, 2011


It's been raining in LA.  My backyard, which is one big hill, is very excited about the rain and has made good use of the nourishment.  When it rains, the hill comes alive with the sound of music.  Except instead of music, it's mushrooms.  My hill is aliiive...with the many fun-gi...

This causes...death, I believe.

And here, the ground grows...death.
So, this is causes death, yes?

The other thing that happens when it rains is WEEEEDS.  Weeds so thick and green it's like someone laid a Celtic carpet on my yard.  They're growing in the front yard too, which has been a real enhancement to the curb appeal of the house:

Doesn't this sort of look like I'm growing herbs among the rocks?
Let's pretend that this is my delightful urban lettuce garden!

Unless I plan on making lots of death-mushroom and herb-weed salads, I need to call my gardener. Soon.

And remember these three plants?

These three mystery plants have continued to grow.  They are so heavy with their fruit that they are starting to lean over, like the plant on the left.  Their stalks are unbelievably thick now-- my entire finger disappears around the back of one stalk!

Myriam figured out what these are-- these are amaranth plants.  What?  Yes.  Amaranth, a plant with both a noble Aztec history and a fraternal Masonic Order named after it.  A plant whose crop is recommended for use in gluten-free recipes; a plant whose product you can buy from Bob's Red Mill.  I  had always planned to uproot these at some point, because I didn't plant them-- they just started growing like crazy out of nowhere when I moved in and began watering this planter box.  Recently, the little green fuzzy grape nut clusters that they produce had started to turn color, and I thought-- oh, that must mean they're going bad, so I'll take them out soon.

But no-- if the amaranth theory is correct, I think the change in color means the grain may be ready to harvest?

My amaranth
Amaranth on the internets

So, I'm going to leave them in for now.  What if I set up a deal with a local health foods store to supply them with 100% organic, seasonal, hyper-local amaranth grain?!  That is, assuming I figure out how to harvest whatever seed or grain is in those fuzzy grape nut clusters.  I've always intended to have a garden at some point!  The amaranth plants were just a little bit ahead of me on that front.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I've told you about my house's windows, haven't I?

Kitchen window--
my very classy way of dealing with a broken panel.
  I had to keep bugs from coming in somehow..

My house is full of old jalousie windows, like this one.  Louvered slats of glass that crank open when you pull a lever on the side.  Sometimes, as you can see, the slats break off.  When that happens, you make these adorable DIY replacement slats out of Uhaul box cardboard.

bedroom window

office window

These were all the rage in the 50s and 60s, I think.  I'm pretty sure they're called jalousie windows because they make other people...jalous.  Aren't you jalous of my jalousie windows?  They are cute-- visually, they are charming.  Practically however, they leave much to be desired.  Would you like energy efficient windows?  Or windows that block street noise?  How about windows that keep the creepy crawly things in their proper outside place?  If you would like your windows to act as some kind of barrier between you and the world, then jalousie windows are not the windows for you.

In pursuit of new windows, I've obtained five estimates.  Yes, five different contractors have come, from five different companies.  If you ever need to get a house full of new windows, be prepared for the following:

  • Window estimates are time consuming.  For me, each estimate took 3-4 hours.  My ~1300 sq. ft.  house has 20 windows that are (of course) all different sizes.
  • For the first 1.5 hours, the contractor will want to make small talk as they measure.  Small talk is fine, for a while.  It's less fine for an hour and a half.  At the end of that, you'll wish you were doing something, anything else.  Like maybe your taxes.  The contractor will tell you about casement, single-hung, double-hung, and slider windows.  All that's important is when they say "casement," what they mean is "expensive."
  • For the second 1.5 hours, the contractor will sit you down and give you a full on old-fashioned traveling salesman show.  He'll pull out a laptop and show you a PowerPoint.  He'll show you figures on energy conservation.  He'll give you a demonstration of the windows with a heat lamp.  He'll tap dance if he senses this will get you to decide *right now* to sign a contract to hire his company to fill your window needs.
  • If the contractor is not from Home Depot, he will do his best to make you very, very afraid of Home Depot and the way they sub-contract work. 
I got estimates from Home Depot, Andersen Windows, Sears, and 2 smaller companies.  Each estimate was special in its own wonderful way, but the last 3 were amazing.

Sears: The Braveheart Estimate
Picture it, a Thursday night, after work.  Sears rep shows up, starts measuring.  He has a thick accent of some kind.  As we kick off the first 1.5 hours of the experience, he says: Can ye guess where I'm frrrom?
Ireland, I said.
Nooh, but cloose, he said.
Thaat's rrright!  he said.

Fantastic, I thought.  Braveheart is my Sears rep.  Good.  I don't mind an accent at all-- and the sound of it did make the first part of the visit pass by a bit more quickly.

In the second portion of the program though, he was putting on a very serious hard sell, at a price that was much higher than I could afford.  He talked about financing, but wouldn't give me details on the interest rate.  I finally shut down and just stopped talking.  He said:

Sooo, I'm jest cuurious, what would make ye sign up with Searrrs tonight?
Nothing, I said.
After another half an hour of attempting to get me to talk, he finally left.

Small Company A: The Fearful Freckles Estimate
Picture it, Friday night after work, the day after Braveheart's visit.  A rep from a small local company shows up.  He is young-looking, though probably 40 or so.  His nose is sprinkled with freckles, and he proclaims how much he loves old houses.  Old houses like mine, where there's most likely lots of lead paint that's been slathered on everything.  He mentions many times in the first 1.5 hours that lead is something to be very, very afraid of.   Very afraid!  Have you heard of chelation therapy?  Why, a sugar packet's worth of lead is enough to contaminate a football field!  Isn't that scary?  Be afraid of that!

Through the second 1.5 hours, I thought-- oh yes, I should be afraid.  I listened to Fearful Freckles, and listened to him as he talked me up to an estimate that was more than I should have paid.  I signed up, feeling relieved that I wouldn't die of lead poisoning.

Small Company B: The Mr. Petrov Estimate 
Picture it, Saturday afternoon, after Braveheart's sacking and the Fearful Freckles paranoia.  A rep from another local company came.  I said-- listen, can we not do the small talk and the song and dance?  Can you just measure my windows and tell me how much it will cost?

He looked surprised, but said-- sure, OK.

But of course, when someone's wandering around your house, you can't not talk to them.  Eventually, it comes out that he has a background in Eastern Europe, as do I.  We trade a bit of Russian, a bit of Czech.

He gives me an estimate that I can afford.  He can hook up financing at 0% for 2 years through Wells Fargo.  Good.  Great.  Done.  Mr. Petrov, you have yourself a deal.  I signed up, and the next day, I cancelled the Fearful Freckles contract.  

So, then what happens...?
Theoretically, the project is supposed to get started soon.  I thought it was supposed to start Friday, but now it will have to wait until after Thanksgiving.  As we know, I don't have an amazingly solid judgement when it comes to things like this, so I'm nervous, but we'll see how it goes.  As long as I am dispossessed of my jalousies soon, that in itself will be success.