Jun 8 2010

The Full Story of the Tub Faucet

This is the text of an email I originally sent to my BFF Nina, who encouraged me to post it to my blog.

It would break your heart, but we did zero research before buying the faucet. We went to a certain store in Berkeley (The Sink Factory) that had been recommended by our plumber. When I called to see if they were open, the man on the other end said, in a charming Eastern European accent, “No we are not, but I’m in the store doing paperwork, so come kick on the door and I’ll open it up for you.”

This turned out to be easier said than done, as the store was really seriously closed, in fact barricaded behind a ginormous wooden gate, upon which my feeble fists and feet made about as much noise as downy snowflakes landing softly upon a granite slab. Eventually I went around to the side and found a window to rap on.

This brought down the proprietor, who turned out to be a thin gentleman with scraggly white hair and a fabulous plum velvet jacket, and who actually swept me a low and elaborate bow as he drew open the door. Inside was a shadowy, almost museum-like collection of strikingly beautiful sinks. I ventured to ask if he carried toilets as well and he immediately responded, in his excellent accent, “Certainly, every home should have one.”

He had exactly three faucets that would fit our tub/shower arrangement. One was ugly and cheap, one was possibly made out of solid gold or at least priced as if it were, and the one in the middle was the one we bought. We asked no questions and we paid full list price. I was dazzled by the accent, the velvet jacket, and the hushed reverential quality of all that white porcelain arrayed in shadow. I hope Barclay fixtures are good? Especially if you buy them from vampires?

Jun 7 2010

Best Birthday Ever!

So I had a fantastic birthday yesterday. Sam’s parents came up for the weekend, and here’s something I knew but never fully appreciated about my father-in-law: he possesses a wide range of incredibly useful talents and skills! And for my birthday, Sam and his father dedicated themselves to completing a number of projects around the home that I’ve been dying to get done.

First, Dave installed the new faucet on our tub. I guess I should back up a minute to explain that when we moved in, the handles were missing from the tub faucet; when I got a plumber out to fix it, he took one look and told me that the whole faucet needed to be replaced, and that he’d be happy to do that for us at his usual rate of $125/hour, once we’d bought the new hardware. In the meantime, we could only take baths or showers by turning the handle-stubs with pliers, which was awkward and annoying. And the water pressure was pretty cruddy too. But when he installed the new faucet for us, Dave somehow magically managed to fix the water pressure too! Taking showers is now a delight, and look how pretty the new hardware is:

Also, there’s a cute little boy in there enjoying the bath. This is significant as Robin’s gone back to a strongly anti-bath phase for the past few months. But the gooseneck water spout is fun for him to play with, and he also likes reading out the letters on the handles.

After doing our plumbing work for us, Dave turned to the landscaping. He trimmed back the trees and bushes in our back yard, and then he and Sam installed my new composter for me:

This is the Green Cone System, which I chose because it can handle types of organic waste that other composters can’t, like meat scraps and kitty litter (if you use compostable litter). The disadvantage to this cone is that it releases most of the composted material as liquid into the soil, not as mulchy fertilizer that you can spread on your garden: but since I’m planning on keeping chickens, I figure I can compost the chicken manure separately and get my good fertilizer that way.

Anyway, there’s no real way to make a composter look particularly attractive, but I love that decorative brick border that Dave put around it! If I plant some flowers around it, I think it’ll make a cute spot in the yard.

Then, Sam and Dave went off to pick up an entertainment cabinet that I’d bought over Craigslist. I’m finding Craigslist to be a fantastic way to locate the kind of solid wood furniture that really suits our Craftsman home, but that’s terribly expensive when you buy it new. Unfortunately, then I generally have to pay movers to haul the massively heavy piece of wood I’ve just bought.

For instance, I’m typing this post at a solid oak desk I bought a couple weeks ago from the City of Palo Alto public library, which was liquidating some furniture on Craigslist. I love the desk:

And they only wanted $150 for it, when similar pieces sell new for a couple thousand. But I had to pay the movers almost as much to get it into our home as I did for the desk itself.

Anyway, I got another good deal on this lovely cabinet for our living room, to hide our TV and provide some much-needed extra storage space:

(Please ignore the fact that we have yet to tear down that ugly fake wood paneling—I have some nice wallpaper all picked out that will be replacing it soon. Also, we had to wedge a strip of wood under one of the feet of the cabinet because our floor’s not level; we’ll be cutting that down to make it less obtrusive.) I’m in love with the cabinet. It was made by The Wooden Duck, a local outfit that does very nice work using locally-sourced reclaimed wood. This particular model is made completely of solid teak. It’s about ten years old and they’re not selling it anymore, because it’s too narrow to fit the modern widescreen televisions. Luckily our old Philips TV is also ten years old, and as it’s still going strong neither of us feel any need to replace it yet. And because our living room was designed back in the days before television, really the only place to put the TV is right against that wall, where there’s juuuuuuust enough room for a narrow cabinet like this one. So! I’m splendidly pleased with it, and almost as pleased that Sam and his dad were able to fit the thing in the back of our Volvo—

—did I mention we have a car now? A ’97 Volvo station wagon, baybee, just waiting for us to paint flames down the sides and install some flashy rims.

As I was saying—I was pretty thrilled that Sam and his dad were able to fit the thing in the back of our Volvo and get it into the house themselves.

And that’s not even all that Sam and his dad got done yesterday; they also brought down some of the ugly window coverings that the last owners left, and put up a new glass shade for a light fixture that had been bare, and a bunch of little odds and ends like that. So, basically what I got for my birthday was hours and hours of other people’s hard manual labor, while I stood around and fanned myself and crowed in delight over the results. It was immensely satisfying. Best birthday ever!

Just to close out this post, here is a bonus picture I took of the view from our kitchen window. Isn’t it pretty? I love those morning glories. (Less picturesque are the dirty spots at the bottom of the window. Sorry about those.)

Jun 6 2010

What’s for Dinner

So! Now that I have a fridge, and most of my cookware unpacked, I can start to re-establish my nightly cooking routine. Yesterday we went to the Laurel Farmer’s Market, which is teeny-tiny. (Oakland does have bigger farmer’s markets, but this one is closest to us). Literally the Laurel Farmer’s Market consists of two stalls. But! One of them is hosted by J&P Organics, which had some lovely produce out: I bought raspberries, zucchini, fresh onions, and new potatoes, and I’m kicking myself for not also picking up a bunch of carrots.

J&P Organics is a small family farm with a great story. Pablo, Florencia, and their children started off leasing a bit of land and growing raspberries and flowers. Unfortunately, when the irrigation system that they shared with other farmers broke, nobody had the means to fix it “and their dreams had to be put on hold.” However! Pablo and Florencia still managed to send their children to college, and their son JP majored in ag science, where he learned about organic farming methods and about the programs available to help small-scale organic farmers get established. He encouraged his parents to lease another bit of land and try again, and this time he took over the marketing of their produce, focusing on farmer’s markets, local restaurants, a highway produce stand, and CSA boxes. They’re doing well and hope to be able to buy their own farm soon.

Their CSA boxes sound great. It’s about ten bucks cheaper than the box I was getting from Capay Valley (which is a much bigger operation), and includes an option for fresh eggs and flowers. I think we’re going to sign up, since it’ll be a while before I get my own garden established—and I’d probably appreciate more variety even once I do start harvesting my own veggies.

Anyway, this week I’m making a meal plan for the first time since we moved in. Tonight Nonna and Pappy are here to help celebrate my birthday—I’m going to make tamale pie and sour cherry cobbler. Tomorrow I’ll use the zucchini and onions I bought at the market in a fritatta, along with a spinach salad. Wednesday I’m going to make “farmer’s soup” from a dried bean mix I picked up at Whole Foods, and I’ll make a batch of cheesy croutons to go on top. Wednesday we’ll have pasta with sausage ragu; Thursday, grilled cheese sandwiches, probably with soup or salad on the side; and Friday, leftovers. Saturday we’ll go back to the market and I’ll make a new plan for the week ahead.

Jun 2 2010

Hump Yard

This is a much better layout for an almost-three-year-old. It doesn’t use all the pieces of the set: instead I just watched how Robin played with the track and arranged it in the way that seemed most suitable. We ended up with only a small piece of elevation (the bridge is on a little hill) and a long straight stretch of track after, so that Robin can send the trains hurtling down the hill until they gradually roll to a stop. Also there’s enough room between that arm of the layout and the loop on the other side that Robin can crawl into the gap, making it much easier for him to reach all the sections of track without knocking anything down.

When Sam came in to check my work, he said, “Hey, you’ve made a hump yard!” So this layout gets bonus points for gesturing towards realism, I guess.

Jun 2 2010


Robin with wooden trains

I took this photo before we went to Baltimore. In our old apartment we never had enough room to set up the full layout for Robin—we’d do simple loops for him, but nothing this exciting. He was pretty thrilled with it. After a few hours, though, he’d pretty well wrecked the layout: I need to build a new one for him that doesn’t include elevations, as those seem to be the most vulnerable to flailing little-boy arms and feet.