AND THE BEAT GOES ON – Marilyn Armstrong

Falls and canceled medication and rain delays notwithstanding, there’s progress in fixing up the old place. Not as much as I would like, but definitely better and more (with a little luck!) is on the way.

Owen did a first powerwash and finally, on the 4th of July, it was the third day of no rain, so he painted (waterproof with a heavy stain) the deck.

Powerwashed deck
Wet, but clean deck!

We used basically the same color which was used on it when it was built. It’s called “redwood” and it really does look like redwood. I know this because the house in which I grew up was clad in actual redwood and it was really this color.

Of course, these days, you can’t buy redwood but that was the 1950s and we weren’t aware of how much damage was being done casually by people who simply didn’t know any better.

This deck was not made of redwood. Pressed and treated hardwood would be my best guess and all things considered, it has stood up to the years reasonably well. It has also begun to come loose from the house and the northeast piece is a noticeable few inches sunk below the rest of the deck. This needs to be fixed and Owen is planning to fix it using 2X4 beams and a jack to hoist it up to the right level. With a beam under it, it should stay put for another 20 years, give or take. If we could afford it, a new deck would be nice. We can’t afford it and besides that, the deck is in surprisingly good condition for its years.

Owen wants to give it another coat. We have ordered it from Amazon because it simply isn’t available locally. I would have happily bought it from Koopman’s, but they don’t carry it. Neither does Home Depot, though they carry other products by the same manufacturer.

So Amazon it was and if it gets here by Wednesday, we will have a second coat and hopefully enough to spray the stairs and the fence too. I’m not sure the deck needs another coat, but I think the fence and stairs need at least one coat.

Deck with the new color on it. It was much redder and has sunk nicely into the wood.

Maybe we have found someone who can repair our back door, too. The problem is I really don’t want to replace the back door. It’s a Dutch door that opens on top. You can’t buy them anymore and this is a good oak door that isn’t rotting. It just needs some loving care. I suspect we’ll have to replace the screen door, but we’ll see.

Also, a bit of progress on finding help with the house. The problem is money. Our taxes went up by almost $80 a month and our heating went up by $75 a month. Prices keep going up and our income does not go up.

But we need help with the house. We aren’t getting younger or stronger and now my knee is really sore. AND we have company coming. At least a light cleaning is in order, like it or not.

Looking at the pictures of Garry and me from six years ago, I was struck by how much we’ve changed over these past six years. It was before my heart surgery and Garry’s hearing surgery. It’s not a matter of wrinkles. It’s wear and tear. Hard to explain what I mean, but the pictures say it all.

Meanwhile, one of my no longer available medications has been replaced by something that actually works better, but the other medication hasn’t been replaced because it was a holiday weekend. Hopefully, I’ll get in touch with the doctor tomorrow and we can make this work. In the meantime, I’ve been asleep a lot of the time.

That’s what happens when you take medication away from a narcoleptic!

ONE OF THE DAYS DURING ONE OF THOSE WEEKS – Marilyn Armstrong

Every time I think I’ve got things under control, I am reminded I don’t. This was the week a couple of simple things were supposed to happen. One of them was that Owen was going to install my new faucet for the kitchen sink. He found the basin tool so when he showed up to do it, he was psyched. We had already taken all that stuff out from under the sink.

When Owen got down there and looked at it, he came back up.

“You need,” he said, “A plumber.”

All the stuff that was under the sink. And the Duke.

He showed me why. Every fitting and pipe was covered with rust and that crusty green stuff. Everything that was supposed to turn was grafted into place. When we had last taken stuff out from under the sink,  it hadn’t looked bad, so what had happened? It was dry. No pools of water. We had a leak, but the leak was on the faucet itself and flowed into the sink.

I sighed. Owen gave me the name of his plumber, said the guy was honest and reasonably priced — something you don’t usually hear about plumbers. I brooded about money for a while, but ultimately, there wasn’t any choice. We needed a plumber.

Under the sink …

And so, I called the plumber and he came. It turns out there were leaks all along the old pipes. Very tiny leaks … just big enough to corrode everything.

He replaced all the valves and the copper pipes from the basement to the kitchen and bathroom and installed the faucet. $365 later, we had shiny new pipes and each worked like it was supposed to. I’m not sure they were working this well when we bought the house 19 years ago.

I wrote a check, sighing even more heavily.  At least I hadn’t yet started the work on the chimney, mainly because it was raining every day. You can’t mortar in the rain. Not to mention the cold and the wind.

New faucet!

Then there was the remote control that makes our bed go up and down. The bed is 15 years old. I discovered this by removing the innards of the remote and reading the label which clearly said 2004.

Fifteen years.

But for all fifteen years, the bed has worked flawlessly. It came with a lifetime guarantee, too … except that the company that made it went out of business three years ago, leaving a lot of distraught bed owners of which I am one. I knew that one day, something would happen.

Every other time something happened, I rebooted the bed. It’s just like rebooting a computer. Unplug it. Count to 30, slowly. Then add another 10 — to be sure. Plug it back in. Voila! It’s fixed.

Springtime in Uxbridge

For some reason, the idea of rebooting the bed always makes me laugh.

If that didn’t work, the remote needed new batteries. Which made me realize that we are — again — out of AAA batteries. Everything used to be AAs, but now everything is AAA. I ordered more rechargeables as well as a set of regular lithiums because sometimes, rechargeables don’t work. Don’t ask me why. I do not know.

I changed the batteries in the remote. The bed still didn’t move.

I hauled the mattress sideways so I could wriggle behind it to unplug and re-plug the bed again. That didn’t seem to work. I figured the remote wasn’t doing its thing, so I went looking for a replacement remote. Amazon had one and the remote they showed in the advertisement was identical to the one I was holding in my hand. A new version of it would cost $120 — a lot of money for a remote, but a lot cheaper than replacing the bed.

The day after the plumber left, the remote arrived. I took my last four recharged AAA batteries and put them in the remote. I unplugged the bed and then plugged it in again– after hauling the mattress off the bed and feeling the muscles in my shoulders go rigid.

The remote didn’t show any sign of life. Forget about whether it made the bed move. It didn’t light up when a button was pressed. It was broken.

I called the number printed on the back of the remote. They said I needed to push the light on the black brick-shaped thingie under the bed.  There was no black brick-shaped thingie under the bed or at least, I couldn’t see one.

Our bed is really heavy. Garry and I together couldn’t move it. I’m pretty sure that Garry, me, Owen and a couple of other people couldn’t move it either. It’s all wood and the “engine” is steel. The mattress weighs 100 pounds. At least.

It turns out this was the right remote, but it was broken. But, it turned out that there were a lot of models of this bed. Mine was an early model — one of only TWO models that would not work with this remote. Not to fear, they would sell me one that would work — for a less than half the price of the one I’d bought from Amazon. I could return the broken one.

So I ordered another remote, put in for a replacement for the remote from Amazon … and just on a whim, I took the newly charged batteries and put them back in the OLD remote.

The bed worked. Perfectly. I considered banging my head against the wall, but I was too tired.

Garry said it was a miracle.

I think I’ll turn the heat down and go to bed. It has been a long week.

SHOWERS, FLOWERS AND SAFETY! – Marilyn Armstrong

Blame it all on Mrs. Angloswiss. She and Marcel finally gave into reality and ordered an updated bath/shower arrangement. With a seat and hand grips and all the good stuff. And easier to clean, I would vouch.

I got really depressed about it because there are many days when I don’t shower because I’m afraid I’ll fall. Stepping over the high edge of the bath is more than my balance is ready for — so I skip it.

This the color we are getting and this is close to what we are getting, though our room is set up differently.

Garry and I have fallen in the shower. Not at the same time, but we’ve both fallen at least once. So far, no one was seriously hurt which is to say that no bones were broken. Although I smashed a finger that took a year to heal, that was a minor thing.

All that being said, it’s a matter of time until one of us takes a serious fall and gets badly broken.

The corner thing holder

Our shower is not as horrible as it could be, but it’s 50 years old and shows it. We replaced the sink a few months ago. The toilet needs a new valve. The old one is so corroded to the pipe you can’t open or close it. If something overflows, we can’t turn the water off. A bit nerve-wracking.

We couldn’t afford a whole bathroom renovation. It’s just much too much money to even think about … but … sometimes, you get lucky.

Garry had a long career on television. We always hope someone will think his recommendation will be good for the product because Garry wouldn’t do it unless he was really impressed. He has this reputation for honesty.

The magic worked! I am happy because this is a good company. The owner is a woman, a designer, fully credentialed. She lives locally and has more than 8,000 local installations for our reference. All the workers are her own employers — no sub-contracting.

I like these products very much. I like where they are made (the U.S.A.), how they are installed, and how easy they are to care for.

Even with a significant discount, we can’t do the whole bathroom. The price for that’s kind of huge. But we are doing it, piece by piece. If only we could afford bigger pieces.

We installed a new sink in April and a new shower-head a couple of months ago. The toilet is in good shape except for needing a new valve. The floor is … well … the old floor. It is exactly like the kitchen floor. More to the point, it is the same floor, but not as worn out. And grubbier because while I can rev myself up to scrub the kitchen floor, by the time I’m done with that, I’m just plain done.

The really important part and the piece which involves our health and safety is the bathtub and shower, so that’s what we will do. It’s not a freebie, but we got a really good deal … AND Garry gets to be a star.

The cameras will roll and he will tell them how fantastic our bathroom is and I’m sure it will be fantastic. He will smile and we will have a safe, clean walk-in shower. With grab bars, places to hold the shampoo and body wash, wash clothes and other stuff. Good-bye old scrubbed-out tub and porous grouted tiles.

Jennifer Bylo, owner and designer for Baystate Kitchen and Bath Remodeling

A non-porous shower with smooth walls, built-in mold resistance. All we’ll need to do will be a quick wash and a rinse. Just the idea of such ease of cleaning is overwhelming. We’ve been working harder and harder at getting the grout in the shower clean, but it’s old and porous and over the years, the mold has been taking over the corners and our backs are not up to crouching in the corners and scrubbing. And apparently, no matter how much we scrub, it won’t ever be really clean again. Porosity from years water.

Close. No cookie, but close.

It’ll be a month before they do the work which should be accomplished in just a single day. It will be right before my birthday so this will be my MOST expensive birthday present but to be fair, Garry owns the room and only lets me in when he is good and ready.

You folks out there can dream your dreams. Exotic vacations and the wonder of faraway places. But a bathroom that’s clean and safe?

Priceless.

WASHING, SANDING, BUT THE PAINT CAN WON’T OPEN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Prompt


I had a really bad case of asthma last night and finding a position in which to sleep left me a bit tired this morning. But having finally convinced my lungs to breathe rather than wheeze, I got up and decided I’d better make a head start on what I — for some obscure reason — had volunteered to do. It was a small enough job and I figured I should “Be useful.”

Paint the parts of the door that were “left over” after we installed the most recent door handle.

It looks just like the old door handle, but unlike the old one, isn’t broken. Not exactly the same size, either. It is a wee bit smaller, though it is otherwise very similar. It certainly works a lot better than the older one ever did, even when it was new. My job was to wash the door, sand the area to be painted, then paint. It went pretty well until I realized I could get the top of the paint can open. I’m not the powerhouse I was in my youth.

I had swept the door area clean a few days ago, but since then about 8 million new insects had moved back into the crevices. Mostly spiders, but also some weird-looking puffy things and other crawlies.

I’m not very fond of crawlies, but I have learned to cope with them when I have no other choice. Garry joined the party, which was nice because he has a couple of inches on me, but between the two of us, we couldn’t do the top of the door. We are too short.

We did the best we could with brooms and dust mops, but it didn’t get washed. Everything else, we washed at least twice and if we’d done it three times more, I’m pretty sure it would still be dirty.

It’s amazing how filthy a front door can get. If we had a hose in the front of the house, I could have hosed it down once in a while, but we don’t. It’s one of the broken things that hasn’t gotten fixed and may never get fixed. I have begun to accept the truth: not everything gets fixed. Not now, not eventually. Some stuff just stays broken because it’s too expensive to fix, or it’s just not up at the top of your broken-thing prompt list. We got some stuff done — even got the gutters cleared, more or less. But the chimney is still very much in need of pointing and the deck has been waiting more than a decade for some Thompsons’ water repellent.

We are in a race to see which crumbles first: us or the house.

The amount needing to be done greatly exceeds our finances or physical strength by a magnitude of at least 10.

Every now and again, we play the lottery. Not often, just when I feel I need 24 hours to dream of wealth beyond imagining. I don’t want much. Just enough money to get a house that is more suitable for us. Without stairs. Easy maintenance floors. Modern heating and cooling. Not so many trees. Not nearly as many trees. And a driveway that can’t double as the bunny slope for a small ski resort.

I also got back the results of my blood tests. I tried to read through them, I had to look up each result on Google. At first, it looked like I was a goner. But you don’t read each result. You sort of have to look at the entire picture and when I got through doping out each level — the highs and the lows — I figured out why in the end, he told me to get Vitamin D3  and take two every other day.

I’m a little bit anemic and I have the kind of vitamin deficiencies people who don’t have a normal stomach tend to get. Then there’s the spine, heart, arthritis,  fibromyalgia, and asthma. What the report really said is “She’s one tough old bird. Give her vitamins.”

And I’ve been taking my vitamins and remarkably, I’m beginning to feel a little better. It turns out that anemia makes you really tired.

I always want medical reports to say “Do this, do that and you’ll be young again.” They never say that. They never suggest that you’ll be younger, thinner, or springier in your step.

But I’m alive enough and there are plenty of reasons I might not be. Strong enough — with help — to wash that door!

Now it’ll wait a few more days to get it done. It is beautiful outside.

On the next beautiful day, for sure.

PLEASE DON’T LET THE CHIMNEY FALL ON YOUR HEAD – Marilyn Armstrong

Life is killing all of us, but it seems to be killing some of us faster than others. Maybe it just seems that way.

Mystery bricks are falling

Right now, my house is killing me. When we moved in here, we put up a new roof. We put up vinyl siding. We put in French drains. We removed the old rotting back sliding doors and put in French doors. We replaced all the toilets and sinks. We painted almost every room, though it took another ten years to get around to the floors. We never got to that kitchen restoration or repaving the driveway. Both are still on my agenda (ha, right, sure).

Meanwhile, we are doing what we can. We installed the new roof in 2000 — 18 years ago. It is in reasonably good shape.

Mayflowers – in May!

And of course, there’s the heating unit. It  was installed 12 years before we moved in. Add another 18 years we’ve lived here and suddenly, you’re looking at a moderately well-maintained 30-year-old boiler.

The front door is in round three as of last summer and just got its first layer of paint on the inside yesterday. It was my mother’s day present along with Owen putting together my new Oreck vacuum cleaner which, though they promised me it was better than the old one, apparently is exactly the same. Isn’t there some kind of bad joke about women who get vacuum cleaners for mother’s day?

The new – identical to old – Oreck vacuum cleaner. Turns out, I’ve got a spare in the attic I can use for extra parts.

Have I mentioned that advertisers lie? It is almost exactly the same machine with a bigger motor and a fancier handle, but the main difference is that it says “Commercial” on the box.

We replaced the steps to the deck right before I got to where going up that many steps was no longer an option. We put in a stair lift, but it needs some kind of fixing. It works, but only sometimes.

The el cheapo flooring with which we replaced the ratty old rugs is beginning to peel and the house needs painting … which is not happening anytime soon.

Ever, actually.

A few days ago, bricks from the chimney landed on the front stoop which I commented was “not a good thing.” We don’t own one of those old charming houses with 12-foot ceilings and tall windows. This is a 1970s bread box of a house that is getting old and tired. It’s not a bad place to live, mind you … but charming? Not so much.

When they say “They don’t build’em like they used to” they are NOT referring to this house.  They build houses today exactly like this, only worse. Regardless, all houses need repair and maintenance which costs money. Unless you are luckier than most seniors and have money.

We had a bit, for a while but it paid for the restored septic system and the well. Last week, we had to add a replacement window and a substantial piece of the house’s front wall. There are lots of other damp spots on the house. Turns out, vinyl siding is not a cure-all for your house. It looks good, but it doesn’t mean the walls underneath aren’t damp or crumbling. It is, as the pest control guy said, “cosmetic.”

See the round white thing in the sidewalk? That’s the well-head.

We are on round three (or is it four?) of the hot water heater. It’s an expensive one because it runs through the boiler and keeps the boiler working all year round. If it didn’t do that, our heating system would croak.

I live in holy dread of having to replace the heating system. We are way beyond wood. No one able to chop it and haul it into the house not to mention that buying wood is not cheap.

They were new just one year ago … time flies!

I also need new glasses. Wouldn’t you think weaker glasses would cost less than stronger ones? I’m here to tell you it isn’t true. Although larger size clothing always costs more, petite clothing never costs less. So it also goes with glasses.

Politically, the country is revolting and three are too many stupid people living in it. They are busily trying to take away the few things that are keeping us alive.

I’m curious about what they think they will do with the vast majority of aging baby boomers if they take away Medicare, Medicaid, low-cost senior housing, food stamps, et al. We’ll have entire cities full of grumpy, pissed off sickly boomers mugging you. Not for your wallet but because they are in a really lousy mood and they don’t like your face.

I’m not sure what is going to finally kill us. It might be keeping the house, trying to get up the stairs, a stroke, heart attack, cancer. Who knows? We’re all going to go sometime. Most of us would prefer to do it in a heated house with dogs, WiFi and a modern television. And computers, too.

Never underestimate how lethally angry a senior can get. Or how dangerous. We’ve got nothing left to lose except what remains of our crumbling chimneys, so we might as well enjoy clubbing people who think they are immune to “the bad stuff” in life.

BRICKS ON THE STOOP? – Marilyn Armstrong

A Slight Chance We’ll Need Some Major Chimney Repairs?

Only slight?

What was (I hoped) a slight chance that our home insurer would reject our claim to fix our chimney became a much more solid reality when I got an 8 am call this morning. They are coming tomorrow to take a look at the roof. I need them to do that anyway because someone needs to go up there and see what’s happening and it sure won’t be Garry or me. Or, for that matter, Owen, who is afraid of heights.

What were the odds that this would be the month the chimney started falling apart? Slight? More than slight? If I could actually see the chimney from anywhere on the property I might have a better grip on it, but sadly, I don’t.

So here is the story. You’ve all heard it — or some similar version of it — before, so you are welcome to sing along.

Life comes in waves. One year, everything is about dogs or cats. Or bugs and the trees. Another year is an automotive year, as one car leaves and we need to start again. One year was about furniture. All the old stuff left and the new stuff arrived.

And from the backyard …

One year was plumbing. Pipes broke. Toilets and sinks were replaced. And the basement flooded.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – In the blizzard

This is “the house is crumbling” year. Last summer, we put in a new front door. Which was a very big deal. We also replaced the water heater — which was a huge deal and a financial wipe out. Oh, and then there was the washing machine and installing the lift chair, two minor and one not so minor car accidents — without any injury to life or limb, but considerable pain and suffering financially.

This year, we attacked the ants and the mice (who knew there were so many?) and the bathroom, at least to the extent we could afford it (so much more needs doing (sigh) — including the shower outlet and the lighting. The builder came and replaced the window in the front of the house and a good piece of the whole front wall of the house too. Also, the new vacuum cleaner arrived today, but we’re too tired to take it out of the box.

A computer sort of died — and new computers arrived. During this period of change, I have spent more time talking to people in customer and technical services than most people spend in the better part of a lifetime. I breathed a sigh and thought: “Maybe now we can relax for a while.”

Until  I found the bricks.

One more payment, honey, and it’s all ours!

I was coming in the front door yesterday and I looked down and saw bricks.

Bricks? There are no bricks in this house. It’s wood (or something related to wood), vinyl siding, and asbestos tile. Except … the chimney is brick. A part of the chimney was laying on the stoop.

What were bricks from our chimney doing on the front step? “This cannot be good,” I said to myself.

It’s hard to see the chimney. Even if you back up all the way to the fence, you can’t see the whole thing. I went inside and pondered the meaning of storms, blizzards, and wind events. How we had three huge storms in a single week in March. How the trees broke — and many remain broken — and how the branches flew around in hurricane-level winds.

Then, I collected myself, realized there was no reason why we should be different than everyone else who is replacing pieces of chimneys and roofs and siding. You live in New England and deal with the storms, physically and architecturally. The only remaining issue is who will pay for the repairs? It would be nice if it were insurance, for which we pay big bucks annually, but usually, it’s us.

Footsteps — mine — from house to road

This was a damaging, rough winter. March alone was worth two normal winters. I thought we had miraculously escaped serious damage. Not.

The bottom line? Was it “officially” storm damage or will they deem it something that was due for repair anyway? When I talked to the guy at the insurance company, he asked me if anything else had gone wrong “up there.” Like I would know?

“I have absolutely no idea,” I assured him. “I’m 71 and my husband is 76 and neither of us is going up on the roof to look around. I’m pretty sure someone is going to have to go up there and see what happened. I know a big tree didn’t crash through the roof. I’d have noticed that. But did tiles blow off? And how much chimney is damaged? No idea.”

Oh the irony. We haven’t used our fireplaces for a long time because using the fireplaces raises heating costs. The heat from the fire turns off the thermostat. When the fire dies and the house gets cold enough to trigger the heat, it has to reheat the whole house.

We have terrific insulation and if we keep the house at a low, but even temperature — like about 68 — our heat costs half what it used to when we used fireplaces. It has been at least five years since we lit anything in either fireplace, so it is just one more piece of household money-pit irony that we need to fix chimneys we don’t use.

We got away with years of minimal repairs to the house. Mostly because we had no money. It’s amazing what you can live with when you’re broke. But we are in a bit better shape now — though by the time we’re through with this summer, I have a feeling we won’t be. Expensive summer just beginning.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I suppose it’s time to set it to rights, within the limits of what we can afford. I wish I thought insurance would pay for the chimney, but it’s unlikely. I suspect they already made the decision — and they haven’t even looked at it yet.

EXPLAIN SIMPLE BECAUSE NOTHING EVER SEEMS SIMPLE ANYMORE

WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?


I’m looking at a bunch of repairs that this house needs while pondering questions about money. We don’t have anywhere near enough to even get started, so what to do?Take out a low-interest loan against the house to get the work done? Or struggle along without  money and hope nothing really bad happens?

Which of these is the simple answer? IS there a simple answer?

Winter in New England
Home in the fall

I don’t have an answer. Not even close to an answer.

Maybe we are a bit long in the tooth to take out long-term money? Yet there are so many things that need doing. I don’t know how else we could get them done.  Bathrooms, windows, floors. Almost everything needs at least a bit of work or repair.

Everyone talks about the simple life, but as mine rolls along, nothing is ever simple.

My world is not simple. It may look that way until you get into the details. After that, it’s endlessly complicated.