Wednesday, September 30, 2009


On the DIY and HG channels home renovations seem so focused, so straight forward and organized. Need a bathroom redo? Gather some samples, a construction crew, building materials and let the sledge hammers fly! From personal experience I can tell you that’s as close to the reality of home improvement as Iron Chef is to the fry baskets at Mickey D’s.

Also, there is no such thing as an isolated improvement project. My most recent foray into Home Depot Land started when Mom bought six fluffy white bath towels. They looked lovely hanging on their towel bars. So much so that I decided we needed matching hand towels and washcloths (Fred Meyer’s had a 20 percent off sale which didn’t hurt the motivation). I came home with an armload of terry and a cute new cabinet to hang above the toilet - which inspired me to weed out the shabbier items in the linen closet. Now, next to my nice neat linen closet and snowy white towels the bathroom looked grungy and dated. I started peeling wallpaper and thumbing through paint samples.

Weeks later the bathroom was freshly painted and lookin’ good - except for the ugly, cracked 60s lighting fixture over the medicine cabinet. This realization caused me to take a fresh look at the other lighting fixtures in the house (see previous post entitled “Let there be (porch) light”.) I bought a new porch light as well as a new light fixture for each of our three bedrooms. BUT there was a hitch in the bathroom lighting issue: the only electrical outlet in the room is part of the lighting fixture. If I replaced the lighting I would have no place to plug in a hair dryer. There are also no grounded outlets anywhere in the house, much less the bathroom. I started collecting estimates for running a new line into the bathroom (cannot afford to rewire the whole house though I’m terrified an electrician will take one look and decide I need a brand new breaker box - where is that Lotto ticket???).

But before that can be done I have to clean out the attic so that the electrician can access the area directly above the bathroom. And before I can do that I have to clean out the garage so that I have someplace to put the junk I haul out of the attic. Cleaning out the garage will entail sorting through two filing cabinets containing decades of dusty documents. It’s sure to take weeks to sort and shred that mess. Then there are all the tools to organize . . . and where do I put the deck furniture now that Fall is here?

And what of the kitchen? How can I possibly fix up the bathroom without addressing the totally out of date and unworkable kitchen? I haven’t an inch of counter space (note photo at left) and the cabinets need to be striped and repainted. And If I do that wouldn’t that be a good time to install a back splash? But since there are no grounded outlets . . . plus what of the horribly inadequate lighting? Oh no, here we go again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


They are back, this year wriggling up from beneath the fragrant thyme bushes like a purple and green hydra. I can never predict where they’re going to surface. Last year they emerged from behind the birdbath, the year before that it was smack dab in the center of the bean patch. They are sneaky, perhaps suspecting that if I knew where they had wintered I’d ruthlessly dig up every last scrap before they could weasel up from the soil in the spring.

Years ago a well-meaning friend presented me with a trio of grape-sized, grape-colored potatoes. Purple. What does one do with a purple potato, I wondered. Who had ever even heard of purple potatoes? My Irish ancestors cringed in their crypts. Potatoes were meant to be fat brown lovelies that turned into fluffy white mountains flowing with fresh creamery butter. But purple??!! Purple was for egg plant and the shoulders of turnips, for grapes and red cabbages, lilac flowers and summer shadows.

Unsure I wanted such a monstrosity in my vegetable garden, I buried the tiny nubbins in my compost heap. That was the beginning. Before I knew it they had sprouted out the top of the pile. I should have gone after them right then but I have to admit I was curious. What would they become? What would I do if they produced actual potatoes? So I let them sprawl all over the compost pile. By the end of summer they were covered with rather pretty mauve flowers. As winter neared I lifted the tired vines out of the heap. Hanging from the roots were dozens of gorgeous amethyst globes! Digging around in the compost, I unearthed a treasure trove - a bushel basket full. What had I gotten myself into?

I started experimenting. First disaster was when I boiled them too long and they totally disintegrated into an ugly grey soup. From that I learned that purples are more delicate and cook faster than white, yellow, or red potatoes - they don’t play well with others, needing to be boiled or sautéed separately. Gentry treated they turn an attractive blue - over do it and they lose all color and texture. Another thing, they don’t bake worth a darn so forget it. They also don’t have much in the way of flavor by themselves.

So are they worth it? You bet! I have since learned that these little sweeties pack quite a nutritional wallop - more so than their pallid cousins. They are chock full of super antioxidants, nummy vitamins and minerals. Plus they have the advantage of freaking out your guests - the “blue plate special” for sure! (I make a red, white, and blue potato salad for 4th of July.) My favorite recipe though is to simply sauté sliced purples with onion and garlic, then add them to steamed zucchini or green beans. Gorgeous as well as delicious! (Always nice to have something to do with the boatloads of zukes coming off this time of year too.)

And I might add that it’s a darn good thing I’ve come to love my weird purple potatoes because they, like vampires, are immortal. That first season I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to dig every last potato from the compost and thus limit the adventure to one season. Did I mention the purples are sneaky? They are nearly impossible to see against dark soil so the moment I innocently spread the compost out over my garden I created a monster. Now, every spring they return. Of course I’m delighted to see them but where oh where will they show up next year??? I’ll let you know when I know.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Traveling through my second month of retirement to-do lists (yes, there's more than one) I've finished restaining the deck, painting the deck chairs, redecorating our bathroom, and a dozen lesser projects. Notable this week was installation of a brand new shiny front porch light to replace the scary, spider infested rust-lantern I've been cussing out for the last fifteen years - can't believe I suffered in semi-silence all that time! Given any amount of wet weather (note that in Seattle that's pretty much every week), moisture inevitably seeped into the socket, blowing the bulb like the climax of a New Years Eve fireworks display. Don't know how many dead light bulbs I contributed to the landfill but I'm wracked with guilt. Never mind, I shall sin no more in that regard.

Learned many things in the process of installing my pretty new porch light. At the top of the list: it's wonderful to have a tall son who can be coerced into assisting. Even with a step ladder I was still below the cascade of dessicated bug parts that came pouring out of the old fixture. Bluck, ptui. Another thing learned: it's wise to notify all the members of the household BEFORE you throw the circuit breakers! Mom thought she'd finally inflicted permanent damage to her computer. In addition, remember that it's a silly idea that all your fingernails need to be all the same length. And make sure that before you launch into a similar project you are current on your tetanus shots and you have a complete first aid kit. Have fun.