Saturday, November 30, 2013

How to keep bugs out of your kitchen pantry

Short Answer:  Keep every dry good in glass or very heavy plastic containers.  Absolutely everything, no matter how small the quantity, if you're planning to store it for longer than about a week or two.  Make exceptions to this rule at your own peril. 

Long Explanation:  Ah, the pleasures of maintaining a kitchen pantry full of organic and exotic foods and spices.  I buy a large amounts of both organic and imported dry goods for my family, and both are prone to infestations.  There's a reason why so many pesticides are used in conventional agriculture - and the reason is insect control. But I myself would rather deal with insects than with chemicals, so this is how I manage the issue. 

Dry goods don't usually come in glass or plastic containers, so you need to remove the contents from their bag or box as soon as you get them home from the store, and keep them in your own bug-proof containers instead. 
Does your pasta come in a cardboard box or thin plastic wrap?  Forget that.  That's a red-carpet invitation to insects. 
Repackage dry pasta into glass or plastic bottles.  You don't have to spend a lot of money on the bottles.  I wash out spaghetti sauce jars and large stew jars and use them for the job. 
If you store a lot of dry goods, it's not if you will get an insect outbreak - it's when.  But if you have everything in glass, it will be restricted to just one container when it does occur.  I prefer glass over plastic because of the transparency - I can see insect problems in the earliest stages of development and nip them in the bud. 

Repackaging in glass also has the advantage of showing you just what food products are your biggest offenders.  If you wait until an infestation is underway to respond to it, then you won't know whether your rice infected your pasta, or your pasta infected your rice. 
I use locally-grown Texmati rice where I can, but for some dishes including the biryani I talked about in this post, I haven't found a substitute for true imported Asian basmati rice. 

I have never, not once, had an outbreak in Texmati in all the years I have used it, but Asian basmati is a different story. 
Ewww.... the contents of this container are now destined for my compost pile

I know that the basmati is the offending insect source because it has been sealed in this air-tight glass jar since the day I brought it home.  These guys hatched out a few months after purchase (white rice keeps for up to a year). 

With respect to rice, heating it at low temperature in the oven and freezing it for a few days is said to take care of the problem of any viable insect eggs remaining in the product when you buy it.  I'm currently experimenting with both of those methods and I'll let you know what I find out. 
I mentioned organic and imported foods as being potential sources of problems, but my glass storage strategy has revealed that there are certain conventional domestic American food products that also pose a high risk of bringing insects into my pantry.
Those popular seafood spice bags that you toss into your big pot of boiling water before you add your shrimp or crabs??  Bad news.  The spice blends are encased in a loose mesh bag which, in turn, is stuffed into a small cardboard box.  Those things are totally permeable to insects and, in my experience, are among the worst offenders.  As soon as I get one home from the grocery store, I take the sack out of the cardboard box and put it into an air-tight glass container so I can see if problems develop before I use it. 
As a matter of fact, every single one of my spices is stored in a glass container, regardless of brand.  I have found that spices in general are among the worst offenders for spawning insect outbreaks, no matter what the source (foreign or domestic).  And if you keep your spices in the factory-packed small skinny bottles with the labels plastered all over the front, you might not be able to spot the insects until the moment arrives when you're shaking the container over your cooking.  No bueno. 

I turned these spice racks into a contemporary art piece which defines our dining area wall.  I'm going to get emails asking, "WOW, those are the coolest spice racks ever... where can I buy some?!"  Sorry guys. Those racks were custom made for me by a friend who is a woodworking hobbyist.  And the jars are surplus laboratory-grade containers with Teflon-lined lids.  There's nothing even remotely like this for sale on the American consumer market.  Not that I know of, anyway.   
Let me emphasize again that it's not just dry good packaged in cardboard that is the problem.  Thin plastic is also vulnerable. 
You are often safe with heavy plastic wraps, but most packaged food wraps are not heavy, and insects can cut through thin wraps without a problem.  Here we see an organic bag of breakfast cereal with a tell-tale hole.  Given that the flap is pushed outward, the forensic analysis suggests that this was made by a bug who was emerging from the organic cereal, rather than one going into the cereal. 
And now you know the rrrrest of the story as to why I made over my kitchen pantry in a rather unconventional manner last weekend.
It's because I needed to improve my visibility in order to spot uninvited house guests of the kind that have six legs.  So now I have shelves and sub-shelves set less than six inches apart, and a whole lotta stuff repackaged into my own glass jars.  The little buggers can't hide from me now. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Front yard courtyard design

Wow, I bought my very first Groupon, and I seriously got my money's worth!!  More than my money's worth!!  
It was offered by Outdoor Homescapes and appeared as a "Suggested Post" on my Facebook account in November 2013.  If this offer is still available by the time you read this post and you are interested in it for yourself, you might be able to access it via this link

I thought to myself, what the heck - I've never done Groupon, but it's only a hundred bucks.  I'm shopping for courtyard ideas anyway, so I'll give it a try. 
I'll walk you through the design development from start to finish below, with one caveat

I'm only going to publish limited design content in order to preserve the maker's intellectual property (which is largely based on my own intellectual property, which is what justifies my posting of any of it).   I won't publish full renderings of the design and I won't publish any part of the overhead views or plat map (scale drawing with full lay-out and material dimensions) which is based on our property's legal survey and therefore quite quantitative and potentially reproducible.  

OK, here goes.
This is my basic hand-drawn map view of what it looks like now - just the usual two builder trees in the middle of a St. Augustine sea.  We made sure when we built the house that the two front yard trees were off-set slightly so that we could later incorporate a courtyard design.  Trees side by side are too starkly uniform to make a good design work - remember the artistic rule of diagonals.  These live oaks were intentionally set on a slight diagonal.   
In my usual obsessive style, I sent the designer a seven-page PDF describing in very general terms how I thought I wanted the final product to look, and the PDF included sketches, property photos, and a copy of our survey.  The constraints were that the courtyard had to:
  • Be rectilinear to match the style of the stacked stone foundation beds we installed this past May;
  • Be modern to transitional rather than traditional in appearance; 
  • Incorporate our one spare pallet of the wide Oklahoma sandstone that our foundation beds are built out of, but the bulk of the construction had to be of cheaper materials because a property in our market would not support the magnitude of investment that would be associated with an all-stone patio;
  • Include two higher bench structures flanked by lower planting beds;
  • Be dynamic in including three ingress-egress points.
  • The "floor" of the patio had to be largely constructed of very large floating concrete block pavers that would not get destroyed by the shrink-swell of our local soils, rather than being poured in place. 
This was my initial sketch that I sent to the designer:
It was short on details, missing the third dimension, and totally devoid of sourcing, but I knew that I wanted two bench-like structures cater-corner to each other, and three walkways leading into it: one from the sidewalk, one from the driveway, and one from the front door. 
Here's what Outdoor Homescapes came up with:
Before and virtual after:
There you see our existing front yard in the upper image (I had to "blue out" our next door neighbors' house for their privacy), and at almost the same angle, the computerized rendering of the courtyard in the lower image. 

They basically took the guts of my amateur design and elevated it to an impressively-professional level.  I've got some artistic instincts but functionally I'm just a DIYer - I could not have achieved that degree of sophistication on my own using my pencil and paper.   
Virtual view from the driveway - this is what a barren builder lawn could potentially look like instead of being barren. 

I can't stress that word enough - it's just barren right now.  In contrast, this completed view is pretty amazing, eh??  All walkways converge at the center - can you imagine sitting on those elevated L-shaped benches sipping a beverage in the evening and chatting with your neighbors as you watch everyone's kids tear up and down the street??   Right now, nobody has anywhere to sit.  We habitually mingle around our cul-de-sac like a small herd of lost cattle. 
When I saw those drawings, my first thought was, "Oh my gosh - that's what it was meant to look like all along.  Our house finally looks DONE now."

But it remains to be seen when and how we'll be able to actually get it looking like that.  Outdoor Homescapes is too far away (Cypress, Texas) to project-manage it, and besides, they are self-confessed at specializing in outdoor kitchens and prefer to execute those kinds of large-scale jobs.  I could serve as general contractor, but with my husband's irregular shift work and my "regular job", even the management and the sourcing are going to be huge challenges given that I'm not familiar with what's on the market or where to procure it. 

But at least now we have a much better idea of what we're shooting for.  Amen to that.   

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Set your DVRs for HGTV tonight

According to Galveston County Daily News, there are two more locally-filmed episodes of HGTV shows coming up - the "Beach Front Bargain Hunt" episode that airs tonight, November 24, 2013 at 8:30 p.m., and a different episode scheduled for December 1, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. 

Both were shot in Galveston, which is small consolation for all the Centerpointers who missed the episode of House Hunters that was filmed mostly in Centerpointe and which premiered about two months ago. 
I described it in this post and attempted to find additional scheduling information in this other post, but I came up empty-handed.  I still can't tell when it will be re-broadcast, as most of those episodes eventually are. 

Screengrabbed from HGTV. 
Here's what was frustrating about the Centerpointe episode:  According to what I was told after writing those two posts linked above, HGTV actually did inform our POA that they were filming here as they were doing it some months back.  The POA was supposed to get a heads-up as to when the episode would actually air, but apparently the communication wasn't successful for whatever reason.  So the POA never knew, and I ended up being one of the only (if not the only) resident in the entire subdivision who saw the danged thing.  And that only happened because I'm a home improvement junkie who watches a great deal of HGTV.  I just happened to have the TV on at the time.

Anyway, enjoy the Galveston episodes as your small consolation prize.  I'm curious about how HGTV's coverage will address the looming issue of flood insurance, if they address it at all. 

How to maximize a small kitchen pantry

Answer:  Rotate your expectations by ninety degrees.  I'll explain below, but as usual, you'll have to slog through my whole chain of logic as to why I made the kitchen pantry make-over decisions that I did.

My pantry struggle story goes like this.  When we were having our glorious neo-eclectic American tract home customized for us, I had to sacrifice what would have been the "real" kitchen pantry in order to accommodate this laundry center and this massive upright freezer

According to the architects' plans, this five-foot-wide space was supposed to be finished with floor to ceiling pantry shelves, but we had the builder install just a single electrical outlet here instead.  We moved in the freezer and added the laundry rack after we closed on the house.  
That left us with this miserable broom closet as the sole pantry-like feature in our kitchen:
Not only was it microscopic, it had a 24-inch door which cut off part of the width and precluded the use of any of the fancier space-maximizing retrofits such as slide-out shelving and baskets.  
That sketch you see above derives from Container Store's online closet design utility.  I have an Elfa Platinum rack on this pantry door, and initially I had high hopes that I could rip out the builder-installed shelves and re-do the space with a bunch of really efficient Elfa.
Container Store has a free design service whereby you can specify that needs to go in your pantry, and then they have a human at the other end make a sketch of suggested lay-out and email it to you. 

Screengrabbed from the Container Store website. 
Unfortunately, there was no great inspiration forthcoming from the design service that day.  I told them on the phone that I wanted to maximize every inch of this space... but I think they took one look at that tiny footprint and decided there just wasn't much that could be done to improve it, because this is what they sent me.  A bunch of typical shelves - basically what I already had. 
No use paying hundreds of dollars for what's obviously not a big improvement, so I started looking at the problem from other angles.
This is what it looked like before I began any work.  I tried hard to keep a really neat pantry, because only one thing can come from having a messy pantry: wasted food, because it goes stale before you can use it.  And with us buying mostly organic, wasted food equals big bucks down the drain.   
The primary reason why food goes stale and gets wasted in a disorganized pantry is that you simply can't see it.  Stuff piles up and gets blocked from view and you forget that it's even in there.  Even trying to keep the pantry relatively neat as shown above, this was still happening to me.
The secret is to keep all items fully visible.  I had been trying to achieve that by using a series of shelf organizers like this one shown above.  The problems with that approach were as follows:  (1) The shelf dividers were flimsy and couldn't bear a lot of weight.  The one shown above is sagging in the middle. 
And (2) the shelf organizers were all different shapes and sizes, just a jumble of different pieces of equipment that didn't work together well and didn't properly fit the available space. 
Here's the key thing to notice about that sagging shelf organizer above:  I had instinctively started to store much of my stuff on its side rather than standing up.  That's when the light bulb went off in my head - the prevailing paradigm is that foodstuffs are packaged and stored long axis top to bottom (in other words, everything is designed to stand upright).  But in a small pantry, that makes no sense.  In order to maximize the space, you have to store stuff with long axis front to back.  Otherwise, you're always going to have things blocking other things from direct view, setting you up for inefficient food management and waste. 

For this reason, I decided that the best course of action was to simply double the available shelving, with a twist.  Rather than ripping out the builder-installed shelves and putting in all new stuff, I needed to retrofit a solution.  No sense wasting perfectly good shelves that were already there. 

I first thought I could simply acquire a better set of shelf organizers to replace the jumble shown above.  But guess what??  They don't exist on the market.  Therefore, I effectively had to create my own.
Closet hack - literally.  I bought a bunch of Closet Maid components from Home Depot, and chopped it all to size with a hacksaw and some bolt cutters.  Closet Maid is just about the most inexpensive stuff on the market, and I wasn't intending to win any fashion awards with the inside of a kitchen pantry, so it was good enough for this purpose. 
My Aggie husband helped a bit with this project, but not much, because A&M was playing LSU as I was doing it.  But by the time that miserable game was over, he was wishing he had instead devoted his time to honey-do's. 

Here he's using a Dremel to smooth out the edges of the wire Closet Maid shelving I had cut with bolt cutters.  The Dremel is not strictly needed for this project, but it makes for a cool action shot. 
So this is how I did it - I installed 12" adjustable wire shelves in between each pair of the builder's fixed wooden shelving.  Note that there's only one screw visible in the down-rod segment above.  That's a 3-inch screw set into a wooden stud and there are three down-rods per wire sub-shelf, plus I'm not planning to put tons of weight on these, so this was sufficient for my purposes. 
I knew that this would work from a functional standpoint, but here's the part I did not anticipate:  It ended up looking oddly cohesive from a design standpoint.  Two different shelf styles, intermingled.  Go figure. 
I think that cohesion is happening because the eye needs some relief from all that shelving.  If it were all wood, it would end up being too dark and oppressive.  If it were all wire, you'd be able to see through the entire stack and it would be too cluttered.
View from a wider angle, a system of shelves and sub-shelves.  I gained almost twelve linear feet of shelving here - that's a massive improvement for such a small space. 

I left the bottom shelf undivided for upright storage of liquid containers.  I also store liquid products upright on the door rack.  Generally you don't want to store liquid foodstuffs on their sides (long axis front to back), because they might leak. 
I ended up with a closet that is 90 inches tall where most of the shelves are spaced less than six inches apart.  Which means that almost every dry good lays on its side, long axis front to back. 
The original wooden shelves are 16", but I chose 12" for all the wire sub-shelves.  The staggered depths also help with visibility and not making the combined shelves feel oppressive. 

Visibility is particularly important for the snack section of your pantry.  If family members can't see what's already open, they're liable to reach for a new bag of snack before the old one is consumed.  Waste. 
You can see from the photos above that I also store my containers butt end out, rather than cap end out.  I also store Pyrex containers of dry food upside down.  Again, it's all about visibility.  If I can automatically see what's in the containers, I can skip the effort of making labels and reading labels. 

Anyway, here's the before and after.
Remember that this is an actual real-life pantry, not a photo that has been cleverly staged for marketing purposes, so both appear to retain some unavoidable clutter.  At first glance, the changes don't appear to be significant.  The important thing to remember, though, is that there are well over one hundred items in this tiny pantry and, in the photo on the right, one achieves a clear view of every one of them without having to first move some other item out of the way.  That's not true in the photo on the left. 
What did this little food foray into efficiency cost me?  About $110.  I am quite sure I will save that much or more by avoiding future food waste.  The cost could actually have been reduced significantly if I had instead mounted the down-rods on more centralized wall studs, thus reducing the number of rods and corresponding brackets per shelf from three to two.  But I liked the appearance of having the shelves supported on both sides and the middle, so I added the extras.

On a final note, you can see that this pantry appears oddly lit in the photos above.  That's because we installed a pair of automatically-activated LED strips down the interior left side of it a few years ago (there wasn't sufficient clearance for a ceiling light). 
They are tucked behind the door frame and wired to an automatic on/off switch.  Pantry door opens, light comes on, just like in a refrigerator.   
The pantry was so small and dark that we knew from the outset that we needed all the help we could get with it.  Here below is the older vid of how that switch operates, and the link to my original pantry gripes

Happy retrofitting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Front yard onions, Part 2: Installation

When people who are not familiar with our cul-de-sac walk by and see this...
...they often produce facial expressions that look a lot like these...
I sit in my front office and see their looks of surprise and delight as they stroll by and I always have a camera at the ready, but it wouldn't be polite for me to publish their actual faces, so I hope you don't mind these substitutes above.  You get the general idea from them. 

Anyway, people continue to enjoy the stacked stone, even though we're not nearly finished building the whole front yard out.  Hopefully folks will get an opportunity to enjoy the next part of the grow ops, because we installed our winter onions this past weekend.
And we're trying a new thing with these - using a hose-end drip line to irrigate them.  Either we'll screw it up and they'll get root rot, or they'll grow really nicely, I don't know which.  I didn't want to consider any kind of permanent irrigation until I had a chance to learn whether the temporary knock-off would work for this kind of application. 
I think they'll look very fine once they start filling out the bed.  It ought to be very Zen, a bunch of stick straight bright green plants on a grid in the middle of winter when everything is usually brown and decrepit. 
The lines have tiny holes that let water drip out according to a battery-operated timer's schedule.  Very efficient. 
Of course, I can't close this post without mentioning Hermine and Tom, a husband and wife team who sued the village of Miami Shores two days ago after being forced by same to tear out their front yard vegetable garden.
"Oh look, honey!!  Two older Americans on TV who are not dying of obesity-related comorbidities!!  My God, could that have something to do with the fact that they keep physically active in their yard and eat the healthy stuff that they grow??"

Screengrab courtesy Miami Herald
Apparently Miami Shores didn't get the memo about how strong-arming homesteaders to stop homesteading is the Kiss of Death in the court of public opinion, and maybe even in the court of law.  This is yet another in a long line of local skirmishes that have led to national news coverage and widespread backlash.  The most any code-enforcer is ever going to accomplish in these cases is to compel some kind of minimum aesthetic standard.  That'll certainly stop short of pricey Oklahoma chopped sandstone, but it might exceed bare black weed cloth. 

Anyway, my thanks to the two neighborhood children who helped me harvest the sweet potatoes and the six children who helped me install these one hundred onions in their place.  Hopefully our hose-end experiment will succeed and we'll be able to grow enough for all. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thiess versus the people of Galveston County

For the benefit of the many of you who are not paying subscribers of Galveston County Daily News, I'm linking a YouTube of League City Councilwoman Thiess's recording of the recent fist fight between Councilmen Becker and Okeeffe at the end of this post. 
Screengrab from KTRK's original reporting on the incident
Let me first summarize the facts of this incident as they have evolved since the original story broke.  Thiess's audio recording of the fight was initially not released to the public because it was considered evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation.  After the charges against both Councilmen were dropped last week, that restriction expired and the recording was obtained and published by GCDN (paywalled). 

What has happened since then is interesting in a number of respects.  Having been thusly liberated from the court of law, the issue is now firmly within the court of public opinion, and public opinion seems to have shifted away from the two duke-it-out Councilmen and re-focused on the motivations of Thiess in having made the audio recording in the first place. 

The reason for this is easy to understand.  On the recording, you can hear a pretty simple altercation between two grown men.  While everyone acknowledges that their behavior was childish, their exchange sounds very authentic and very mutual.  Neither of them appears to have disproportionately violated the other.  You get the feeling that there was nothing going on between Becker and Okeeffe that wasn't immediately apparent - all cards were on the table. 

My own confidence in both men actually rose following their fist fight because I know from my fifty-odd years of general life experience and empirical wisdom that sneaky people don't generally act like either of those gentlemen did, and therefore they are probably not sneaky at heart.  Sneaky people are much more controlled, more conniving, more capable of manipulating adverse circumstances to make themselves look good even as they are doing bad.  Given that politics is a magnet for sneaky, self-serving people, if we as Leaguers can look at a couple of our City Councilmen and conclude that the worst we're dealing with is two pathologically candid if occasionally childish elected individuals, then maybe we ought to consider that a gift from God, because we could have done much worse.

Thiess, on the other hand, has drawn attention for what some folks are concluding was a fundamentally sneaky act:  conspiring to record both elected and administrative officials without their knowledge or permission.  While that may have been legal (this paywalled GCDN editorial concludes that it probably was), by any objective evaluation, Thiess wasn't being honest in what she was doing.  At least what Becker and Okeeffe did was honest. 

I was actually surprised by the tenacity of some of the comment responses to this on GCDN.  My own feelings toward Thiess's actions are rather neutral at this point.  Certainly there are significant unanswered questions as to her reasons for making the recording, but I don't see any a priori reason to believe that she had a specific dastardly motive. 

Of course, that opinion is coming from a blogger with a track record of not only taping the actions of others without their knowledge, but actually publishing the resulting content online (e.g., my "dash cam" series in which I filmed the good people of League City engaging in motor vehicle violations).  I tend to assume that, in this day and age, each of us better expect that we are constantly being recorded and/or monitored in some fashion.  And with technology being what it is, this is only going to get worse.  I generally don't feel like I have anything to hide, so if someone wants to record me, whatever.  This is not high on my list of personal priorities regarding what to get upset about.   

But in the city that vehemently voted out red light cameras for the unreasonable intrusion that they were perceived to represent, my view on privacy is not a majority view (I represented the one out of every four voters who preferred to keep the danged red light cameras).  People around here have very strong ideas about what they should reasonably expect in terms of privacy, and being secretly recorded is not something that they're prepared to accept, either formally or informally. 

It'll be interesting to see whether Thiess proceeds to offer any public statement in her own defense.  Meanwhile, here's her recording of the now-famous fight (NSFW - explicit language, which is also very candid, and I have to give you a URL rather than an embed because this video is so new that YouTube doesn't have it indexed yet):

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Front yard onions, Part 1: The prep

One of the neighborhood children came up to me yesterday and announced that I needed to plant more stuff.  He and the other kids were running out of things to work on in my existing inventory, and given that none of them had fruit trees or vegetable gardens in their own yards, his view was that I really ought to expand mine. 
He got part of his wish today as we prepared our front stacked stone bed for the winter crop of onions.  This is what it looked like prior to our harvest of sweet potatoes, which are roughly clustered in the center of the bed, flanked by ornamentals. 

Remember the things I said in the May 2013 post titled "Front yard vegetable garden".  If you are going to raise food in your front yard, you need to follow some rules of aesthetics.  You can get away with most anything in your own back yard, but a front yard garden needs to look presentable at all times.  Ornamental flowers really help with that.  It's mid-November and I still have flowers blooming. 
Little hands make light work (and blurry photos).  Nothing sounds as heartwarming as the surprised shriek of a child who hauls his first big honkin' sweet potato out of the earth. 
This is what we pulled out of the front yard so far (I'll probably find more when I compost and till the soil in preparation for the onions).  It'll be enough to share with my young harvesters and their friends and families in time for Thanksgiving.   
Having cleared the sweet potatoes and their vines, I then neem'd the bed to put the run on any ants prior to our pending onion installation.
Here's what the baby onion transplants look like as I purchased them from Faith's Garden Shed - Texas 1015 and red creole respectively.  Little onions grow into big onions.  I don't think the kids quite get that yet. 
Stay tuned for the installation part.  We're planning to incorporate a new experiment with that this year. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

UPS yours

Our security cameras revealed the reason why our dog flipped out at 10:10 p.m. last night, scaring the bejesus out of us after we had all gone to bed:
Yes, that is actually the UPS man, at that hour.  And our dog would like to disembowel the UPS man.  She does not take kindly to unfamiliar people who stride aggressively to our door.  Such people break all the rules of canine decorum. 
You might see a delivery truck such as this after 10 p.m. and assume that it's a fake, some kind of a cover for a criminal operation.  They're really not supposed to be delivering past about 8:00 p.m., but for whatever reason, the local distribution node has been having issues that cause them to run way, way behind schedule on some days.  A month or so ago, I encountered this while waiting for a signature package.  The website said it was "out for delivery" on the truck, but the truck never came.  Around 8:40 p.m., I called and asked what the deal was.  They told me that it might get there by 10:30 p.m.  I guess they expect us to clamber out of bed in our pajamas to sign for packages.

Anyway, keep this in mind as the holiday season approaches, because the problem might very well get worse.  If your bell rings in the dead of night, it's not necessarily a prelude to a home invasion, so please don't shoot the bell-ringer on general principle.  My dog would be so disappointed.  She is really hoping for first dibs. 
Substitute "UPS man" for "mailman".  My favorite barking meme.  I would credit the maker if I knew who it was.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to keep rats out of your garage

Answer:  I haven't found a solution to this problem, but read on so that you can understand this issue fully. 
My husband has been hard at work with the bait battles, obviously.  This was the juvenile who greeted me when I stepped into our garage this morning.  She could not have been dead for very long, but our battle won't end with her.  She probably has 29 brothers and sisters waiting in the wings. 
If you read up on the subject of rats and garages, probably what you'll find is a lot of useless information that tells you to ensure that the rubber seal on the bottom of the door is intact and tight against the ground.  But the problem is rarely with the bottom of the garage door.  The problem is with the corners.
The unfortunate light of day:
The door seal is just fine - but by design, it stops about an inch short of the side of the frame.  That creates this gap below the guide wheel that holds the door in the track. 

This opening is HUGE to any rodent.  You might as well send them gold-embossed invitations to come live with you. 
Several months back, I scoured the internet searching for some kind of product or retrofit that would seal these very obvious points of entry.  I came up empty-handed, so it seems that I'm going to have to invent something to do the job.  It's a tricky proposition because obviously the door is a moving part that can't be interfered with, and there's no fixed infrastructure in a convenient location for attaching any kind of a guard, because the wheel and its bracket are obstructing the area of concern.  We have two garage doors so this means four corners, and I have a feeling that I'm going to have to custom-cut and bolt four individual barriers. 

Sounds like a fabulous way to spend a Saturday, doesn't it?  I'll post on the outcome of that job when I get it done.  Given the strong cold front we just had here in Houston, the one that motivated rodents to seek even more indoor shelter than they usually would, my date with door destiny might come sooner than later. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Challenging chelonian

There's a story behind this one and I really wish I had the time to track it down (oh, to be a real journalist), because it has a high probability of being absolutely hilarious.
Can you imagine cruising down Centerpointe Drive and seeing the likes of this hoofing through the grass beside you? 

Image courtesy Centerpointe POA, which probably got it from somebody else. 
Did anybody not look at the POA's email blast and yell, "HOLY SH*T"?  This thing is bigger than Dallas! You could saddle it up and ride it home!  "Take me to your leader - yah, giddy-up!!!"

Anyway, it's just another day in paradise, obviously.  Here's hoping that the traveling terrapin is reunited with its humans. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Centerpointe's Sunday solicitors

Who are these people, and why did they see fit to enter my private property uninvited before noon on a Sunday morning??
Smile - you're on Candid Camera of sorts.  There is no expectation of privacy for anyone standing in my front yard. 
Perhaps I have a dystopian bent, but every time I hear unexpected adult voices outside my door, my first instinct is always to reach for my camera and stalk the windows behind the blinds.   If I end up dead one day from a home invasion, there'll be a photo of it somewhere. 
It turns out that these folks weren't the usual suspects selling soap or magazine subscriptions - their pamphlet trail indicated that they are Jehovah's Witnesses.  We have a "no soliciting" rule here in the subdivision, but is it enforceable, and if so, by whom and under what circumstances?  I've also never understood why these folks keep soliciting in the first place.  There are 314 million people in America and according to these folks, entry into Heaven will be limited to just 144,000 of the most worthy, which equates to about 0.05% of our total population (ignoring the balance of the rest of the planet).  Do they not think that they've recruited enough by this time?  Who does their math, anyway? 

It seems that I will go through the rest of my Sunday no further enlightened regarding these perplexing questions than I was on Saturday night, because I sure wasn't interested in answering my door this morning. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Latest suburban oddity

This irritating thing:

My guess is that it's a specific error code, some kind of a subroutine built into this fixture to signal a short circuit, although I haven't tried to research it yet.  There's nothing like four inches of rain to really p*ss off the fire ants, and immediately after this started happening, I discovered that they had invaded the exterior wall right below this light.  Furthermore, we noticed that have been unable to reset a GFCI that ties into this wall (different circuit, same location).  I've never seen fire ants trash a motion light before, but with ants, there's a first time for everything. 

In case you need some background on this undesirable phenomenon, TAMU has a publication called "It's shocking what fire ants can do to electrical equipment".   Looks like my husband has his honey-do all laid out for his Sunday afternoon.  Bzzzzt. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Five hundred toward ten thousand

Nothing rational can be done with this, my five-hundredth blog post, except explain why in the hell I wrote five hundred blog posts, many of them lengthy and complex.
I got this meme from The Summa blog, but I don't know where that blog's author got it.  That's the nature of internet memes. 
I get this question a lot, usually from another Centerpointer with an uneasy look on his or her face:  Why am I spending so much time on this?  Why am I doing all this work?  We live in a profit-driven society - my effort makes no sense in any deducible context.  I'm not getting paid.  I'm not getting promoted.  I'm not getting applauded.  I'm sure as hell not getting famous.  And half the stuff I write isn't all that interesting or compelling, unless you happen to be the frustrated newbie who is trying to figure out how to pry the attic hatch back open after the cord has snapped off, the kind of newbie I hear from daily. 

Part of this I've explained previously - I really do like helping people.  We live and die by the almighty dollar, careening madly from one consumeristic transaction to the next.  Something has to be done with a primary eye toward one's fellow man, or else one's entire life perspective ends up simply going clickety-clack in a stultifying roundabout fashion. 

But there's another reason as well.  I really, really wanted to be an investigative journalist when I grew up, but I grew up poor.  Even back in the early 1980's when I graduated from high school, it was obvious to me that choosing a "soft" career such as journalism was a risky chance that I personally could not afford to take.  For reasons I don't consciously understand, I strongly sensed the impending precipitous decline of journalism even before its technological causes were invented.  So no journalism - having nothing whatsoever to fall back on in life, I had to do the safe thing and choose the "hard" career field of science instead, the choice that was all but guaranteed to yield financial security and the greatest diversity of professional options. 

My science career has achieved exactly that, and in ways I never could have predicted.  But still there is the unfinished business of the journalism thing.  I had a university professor who beseeched and begged me to abandon science in order to become a writer instead, and when I explained my poverty rationale to him, he promptly began to cry.  "Don't worry," I comforted him.  "I can do both.  I'll find another way to get there as a writer.  I promise you." 

Blogging is part of that way.  The folks who become uneasy when they can't identify my motives aren't seeing that this is part of my proverbial ten thousand hours of development time.  That's precisely what's in it for me - pure practice.  I'm still not completely sure what "get there" will prove to be, but not knowing is part of the fun of it.  And if, along the way, I get to help the attic cord people and occasionally instigate a deer-in-the-headlights moment over at City Hall, then that's the icing on my long-awaited cake.
Yup. And stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Voting vexations

Heading to your polling place today?  Ponder this Chron blog post if the notion of a straight-ticket solution ever crosses your mind in any future election where public servants rather than bonds and Constitutional amendments are on the ballot:  Yet another local Judge is alleged to be engaging in flagrant abuse of the public trust.  Excerpt from Chron:

"Family Court Judge Denise Pratt of the 311th District has come under fire for altering court records to mask tardy rulings, as well as a host of other doings that many lawyers have described in interviews as not criminal but highly unusual, unprofessional or unethical, including rampant absenteeism and communicating with lawyers on one side of a case without the other side knowing.  Pratt, a Republican judge first elected in 2010, did not immediately respond to requests for comment."
ADD SHAME FACE DU JOUR:  You could choose Judge Denise Pratt (Houston), former Judge Christopher Dupuy (Galveston), or if you change the costume, this could be former District Clerk Jason Murray (Galveston). 

Microsoft clip art (a weird one). 
This is the third such recent case just in our local area.  Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.  Something is wrong here because the system doesn't seem to be self-regulating.  We would expect our elected representatives to exhibit a diversity of competence, but multiple cases of allegedly-intentional lawbreaking?? 

My heart goes out to the families impacted by this latest situation.  Family law cases are horribly disruptive and emotionally wrenching even in the best of circumstances.  I can't imagine those transactions being complicated by unethical and/or illegal behaviors from the presiding authority - talk about adding unspeakable insult to injury.  Here's hoping that both the voters and the Republican Party can do a better job of cleaning our elected house in the future.

From KTRK: