Always Important: Getting the Right Tool for the Job

The Bissell 3-in-1 Vac (The porcelain chicken is not an attachment.)

From time to time on here, I like to recommend (or criticize) products and services that I have purchased or used.  When I first moved from an apartment to my own home, I had to buy quite a number of items that I had never needed previously, especially those used for the lawn and garden.

One task that I had never been satisfied with was taking care of the downstairs floor, which is white (or nearly white) ceramic tile.  This tile was obviously what was put down when the house was built in 1985, and some have suggested that I replace it with wood flooring.  However, since I moved in, the tile floor has grown on me:  the white reflects the light and makes the rooms feel larger than they are, but even more importantly, these floors are one of the big reasons that the downstairs stays so cool even in the heat of a Houston summer.  On the other hand, in the winter, they can be cold, but area rugs with good padding help insultate in places where one sits.   Anyway, staying cool in the summer is a much bigger deal here than staying warm in winter.

The big challenge has been keeping these floors clean.  Light-colored floors certainly show the dirt, but when they are clean, you know they are clean, something you can’t be that certain of with darker floors.  Most of the dirt is what I track in from outside.  Despite having a good, brush-type mat at the back door, pieces of oak leaves and other specks come in.  I don’t think I can blame Annie much for this, but she does like to drag her kibble around, so a bit of the crumbs can be found here and there.

I’ve tried a number of ways to clean the floors.  Most of the dirt is loose, so some type of sweeping is needed more frequently than mopping.  I’ve used dust mops and brooms for sweeping, then a wet mop or the Swiffer.  I even sometimes dragged the cannister vacuum down from upstairs (there’s mostly carpeting up there).  No one method or combination seemed to give the results I wanted, and getting the end results that I wanted also felt like it took more effort that it should.

Finally, after some thought I decided to try some kind of electric broom.  When I went looking, I found many kinds, but the one I picked ended up not costing a lot and does exactly what I want it to do.  For $20 and tax, I brought home the Bissell 3-in-1 Vac.  It’s really just one of those small hand-held vacuums that comes with an attachable handle and a couple of accessories: a floor and rug attachment with wheels and a crevice tool.  It’s corded with about a 12-foot cord.

This is just the tool that I needed for doing quick, efficient cleaning of the loose dirt on the floor.  Though it’s small, it has good suction, enough to pick up loose kibble, pieces of leaves, and other dirt with no problem.  It’s light-weight, so it’s really just the thing for cleaning stray cobwebs from the ceiling corners and molding.   That job takes a lot more coordination and maneuvering when using the long tubes and hose of the regular vacuum cleaner.  One tool I wish had been included is the brush, in order to do blinds and other dusting. 

When the job is done, just dump out the dirt into the trash; there are no bags to replace.  Wrap up the cord, and stow it away until next time.  It’s very compact, you could even store it on the side of the pantry.

It easily snaps together and comes apart, so I’ll be using just the hand-held vac the next time I clean the car.

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A Sunday Drive: In Search of Bluebonnets

Barely out of the car, Annie is panting in the hot sun at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. These were some of the few bluebonnets we encountered.

Having finally accomplished the long-put-off doing of my income taxes before noontime, and with the yard and garden work already finished for the weekend, I coaxed Annie into the car and off we headed out 290 in quest of bluebonnets.

The bluebonnet is the the Texas state flower, and for a few weeks in spring, the roadsides and pastures can be ablaze in color from the bluebonnets and other wildflowers, especially the Indian paintbrush

Without seeing a glimpse of a bluebonnet, we drove as far as the quaint, old town of Chappell Hill and turned onto a side road.  This asphalt lane, like so many other roads in the Texas Hill Country, seems to be filled with natural beauty and history.  It never ceases to amaze me how on one piece of land you’ll see a humble dwelling that probably was once a share-cropper’s house, and then, not even a quarter mile down the road, a 6 or 7 figure “swankienda” stretches out into the acreage.  But these, along with the green meadows and wooded creeks, make for a drive that forces you to go at a speed slower than that of Granny going to church.

After about 50 miles of driving, a small, hillside field showed off its indigo glory, but the cars and motorcycles that were already stopped left no place to pull over and try to take pictures of a small dog romping amongst the bluebonnets.

So on we went a few miles, and ended up at Washington, Texas, which is the place where the Texas Declaration of Indepedence from Mexico was signed.  Many years ago, a big part of the area was made into the Washington-on-the-
Brazos State Park
.  It’s really a wonderful place, not too overdone with the history part.  There’s a museum and a visitors center, but there are also places to picnic and lots of trails to walk and discover the history as well as nature’s beauty.

With a 92-degree south wind pushing at us, a maybe mile-long walk was about enough to do in a guy and a little dog.  I’d brought water for her, which she lapped up when we got back to the car, but after getting the AC going, I began looking for a convenience store to find a cold drink for myself.

We did find some bluebonnets in the park, but either it’s still a bit early or the drought has caused the bluebonnets to suffer this year.  Whatever.  We had a good day on our quest, finding more than the flowers.

Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence. This looks like a replica to me; maybe some of the boards are original.

Some of the flowering plants growing along the pathways. The pinkish-purple appears to be a native verbena. The white blossoms on the other plant were pretty, but the stem looked very prickly.

The park has many trails to wander, some along the Brazos River. Here and there, youll find informational signage, telling about the history of the site, but these signs do not interfere with just enjoying the tranquillity of the area.

Pieces of history, like this old water well, are evident throughout the park, but because the park has not been "over-developed", the visitor can almost feel like he is discovering artifacts.

Located outside of the state park, current-day Washington, Texas holds hardly more than some kind of eatery and a post office.

Now That April Fool’s Day Has Passed, It’s Time To See How the Garden Is Growing

Annie is always ready to assistant in checking out how the garden is growing. (4-2-11)

When it becomes garden time, this blog could be one of the most boring in all of the blogosphere; however, my little patch helps keep me on an even keel, so I like to add a pic here and there just as a record for myself of what I planted when and how things are growing.

It’s just been about 2 weeks since I put in the last photo, but the entire plot looks so much greener.  The lettuce is still going gangbusters, and most of the beans have started on their second set of leaves.  I didn’t over-plant this year, so I’ve had to go back and drop in a seed or two in places where the originals didn’t sprout.  I have a total of 7 tomato plants and 4 sweet peppers, not counting the 1 volunteer tomato that I discovered a couple days ago; it probably came from the compost that I added last winter.

I need to get in and hoe out the chickweed and elm tree sprouts that would cover the ground if it weren’t for the vegetable plants; however, unfortunately–or fortunately–we have had enough odd showers to keep the garden soil a bit too moist for that task.

The neighbors across the street are having a garage sale, which they started preparing for before 6 AM.  Of course, Annie couldn’t stay settled with the commotion, so we’ve been up since that time; quite early to get up on a Saturday, but I’ve gotten the back patio swept of most of the remaining oak leaves and the nasty pollen crap that they put out in the spring.  I love my shady oak tree, but keeping the patio clean is an almost never-ending story.  Oh well, just like my garden, the patio with its shade-covered pergola is one of my favorite parts of my house.

OK, yes, it’s Saturday, and now 10 AM; it’s time for a shower and out to take care of any number of errands.  Tomatoe cages, for one.  Definitely need more tomato cages.

Spring Begins! It’s Time for Planting and More Garden Updates

Spring, and it's time again to record the growth of the garden. As always, Annie ready to check things out.

Today is the first official day of spring, and these fingers that have been pulling, digging, and clutching rakes, hoes, and shovels for most of this beautiful, long weekend feel a bit reluctant at the keyboard.  The front yard is raked clean of–what-is hoped–the last oak leaves.  There have been a number of trips to various lawn and garden centers for soil, mulch, and both flowering and vegetable plants.

The fresh, often-overcast weather has made all the outside work much more pleasure, than labor.

The trunk area of the new, smaller hatchback has proven just the right size in order not to overbuy on any one trip.  Therefore, it hasn’t been a big effort to get the mulch put around trees or plants put into the ground.  More trips means more breaks in between.

The outings have given me a chance to drive on some roads, though not far from where I live, I’ve never taken before.  It’s amazing to find lanes in wooded areas still not taken over by housing sub-divisions.

One road that I do take frequently crosses what I have just discovered is called Langham Bayou.  I’ve never stopped before. but the blaze of yellow flora both around and in the water made me chance the rough little side road to take the shots that you can see in the new banner and sidebar.

It’s also time again to start recording what’s happening in my kitchy, little garden.  I planted lettuce, onions, and beans on New Year’s Day.  Unfortunately, the tender beans didn’t make it through January’s freeze, but I have been having fresh salad almost every evening for more than a week.  I’ve replanted the beans and set in tomatoes and a variety of pepper plants.

I’m hoping the much earlier start will help produce more before the hot summer comes along.

On the Road Home: When Getting Off the Crowded Freeway Is Not the Best Bet

Considering the nearly 50 miles I drive in heavy traffic every day, perhaps it was bound to happen.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that my blog posts here have been almost nil for a month because I’ve felt like I wanted to write about what happened, but just haven’t been able to:  1) because I’ve had quite a few other things to take care of; and 2) it’s not that easy to write about.

It was exactly 4 weeks ago, Friday evening, and I was driving home thinking about what I was going to do on the weekend.  I had taken my normal route, 290, or Northwest Freeway, as most of us call it, when the traffic got balled up, so I decided to get off on the next exit I could.  Once off the freeway, I got on a cross street in order to take Hempstead Highway, which was the predecessor to 290.  Although there are many stoplights and businesses alongside that road, the traffic usually moves on that route.

After I’d driven about 10 blocks, a car zipped out from  a small super market and crossed over two lanes of traffic, clipping the pickup in front of me.  (If this sounds like something from a police or insurance report, I’m sorry.  I’ve had to tell what happened a few times since that evening.)  Because both the pickup and I had just gone through an intersection, neither of us were going very fast, and I thought I was going to be able to stop in time.  It was like slow motion; my car kept moving forward, and then the front end of my lower Mazda 3 crunched into the back bumper of the higher, double-cab pickup.  In the couple of minutes it took me to pull myself together, and then get out of the car, a police cruiser and even a tow truck had arrived.

This is really the first time I've looked closely at this picture that I took right afterwards.

I could see the damaged hood and coolant running out from the radiator.  There were three vehicles and three drivers (no passengers), but, thankfully, no one was hurt.  The police officer came over and asked me what had happened.  I thought I might get a ticket, but the officer didn’t even hint at anything like that, but I’m pretty sure the driver who crossed in front of oncoming traffic got one.  (I still haven’t seen a police report.)

I thought I was going to be stranded there, but thanks to Houston’s towing ordinances, after pulling my car to a nearby, secure lot, the tow truck driver brought me home. 

Freaky, but I was in my house just one hour later than my usual arrival time.  The whole thing–the balled up freeway traffic, the detour to the old road, the accident itself, talking on the phone with my insurance company, being interviewed by the officer, dealing with the tow truck, being harrassed by the repair company which housed the lot where my car was taken, and the ride home–had all only taken 1 hour!

After such a barrage of happenings, I was glad to back in the familiarity of my house, glad to take Annie on her well-deserved, late walk.

When we got back from the walk, I called the insurance company again in order to give them the details of the accident, and find out what was going to happen with my car.  I knew also that the next morning, I’d have to try to get a rental car somewhere out here in suburbia, where the agencies are only open from nine to noon on Saturdays.  It wasn’t until I tried to pull something together to eat that I realized how shaken I was by the whole thing.

I thought I’d be driving a rental car for a couple of weeks while my car was being repaired.  “Three or four thousand dollars of damage,” I thought.

I was way off the mark.  The followingTuesday I found out that the insurance company was going to total my car.  The damage was more than a crunched-in hood and a messed-up radiator.  The trailer hitch on the back of the pickup had acted like a battering ram, causing a lot more damage than showed from looking at the front of the car.  So there it was.  My 2007 Mazda 3 GT–the one that I had spent almost a year deciding on before I bought it, the one with just 40,000 miles on it, the one that was almost paid off–was totaled.

A lot of things happened over just one hour that Friday evening four weeks ago.  But, again, fortunately, nobody was injured.  I’ve had to deal with a lot of people since then, and it’s been a learning experience, which I’ll write more about.

But right now, it’s a beautiful Saturday morning with nothing involving cars to worry about, so I’ve had my coffee and am ready to go out to the garden and plant some beans.

Bright, Sunshiny Days Warm Up the Weekend

A view from one of those "roads less traveled"in Bear Creek Park--backgrounded by an amazingly blue sky. Those green shrubs are the fan palms that grow in many of the woods of southeast Texas.

If by yesterday afternoon, Friday’s icy weather, along with the resulting bad roadways, was hardly worth remembering, today’s 71° was a complete turnaround.  The bright sunlighted warmed the air, and soft, fluffy clouds floated in an amazing blue sky.

Annie and I headed for the dog park on Highway 6 and found many other small dogs and owners were out to enjoy the day.  Usually the large dog side is busier, but today there were so many people and dogs on “our” side that I didn’t pay attention to how many were on the other side.

Going home, I took the “long way” through Bear Creek Park, and just like the dog park, there were many out enjoying the area, especially the golf course.  Bear Creek Park has a lot of picnic areas and the large golf course, but I really like the natural, forested part of the park, which is thick with live oak, pine, and other kinds of trees and brush. 

For those who don’t know, the live oak is one variety of oak tree that grows in abundance here.  In some older parts of Houston, the large live oaks have branches that grow out, paralleling the grown.  The one in my back yard has had its branches trimmed off the bottom part of the trunk as it has grown, but up higher there is a nice canopy of branches that help shade my house from summer of the summer heat.

Another tree that can be found in the wooded area of Bear Creek Park is a type of fan palm, which I believe is a native Texas palm.  On hikes through other parts of southeast Texas, I’ve seen this palm growing down under the tall pines, in both dry and wet terrain.

It’s good to get out after a cold spell and enjoy what nature has to offer.  Unfortunately, the potted plants that have been stashed in the garage still must endure some more days of darkness because the forecast is predicting lows in the lower 20s again mid-weeki.

Winter Weather Brings Ice to Houston But No Snow

The agave leaves are slick with ice from the sleet and rain that came during the pre-dawn hours.

The predicted snow didn’t come to Houston.  Having gone to bed even earlier than most work nights.  I woke up around 5, and the light from the streetlight outside showed no snow on the ground, nor even any white flakes coming down, so I jumped back into bed until it would be time to take Annie out.  Even by 7:30, she was somewhat hesitant to go out.  When I checked the outside temp of 26, I could understand her lack of enthusiasm.  (Still 26 is a bit better than the 21 that hit us early Wednesday morning, and the daytime high was just 35 yesterday.)

But we did go out, still no snow.  There were, however, small puddles on the patio.  Then when I looked up there was a sheen of ice covering the garage.  As I stepped out onto the grass, the ice-covered leaves crackled underfoot.

I felt a little guilty for not having to go into work on a Friday, but aside from my crunching the frosty leaves, it was still outside, no usual hum of the commuter traffic coming from 529.  “No need to feel guilty,” I thought.  I was no different than the so many others who had been told on Thursday not to come in on Friday.

Once I started nosing around the yard, I found that the bricks on the front fence were coated with ice.  From this, I knew that any bridges and overpasses would be covered too.  As I’ve now gotten back inside, I’ve found according to the Houston Chronicle, that is the case, and that there have been many accidents because of the icy roads.  I’m glad that I don’t have to get out there and make my way to work.

I know those from the more northern climes might think us somewhat wimpy when we get a bit of actual winter weather.  However, with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles out there crowding the freeways on a regular workday morning, ice-covered roads could create complete havoc.  Even with the much lighter traffic,  the Chronicle says there have been more than 100 accidents already, one of them a 10-car pileup on 290, which is one leg of my normal morning drive.

I do feel a bit like I’m playing hookie.  No matter,  I’m going to grind some beans to make coffee and make a real breakfast, then enjoy the rest of a leisurely morning.