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.

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.

Breezy Sunday–Time for a Home-cooked Dinner Including Fresh Green Beans

The only thing that would make these home-cooked green beans better would be if they were also home-grown.

Blustery breezes and an uncertain sky haven’t put a damper on this penultimate day of February.  For the first time in a couple of weeks, I’m back in my groove.  (I’ll try to add another post about what’s been happening later.) 

The back door is open, with the screen on the storm door pulled down to let in some of the breeze.  What’s more, I’m making a real Sunday dinner.  (Isn’t it a bit confusing that we have Sunday dinners at lunchtime?)

So here’s what’s cooking:  a ham glazed with a mixture of jam, brown sugar, brown mustard, peanut sauce, and wasabi sauce, and simple scalloped potatoes with bits of onion and butter, layered with about 3 tablespoons of flour, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a cup of half-and-half poured over the top before going into the oven.  Already cooked and resting on the cooktop is a kettle of fresh green beans.

Fresh green beans are one of my favorite vegetables.  In comparison, the frozen ones are almost inedible, and green beans from a can aren’t a lot better.

Making  fresh, home-cooked green beans isn’t very difficult.  Some people think getting them ready is too much work.  I just dump them into a colander and wash them several times, then take a kitchen scissors and nip off the stem, then rinse them off again a time or two.

Home-cooked Green Beans

  • 1 pound fresh green beans washed and stemmed
  • 3 slices of bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 green onions including most of the tops loosely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 or 2 “splashes” of white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic salad dressing
  • 3 to 4 cups of water
  • pepper and salt to taste

Put a heavy kettle on the stove and turn the burner to medium high.  When the kettle is hot, add the oil, then the bacon and onion.  Cook until the bacon begins to brown; then add the onions  and cook until they become translucent.  Keep the bacon and onion moving with a spoon or silicon spatula so they don’t burn.  If the bacon cooks off quite a bit of fat, remove the excess with a spoon.  (I find that most bacon these days contains a lot of water and not a lot of fat cooks out; that’s why it will stick to the pan and may burn.) 

Add a splash or two of white wine and a couple of tablespoons of water to de-glaze the bottom of the kettle.  Use a silicon spatula to help get all the “goodies” off the bottom of the pan.  Add the balsamic dressing (or balsamic vinegar) and about 1/2 cup of water and stir in.  Let the liquid cook until it bubbles. 

Put the fresh green beans into the kettle and add enough water so that there is an inch or two of liquid in the kettle.  About two-thirds of the beans will not be covered.  Put a lid on the kettle and leave on medium-high heat until the liquid boils, then turn down to medium-low and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the beans are cooked to your liking.  (Some like beans cooked less and other liked them cooked until they are limp.)

This recipe will make 6-8 servings.  You can make this recipe a day ahead of time, and just re-heat.  I think these beans are even better the second day because they absorb  more of the bacon flavor.

Catch All of the Action at the Gay Games VIII in Cologne; Matthew Mitcham and Other Star Athletes Add to the Limelight

Michelle Ferris, Matthew Mitcham, Leigh Ann Naidoo, and John Amechi meet the press in Cologne.

Matthew Mitcham and several other star athletes have arrived in Cologne, Germany to be part of the Gay Games, which are set to start, today, July 31st.  Mitcham, from Australia and gold medal diver in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, joined former NBA player John Amechi from Great Britain, cyclist Michelle Ferris also from Australia, and beach volleyball player Leigh Ann Naidoo from South Africa to be part of the sporting event, which has gay athletes from all over the globe for the 2010 Gay Games VIII in Germany.

Mitcham hits Cologne with the "scruffy look".

While Mitcham won’t be competing in the games, he will be giving an exhibition of his diving skills from the 10-meter board.

More than 10,000 participants are expected to parade into the RheinEnergie Stadium later today for the opening ceremonies, which will be headlined by singer Taylor Dayne performing “Facing a Miracle,” which is the theme song for this year’s games.  Check it out here.  I’m sure she’ll have the whole stadium dancin’.

Catch live streaming video and everything else that’s happening at Gay Games VIII here.

William Yang’s Photographs of Matthew Mitcham on Exhibit

Matthew Mitcham as captured by photographer William Yang

Not only are paintings of the popular Beijing Olympic gold-medalist on exhibit (see previous post), now images of the popular diver from Australia by photographer William Yang are on display at Maunsell Wickes at Barry Stern Galleries in Sydney.  Check out more of Yang’s photos of Mitcham at the Maunsell Wickes site.  If you’re actually in Sydney, the exhibit of Yang’s photos of Mitcham runs until December 24th in the galleries in Paddington.  An interview with the photographer discussing working with Mitcham can be found at the Australian website samesame, which just announced their Top 25 Most Influetial Gay and Lesbian Australians.  The list, of course, included Mitcham.