Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fixing Up The Place To Sell

It's 4 AM and I am still in Augusta. I slept for three hours after we returned from dinner last night by way of the storage locker where Mums has been putting what little furniture remains to her (her condo is half the size of the house she is leaving), then popped awake. My brother just got up, and is driving back to Charleston in these wee hours, going to work, and then returning here this evening after he does laundry and takes a nap. I intend to drive to DC today with the "big wugga-wugga truck" (as I refer to Daddy's diesel), which is packed with the next-to-last load of my worldly possessions, those which are too big to fit into my amazing expanding Honda (so my friends claim, having seen how much I can stuff into it). Susan and Alan have invited me over for New Years, and I'd like to spend a couple of days straightening my apartment around these last pieces of furniture before turning around and heading back South to help Mums with further household fix-up chores.

Holy cow at the chores. My fingertips are raw from five hours of rubbing oiled steel wool over brass doorknobs, locks and handles, all of which were grossly tarnished and corroded from 26 years of exposure to the elements. The four or five real estate agents that Mums consulted (separately, so as to compare and contrast their recommendations for spiffing up the house to appeal to potential buyers) agreed that new locks ought to be installed, and so at great expense she had bought new ones and had them re-keyed. When my brother went to install them Tuesday night, however, he found that the maker had changed the design just slightly, yet significantly enough that the new locks wouldn't fit in the preexisting holes in the doors. After much tinkering, jiggling, swearing, and several trips to area hardware stores, it was determined that the best solution to this (latest) setback in house-prep was painstakingly polishing the old fixtures, and praying that the useless new ones could be returned to the store whence they came. Hence, both Bob and I were elbow-deep in teak oil, gun oil, metal polish, steel wool, and Dremel tool bits for hours. I've still got grey crud under my nails, despite two good showers.

The house has been repainted. A day or so after the painter left, a plumber and his apprentice arrived to fix a couple of irritating bathroom issues and install new faucets in the kitchen and laundry room. I overheard the senior man telling his acolyte that one had to sing or hum when installing faucets so they didn't develop leaks. He must not have chosen the right tune, because yesterday Mums found damp under the sink--they're going to have to come back to touch up the job. Purely coincidentally, after the plumbers left, the toilet in another bathroom upstairs started leaking, and the water made a spot on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom, which means that not only will this be the third visit the plumbers have made in eight days, but also the ceiling has to be painted for the second time in ten!

This task will be done by the fellow who's been working on the outdoor paintwork (just the front porch and the doors--thank God the exterior is brick!). This fellow is a part-time firefighter and full-time good ol' boy who occasionally says, "I'm not trying to be a smart-butt." Given his Southern accent (even stronger than mine), he sits on the second part of the sanitized term, dividing it into semi-detached halves, like a Parker House roll: buh-uht. Does a great job painting, and can talk the hind legs off a billy goat.

Besides the painting, the plumbing, and the polishing, I've been caulking, cleaning, and drilling. The new hardware for the bathroom cabinets didn't fit exactly (never does, does it?), and so we had to fill, sand and paint over the old holes before installing the new hinges. I had to painstakingly grind out cracked grout from between bathroom and laundry room tiles--I am so glad Dremel makes an attachment for this!--so that Mums can re-grout. My brother put up new ceiling fans in the bedrooms, installed light fixtures in the bathrooms, and re-wired several things that Mums and I were just too frustrated to attempt. And let's not even mention the face-plates for the switches and plugs--those took a full day to re-attach all over the house.

There's still a lot to do--the cabinet doors still haven't been reinstalled, one of the fans in the bathrooms is making a loud noise, and the hardwood floors need buffing, and other such matters--but I think even Mums would agree that we have made a tremendous amount of progress and that the end of our work is in sight. We plan to list the house by February 1, and God willing, it will sell promptly. Mums' condo is framed (they poured the foundation ten days ago, and already have the bones of the building in place) and seems to be on target for its scheduled completion date of April 1. And then come the inevitable new house settling-in quirks!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Cat Contemplations

We spent Christmas Day with Grandmommy in middle Georgia. There were only five of us, and three dogs, who were sequestered on the (heated) back porch when not being allowed out to frolic in the fenced-in backyard. There were no decorations—Grandmommy, who used to change out even her curtains for Christmas-themed ones, didn’t have so much as a wreath on the door—and the mood was unusually subdued. There was good food to eat, and plenty, as is normal for any Grandmommy visit, but the loss of both Daddy and Granddaddy sat with us at the table and sapped the already gray day of any holiday zest.

After lunch, my sweet sister-in-law, Isabelle, and I sat down to pour over the text of the children’s book I composed about the first adventures of a Russian kitten (I hope that we will produce an entire series centered on his character, but we’re just in the early stages now!) and decide on the number and contents of the illustrations she is creating to go with my story. Isabelle is a fantastic artist—she’s getting a Fine Arts degree from a school in Atlanta, and her ink drawings are among the best I’ve seen. And I am particular, really something of a snob when it comes to the visual arts. We’re considering self-publishing the book (high-quality—maybe contracting with a small but reputable company with some distribution contacts, or forming our own and establishing those connections for ourselves!) and selling through Amazon and independent booksellers, but I want to consider our options carefully over the next few months and approach this project from a solid business perspective so as to assure (insofar as it lies within our purview) success.

Thinking about the book and watching Isabelle and Nate with their dogs made me consider: While you can scare a cat, you can never intimidate one. A cat may regard you with deep suspicion and avoid you like the plague, or hiss and spit when you approach it, but it will never come cringing up to you, hugging the floor, and in the most abject “I am dirt and behold you are my master” fashion, piddle on the carpet to show its unworthiness. You will never see even the lowliest feline abase itself in such a way. In its regular interaction with its housemates, human and animal, if a cat pees on something outside its designated litterbox, it does so for reasons of incontinence, contempt, or pique, not humility. I also discovered today that I am apparently allergic to dogs (my nose ran constantly), whereas most cats do not affect me allergenwise.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A House Disheveled

I'm not even vacuuming before I leave town this time. There are stacks of books and papers and boxes and what-used-to-be-stacks-but-are-now-just-toppled-piles-of-miscellany all over my apartment. It's a disaster. But I'm too tired to clean, and any attempt to straighten would just delay my departure, which has already been delayed because I was grading final exams. Russian history essay exams. One fellow typed (his handwriting was so illegible on the previous tests that we sent him to the learning issues center to type this one) seven single-spaced pages in the allotted two hours. HOLY COW. There were almost forty students in the class, and reading each essay--and the word-processed one wasn't alone for length--and writing comments and coming up with grades took two days. It was nine last night before I finished. And then I have two other projects which I'm just abandoning in mid-stride in order to get out of town for Christmas. Today I've been running errands. Getting my oil changed--I had a $5 coupon, and I was overdue. They tried to convince me I needed a radiator flush, too, to the tune of $89.99. They offered me a 10% discount (when I asked them if there were any coupons for this service), but then said I couldn't use my $5 oil change coupon in addition. Sorry, can't afford it, I told them. Maybe with a 20% discount I might have considered it. Or maybe not.

The King's Speech is the best movie I've seen in years. It will be my first Blu-ray purchase...when I finally find an Internet-capable player that costs less than $125.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Look Back in Apathy

How can you consider yourself an adult of any cosmopolitan aspirations without knowing the basics of kosher rules? Especially when you are in training to be a nurse, you’d think that being aware that ham was off-menu and meat and milk don’t mix would be basic. It’s like the Tylenol-alcohol combo and other drug interactions—the nurses are the last-ditch defense between doctors (and nutritionists) and the patient.

S Dawg said she put an extra exam on a desk where no one was sitting and remarked “that’s for Elijah” and none of the other test-takers got it.

You miss so much when you can’t appreciate witty Biblical or historical allusions.

She asked me what organizational theories my colleagues were espousing these days, and I said they were still genuflecting at the altar of Foucault, but that they were also keen on using oceans, rivers and lakes as hubs of area studies: Atlantic World History, Pacific World History, Amazonian History and so forth. In other words, historians are now hovering over the waters.

In another return to past precedents, would John Ruskin have approved of the architecture of Facebook? S Dawg says one reason she’s not a subscriber (unlike our mother—you can “friend” her if you choose) is that she adheres to an Enlightenment notion of individuality (and individual privacy). You know, wherein your worth is not judged by the number of connections (real, or purchased in batches of 100) you maintain…like some insecure Tween getting everyone—even complete strangers—to sign her yearbook, to build her selfworth. [Is it only a coincidence that my heavily-penned yearbooks from first grade through college are on the couch behind me as I type?]

Thus, is Facebook a digital Gothicizing of society? Having discarded post-modernity, are we now looping philosophically like dying snakes, twisting ourselves into virtual gargoyles on electronic temples in an effort to find some meaning to life? It does put a new twist on the text about “living stones”…

I have 35+ essay Russian History exams to grade before I can leave town. It snowed last night. I want to curl up among my Grandmommy quilts and sleep instead of doing anything. This coming Sunday would have been Granddaddy's 94th birthday, and Saturday is the funeral of a sweet old man in my Sunday School class.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


A State Department friend found it hilarious and ridiculous that after the recent Wikileaks disclosures of the thousands of classified documents (which I haven't yet had time to read--must find the time before they disappear!) from U.S. diplomatic sources, a general email was sent out to SD employees saying that although the information was now available to the public, they weren't allowed to access it from their work computers because it was still classified! Nutso, and really counterproductive, because of course any halfway curious SD drone otherwise uninterested in the data was now wild (thanks to the tantalizing prohibition) to read as much as he could. And, come on, if it's been declassified either de jure or de facto, it's in the public domain, and saying it's off-limits is silly—especially if you are dying to know what your boss REALLY thinks about her diplomatic counterparts.

At any rate, I checked Drudge for the first time ages this evening, and Lo! Interpol has a warrant out on the Wikileaks guy, after two women in Sweden claim other sort of leakage entirely…

It sounds so much like a Steig Larsson novel I can barely stand it.

If this isn’t a setup (and even to a militant non-conspiracy theorist like myself, it has a peculiarly convenient odor about it—there’s got to be a hefty payment to an offshore bank account somewhere to one of the duo of regretful blonds), U.S. government officials are sacrificing thank offerings to the gods tonight.

I’m just waiting for this headline: LOOSE CHICKS SINK LEAKS.

Theater Class

The Russian history students in the class I am TAing this term had two options for their final project. They could write a standard research paper, or they could write and perform (or produce) a drama drawn from the historical sources. Today was the day that the theatrically-inclined groups or individuals presented their work to the class.

I realize that when I was in college I did not have access to the technology that these folks do, but notwithstanding that, I do not think I would have had the guts or the skills to create what they did. Besides plays, there were two animated films—one was a hand-drawn cartoon interlude between live-action play scenes, the other was the tale of Boris Godunov told entirely with red Solo cups. One play ended with a filmed sword-fight finale (quite well-choreographed), and another group did a whole live-action movie about the succession crisis that launched the Time of Troubles.

Besides the required historical narrative, there were allusions to Young Frankenstein and Star Wars, and a truly bizarre range of musical styles—from Russian rap to Spamalot and classical piano—to accompany the action. Of course, the acting was uneven, and the production values would have made James Cameron cringe, but given that these were not film-school students, and these were projects created at the same time that papers were due and tests were to be studied for in other subjects, they were a marvel. And funny. I wish they had uploaded them to YouTube…maybe they will eventually.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Quick Update

Quick update re: the state of KYP’s world.

No, I haven’t died, been hospitalized, or even come down with the sniffles, though I have been sneezing a bit from the cold (considerable) and the dust (occasional). I have been working four part-time jobs like a madwoman; last week, I managed to get in more than 60 hours of semi-profitable labor in six days (Tuesday through Sunday), so as a consequence I am fried mentally and physically. There simply hasn't been time to write, though there have been (notwithstanding the pedantry of this post) plenty of interesting events, conversations and observations to write about.

Periodic fits of pushups have been my own formal exercise of late, as one can drop behind one’s tableclothed jewelry display and pretend to be looking for boxes while actually pistoning up and down insanely without anyone noticing. Or maybe they have noticed and just silently assumed that I’ve gone round the bend. I will have if I don’t get to the gym soon.

I bought a Persian rug for my living room to replace the one that’s too big and upside down (the front is too ugly to show--the back is pretty, but having the pile down makes the whole thing "creep" along the floor, so it develops dangerous wrinkles). I plan to sell the unbeloved one.

My dissertation advisor wants to meet with me this Thursday evening. I am terrified, as I have nothing to show her. The rationale behind my crazy work schedule this semester is to have made enough money by Christmas to afford to be able to work on my dissertation full-time next term. I have almost accomplished this. I am not going to get a TV until I have at least two chapters written. A film-fest on a flatscreen will be my reward to myself. I plan to sit on my new rug with my new gigantic Polish pottery punchbowl filled to the rim with hot buttered popcorn and veg out. But only after I have turned in two chapters. By March, maybe?

Ira wants the revised book manuscript in hand in the next two weeks. Have promised to send it to her by 20 December. A Californian who knows about the project also wants to read it, but he has no leads on publication venues. I have written myself a note to approach university presses in the Midwest.

My Christmas party is coming up on 11 December. I need to get the house organized and clean, and food prepared. And I have several jewelry commissions to finish between now and then!

Must go shower, have a short quiet time (also much neglected of late) and grade papers. The children are doing Russian history skits and videos tomorrow, and I want to give the professor their final tests before he starts harassing me about them.