Pretty shiny things

Back in the 1980s, my mother went through an extended Pretty Shiny Things phase. She had a magpie’s eye and a curator’s taste for the bright bauble, and she collected some of the most beautiful things: precious and semi-precious stones of all kinds, set in jewelry or carved or cut or made into a fetish or just raw from the ground. Her collection was extensive and impressive; she could have opened a small museum.

At Christmas, she gifted me one of those baubles, what is called a dinner ring (or a cocktail ring, or just a right-hand ring) that consists of 25 tiny diamonds and rubies set in a kind of a spiraling bun in a 14K white gold setting.

Pretty, right?

Pretty, right?

She knew when she gave it to me that I already wear a ring on my right hand and that this is not my preferred jewelry style.

It has a super-high profile and a setting that is likely to catch on everything.

It has a dauntingly high profile and a spiky setting that is likely to catch on everything it touches.

She said she hoped I would be able to convert it into currency at the going rate, and produced a jeweler’s appraisal from the time of sale (30 years ago) that set the ring’s replacement value at a smidge under $2,000.

You will soon see why I don’t feel the least bit nervous about telling the internet that I am keeping such mighty bling in my house.

I took the ring to the widely respected Big Time Jewelry Store in my town, where the certified gemologist (or whatever) told me he would appraise it for a fee of $125. I asked him if he would consider buying it from me at that time. “We don’t sell used jewelry here,” he sniffed. “We might take it off your hands for scrap.” The going rate for gemstone and precious metal “scrap”? About $75. The stones themselves, being so small, are essentially worthless, he said.

Another, um, “jewelry dealer” in town, the kind who has sturdy bars on the windows and doors of his incredibly shabby shop and who wears a large handgun on his belt during business hours, told me that the typical jeweler’s markup on materials is 1000%, and proved it by weighing the ring. It came to about 1/10th of an ounce, and the original appraisal valued the gold alone at about $350 at a time when gold sold for less than $400 an ounce. So the gold was actually worth about $35 then, and about $150 now, which is what the guy offered me because he, too, regarded the gems as entirely worthless. I took my ring back and went on my way, more than a little bit miffed. He suggested that I go see a guy he knows who consigns jewelry. “Tell him I sent you,” he said.

I am not sure if that route is any more attractive than what the Big Time gemologist had suggested, which was to sell it on Craigslist or eBay. “Seriously?” I asked him. “This is how reputable people dispose of quality jewelry now? Really?” All he could say was, “that’s what I’ve heard.”

What I learned from this is that a jeweler’s appraisal is useful solely for insurance purposes, and that the only way I (or anyone else) could hope to convert this ring into significant currency would be to pay to get it appraised, pay to add it to my homeowner’s insurance policy on a rider, and then report it stolen or lost. Which, besides being terribly expensive, would be outright fraud, of course. And that is not my style at all!

So instead, I shall add it to my own collection of Pretty Shiny Things, many of which are also gifts from my mother. Perhaps someday I’ll have the opportunity to get the stones reset into another style of ring that is more to my taste, just as she has done with some heirloom pieces that were given to her. In the meantime, it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, just like the woman who gave it to me.

 

A room for living

The living room in my house is a tricky space. The front door opens directly into it, with no foyer. It has a large picture window facing the street on the south wall, a fireplace on the east wall, a vaulted ceiling that makes the north wall 11 feet high, and a double-width entry to the dining area/ kitchen on the west wall. In other words, it’s a big room with a lot of different energy and travel paths going through it because of all those entries and exits.

This has made furnishing the room comfortably and attractively a conundrum that I was beginning to think could not be solved. I didn’t want to block the flow of traffic through the room from any side, but just couldn’t imagine any arrangement of furniture that would not do that and yet still allow me to 1) view my little old 20″ television from less than 17 feet away and 2) entertain more than one person at a time who might want to sit down somewhere other than on the floor or on the hearth. I have had my faithful old futon from my grad-school days parked in front of the picture window from day one so the dogs would have a lookout spot, and that was fine seating for just me and them. But when company came over, it was awkward. I usually ended up sitting on the coffee table or something.

When I first moved in, I had my futon and coffee table on one side of the room …

23_living-room-couch

and my TV on the other side, with not much in between (Reggie tore up the upholstery on that chair when she was a puppy and it had to go away).

26_tv-chair

It took me a long time to find the right pieces to add to the room, and I’ll be the first to admit that my design aesthetic might kindly be called “low-budget hodge-podge.” I have many domestic talents, but interior design is not among them.

For the past three years or so, I’ve been intermittently but actively seeking a design and furnishings solution that would make this room comfortable and inviting for me and for the dogs both when we’re home alone and when we have guests. Finally, I think I’ve found the design solution, even if the furnishings are not ideal.

First, I moved the futon around to face the fireplace just to see how that would feel and look.

living-room

The dogs didn’t like this AT ALL because they lost their front-window perch from which to observe and bark at the outside world. The silence in the house that resulted was music to my ears, but the hurt looks they kept giving me from beneath their bushy eyebrows quickly convinced me that something more needed to be done.

I had my heart set on getting a sofa, but it turns out that a love seat works better in the newly opened space in front of the window, and I found one on deep discount at the Buy & Large the other day. Once I got it home and set it up (with a blanket thrown over it as a quick-and-dirty temporary slipcover), I felt that my living room was finally coming together.

living-room1

There’s plenty of room to move around and between the futon and the love seat from the front door and from the kitchen, the futon is now much closer to the TV, and the dogs have their perch again (which is moved back from the window far enough that maybe I won’t have to wash the dog snot off it every week anymore).

I realize, of course, that the area rug is much too small for the room, and that none of these pieces even coordinate, let alone match. No matter—the concept has been proven, that a cozy and comfortable arrangement of furniture that meets all my needs actually is possible for this room. In time, these low-budget pieces will be replaced with matching ones of much higher quality, along with a larger rug, possibly a square or round coffee table, and some cute throw pillows.

living-room2

On the other side of the room, I have put together a nice matched set of pieces that are just waiting for the arrival of a big new plasma TV … one of these days. 😉

living-room3

Reggie immediately claimed the love seat as her own, and settled on to her new perch looking redonkulously comfortable (it is a very comfy couch).

reggie-on-new-couch

I can tell that those back cushions are going to be sway-backed and lopsided in no time! That’s what my dogs and my parents’ dog have done to their couch …

swayback-couch

But that’s okay. Living room furniture is for living on, not just for looking at. I look forward to spending more time in and living more comfortably in the largest room in my house from now on.

Maybe my next project will be to paint it. Hmmm…

 

Odds and ends

I don’t have enough news for one whole blog post, so here are the briefs from the past couple of weeks.

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Rudy’s foot has healed up nicely, and he is 100% back to normal in every respect. He was mighty happy to get that cape off at last.

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I have managed to mow my lawn four times so far this year and yet have mentioned it on social media only once. But the season is still young and this is Going Forward, so …

lawn-mowing-posts

😉

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A couple of my readers are keenly interested in knowing this: I am averaging more than 7 hours a night on the CPAP machine, with no real problems to deal with. It’s amazing what one can get used to. When I first started with the CPAP, the mask caused pressure sores around my nose, the pressure blew my mouth open all night long, the air flow dried everything out, and I could not find any comfortable position in which to sleep other than flat on my back. I usually ended up tearing the mask off after less than an hour.

Now, I put the mask on, turn on the machine, roll over and go to sleep, and it’s still on my face when I wake up 7 or 8 hours later. I hardly notice it anymore, even when I sleep on my side, and it leaves no evidence of its use in the morning. The air flow coming into the mask is equivalent to a small hair dryer on a low setting—no wispy draft, in other words, but rather a brisk torrent—yet as long as my mouth is closed, I don’t even feel it. I was not sure this thing was ever going to work, so I’m grateful to have finally made peace with it. I don’t (yet) feel any different when I wake up in the morning, though, and have no way to gauge whether it’s helping me or not. I guess I have to assume it is!

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When I visited my parents several weeks ago, my mother sent me home with several goodies, including her last African Violet plant, which was not doing well since she’s been unable to take care of things around the house as well as she used to. It was a pale, droopy, sick-looking thing that hadn’t bloomed in living memory. I repotted it as soon as I got back to my house, and have been fertilizing it every week with African Violet food. It’s doing great!

african-violet

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I’m on a Mexican food kick lately, and I found an inexpensive molcajete (stone mortar and pestle) at the Big Box Store a few days ago that I just had to have. The care instructions say it needs to be “seasoned,” meaning you have to essentially sand off all the loose grit by grinding up a few batches of uncooked rice in it before making, say, guacamole. I tried that and got nowhere—rice is a heck of a lot more abrasion resistant than you might expect—so I went to the internet to find better instructions. The Mija Chronicles told me what I needed to know, although I didn’t like it a bit. This is how she says to season a molcajete:

Note: This is going to take a few hours, so make sure you’re well-nourished and rested when you start.

Gather about 1 cup each of dried, split corn and dried beans, and 1 1/2 cups of dried white rice. In Mexico, you can find these things at almost any mercado.

Toss a scant 1/4 cup of ground corn into your molcajete. Grind until it turns into coarse flour. You don’t want it too coarse—I’ve found that just when you think you might be done, you should grind for another 20 minutes or so, just to get a better texture. When the corn is done, scoop it into the trash. Repeat with the next round. Do this four times.

Repeat with the dried beans, which will also be ground four separate times, until they’re completely dissolved and flour-like. On the third turn of beans, start soaking about 1/2 cup of your white rice in water.

When you’re done with the beans, move on to the dried rice and grind it four separate times. Then grind the soaked rice three times. When you’re done, rinse your molcajete under water and use a little brush or small hand-broom to clean it. Turn it upside-down to air dry.

It took me an hour to get through three batches of beans before my arm pretty much just fell off.

Turning this…

molcajete-with-beans

into this …
molcajete-with-bean-flour

is some hard work. You can pound on those beans for 10 solid minutes and there will still be dozens in the batch that look as though they have never been touched by a human hand, let alone a stone pestle. And the worst part is that even after three rounds of grinding dried pinto beans into muy fine flour, thank you very much, the damn thing is still gritty. I learned too late that cheap molcajetes sold in big box stores are often made with (relatively soft) concrete and never lose their grittiness. Yay. We’ll see how my first batch of guacamole comes out before deciding whether to keep this thing.

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The first anniversary of my mother’s stroke came and went at the end of April. She was apprehensive about it, but I encouraged her to mark the day by celebrating all that she has accomplished since the morning she woke up in the hospital and could barely move. She couldn’t even sit up straight without assistance for weeks and couldn’t walk for months. Now she gets around her house quite handily with a walker and wheelchair (and has walked with a cane with her rehab therapist), is able to handle all the washroom chores on her own, and helps with meal prep, washing dishes, and many other household tasks. She and my dad have started going to the rehab gym at the hospital and working out three days a week, she’s able to get up and down the entryway stairs and walk with a walker from the house to the garage, and she’s even taking a t’ai chi class and talking about driving again. She’s a remarkable model of strength, courage and perseverance. She doesn’t consider herself brave or in any other way remarkable, though. She just sees herself as playing the hand she’s been dealt as best she can. Well, we’re proud of her anyway.

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And finally, I have for you a fantastic recipe! Big Oven makes a Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce that will knock your socks off.

chicken-in-basil-cream-9

It is by far the best thing I’ve cooked all year, and I am looking forward to making it again tomorrow night. I followed the recipe for the most part … I seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper before breading it because otherwise it’s always too bland for my taste. Also, I used Peppadew peppers instead of pimentos because they’re easy for me to get and OMG-so-delicious: sweet and just a tad spicy. Try ’em if you can find ’em!

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Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and Happy Mothers Day to all the moms! 🙂

This car can take it

I’ve always thought the Subaru Forester is a really cute, smart car with everything I value in a vehicle: fuel economy, cargo room, all-wheel drive, excellent visibility, comfortable amenities, and a reasonable price. If I didn’t drive an Escape, I’d probably drive a Forester.

Yet more evidence of this car’s value comes from that terrible freeway crash I alluded to at the end of yesterday’s post. Here is the car that got the worst of all 44 vehicles involved:

crushed-subaru

The Subaru was struck by a 2004 Kenworth logging truck driven by Cory D. Ford, 38, of Emmett. The Subaru got caught in the right front section of the logging truck’s loaded trailer and rolled several times as it was pulled forward.

Silva was taken by ambulance to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. He was listed Thursday morning in serious condition, a hospital spokesman said.

That any person could have come out of that wreckage alive is a miracle. I mean, run over and rolled by a loaded logging truck at freeway speed! That is almost the very definition of a non-survivable event. Mr. Silva-Cuellar was either very lucky or very well protected or both. We wish him all the best in his recovery.

Volvo used to be synonymous with safety, but I think Subaru might be usurping its place.

new-subaru

Yep, I could see myself in one of these.


Update, January 13, 2014: The Subaru driver has been released from the hospital.

 

 

A nice little ride

My regular wheel toy is in the shop all this week being repainted on one side after getting keyed at Christmas. In return, the shop gave me a little 2013 Toyota Corolla to drive. A red one, of course, because that’s the kind of flashy customer I am.

toyota-corolla

I can’t complain about having a nearly brand-new ride for a whole week—it’s a nice little car, solidly built, parsimonious with the fuel, yet peppy enough to get the job done.

Have I mentioned that it’s really, um, little, though? I feel so low to the ground compared to being in my Escape that it’s like sitting at the kids’ table at dinner. On the plus side, it has about a 6-foot turning radius and is a breeze to park (okay, you sticklers for accuracy out there, it’s not really 6 feet, but it is about half what I’m used to).

I can see now why Toyotas are always top sellers in their respective classes. They’re very nicely made cars.

Super clean

Out and about at the local Buy ‘N’ Large store today, I found a small steam cleaner at a reasonable price and thought it might be just the thing for a hygiene-conscious gal such as myself to have on hand for the really tough cleaning jobs.

When I showed it to my neighbor, who owns a house-cleaning business, she just laughed at me. “What are you going to use it for? Your house is immaculate,” she said.

True. But, on account of you never know, it’s good to have the right tool for the job, whatever that job may be.

Since my house is, in fact, immaculate in all the places you can’t see as well as those you can, I had to head out to the garage to find something suitably filthy on which to try out my new toy.

As luck would have it, I do have a shelf by the door that has been untouched, hygienically speaking, since I moved in. The previous owner did a lot of messy work out there, apparently, and the faux-marble linoleum surface was heavily coated with greasy, dusty, three-dimensional grime, as well as several splotches of dried paint.

dirty-shelf

It’s pretty gross from a distance …

dirty-shelf-detail

and even more so up close.

So I fired up the steamer and put it to work.

steamer

I’d love to tell you that this bad boy was everything I hoped it would be and more, and that it powered away all that nasty crud in no time flat, leaving a sparkling, sanitized vision behind.

But, alas, no.

As far as I could tell, it just kind of got the surface a little bit wet. I will read the instruction manual more carefully again at some point, but right now I am not clear on what, exactly, this thing is supposed to do that a good grease-cutting cleaner and an old rag won’t.

After three or four applications of Simple Green and about 45 minutes of careful scraping with a razor blade, though, that sparkling, sanitized vision was finally manifested.

Not bad, if I do say so.

Not bad, if I do say so. The remaining dark spots are actually holes in the surface.

I’m sure steam cleaners do have their uses—the lady ahead of me in line at Buy ‘N’ Large said she runs a property management company and uses her steamer all the time for post-move-out clean ups (she mentioned toilets in particular, ugh). So there’s that. I hope my own house never approaches that level of, uh, need, but it’s good to know I’m now equipped to handle it if it ever does. 

jennifer-lawrence-ok-animated

Still a botched job

My coffee table painting project has finally slouched toward an ignominious conclusion—to paraphrase da Vinci, it was not completed, merely abandoned.

As you might recall, I decided to do a quickie paint job on the top of my unfinished wood table with spray paint. My results were simply ghastly.

spray-paint

I spent a number of hours and a large quantity of sweat sanding and scraping it down before I carefully applied glossy white paint with a regular paint brush.

paint-brush

Not much better. The combination of high heat and low humidity on the day I painted made for quick-drying paint and a nicely pronounced brush pattern. Even three coats could not smooth it out and I didn’t have the energy or inclination to sand the whole thing down again.

I took to the internet for advice and found a tip on Pinterest to the effect that if you use a roller and apply the paint in only one direction, you’ll get a nice, smooth surface. So I went right out to Home Depot and, for less than $2, procured a miniature roller and tray kit to finally finish the job.

roller-kit

So tiny! So cute! So clever am I!

Ha.

final

This was tricky to photograph and I’m not sure I quite captured it, but basically what I have now after no fewer than seven coats of paint is a slightly stippled roller pattern over a deeply grooved (but at least reasonably even) paintbrush pattern. I know when I’ve been beaten.

So I have abandoned the painting, put the coffee table back together, washed out my brush, tossed the roller kit in the trash, and determined that the next piece of furniture I buy will be already painted! I have a lot of handy skills and talents, but clearly furniture finishing is not one of them.