Christmas Tree Confessional

I have a fake tree. This is quite a confessional from someone who dislikes plastic bags and eats organic foods. I’m plastic averse so why do I have a fake true? Here’s why: Let’s be honest. Christmas trees are not a sign of life–they are dead–chopped from their roots. I figured this out at a young age as I walked home from first grade in a snowy Michigan January and there were the trees, out for the trash. The beautiful evergreens were green no more. I tried to save one, keeping it in the backyard and packing snow around the trunk. No good. It browned. I know that are all sorts of reasons why a real tree is better. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have one. If you do, I don’t judge you. I have a relic from my childhood tat I drag like a discarded tree.

My artificial tree is old. It needs each branch inserted into the trunk. Putting it together is such an ordeal that DH balks and complains bitterly before starting the assembly. And since he’s a perfectionist and I’m an analytical chemist–a profession that requires you to be only as perfect as you need to be to get the job done properly and no more–we can’t work together. The task falls to him. It is not a joyous occasion.

This year, as I was not helping put the ancient tree together, I asked myself what species of tree this was. The box says its Houston Pine Blue. Apparently, this is a species only found in fake Christmas trees although the blue pine exists in the wild. My tree doesn’t resemble a blue pine. It doesn’t even have a pine look about it and it is not at all blue. In trying to ID this fake tree, I looked up how to identify evergreen trees. Here’s what I found out:

Spruces can live for hundreds of years. They have single needles on a little peg and when plucked the needles are firm and can be rolled between your fingers.

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Each short, fat needle sits on a woody plug–it’s a spruce!

Fir trees are almost synonymous with Christmas and the balsam fir is a best seller for trees and wreaths. Fir trees are fast growers and add a “whorl” of upright branches each year. They have single needles that are stiff and not on a peg. The needles can’t roll. They’re slippery. (The Douglas fir is a unique type of tree and not a real fir.) And fir trees have smooth bark.

 

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If you look closely at this fir you can see that the needles are flatish.

Pine trees have needles in clusters of 2, 3, or 5 and also have woody cones. The Scotch pine is the most widely sold Christmas tree.

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Needles in clusters=pine

 

My tree has short, un-clumped needles. It’s not a pine. It’s a fir or maybe a spruce. It has branches that turn upward like a fir. However, if you look closely at the needles, you can see what might be a brown peg. The stem isn’t smooth. It’s wire wrapped in rough plastic, although some of it is smooth near the base. The “tree” is like a spruce in that it will live for a hundred years or more –some of that will probably be in a landfill. I’m calling it a firce or maybe a spir because it  looks like both.

I’m not alone in my fake-ness. Over the past forty years, there has been a shift towards artificial trees in the US.  Allergies are the most often cited reason that people give for having a fake tree. Ease of use and affordability are other reasons why we’ve embraced fakes.

For me, the hugging of fakes is half-hearted. I’m not proud of my fake or that I even use fake pine scent to try to make it seem more real.

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Do these needles look flat to you? The scientist in me wants to accurately classify this fake tree.

And on top of that, nothing coordinates on my tree. I have ornaments from my grandmothers, my parents, and most decades since. Christmas, like other holidays, is not something I care to stress about. I enjoy the history and memories hung on my tree. I also hang candy canes on it even though I call sugar poison. Ah, it’s a time to abandon principles in favor of comfort. At least, for me.

 

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These German celluloid/mica angels are probably from the 1940s, although celluloid was developed as early as 1869– so they could be older.

You’ve heard my confession. Tell me about your tree!

 

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What ever happened to that actress and the prince?

 

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Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact (No, this isn’t the cover.)

You’ve heard the news. Here’s the Royal announcement:

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A prince is engaged to an actress! Why would an American like me have any interest in such news at all? Actually, I do have interest and an announcement of my own.

I have interest because there was another time –200 years ago– when an actress took up with a prince who was third in line for the throne. Her name was Dora Jordan. She was Great Britain’s most famous comic, and I’ve written a novel about her. I just signed a contract for it with Rouge Phoenix Press. The e-book will be published in September, 2018 with paper backs available a little later.

Here’s the synopsis:

In 1832,Grace Clare works at the Royal Institution under the direction of the well-known chemist Michael Faraday. But science isn’t all she has on her mind. She learns that her birth mother was famous comic actress Dora Jordan. Grace is dangerously drawn into the tale of Dora’s mysterious, unjust death after her twenty-year relationship with the prince who now occupies the throne–a man who betrayed his life partner and mother of his children. As the only child free to do so, Grace travels to Paris for work and to view her mother’s lonely grave. Awash with the injustice of the cruel betrayal, will Grace be doomed to a tragic life of seeking revenge for her mother or like her mother will she be laughing in the end?

 

This novel is different from my others in that it’s written in third person –an appropriate point of view for the British Empire. The protagonist is more emotional and more vulnerable than my others. And, in keeping with the times–1832–the book is less absurd. The science is 100% realistic–based in 1832.

It’s filled with historical name dropping. Have you heard of any of these people?

Charles Babbage

Evariste Galios

Samuel Finley Breeze Morse

William IV and Queen Adelaide

Ching Shih

They’re all in Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based On Fact.

My previous novels had two-word titles. How did I get this long title for my third one? Here’s the story: Dora Jordan and Prince William lived on an estate in Bushy Park, famous for its fine deer. There was no retiring or resting for this actress. She worked to support the prince’s lavish tastes. She spent lots of her hard-earned cash fixing up the dilapidated estate, only to be tossed to the wolves and the house given to the Queen who replaced her. Dora’s not the only one thrown to the wolves in this novel. My heart bled all over the pages as I read about the betrayals suffered by the lower classes during this era. There were lots of “deer” and fewer but more powerful “wolves”.

How much of this book is based on fact? I did plenty of research on Dora’s life and times. I read letters she wrote (the best I could, her handwriting was difficult to decipher). I read plays she was in. Some such as Twelfth Night and As You Like It are old favorites. Others such as She Would and She Would Not are still published with the long S, (This was used at the beginning and middle of words but rarely at the end and can be found in typography before 1803.) Try reading that.

I became an amateur expert on Dora Jordan. I even found a sketch of her that her biographer had never seen. I have a Pinterest Board dedicated to herI’ve written about her before. I purchased old newspaper clippings about Dora and even have one of her theater handbooks. I discovered that she was prone to telling tall tales. She was skilled at her own PR. Her lover, the Prince, acted as her agent and manager. It was difficult to tell truth from the fiction surrounding her. I put all of my data together and came up with the best story I could. Due to gaps and inconsistencies in history, I was compelled to fill in the blanks. I made up my own theories about her, logical and in keeping with how theater folk were expected to act at the time. As they said in the 1800s, it’s “a tale based on fact”, but it is, indeed, a tall tale of my own–a logical one created from the information gathered, but still, a tale. And it goes against the historical record, which I considered highly fabricated.

I also did research on Michael Faraday that included reading his biography and some of his letters. He took a trip to Paris and that helped me create the Paris of 1832. So did a British guide to Paris dated 1831.

For William IV, I read his biography and that of Queen Adelaide. The Diaries of Charles Greville provided some upper crust gossip–describing William as “something of a blackguard and something more of a buffoon.” And forgive me, mathematicians Babbage and Galios, I researched you too,  and I’ve painted you as eccentric.

Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact is an 85,000-word historical novel that re-examines history and provides a happy ending along with tongue-in-cheek fun, early 19th century-science, and mild social commentary. I hope you’ll love it.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you can’t run with the big dogs…live long

I was working out the other day and I mentioned offhandedly that I was short so I needed to take care of my joints because short people have less cartilage in their joints and are more prone to arthritis. My tall companion was shocked by this. But it’s true. Short people are more likely to get arthritis than taller or average sized folks. The health woes of short folks doesn’t stop there.

People with short legs compared to their bodies also face an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  The average leg to height ratio or inseam to height ratio is 45%. If your ratio is less than this, you will want to take extra care to avoid sweets and the subsequent heart inflammation they can cause. It’s believed that the substance that causes growth, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), acts as an anti-inflammatory. Less of that, more inflammation.

However, there are perks that go along with being short. Short people are less likely to get cancer. The IGF-1 that stimulates growth can also stimulate cancer cells to grow. If you are tall, you’ll want to avoid cancer promoters such as smoking and alcohol. Yes, sad but true, alcohol promotes tumor growth. So do pesticides although the link is not clear and may be limited to childhood exposure. Tall people DO tend to fall harder and be less pleasing in bed. They are less limber. Despite this, they are the clothing models, although short people can be swim suit models. They are the ones hired for the job and winning the elections. Tall people are more confident–and more likely to get bitten by bugs. I’ll have to use that last factoid in a novel!

Short people are more prone to live longer due to genetics. They are more likely to have more children and maintain their fertility longer. And of course, a shortie can tuck into an airline seat with no problem. I even find it easy to sneak up on people. One time I was sitting and waiting for an appointment and the boss (former boss)  ran out of his office ranting that he was going to kick various asses. Then he said in astonishment,”I didn’t see you there.”  Hehe.

There are over 40 genes that regulate height. The ideal height and the health effects of height haven’t been studied much yet. Certainly we need to look into this more before we start editing our offspring to be tall. In fact, we need to consider that a preference for tallness in our society is prejudice, as Europeans are taller than people from other parts of the world. In any case, people of various heights can be aware of their health risks and take steps to keep healthy and to live long and prosper. And short people, We now know why you stay on the porch…wink, wink. Little boy checking his height at hospital

What do you need to sell a novel?

I don’t usually write about “authoring” because there are many more well-known authors who do this. However, the other day I went to an author book fair and I was complimented on my table. I thought I’d share what I did to get the flattery.

Here’s a photo of the table complete with a reader:IMG_3976

You can see that I kept it simple. No banners or anything hard to carry.–just the books, business cards, and some giveaways. The purpose of the giveaways is to get my name out there, inspire people to buy the ebook,  and maybe bring people to this blog.

Here are the giveaways–one modern and one historical. Both were carried off with equal success.  The idea to put a Qr code on the modern giveaway–a science notepad, came from author Em Shotwell. You can get a Qr code generator and reader many different places.IMG_3940

One thing I learned is not to attract children. My books are adult only and we all know that human children are difficult to manage and need many alloparents to watch them. 

So, I didn’t have food or candy at my table, as I have in done in the past. I’ll never forget last year in Pella and those kids running all over a library with my GoldRush Gum giveaway while their mom ignored them. That being said, the fair last month was not well attended and I sold less than ten books. Since it cost $50 to register, there wasn’t much profit in the day. However, the best way to sell books is still word of mouth.

Along the lines of authoring, getting started isn’t cheap. You really have to have a patron or be rich yourself to be able to do it full-time. I am neither but still plug along. I have set up some marketing surveys designed as giveaways, If you are interested in what genres attract the most attention, take a look here and here.

I’m also interested these questions about content.

And for this survey, it’s interesting that so few people even care that a book is about equality. 

I have to admit, I write to a niche market when I write about female scientists but since the books are humor, there are readers out there ready to laugh. Now, on to the next one.

 

 

 

 

Realistic view of motherhood part II

Humans are co-operative breeders. This is one thing that sets us apart from apes. Helpless human babies can’t be raised alone. This leaves a woman without a stable, reliable partner or complete set of available allomothers vulnerable.

Having a baby can cause depression and so can abortion. However, if a woman chooses abortion, she may be a victim of bullying that will cause that depression. There will be a rush to make her feel shame even though it is natural for a human to not want a baby if a suitable partner is not there. Making a woman feel guilty about her choice, blocking her access to choice, is misogyny. I experienced that misogyny even though I was having the baby. (see previous post). The protesters didn’t like my choice of clinics which I made for 100% economic reasons. I was, after all, a poor graduate student and tax reform had taken a bite from my research stipend. And I was having issues with my health insurance even though I had bought an extra plan in case I got pregnant. Some things never change.

Polyandry, abortion, infanticide, and abandoning of offspring commonly occur across the animal kingdom when mothers are denied the resources and safety they need. An unprepared mother will not nurture her young. Hamsters on a high corn diet, for example, will suffer from vitamin B deficiency and eat their babies.When females don’t have the proper support systems, they naturally put their own health and the health of the children they already have first. That’s well known.

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Will she or won’t she? It all depends on prenatal nutrition.

Legal abortions save lives. A woman dies from an illegal abortion once every 11 minutes. Countries with legal abortions do not see an increase in abortions. Where abortion is legal, about 34 out of 1000 women seek an abortion. In countries where it is illegal, 37 out of 1,000 women seek an abortion. (That information is from the Lancet by the way–a medical journal.)  There have been several studies that have come to the same conclusion. Unsafe illegal abortions are deadly and pointless. Consequently, 60% of all countries in the world have legalized abortion.

For better or for worse, many women find they must use sex to get what they want.  This can be anything from love to physical pleasure to social status, to a job, to emotional ties, to financial gain, or even help with the housework. Sometimes women are suffering from the old fashioned and false stereotype that you can make any man into a great partner. It’s unrealistic to think that chastity is an option. One of the stupidest phrases along these lines is that the only pill a woman needs is an aspirin between her knees.

Motherhood comes with a price beyond the $250 K price tag to raise a child For me, the price was taking a lower paying job with flexible hours. Fortunately, it was a job that I enjoyed although I will probably have to work until I drop to make up for the pay cut, especially now that my healthcare premiums are going up along with that deductible. It’s hard to imagine that health insurance has gotten even worse here in the US!

Despite the price tag, most people willingly pay the price. Ninety percent of parents are happy they had children. However, the US has a long way to go before I’ll believe its citizens care for life.

I’d like to thank my students for broaching this topic with me. It’s unfortunate that in this day of information, so few scientific voices are heard above the noise.

 

Lisa Perez Jackson: A Life in Balance

Chemist and Shero Lisa P. Jackson followed her passion.

Lisa Perez Jackson was adopted as an infant and grew up in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward in the 1960s. The area was a vibrant center of African American culture with a high rate of home-ownership. Her father was a postman and Navy veteran who took great pride in serving his community and his dedication to the public good was passed on to his daughter. As a child in Louisiana, Lisa noticed that pollution deregulation helped the wealthy make more money but it was harsh for the poor who lived near waterways and canals fouled by the oil industry. She came to realize that environmentalism and equality were entwined and that people of color were most likely to bear the burden of environmental degradation. In her own words, “environmental challenges have the power to deny equality of opportunity and hold back the progress of communities.”

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Author News

I’ll admit it, I’m mostly a scientist. But if you find your life missing kooky, nerdy female protagonists who like men and science, check out my books. They contain romance but focus on the protagonist and her society which makes them technically, not romances. Romances focus on the tension between two lovers and although this might be a sub-plot, it is not the whole plot for what I write. I write about society–past or future.

My historical novel has a new cover. Here it isunnamed

To Celebrate I’m having a virtual New Cover Party

Click the link above and comment for a chance to win a Darwin bobblehead, Alice In Wonderland socks, a naked mole rat toy, and numerous buffalo themed items. This goes from now until Saturday night.

Sunday I’ll be at an author fair. Sometimes these are great and you meet new readers and other authors and sometimes you sit there awakwardly. But I’ll be there signing books–I hope.  Fates willing, people will be interested. When I find the key to being a successful author, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, my day job is pretty fantastic. And thanks for visitng my blog!CE IOWA AUTHORS - CATHERINE HAUSTEIN

Liberation Cakes from 1972

As I was decluttering, I found a wonderful stash of cookbooks with recipes I doubt you’d see today. I thought I’d share two of them and a touch of history.

They are both based on using boxed cake mixes. These handy mixes were invented in 1948 by Charlotte Cramer Sachs. (She was a prolific inventor.) With the introduction of cake mixes, cakes went from celebratory to common place. Food companies touted the release of women from the drudgery of cooking–freeing them to think and question and be full human beings. Push back made women feel guilty about doing anything but housework.

There is some feminist theory about this that’s pretty interesting.  We could talk all day about the guilt that’s heaped upon women. I know that I spent much of my early life trying to be a scientist and keep up with the housework and all of the duties expected of me had I been a traditional woman. Once I had kids, that began to fall apart as it was impossible. But let’s move on to the recipes.

Root Beer Angel Cake:

Prepare 1 package of angel food cake mix as directed except substitute root beer for water.

Prepare a frosting from 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup crushed root beer candies. Add root beer a tablespoon at a time  and stir until the proper consistency.

Mock Pistachio Cake:

1/2 cup slivered or diced almonds

4 drops green food coloring

1 package of angel food cake mix

Shake almonds and food coloring together in a plastic bag

Prepare cake according to package directions. Fold in the green almonds before baking.

If desired, add a glaze of confectioners sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of water to cooled cake.

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We may look at these today and be appalled at how lazy or unhealthy they seem. However, put them into perspective: they allowed women to be both free and creative. They let women appear busy, as society demands, and yet maybe have time to read a book or even take a class at a local college or work and get their own credit card. (Although women couldn’t have their own credit cards until 1974.) You might even call them a stab at the freedom that still eludes most homemakers. And yet, as some have pointed out, for many women they simply filled time with meaningless and even unhealthy female busywork. 

Women have more choices today. Let’s keep it that way. Make the cake or go to the bakery or give up sugar altogether. It all depends on what you want to do on the road to your freedom.

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Vintage 1972. Freedom without the guilt, maybe.

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Watching Paint Dry

Paint can add or detract from the value of your home. Your need to update and the changing moods of what’s popular might prompt you to repaint. When it comes to color,  what’s in and what’s not will change and this is a good reason to not lock yourself in with siding or paneling that can’t change with the times. Instead, get used to watching paint dry.

Paint has a function beyond beauty–it protects a surface from damage, degradation by light and weather, and corrosion.

Paint was developed by the first chemists, the ancient Egyptians. The first pigment known was blue, which they made from bluegrass. Gum arabic, made from acacia trees, was another ancient component of paint. (It is also used in foods.)

Sometimes, a primer is used to seal the surface and add initial pigment before painting resulting in fewer coats of paint later. One component of a primer might be barium sulfate–the same thing used in a barium enema–or titanium dioxide. Even PVC can be in a primer.

Paint has three major components: pigments, binders, and thinner.

After paint is brushed on a surface, the thinner (also sometimes called a carrier) evaporates, the binder senses other, similar molecules growing closer, reacts with them and hardens as it dries. As it hardens it binds the pigment to the surface.

Bubbles can form in the paint, particularly if it is sprayed or if the paint is cheap, old, or shaken. Bubbles tend to wiggle through the paint until they group together and form in corners. Anti-foam agents can be added to paints when they are manufactured to prevent this. Other ways to prevent bubbles are to make sure you have the proper roller for the wall texture and to avoid painting in high humidity.

The binder plus the thinner is known as the paint vehicle, which is used to classify paint as either oil-solvent base or latex/acrylic (plastic) water-base. For chemical formulas of paints and primers, go here. And here.

Until the early 1950’s, the binder in paint was principally natural oils-tung, fish, and linseed. Then came latex in 1949. Within 5 years, 7% of all residential paint sales were latex. Today, 80% of all household paint is water-based. Water-based paint is more environmentally friendly than oil-based paint and provides for easier cleanup. Water-based paints used to be considered slightly inferior to oil-based when it came to durability but this is no longer the case. However, some painters consider them less glossy.

Even with the water vehicle, paint should be used in a well-ventilated area. Although water-based paint dries in an hour and can accept a second coat in four hours, it is slow to totally cure (bond with itself fully). This can take up to a month. In other words, it won’t be at its hardest for 30 days and should be treated carefully until then.

Any old house probably has seen lead paint. Older homes were painted white with linseed oil and lead oxide in a high concentration. Anything old that was once white was once lead. I’m a chemist and I like to test for lead. I haven’t found it in my home’s interior but have detected it in the outside paint in an inconsistent concentration. Lead dust is dangerous and lead paint chips laying around and on the soil present a hazard. Keep in mind that lead is a stable element. As such, it won’t change into anything less harmful. Lead should be painted over or if scraped off, should be wetted before being scraped and all chips should be put in a plastic bag and (in Iowa)  treated like municipal garbage.

 

These days, the primary paint pigment is titanium dioxide  (white). Colors are added to the titanium dioxide and they might be mineral or more commonly today synthetic organic. (NOT the same as natural.)

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Pigments can be mineral or synthetic organics with organics being more vibrant. https://www.goldenpaints.com/colormixing

 

The color of paint is a matter of personal choice. Some claim that colors will affect your mood. I for one want to make paint companies work for my money and like bright vibrant colors. This year’s color of the year is what I painted my bedroom when I was 13. I might fall in love with it again. It reminds me of the first synthetic pigment–mauve.

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Doug gives us a deal on mis-tinted paint. (We used it in a closet.)

 

One question you may have is if it is worth it to buy cheap paint. Consider that cheap paint doesn’t have more pigment, just more thinner. What type of finish should you buy? Low sheen paint hides imperfections and is good for low traffic areas and ceilings. High-sheen paints are more durable and contain more binder vs pigment.

 

Unopened paint will keep its properties for ten -fifteen years. Opened water-based paint lasts for about two years although some say longer. Old paint gets lumpy. Binder particles find each other and cling together, and old paint might even grow mold or bacteria. What should you do with unused paint?  If you can’t give it away, recycle it, or use it up, put it in your municipal waste. (This is for water-based paint only.)  Solidify it first–kitty litter or newspaper can help. Keep in mind that new advances have made paint even better so there is not much incentive to save old paint.

 

Concrete Details

In sprucing up my house for her 100th birthday, I couldn’t ignore the need for a new driveway. The driveway wasn’t original to the house but according to old photos, it was at least 60 years old. It lasted through Iowa winters and at least two families with teenagers parking on it, bikes going round and round over it, and incessant basketball games. It was made from a nice aggregate and held up well until the past few years. At last, time took an unbearable toll.

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I decided to replace it with concrete with less interesting aggregate in it for one reason–cost. Aggregate can double the price of a driveway and as you can see, this is a big driveway.

Besides materials, one concern about a driveway is the slope of it so that water runs down. Our driveway has just barely enough slope because when Main Street was redone, it was made 6″ too high due to an error in reading the instructions.  We would need a storm drain if we hadn’t made the grade.

Before we could get a new driveway, we had to stabilize our garage floor. It had cracks from the years but replacing it was impractical because of its ultra deep footings. Without stabilization, the pressure of the new concrete would crack it more.

Here are before and after shots of that:

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The first step involved in making a driveway included removing the old slabs–easy in our case because they were so broken. The workers found an old sewer pipe in the curb of the old driveway and they kindly took it away. Next came building a frame, leveling the surface below the frame, adding reinforcing rods, and pouring the new concrete. Then the concrete needed to be smoothed so that water doesn’t pool on it and finally, joints were cut. Concrete shrinks when it dries and when it shrinks it cracks so cutting joints gives it a set of already made aesthetically pleasing cracks.

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It took just two days to have the old driveway removed and the new one poured. Following that came patience as the “cement” (concrete is the proper term) cured for a week until it became tough enough to drive on.

Continue reading “Concrete Details”