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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 finishshould 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
My 100 year old basement isn’t a beautiful living space and probably never will be. It’s more an area for storage and washing the dog. A hundred years ago, a basement was more like a garage and a garage was more like a barn. An old house basement isn’t meant to be a living space. As an old house owner, you might want to ignore your basement. I did this for a long time but in the end decided to replace windows and even the floor.
In the room where I replaced the floor this summer it was uneven, being made from bricks with cement slabs over the top. It wasn’t wet but in very rainy years, it added a lot of humidity to the basement–enough that the termites went down there in their quest for dark and damp. This was the room that had the trail.
Getting your basement floor replaced isn’t glamorous or glitzy. Here’s what happens during the process:
The first step was getting all of the junk stored down there out. Out of sight, out of mind in an old basement is just too easy.
But as you can see, it got done.
It’s not an easy task to remove an old floor. Here is the floor in pieces a dumpster. It was broken apart with a jackhammer. Men carried it out in buckets. (This was not do it yourself.)
Concrete was pumped into the basement.
Finally, a drain leading to the sump pump was installed along the wall.
Putting in the floor occurred with minimal disruption to my routine. Was it expensive? I’d say yes. Yes indeed. Maybe foolishly so.
I might have made a mistake and had it done and then tested for radon. I have some radon and want to get rid of it. I’ll have do that soon–and will tell you about it in another blog.
Was it worth it to redo the floor? We are having a drought so right now, I’m not feeling the advantage. When the rains come again ,the torrential rains, I’ll be glad to have a clean, dry basement.
My house had termites. They ate a board and a half from my floor and maybe a door sill.
They are gone. However, they did more than eat a board. They got me thinking about my house and if I really cared that much about it or not. It’s on a street that is sometimes busy. This little town of mine only has a few cross-town streets and Main Street is one of them. It’s poor planning for sure. Sometimes I have to wait a thirty seconds to pull out of my driveway.
So the question was, did I want to put money into this house? I decided that I did. I like where it is. I can walk to work. I can walk to town. In fact, I often walk to the meat market or the bakery or the pet food store. The house is near the hospital. This might seem like a disadvantage but the street is always plowed. The electricity is always on. I decided that I liked this house in this location. I did’t want to fix it up and then sell it. I want to enjoy my efforts. But I need to do things to it before I retire–which will not be soon unless I come into a fortune and even then maybe not. Once the termites were dead, I set about having the floors redone. The office needed a new board or two. And the whole set of floors needed to be sanded, resealed, and finished.
Unlike getting rid of termites, this was a major endeavor. We had to move out all of the furniture, appliances, and since that was all moving, I sorted things too. Not everything got tossed but I did give away books and threw out things such as old maps and any old plastic because we all know, I dislike old plastic.
New wood to replace what the termites ate.
But is is tasty white oak or delicious red oak?
Fir floors: boards replaced due to water line holes, not bugs
My goal is this. I’m going to make my house beautiful and then I’m going to live in it.
The office floor had termite damage, the living room and family room had some water damage from 100 years of existence, and the back hall had holes from water pipes that had been moved. These weren’t extensive, you could cover them with rugs, or as it had been for years, with carpet.The carpet was aging and the floor dings had accumulated through the years and I faced fixing my house or letting it get worse and worse. I decided to fix it while I had a job–before retirement or the nation falling into rubble, which ever came first. I didn’t do this by myself. I called in floor restorers.
Step one was patching. This took them a day. One question the repair company had was, did we have red oak or white oak? The woods finish differently. and replacing the termite boards was a major goal of this project. The eaten boards were red oak. It’s considered more beautiful than white but is also more porous. This is what the termites adored and bored through. Most of the oak in the house is red except for the stairs which are white oak. By the way, floor refinishers say that white oak smells peppery when sanded. We also have fir floors and pine. Lots of trees gave their lives for this house and it’s an intriguing cornucopia of wood.
Next came sanding. Sanding the floors took over a day. This was longer than usual for a floor restore but previous owners had glued carpet and parquet over some of the floors. The mixture of sawdust and glue made hard little balls. Here is a photo of workers trying to get up the dark stain from glued on kitchen carpet. Never glue anything to your wood floors by the way.
Here is a nice photo of the sanded floors in the living room.
Next came the sealing. Oak floors are best sealed with oil based polyurethane. This darkens them and brings out the yellow. It smells terrible and is hazardous. During this phase you need to move out of your house if you haven’t already. Don’t even think you can live there. Yes, I did leave my algae eater behind in her aquarium and she lived unscathed as the refinishing company predicted. However, I could smell the volatiles at least two feet outside of my house. This is not something cleaner or greener. The best hope is that it doesn’t have to be done too often in the life of a house.
After sealing, four coats of polyurethane are added with sanding in between. I thought that the sealing smelled the worst and each coat let off fewer volatiles. The last step in the process was to replace the baseboards. We had no baseboards in most of the rooms thanks to the carpeting. We had a choice of doing this last step ourselves or having it done professionally. My spouse is a handy person and was tempted to do it but I felt that the emotional energy on my part would have been far too great. How many days could I stand to look at no baseboards? Zero days. That’s what I decided.
After eleven days and a day after the last coat of finish we were allowed to enter the house with sock-feet, air it out, and the next day we began cleaning. Yes, cleaning. There was a thin layer of sawdust on all surfaces lower than 4 feet.
But here are the floors:
The furniture can be moved in after three days and the rugs after a week. Since dirty shoes are tough on the floors we will probably join the ranks of those who take shoes off at the door. I’m a person who likes to be one with my shoes. As of today, it’s all about socks. I can do it, right?
But not everyone is happy about that:
One thing to keep in mind when budgeting, if you don’t already have area rugs, you’ll want to buy some along with felt pads and castor cups.
I live in a house soon to be 100 years old. I’m on a mission to fix her up for her birthday. I’ll tell you all her dirty secrets and how I dealt with them. Here is the first problem that I solved–more easily than you think–although it left me a bit traumatized. I hadn’t been vigilant and this easily solved crisis gave me activation energy to go on and do more to my house.
One thing that bothered me about this house was this wall in the basement. It had a seepy spot that looked as if poison was dripping in. I hated it. Here it is:
And it turned out to be much more than I thought it was. Dear readers, you know that I don’t keep the truth from you. The truth sent me into a tailspin. That’s not seepage; it’s a termite track. Yes indeed. A huge one, too. Where did these dirty monsters go in my house? They went here, into my home office:
The good news is, I now knew both what had caused the “seepage” but also what had caused the “dryness” in the floor. The “dryness” popped up recently and was another “I vow to solve this immediately” mystery. Two problems identified in one conclusion! See the two gnawed away boards? Ugly isn’t it? The buggers ate right through the wood. But they stopped when they reached the other side of the wall–which is not oak but fir. Apparently, they love oak. Fir is less popular with them. Fir was used in kitchens because it is more water resistant. These were gourmet termites, thank goodness, and they went no further into the house but probably moved on to the closest woodpile outside.
Fortunately, at least here in the north, termites don’t eat a lot, are pretty easy to get rid of, and the chemicals used to eliminate them work in a fascinating way. No, there is no fumigation or tenting. The killer is contained in some bait that the termites drag back to their nest. They eat it and then you wait. The way that it kills them is that it makes them unable to molt. Then they die. This takes a while–four to six weeks. Mine took about a month to kill but the instructions that go with the bait says not to spray for bugs or disturb the home for 90 days to make sure they take the bait back to the nest. The bait is not toxic to things that don’t have exoskeletons. I had morbid fascination with checking it which isn’t good. It should be left undisturbed and in the dark–termites love the dark and damp. The bags were placed in the path of the termites. They make a little mud trail from the ground to your house. Once I knew what the mud trail looked like I watched it. Yes, I could see termites at times. Not that many but before the colony collapsed they looked as if they were crawling crazily. I was sure they weren’t dying out but had renewed vigor. I was wrong. The next day I didn’t see them and they have not returned.
The next step was to put out more bait around the house in case a new batch of the critters found my house as tasty as the last ones did.
Why am I confessing this? Because the pest control guy said that termites were all over in Pella and in Iowa. Yes. We are not as perfect here in Pella as it might seem. So if you see a brown trail in your basement or foundation, it’s not a happy trail. Believe me. It’s not. The good news is, it is less costly to get rid of termites than it is to replace a whole basement wall. Getting the tracks off of the wall took some elbow grease and a wire brush with TSP–just as if I was preparing the wall for painting. I then painted the wall for good measure. We have bait stations around the house and garage to fend of future termites. It looks as if there wasn’t much termite damage. Fortunately, this was a case where negative thinking got results. And if there is an invasion of outer-space aliens with eco-skeletons, I’m covered.
I’m working away on a sequel to Mixed In. The protagonist has made some choices that will get her into trouble. The society is absurd, unfair, comical, and dangerous if you don’t keep your nose clean. There’s a crazy cast of characters. It will need to make a turn soon and I want your opinions. What do you like in your dystopias?
I found my diary from when I was twelve. It was written in a black day planner from an insurance company. Apparently I played outside a lot with my dog, cuddled my cat, and taught my parakeet to say “Here, Kitty Kitty.” I was the oldest of four kids–three girls and then a boy. I had to babysit and do all sorts of errands for my Mom, and I would buy plastic toys with the money I earned. My parents even had me babysit when they went to church. In one entry, my sister Lynn filled an empty aspirin bottle with water and we gave it to little brother Tom and talked him into drinking it. Then we told him it was poison and I got in trouble.
One thing I notice in my diary is that I was a little scientist even back then. I looked at things under my microscope and drew them. I studied the moon with my telescope, and I read comic books. Even now I think that my novels have a comic book feel to them. I was always making models. I made a mastodon model and the cat, Inky, could not stop batting at it and breaking it. I didn’t get too mad at her but went on to build a rudimentary computer and also a “visible pigeon.” What if society hadn’t let me be a scientist! My heart would have been broken.
But here is another little brother story that shows early on how my mind was working and thinking about chemicals and what they might do to people. He had/has three older sisters who would gang up on him. One time we put face cream on him. We–this has me written all over it–told him that it turned him into a girl. Then someone-probably not me–put a slip on him. He cried so I came up with a cream to turn him back into a boy. We got in trouble anyway. But later he got his revenge. Lynn had a favorite doll and Tom put a desk lamp on its head and melted it. This makes me think that it was Lynn who put the slip on him.
My grandparents had a horse farm and we visited every summer. Those were glorious times riding Jodi the quarter horse mare and playing in the barn unsupervised. There was a hired stable boy named Carl. One day we decided to play a prank on Carl and my cousin. We wrote a note to Carl saying that Bob had to help him clean the sables. It backfired because the cousin loved cleaning the stables and was really good at it. However, we did spend time spying on Carl and found his stash of Playboy magazines in the hayloft, which we read and discussed with zeal. No further mention of Carl after that but in retrospect, a few years later my sisters later wore jeans so tight that they pulled up the zippers with pliers. Here we are on the swing at the farm.
We had just moved to Pella, Iowa from Washington D.C. Pella had an abundance of crepe paper and the neighborhood kids decorated wagons with it and had parades–until the parents became annoyed and ordered us to stop. (I think it was the next summer where this turned into a penny carnival.)
I began to develop modestly and my mom bought me two bras. One was decorated with a strawberry and the other a butterfly. My sisters crept into my room when I was sleeping and tried to strip off my clothes to get a look at what was happening. They got in trouble.
When 7th grade started I walked home with a new friend. One day after we’d parted ways, someone, a kid, known only as John in my history, followed me and tried to touch me. According to the diary, I beat him up for trying. Undeterred, he tried it again the very next day and once again I “beat him up.” I have no memory on who this John was or what this touching was. He garnered no further mention. 7th grade was pretty wonderful. During health class the teacher tried to talk about “emotions” we would later have. There was absolutely no discussion of anything physical back in the day. Another girl and I kissed each other and said dirty things to get a laugh to break the confusion and tension we were all experiencing at this heavy moment. Somehow I still got an A in that class. But the very best and most telling of all was that I wrote a short story and read it in front of English class. Everyone laughed. Even Mrs. Wagamon. Following this, I was forever linked to and chasing that low art of comedy. Reading this diary reveals my deadpan humor. My fates were sealing at this tender age of twelve. Thank the stars it was all good for a laugh.
I never liked to be anything sweet for Halloween. My go-to consume was a ghost. But I was a big 7th grader now so I changed my style and dressed up as a demonstrator in a mini-skirt and white Go-go boots with black soles. I carried a sign that said “Hurray for the Great Pumpkin.” I wanted to change the world for the better but I wanted to be sexy and laugh too. Some people in Pella found Halloween demonic and scary. They would turn off their lights and refuse to go to the door or open it and shout “I don’t believe in Halloween.” This was a huge change from Washington DC (Rockville) where it was a big secular event and parents dressed up to give out candy. (I still live in Pella but there are things I don’t “get” about it as if I’ll never be truly from here. Halloween is not celebrated in the schools. There is a “fall festival” that involves no dressing up instead.)
That week-end, the neighborhood kids all decide that we weren’t done with Halloween yet. We made costumes by covering our faces with kerchiefs and pulling hooded sweatshirts over our eyes. We went door to door. My Mom gave us some peanuts but not all neighbors were so inclined. One Pella neighbor –weary of giving handouts–even told us to “Drop Dead.”
The next week I wore my Go-Go boots to school and got my first love letter from a boy named Larry. It said “Dear Gril, I like you. I hope you like me.” We all know that I am not the best speller or proof-reader in the world but the “gril” part overshadowed his good looks and I decided that I wasn’t old enough for a boyfriend.
In the diary I mentioned that I wasn’t old enough to wear nylons but did anyway because “who wants to be a weird-o?” These were not panty hose. They required a girdle to hold them on. I found fishnet stockings more to my liking and fishnets and Go-go boots were super cool. It sure was cold walking to and from school in that mini skirt and fishnets. (The diary notes that the temperature varied between -23 F in the winter to 101 F in the summer that year.) We had a dress code that said girls had to wear skirts and skirts had to cover the knee. When out of sight of the school I rolled mine up. My mom saw me walking like this and I got in trouble because I looked “too sure of myself.” I’m still processing that one. Today I do all I can to avoid nylons. And dress codes.
The black diary ends “I will never forget you for you were my first diary.” The black diary is a window to the twelve-year old mind and since the sequel to Mixed In contains a roaming band of twelve-year old girls, it’s a bonanza. There’s a poignancy to it as twelve year old me navigates that world between being a kid and trying on grownup clothes and fearing those grown up emotions. My heart goes out to twelve year old me and to twelve year olds everywhere. I wish them all the best of life and hope I’ve done all I can to make the path ahead easier.