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You may think that a broken-down studio roof in a rainy Pacific Northwest spring is about as a bad as it could get. But no! It gets worse.

Our beehive died.

Yup, that picture taken on Snow Day back in February is actually a photo of a silent tomb. Silent except for a family of well-fed mice which freaked me the heck out when I lifted the lid to look inside. I’m not mouse-phobic, but on that first sunny day when we opened the hive to find dead bees and live mice, I nearly threw up.

The Theory did the hive postmortem while I was at work and he said that when he tipped the hive over, most of the mice got away, except for those taken out by our cat Spot. I felt bad when he told me that the mom mice carried away the hairless baby mice in their mouths. Until The Theory reminded me the adults would probably eat their young, now that they’ve been evicted from the honey pot.

We think the bees have been dead since late November when we had a week or two of arctic weather. We haven’t had cold like that for years, this being the Willamette Valley and heaven on earth, except for the mud (and leaky roofs, but don’t get me started). The bees just couldn’t stay warm enough.

The inside of the hive was carpeted with dead, desiccated bees. We didn’t take any photographs of the devastation, so here is an image from someone else’s deadout. Ours looked exactly like this except for the mice.

The inside of a top bar hive. You can see a full bar of comb on the left.  Photo courtesy of Kittalog.

The inside of a top bar hive. You can see a full bar of comb on the left. Photo courtesy of Kittalog.

I borrowed this image from the April 3, 2011 blog entry from Kittalog (http://kittbo.blogspot.com/2011/04/beehive-postmortem.html) which is a beautiful site with many great photos. None of which I will ever use again.

UPDATE: Undaunted, we installed another package of bees last week!

The snow shown in my last post (February 7th)? That’s long gone! So many un-wonderful things have happened since that peaceful snowy day that I haven’t had the heart to post anything.

Where should I start? Oh, right. Let’s start with the money. My studio roof is leaking. Actually it is pouring, flowing, dumping and flooding. I have five buckets set up inside but the water is sloshing around on the floor, free-flowing and unrestrained. I had a scary moment when I realized that rain was actually coming in THROUGH the light fixtures. How did I know? Because I had just turned the lights on. Believe me, I walked carefully back to the light switch and turned them off.

We got a bid for a new roof. As you can imagine, this is the part that really hurt: a new roof is going to cost two bills. Let’s all join hands for a moment of silence.

Here are some photos:

OMG. There's a quart of water in that globe.

OMG. There’s a quart of water in that globe.

 

Inside the studio. My wintering geraniums are in the back, getting lots of water.

Inside the studio. That’s my work table under the tarp. Wintering geraniums are in the back, getting lots of water.

Another work area with a water-catching device on top. My heat gun, torch and many jars of dry pigment are under there. Did you catch that? DRY pigment. Ugh.

Another work area with a water-catching device on top. My heat gun, torch and many jars of dry pigment are under there. Did you catch that? DRY pigment. Ugh.

For anyone who wants to get all sentimental, here’s a photo of my studio before the blue tarps descended from heaven to ruin my life:

BEFORE: Here's what it looks like under the blue tarps. Bet you see the problem: moss.

Bet you can see the problem: moss. I thought it was picturesque!

I’m watching the snow fall, the very snow I’ve been waiting for all year. I understand, people in other parts of the U.S. scoff at Oregonians’ inability to drive in the snow, dress for snow or, let’s be honest, think in the snow. Snow starts coming down and we flee the workplace by the thousands convinced it’s the end of the world and we’re all going to freeze to death. On the other hand, what group of people knows more about seasonal affective disorder than Oregonians?

Although we’re only getting our snow now, we had a savage cold snap in early December. The lows were in the single digits. And again, I understand, this is nothing for you folks in Montana (Stacey Jean Barron of Missoula, Montana, I’m talking to you) but for us it was unexpected, especially for beekeepers. A friend lost two hives, and we have no idea whether our bees are still alive. Anyway, it’s still pretty out there:

Sculptures in the snow.

Lee Kelly sculptures in the snow. The one in the foreground is from the 1960’s. The lonely table in the background is where The Theory and I had lunch during the reno. It was sunny and warm then. Seems so long ago now.

Lavender from the garden, probably dead.

Lavender from the garden, probably dead. I don’t want to talk about it.

Our beehive huddled under straw bales.

Our beehive huddled under straw bales. That’s Akbar’s Elephant in the background, a stainless steel sculpture by my father. Sculptures always look great in the snow.

A close-up of the hive. Snow is insulating, right? I can still hope.

A close-up of the hive. Snow is insulating, right? I can still hope.

Well, I need to get the hurricane lamps set up in case we lose power. A happy snow day to all… and to my bees, good luck.

Caprice

For Christmas this year (no doubt as part of his therapy), The Theory made me a little book of pictures entitled Caprice. The images are from our kitchen renovation and show details of old wallpaper, textures and other strange follies we found under the wall board. For instance, we found newspaper pages glued to the wall as insulation, which looked like photo transfers in contemporary mixed media art. In other places, we found layers of paint (probably lead-based) dripping and flowing over one another in fantastical shapes. In other places, someone patched holes in the original walls with old Folgers coffee tin lids.

You can just make out the words “drip grind” along the upper edge. What were they thinking, those farmers?

The Theory photographed these occurrences as they came to light not just to document the reno, but also in stunned amazement at the activities of our house’s previous owners. Who were these people?

About the title
A caprice is a kind of architectural fantasy tableau made up of buildings, statuary, archaeological remains such as columns, arches and  broken sculptures looted from ancient sites, all combined in a landscape setting to tell the story of some fantastical, imaginary past. Merriam-Webster also defines caprice as a sudden, impulsive, unpredictable and seemingly unmotivated notion or action. I’m not sure which definition I like best to describe what we found under the walls of the kitchen. Evidence of a mysterious world long gone certainly, but also it was just so random, so… capricious.

Some of the images in Caprice seem like art waiting to be made. I can see building up a dense layer of impasto on a board and working in layers of wax and sand and charcoal to make a grid of squares and circles like what we found under our kitchen tile. And if it caught my imagination, others might want to try it too.

Detail of counter substrate.

Detail of counter substrate.

So I asked The Theory if he would make a pdf copy of Caprice (with all the private bits removed; use your imagination) that I could share with other artists for inspiration. So here it is, take it and use it. I also have a link to the file in the Free Box on the upper right side of this page where it will always be available for download. Keep in mind that it is a large file, over 8 mg, and might be slow to transfer.

And before anyone asks (by anyone, I mean John) why I didn’t just save a step and keep the grotty old 1979 plywood and call it art, I confess, it did cross my mind. But what’s the fun in that?

There and Back Again

Hello! Yes, friends, I’m back from the Reno Recovery Unit at Bellevue Oregon. This is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. When last we spoke, I had petrified albino rats on my mind and not much hope that the renovation of our kitchen would never be finished. I wasn’t far wrong on that last one. Still need to do some touch up wall work and some painting.

We moved back into the kitchen in late September, after the rains started—September was one of the wettest months of the year. There’s nothing like grilling in the rain, or washing dishes on your knees in the bathtub. Whoa, flashback! The doctors at RRU said there’d be days like this. [BTW, there isn’t any such place as a recovery unit for crazy DIY-ers, it’s just wishful thinking on my part. If it did exist, The Theory and I would still be there, eating soft-boiled eggs and watching daytime television.]

I offer some before-and-afters as proof that it wasn’t all a dream:

Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Sink wall before. Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood sheet of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Here's the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Here’s the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you'll note the lived-in look.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you’ll note the lived-in look.

Before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It's acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stove wall before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It’s acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that's NOT an improvement.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that’s NOT an improvement.

Where’s the art?

To be honest, it’s taken me three hours to write this post. That’s how un-creative DIY has left me. For instance, I spent my xmas vacation curled under the duvet watching Wallander and developing a weird crush on Kenneth Branaugh. I think it was because he cried during season two, which is something The Theory did often during the reno. <sigh> Now that I’ve seen all the Wallenders I’ll have to think of something else to do. Art, anyone?

I’m feeling melancholy today as I enter my last few days of vacation. I’ll miss the electrician coming on Monday, the water heater installation and a bunch of other really great landmark activities! No, really, I mean it. I love this project.

I admit things got rough when the temperatures dropped and it rained while we were waiting for the floor stain to dry. It turned the floor rehab into an Epic. This morning, The Theory and I are arguing over who gets to add the second coat of polyurethane. I think I have a more even hand, but he thinks I am “disempowering” him. This is the kind of gender hate-speech that causes relationships to founder during DIY home improvement projects.

Here’s what he should have said: “K, you tend to apply too much poly, that’s why the first coat took 14 hours to dry.” And I would have said, “Remember what happened with the stain.” And he would have said, “In the spirit of revolutionary self-criticism, I accept your words.” This is what an argument looks like at our house, and it’s very hard to know when you’ve won.

Here are some good things to remember:

  • The sheet rock is up and mudded.
  • The floors look great.
  • Dennis, the tool rental guy at Home Depot, says that finding an unbelievably large cache of rodent crap behind the walls is perfectly normal in older houses.

I haven’t shown any images of the stove wall because it seemed dull compared to the L wall. But it had some great wall paper.

Here’s the stove wall after the demo:

See how there are two different wall papers?

See how there are two different wall papers?

Closeups of the two competing wall papers:

This wall paper had the bright colors of old Fiestaware. We guessed it was from the 30's or 40's. Water damage made it impossible to preserve any of it.

This wall paper had the bright colors of old Fiestaware. We guessed it was from the 30’s or 40’s. Water damage made it impossible to preserve any of it.

Much less attractive paper from a later era.

Much less attractive paper from a later era.

How the wall looks with sheet rock in place:

Stove wall with sheet rock. Order from chaos.

Stove wall with sheet rock. Order from chaos.

The day started out beautifully. The stove and dishwasher arrived on time and, without flinching, the loader guys hauled away the old stove. They didn’t mention the smell in the kitchen, but they were distinctly ashen-faced as they departed.

Then the electrician arrived. When I first called the electrician, I thought of it as a kind of courtesy. You know, the guy would show up, look at the plugs and say something like, “Looks good to me!” Okay. That didn’t happen. Why doesn’t it ever happen?

What the electrician said—or the only words I could understand—was, “We need to bring this place up to code.” Then he rattled off a battle plan that included pulling circuits “off the box” and drilling holes through walls and no, we couldn’t sheetrock anything, and no, he wasn’t coming back any time soon. And yes it was going to cost something.

As he ran to his truck, hand over his nose, he said, “See you next Thursday, Friday or Monday!”

In the afternoon, The Theory removed the rest of the sink. In another ingenious innovation, one of our farmer-husband had  actually constructed the sink base cabinet around the plumbing. The Theory had to get in there with the saber saw, wielding it like a surgical scalpel until all the bits and pieces were removed. As he removed the final pedestal, he discovered the source of the smell.

I just want to pause here for a moment and confess that I didn’t actually SEE the dead rat corpses. The Theory claims they were strange, albino creatures, many decades old. But let’s just think about this for a moment, okay? I raised two children in that house. With those rats.

Under the dead rats were layers of insulation and rat feces. Think of it as a 14-layer torte of disgust.  But under all that, guess what he found? Floor boards—actual floor boards!

The best part is that smell, that funky dead rat smell, is gone. And no, there aren’t any pictures.

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