Last night when we got home from dinner we heard one of the most reviled sounds ever heard in an American household: the once-a-minute “chirp” that tells you that your smoke alarm battery is dying.
At least, the smoke alarm manufacturer calls it a “chirp” — but it’s nothing like the happy, carefree, burbling utterances of songbirds in springtime. No, the smoke alarm “chirp” is more like fingernails on a chalkboard or the insistent barking of a hungry dog. It’s a sound consciously designed to be so incredibly annoying that after a while you can’t stand it any more and must act immediately to stop it.
Smoke alarm manufacturers realize the “chirp” must be as annoying as possible because the act you need to perform to stop it is even more reviled. No one, but no one, is eager to change the batteries on their smoke alarms because it’s never a simple process. Let’s see … which chair is likely to be tall enough to allow me to get to the alarm if I teeter on the arm and really stretch? And once I’m up there, figuring out how to unlock the alarm from its lofty perch so the battery can be changed is a pain in the ass. Even worse, the batteries for the alarms are always tucked away in some weird configuration. Our unit had the batteries in a kind of sliding drawer that didn’t fully extend, requiring me to use a table knife to extricate the batteries. Fortunately, this unit took AA units that we actually had in the house — which is a one-in-a-million shot.
And finally, the piece de resistance — reinserting the alarm to its base on the hallway ceiling and relocking it. Every homeowner knows the frustrating reek of failure that usually hangs over this final step in the hated process. Four out of five American homes feature smoke alarms hanging by wires, or bases left empty of the alarms themselves, or bases torn from the ceiling when the homeowner, arms fatigued by being held directly overhead for minute after excruciating minute, finally lost his balance trying to perform the delicate placement, thrust and twist that the manufacturer’s evil engineers require.
Today, at least, the responsible thing got done, without incident or injury. I’m proud to say that we now move forward as a once-again chirp-free household.
We’re reaching the end of the growing season in Ohio — at least, I think we are. You wouldn’t know it by the bright green growth spilling out of one of our planters. This spectacular botanical specimen has long since exceeded the natural boundaries set by its terra cotta home, and now is growing like crazy in every direction: up and across the steps, along the side of the house, on the bannister, and around all of the other planters. You wouldn’t know that the plant is in a pot that is perched on a bench, which is now completely covered by the rapidly growing green leaves.
I’m getting to the point where I wonder what the house will look like when I get home at night — or even whether any house will be visible at all.
This year we decided to do some work to the bed in front of our house. It was okay in its former state, but the bushes were getting somewhat overgrown and we thought the bed had a crowded, cluttered look. So, we decided to eliminate the two-tier design, dig out the big bushes (except for the one right next to the stairs), and go for a more spartan look. In the process, we also decided to expand the brickwork to create a space for a wrought-iron bench and some planters.
We’re happy with the results, which allow you to see more of the house itself and also will give us room to plant some flowers.
We’ve had the same patio furniture for a long time. It’s durable and comfortable wrought iron, and all it needs every once in a while is a touch-up with some spray paint. Today was the day. OK, we’re ready — bring on the sunshine and the 70s!
With the weather taking a turn for the better, we can finally get back to using our screened-in porch. This snug little space is one of our favorite spots in the house. On a cool but sunny Sunday morning, it’s just about the best place in the world to drink a hot cup of coffee, listen to the church bells ring, and watch the squirrels play.
Yesterday we had our annual furnace check-up, and the result was bad news: the inspector found a crack in the heat exchanger unit, which could cause carbon monoxide to leak into the house. So he “red-tagged” our furnace, which meant that he had advised us of the problem and we could decide whether or not to use the furnace.
That left us with one of the more easy and obvious decisions we’ve had to make lately. After weighing the options for a fraction of a nanosecond, we decided that rather than senselessly flirt with death from carbon monoxide poisoning, we would turn off the furnace — which was just about at the end of its normal life span, anyway — and buy a new one.
In the meantime, we’re enduring life in a cold house. Fortunately, it’s not super-cold yet; today when we woke up it was 34 degrees outside and the indoor temperature, according to our thermostat, had dipped to 58. That’s well below the comfort zone for most Americans, but it’s really not too bad. So long as you bundle up and keep moving during the day, and add lots of blankets at night, you can manage perfectly well. I once spent a weekend on an island on a Canadian lake and slept in an unheated bunkhouse when the overnight temperature got down into the teens, and enjoyed it immensely.
In some ways, living in a cold house has its little advantages. I tend to sleep better in the cold, anyway, and this will give us every incentive to get out of the house and do things this weekend. I wouldn’t want to live footloose and furnace-free long-term, though.
I’ve never lived in a house that had a fence before, but there’s a first time for everything — and I’m finding that I really like it.
In the backyard our fence is wooden. In the front it is wrought iron, with a cool swinging gate that features of the shield of the fence’s manufacturer, the Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati, Ohio. (I did a Google search for the company, and to my surprise it still exists and continues to make wrought iron fences and furniture, as it has done for 150 years.)
The front fence is entirely ornamental, in the sense that it isn’t there for security but rather to add to the aesthetics of the place. I like it for that reason, but I especially like the swinging gate where the Stewart Iron Works shield is found. After almost 100 years, it operates perfectly, and I find myself enjoying the simplicity of its design, which allows the gate to swing freely without squeaking and close by itself, with no need for springs. The de facto latch is especially cool — a small depression in the fence that marries up to a free standing tongue of iron on the gate.
For me the gate serves a a different aesthetic purpose. When I arrive at the gate after the end of a workday, depress the iron tongue, and watch the entrance swing open, it’s like the door to my evening officially has opened, my own private little sanctuary has been reached, and the workday truly has ended.