johnny (part two).

All I really wanted to do on Sunday was cut the grass and haul the summer furniture out of the garage, clean it up and spend the rest of the afternoon lounging on the front porch.

As we discussed yesterday, those plans were changed. I took a day off today to get all those things done; I was hoping to finish the toilet installation today and get some outside work finished in time to grill a pork loin and spend the evening outside.

Instead, the bathroom is in pretty much the same state it was when I started working on it this morning. I still have no idea about my toilet installation skills, because I’m still nowhere near being able to install the toilet, thanks to something in the subfloor that has left me unable to anchor a new flange.

And I am out patience and, because I have to work tomorrow, out of time as well.

I don’t have a problem with paying professionals to do these kinds of things. I just wish I hadn’t wasted two full days before figuring out that I’d need to do that now.

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johnny (part one).

So how was your Mother’s Day?

Mine? Great, thanks. I spent it playing with sewage water, lead and 76-year-old toilet wax.

This began while Mrs. Crappy was getting ready for work this morning; as she summoned me to the upstairs bathroom, I knew immediately that my plans for the day — mostly stuff in the yard — were about to be altered.

stamp

She was right to be concerned about seeing water seeping from around the base of the toilet, especially when considering its age; a plumber we had in not long after we bought the house in 2008 noticed the stamp in its tank reading “1938” — the same year the house was built, meaning that was the one and only toilet that’s ever called that bathroom home.

box

After a little online research, I settled on a suitable replacement. After some further research, I felt confident that I could get through the process of removing the old toilet and replacing it with a new one. Off to Home Depot to grab the new one, a new supply line and a few other little things I’d need.

How’d it go? At first, great. Drained all the water. Dug through the corrosion and removed the nut from one side of the bowl. And then I started to do the same thing on the other side. I dug. And I dug. And I dug. And when I got through 76 years’ worth of toilet gunk, I was met with a nut that would not budge.

This required another trip to Home Depot, for a can of WD-40 to break the nut (a trip that will guarantee that I find the can of WD-40 we already owned before the day is over). I eventually got that one off too — by stripping off the top of the bolt — and was met with a bigger problem: a flange that was buried in a 76-year-old wax ring that didn’t want to budge.

hole

More digging, which revealed another problem: a flange that wasn’t bolted to the floor. Instead, it was held in place lead wings that are attached to … something. But by the time I got to this point, Mrs. Crappy had arrived home with a new flange that I may or may not use. Oh, and also a pizza. My patience had been tested enough, and with the exception of hauling the old toilet out to the curb after we ate, I had had enough for today.

What’s left? If there’s a wood surface under the current flange, I’ll remove it and use the new one. If there’s tile under there instead, I’m going to need further consultation with someone at Home Depot who knows more about this than I do. Once that gets done, dropping the new one in place will seem easy by comparison.

curb

In the meantime — anyone have a need for a 1938-vintage toilet? It’s free to a good home.

getting lit.

icicles2

Confession: this post is for me as much as it is for you.

This is our sixth Christmas in our Pittsburgh house. I don’t think I’ve ever hung our Christmas lights the same way twice. And this post is going to help me remember what I did this year — because it was really easy.

For the first few years we lived here, we strung white lights into strands of garland. It looked terrific, but it was an incredible pain in the ass. If a string of lights wasn’t working when we hauled everything out of the attic, I had a choice: find the single bulb that was causing the problem or unwrapping the entire string and replacing it. This process is why decorating the front of the house used to take multiple days.

I gave up the garland two years ago, opting to just wrap the lights themselves around the porch railings. This presented a different challenge: I had to figure out how many strands I needed — and how many times each strand should be wrapped around the railings to make sure we didn’t have gaps on either side of the porch. And should I wrap all of the porch supports? Just the ones framing the door?

(Does anyone else struggle with these questions every December? Just me? OK. Fine.)

Just after the completion of The Game on Saturday, I ran to Home Depot to buy a few boxes of strands to replace the ones that died since last Christmas (How do Christmas lights die when they sit in an attic, untouched, for 11 months?) and hung the lights. It was … easy. The numbers worked out well. No gaps or overhangs (with one exception that I’ll fix later today).

And that, boys and girls, is the actual purpose of this post — I want to remember what I did, so I can do it again next year.

buhses

The bushes on the side of the house haven’t actually changed over the years. The little one gets three red strands, while the large one gets four (reminder for 2014: make it five on the large one).

shortside

The short side of the porch has always been a puzzler. Wrap the whole railing? The entire post, or just the front? What I did this time: Up the railing’s back post, wrapped once per spindle, down the railing’s front post and then around the front of the porch post. A second strand of 100 lights is enough to up to the porch roof.

icicles1

Fortunately, the icicle lights have always been easy. Two strands of however long they are. Rinse, repeat.

maple

It didn’t occur to me to light the Japanese maple until last year, when I found I had extra red lights. Three strands of 100 does the trick.

railing

And then there’s the rest of the porch. This is where I’ve changed my mind the most over the years — and I hope I have put that to rest from this point forward. Two 100-light strands, wrapped just once per spindle, cover the entire railing, the handrail along the steps and the handrail’s front post. To do the other porch post that frames the doorway, connect a strand of 100 to the connection between the two icicles, run it along the roof frame until you get to the post and start going down. The one thing that didn’t work Saturday night — I need one strand of 50 to finish that post. We’ll fix that soon.

front

That’s it. Easy. And it turned out pretty well, don’t you think?

1. what stress?

NaBloPoMo_November_smallI used to do these as a matter of course.

Back when I was a more frequent blogger, National Blog Posting Month was a regular thing for me. For four straight Novembers, I successfully completed the challenge, and I added several other months once the organizers took it monthly a few years ago.

And even though my blogging has been anything but regular recently, I was confident about getting through this month with a post a day.

It’s not hard. And it’s especially easy when you get off to a nice, graceful start.

And then, today happened.

I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. All Thursday nights at Piper’s Pub are special, but Halloween night there was extra fun. Mrs. Crappy and I dressed up as our two favorite Food TV annoyances, Paula Deen and Guy Fieri, and our friend Jenny came up with our favorite costume, a very nice re-creation of her boyfriend Matt, complete with beard.

But the late night wouldn’t have been a big deal if my work schedule for Friday had held up. I was to make three different stops to tape interviews for a video thing I’ll be starting for work at the end of the month; the first stop wasn’t until 10 a.m., so I was going to have a relaxing morning before heading out.

That blew up around 3 a.m., when a nasty little storm blew through Pittsburgh. It was a warm night, so we went to bed with the windows open. So when the line of thunderstorms reached us, it sounded like a hurricane. I rushed to close windows all over the house … and then the combination of adreneline and the now-stuffy air kept me awake for a while.

I woke up earlier than I wanted to, and found an email from work about a couple things that needed to be taken care of immediately — and involved me going to the office. Which would make me late for every single thing I had scheduled for the day.

On top of all this, November 1 was the arbitrary day I picked to stop using tobacco. Let’s just say this didn’t help.

Got lucky on the way to work — not only was I able to re-schedule the most important appointment of the day, but I came across a Duquesne Light truck struggling to deal with a splintered tree that had taken down a power line. There’s the art I needed to go with a quick story about the storm. I got that done, tweaked a couple other things and headed out to the appointment.

The rest of the day was good. I got in two of the three things I had scheduled. I got home in time to finish my column at a reasonable hour. Mrs. Crappy and I made tacos from the leftover pot roast we had for dinner Wednesday night.

And then there was this.

dark
Yes, I know this needs to be painted. Mind your own business.

That’s the light fixture that hangs over our kitchen sink. It is, frankly, a pain in the ass. Reaching up there while standing on a chair in front of the sink forces me into an angle that causes instant screeching back pain. The mostly stripped screws are notoriously touchy; they’ll either spin endlessly or release with just a touch, dropping the lens in the sink or on my face. And when it does finally open, I am showered with however many stink bugs have chosen the light as their final resting place.

How does changing this light bulb make me feel? A lot like that.

But November 1 finally decided to give me a break. The light opened easily. The four dead stink bugs slid into the lip of the fixture instead of dropping in my hair. And Mrs. Crappy — who has been hoarding the old fashioned incandescent light bulbs because she hates how the new, energy-efficient bulbs work, agreed to let me use one of the new bulbs as a replacement, so I won’t have to change the damn thing again for at least a couple years.

light

That’s better. Let’s hope the rest of November goes that way.

sunday funday.

For the first time in something like eight years, my Sundays are free.

Back in the middle of the last decade, the editors at my paper asked me to start a Sunday through Thursday work week. Having Fridays off was awesome, but it was kind of a drag on Sundays to haul myself out of the house and get up to work while everyone else was having fun. The Sunday shifts themselves weren’t bad — they were actually pretty quiet, usually — but having to work a night shift to start my week and then get back to the office first thing Monday morning? Ugh.

I missed a lot working on Sundays, mostly time with Mrs. Crappy; we always felt like we had to pack a lot in on Friday nights and Saturdays, because that was the only weekend time we had available together. Taking a pre-work nap certainly didn’t help any of the tepid efforts I’ve made to get back into some kind of regular NFL fandom (although, yes, the perpetually pathetic state of the Browns has also contributed).

And, apparently, I’ve missed a bunch of excellent television, something I’m keenly aware of when I read my Twitter feed on Sunday nights. Because of my work schedule, I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Downton Abbey or any of the other series that regularly aired on Sunday nights. Not a single one.

(And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of non-broadcast ways to catch up with each of those shows. But I’m far enough behind that I’m not sure I want to make the effort.)

A couple weeks ago, my schedule changed, at my suggestion. I’m actually in charge of a couple people at work, and between that responsibility and the insistence of the people in our corporate office that some Big Decisions be made at the end of the week, I felt like I was missing too much as I started my early weekends.

So. Here I am. Home on a Sunday night. The television is available, but I feel more like sitting on my kickass front porch with a beer — a Stone Imperial Russian Stout, to be specific — some music — a hippie bluegrass mix I recently assembled, to be specific — and my blog.

This is great way to spend an evening, but I’m still sort of feeling like I’m missing something. So. You guys have any suggestions? Is there one or more of these shows (or others) I should be watching? What is it about that series that makes it so good?

porch

I’m willing to listen, people, but make sure your reasons are pretty compelling. Because this kind of Sunday evening is pretty tough to beat.

three days. four pizzas.

Who takes three days to make one serving of grilled pizzas?

Me. And pretty much only me.

My quest for the grilled pizza began sometime late Saturday morning, when we began our endless discussion: what’s for dinner? We knew we wanted to grill something, as we wanted to take advantage of last weekend’s glorious weather. Mrs. Crappy would have been happy with cheeseburgers, but I was bent on something fancier.

I don’t recall which one of us came up with grilled pizzas, but I know it took a while to get to the final decision, as Mrs. Crappy shot down all manner of grilled seafood, as well as flank-steak fajita recipe that I was dying to try. But once we got there, it all seemed pretty easy. I remember with great fondness the grilled pizzas I had that one time at Michelle’s house, and after I looked up the recipe (it’s here), we headed off to the grocery store while happily chattering about the toppings we were going to use.

I grabbed the Kitchen Aid mixer (first time using the dough hook!) when we got home and put together the ball of sticky dough we would use in an hour or so. For whatever reason, bread has always been massively intimidating to me, but Michelle’s instructions were perfect and I plopped the ball in an oiled bowl and waited for it to rise.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After nearly 2 hours, it had started to puff up a little bit, but by then it was 9 p.m.; Mrs. Crappy was cranky, I was hungry and we settled for beer and Spaghettios. In addition to that rather unsatisfying* option, we faced a dilemma: would the dough hold up in the fridge for a couple days? I work on Sunday nights, so we would be waiting until Monday to try the pizzas, and I wasn’t sure the dough would hold up that long.

The internet assured me it would — we might even get the added bonus of a sourdough-esque twang in our pizza crusts after all that time — so I wrapped up my precious ball and stuck it in the fridge, ready for me to grill as soon as I got home on Monday night.

Except that on Monday night, I was looking at what seemed to be a rapidly approaching wall of rain**, as well as a wife whose interest in grilled pizza had waned considerably since the weekend. Fine, goddammit — I’ll make my pizzas on the grill pan.

dough

Which, for the most part, worked OK. As per the recipe, I browned one side of the rolled-out crusts, took ’em off the heat, topped them and threw them back on to finish.

One the left: artichoke heart and crab white pizza. On the right: pepperoni and onion.
One the left: artichoke heart and crab white pizza. On the right: pepperoni and onion.

I was really pleased with my topping choices, and generally pleased with the overall result.  I did, as usual, learn some things for next time:

  • The grill pan technically worked, but it’s not the best way to do these. Covering the grill pan steams the dough too much, and controlling the cooking speed is difficult; I had to finish mine in the microwave to have melted cheese AND a crust that wasn’t burned.
  • I thought I rolled the dough thin enough. I was wrong. I like a very thin, very crisp crust, and my dough patties needed to be MUCH thinner.
  • I liked the slightly sour taste that an extra two days of fermentation gave my crusts, but if I want to cut my grilled pizza production time to, you know, a single day, I need to either A) leave myself extra time for the dough to rise or B) buy fast-rising yeast. Caveat: I pretty much don’t have any idea what I’m doing when it comes to cooking with yeast (see: Great Failed Homebrewing Attempt of 2011), and if someone who does has tips to offer, I’m all ears.
  • Roasted garlic. I mean, why not?

dun

OK, I don’t want you guys to get the wrong idea. I destroyed the kitchen while cooking Monday night — always a sign that I’m enjoying myself — and in spite of all the griping, the pizzas were delicious. And I’m pleased to know that next time I make them, they’ll be even better.

*I normally LOVE Spaghettios — but not when I’ve been thinking about homemade pizza for the entire day.

**That rain? It didn’t show up until about an hour after I cooked, ate and cleaned up the kitchen.