Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It was a long time coming, but we have finally received our first dose of frigid weather. 

We live in an old house, built in 1900, refurbished (by us) in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 ... and counting ... and I know when the cold hits because you can feel the puffs of frosty drafts in different areas of the house. Mind you, our house is no sieve. It's insulated pretty well, as far as I can tell. I checked the attic, and it's dry, with lots of puffy, yellow insulating material. The previous owners installed double-paned storm windows before they sold the house to us. Still, you can feel places where the cold seeps in, slithering along the floors with chilly tendrils. I can feel a draft just now, as I'm sitting at our kitchen table. And I know exactly where it's coming from, the cracks of space between the baseboards and the wall. In the dining room, now Natty Lou's playroom, we have a light switch plate located at the base of stairs where there is a small opening that the plate doesn't quite cover. You can feel a little draft there. In the den, where the hardwood floor doesn't quite meet the wall, you can feel a draft there. We have little carpeting, which is a good thing, although that means a cold floor in the winter. Especially with an unfinished basement below. 

Yet by far the most serious chink in our house warming (get it?) strategy is with the window in the stairwell. It's one pane, an old pane, a pretty pane, irregularly shaped. There's still rope on the sides of it that was used as a pulley of sorts to open it back in the day. So, you could say it's got some historical, or perhaps nostalgic, significance. That window happens to face west, where in many cases the direction from which the coldest winds of winter blow. We can hear that pane rattle when the wind gusts. And I can see those heating dollars just sail on out...

So, this year, I tried to address that. I bought some of those plastic sheets and tape job kits at the hardware store. Perhaps you know about them. There supposed to be simple, and indeed, the instructions are so minimal, they're displayed by way of cartoonish sketches on the back of the box. It's plastic sheeting and two-sided strip tape. All you need is a tape measure and scissors. Any fool can follow those and follow cartoons, right?

Well, as with many things in life that come with fail-safe directions, the task is anything but simple. I started with the two windows in Natty's room. The idea was to further insulate the room, to add an extra layer of protection against the cold. I surveyed the window. OK, I can do this. I started to unspool the tape. Then, I realized that the blinds we have in his room, which I think are Roman blinds, the ones that are cloth-like and accordion into a roll as you pull on a string and unfurl when you let the string out, well, those have brackets that have been drilled in at the top. In other words, the brackets (and the blinds) block me from being able to seal the window frame at the top. That is a problem.

My solution was to tape the plastic sheet over the window and go as high up the pane as I could without interfering with the blinds and the brackets at the top. So, the plastic sheeting goes about 4/5 of the way up the window. This may sound to you like I solved nothing with this setup, but here are my thoughts: a) cold air drops, so whatever comes in will dive down the window into the plastic seal and b) the heavy cloth blind catches any cold air that would escape from the top. Of course, I have no way of testing my theory, but it makes me feel that what I did wasn't completely in vain.

The next job involved two windows in our bedroom. One of those windows was a necessity. It sits above my head when I'm sleeping, meaning it runs perpendicular to the length of our bed. And my head has little natural covering, so I'm especially prone to feeling any cold plumes. I covered that window and another with the plastic sheeting, but I'll be damned if the sills are cracked, uneven wood, and the tape doesn't stick too well to it. So, here I was, my arms outstretched with this plastic sheet, trying to stick it on to a tape strip that kept peeling off. Adding to my frustration was I was listening on the radio to the Patriots losing to the Dolphins. Perhaps because of that, I really botched the window near my sleeping head. I had to use packaging tape to adhere the bottom of the plastic sheet to the sill. It looks ugly, but at least it's covered by a red curtain. Again, questionable how much cold is being kept out. 

The last window was the one on the stairwell. Our stairwell is high, perhaps 15 feet to the ceiling, and the window sits a good 9-10 feet up where the stairs make a very sharp L-shaped bend. Can't put a ladder there. So, I balanced a chair on three legs on a stair and reached as high as I could, placing my first strip of tape across the window frame. That strip is probably 3/4 of the way up the window. Much to my surprise, considering my debacle in the bedroom, the rest of the taping and the placing of the plastic sheet went seamlessly. I am proud to say that one looks nearly smooth enough as to be mistaken for glass. And I really think it's made a difference. Whereas before you could feel a tunnel of chilly air whooshing from the stairwell and spilling into the room below, that channel has largely been cut off. 

At least I think so. We'll see with the next western wind.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Butt Up

Recently, Nathaniel has been going through a period of not sleeping well at night. For a few days in a row this weekend and spilling into the early parts of this week, he's been waking up several times during the night and crying. After mulling various possible causes, our best guess is he's been bothered by a lower tooth that's coming in. It's his seventh little biter – four up top and three on the bottom. 

His fitful nights got me to thinking about his sleeping patterns in general. Unfortunately, they seem to mirror mine. Natty is a light sleeper who slips out of slumber at the slightest of noises. We play music in his room – a running loop of a soft, instrumental rendering of some Beatles songs (quite good, actually) – yet he still will awaken to sounds, no matter how soft.

It's gotten to the point where we have had to map our way when walking into his room to avoid stepping on any creaky spots in the hardwood flooring. The path goes like this: For step one, we veer right at the threshold , hard against where the floor meets the door frame. Then we take as long a stride as we can for step two, trying to land on the small carpet in the room. From there, we creep gingerly toward his crib, staying on the carpet. Unfortunately, even some carpeted spots have shown signs of creaking, so we may need to plot our steps there as well. Once we arrive at the crib, we have to be careful where we stand, since some of the floor boards are a little loose, and prone to let slip a squeak. If we've negotiated our way well, and he hasn't woken up, then we can gaze upon Natty and put a blanket over his sleeping body.

We know Natty's having a good night's sleep if he's in the butt-up position. What I mean by that, is he's face down, his body bent in a relaxed V-shape and his little, rounded butt is pointed upward. It's been his favorite position ever since he realized he could have a position when he's sleeping. It also means he hasn't been fidgeting while he's been sleeping.

I tried the butt-up position the other night. It was a brief experiment. First, it didn't feel too comfortable, the most likely reason my joints are not accustomed to being bent so. Also, it just seemed so alien, a weird way to doze off into la-la land. I'm much happier on my side, with my head resting on a firm pillow.

This all makes me wonder why Natty and other babies like the butt-up sleep posture. I guess for now I'll just leave that question unanswered. But I do know one answer: Nathaniel is sleeping peacefully.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wee Problem of Pee

I was just about to make a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with blueberries when I stepped in it.

It was a river of pee courtesy of our dog, Hviezda. Actually, there was a main channel that ran about three feet and a shorter, parallel tributary on the kitchen floor. Description aside, it was a lot of pee. And, before I could savor my blueberries and cream, I had to get on my hands and knees to sop it up.

I wouldn't be writing about this if it were a one-time occurrence. Sadly, it's become all too common. For months, our aging Irish setter has released the contents of her bladder in our house. Tail tucked between legs, shamed by her actions, she slinks away when we notice her latest accident.

It all started, I think, last spring when Hviezda, who's 14 and a half years old, peed in Michelle and my room, where she sleeps on her doggie bed in the corner. OK, we weren't happy, but the rare whizzing inside can be forgiven. Yet it continued, and so I took her to the veterinarian to find out why.

A urine sample indicated she had an urinary tract infection. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics and in a week or so, Hvezda was right as rain. Problem solved – or so we thought.

Beginning in July, we noticed that Hviezda had peed again. If I recall correctly, this happened when Michelle, who arose early that morning, drenched her sock when she stepped in pee massed in the carpet on our upper floor landing. As more days passed, it became clear that Hviezda had peed in several carpeted locations on both floors of our house. Clearly, something was not right. So, I took her to the vet again. The same antibiotics were prescribed, and we waited for them to work. I rented a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing in the house. I took her back to the vet, who prescribed a stronger dosage of antibiotics. We waited for them to work. I rented a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing in the house. So, yet again, I took her to the vet, who prescribed medication designed to strengthen her bladder muscles, which, due to her age, may have weakened, leading to uncontrolled releases of doggie wee. I borrowed a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing – although by now, we had confined her to the kitchen, where we have hardwood floors and no carpets. The situation, bad to begin with, had become untenable, what with one-year-old Nathaniel crawling about. We obviously had to do all we could to keep Nathaniel from being exposed to dog urine. Hviezda, meanwhile, was having accidents at least every second day, on average, and on some days, more than once in the same day.

We were reaching a breaking point. A doggie non grata. An ostracized pooch. A woof without a roof.

After speaking with the vet on the phone and consulting with my neighbor's girlfriend, also a vet, we decided that Hviezda would get an ultrasound, so her innards could be thoroughly examined. Perhaps there was a stone in her bladder, or a growth in another organ that was exerting pressure on her bladder. Worse, her kidneys were failing, or she had cancer.

I took in her today for the examination. Nearly $600 later, (there were other tests.) it appears as if Hviezda has a chronic bladder infection. If all goes well, the vet should know within days which bacteria are causing the infection and can prescribe antibiotics that will knock them out once and for all.

The good news is our dog, despite her many flaws, is a picture of sound health, especially for her age. The better news is the bacterial infection can be diagnosed and treated, Hviezda will no longer feel the urge to constantly pee. And, then, maybe, she'll have the run of the house again.

Or at least a good part of it.