Monday, March 29, 2010

Utah's Governor: Screw the National Parks and Let's Mine Coal and Oil!

I came across a disturbing bit of news in today's Washington Post: the governor of Utah is claiming eminent domain over areas of fantastic scenic beauty currently owned by the federal government--for the purposes of mining those areas for their natural resources.  That's right, as a measure of our slash-and-burn, rape-the-land need for ever-more resources (and not to mention the "drill baby drill" screed popularized by a certain "expert" in domestic energy policy), Gov. Herbert signed a pair of laws which would take land the federal government had protected and presumably open the lands to mine away the coal, oil, and natural gas contained therein.

In particular, Utah's governor wants to take portions of the Grand Staircase of the Escalante National Monument, protected by Bill Clinton in 1996, as well as parts of national parks and designated wild areas and turn them over to development and mineral exploitation (77 oil and gas leases scrapped last year by the Interior Department).  Given the environment-destroying antics typically involved--like mountaintop removal coal mining in WV--it's a fair bet that these scenic lands would be permanently disfigured for the short-term gain of a bit of coal and oil.

There are, of course, legitimate concerns on Utah's part.  The federal government holds nearly 60% of the state's land by area.  Some of the lands absorbed into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had been designated, through their development, to raise money to pay for Utah's public school systems.  But the feds compensated Utah for the latter loss, giving them mineral rights on other lands plus a chunk of cash for the schools, too.

Utah's is claiming the feds "should have sold the land by now," which to me completely misses the point of federal ownership of land for public use and trust.  The US is holding those lands to protect them and preserve them for future generations; selling them to Utah or to private concerns without an irrevocable protective clause in place (e.g. the lands must remain undeveloped and unexploited in perpetuity) would amount to the US government failing to uphold its duty.

My biggest worry is that no one will really care.  It's like the mountaintop removal mining going on in West Virginia and other coal states, which is an absolutely atrocious destruction of the one enduring resource the Mountain State possesses: its natural beauty--not to mention the lasting damage done to the environment by such an abhorrent practice.  In low-population areas, particularly those with struggling economies, it's very difficult to attract national interest, and too often the local populace simply takes for granted what they risk losing, all in the myopic pursuit of yet another strip mall and the gas needed to drive there.

And then, "it's just a desert."  And it's remote.  Through the 20th century, we as a nation lost some of our most scenic natural wonders because they were "useless" lands; for example, many unique rock formations and gorges were flooded beneath the reservoirs of the dambuilding mania of the Bureau of Reclamation (Flaming Gorge in Utah being one well-known case, itself a "sacrifice" in a lengthy battle by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups--and one they later came to regret, alongside the loss of Glen Canyon to Lake Powell).  Not enough people have seen the beauty of the area to care, and, heck, heck, a fair chunk of people probably wouldn't care even if they'd seen first-hand the wonders of the West; so long as they can get cheap gas and electricity and have a convenience store within a few blocks (to which they'd drive, mind you, never walk), who cares about "nature," they say.

And that's the real tragedy here.

(p.s. I'm hoping to go out to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as well as Goblin Valley and some of the other fantastic natural wonders of that part of Utah at the end of April, with Beth... if the trip happens, I'll be SURE to post photos so you can see exactly why I'm so concerned by this news.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Locavore's Dilemma

Back in grammar school, you probably learned the terms herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore, but I'm betting your teacher never said anything about "locavores."  Quite simply, a locavore eats food grown as close to home as possible.  Still, there's a bit of a dilemma for the gourmet cook, for though locally-grown food offers a lot of opportunities and flavors, sometimes that imported cheese or out-of-season produce is a necessity for the menu.  And the ingredients for locavore cuisine are typically more expensive, too.

Beth and I try to practice local food buying when possible.  More and more grocery stores are identifying locally-grown foods, with some, like the Whole Foods chain, often identifying the distance from the store to the farm or producer.  And, of course, there are farmers' markets and local co-ops--not to mention the ultimate in local food production: growing the food in your own back yard, using local materials and natural practices (no trucked-in $4-a-bag mulch or fertilizer: use free local compost, for example).

Locavore culture is what the "organic" food craze should have really been about, even before the corporate megafarms got into the "organic" gig and drove the term into meaningless vapidity.

Locally-produced foods have the obvious benefit of reduced carbon footprint: they don't require the carbon investment of extensive transportation, first of all, and additionally were and likely were produced with less mechanized processes and with less petrochemical-intensive pesticides & fertilizers.  Beyond the carbon advantages, though, locally grown/raised food has several other benefits:
  • Supports local farms and businesses, which often (but not always, depending on where you live) tend to be smaller, individually- and cooperatively-owned, vs. the mega-agribusinesses that produce so much of our food.
  • More flavor: because they don't have to be shipped long distances or stored for long periods, the varieties of produce grown locally tend to be much more flavorful. Consider a typical heirloom tomato from the farmer's market compared to a megamart beefsteak tomato: one is almost good enough to eat as a meal on its own, the other a bland pap bred to survive picking by machine, rough handling, and shipping across the country or continent.
  • More varieties: megamarts and big agribusinesses want to sell a lot of a very few sorts of produce and to offer the same products everywhere.  Local growers plant and harvest what works for the local conditions and often have a much broader selection which never darkens the shelves of the neighborhood megamart.
  • More natural: if buying foods which grow or occur naturally in the area (and in-season), that is--something which is more likely with locally-produced foods.
All those benefits aside, though, as I said earlier and as the title of this piece suggests, being a locavore isn't always the easiest or best option.  Locally-produced foods are typically available only in-season, and though formulating a seasonal diet (vs. simply taking advantage of seasonal foods) is laudable in and of itself, it's also quite a challenge--more of one than I have time to tackle despite my culinary creativity.

Some foods simply aren't available locally regardless of the season; Virginia isn't exactly brimming with citrus growers, for example.  And there are regional specialties not available (or not with the same defining characteristics) except from their native production areas; think of the French appellation d'origine controlee, or "AOC," and similar systems.  Even absent the regulatory strictures legally linking a particular food to one region, imitations from elsewhere often lack the distinctive something which one can't simply replicate locally (consider, for a moment, the French notion of terroir, which is at its heart the fact that the land from which a particular grape, tea, or coffee grows in imparts a specific, characteristic quality to that foodstuff).  So though one can likely find a local substitute for Parmesan cheese, Champagne, or proscuitto di parma, it simply won't be the same.

I do, however, have to say as a cook I do enjoy the challenge of recreating regional specialties with locally-available ingredients, and I love the inspiration of regional cuisine even if not working with the specific ingredients.  But then again, though a local chevre soft goat cheese is something I've used quite successfully in bruschetta in the past, it simply doesn't compare to an imported bufala Mozzarella from Italy at that culinary task, either.  So the occasional taste of non-local food shouldn't be considered in inexcusable sin for the environmentally conscious, should it?

Finally, there's the financial cost aspect.  Locally-grown food can be cheaper, but in my experience, rarely is, and in some cases, can be significantly more expensive for the consumer than the fruits of a carbon-dependent, far-flung transportation grid.  We bought a huge container of seedless red grapes at Costco last weekend, imported from Chile... for $7.  Domestic grapes at the grocery store ran more than that for less than half the quantity, and were of inferior in quality (and local grapes aren't available right now, either; even the domestic ones have been trucked from California).  And heresy of heresies: the Tuscan blood oranges we picked up for $9 at Costco are far superior in taste and convenience than the Florida oranges we bought at the grocery store.  But some local food is comparable in price; farmers' market produce typically beats megamart prices, at least around here; meat from a local farm or slaughterhouse--if bought in bulk--is much cheaper than at the supermarket; and that gallon of local milk we got at Whole Foods was within a quarter of what the stuff trucked in from out of state and sold at the grocery store cost.

I guess, then, it's good that we're at least aware of the financial costs (overt and hidden) as well as the environmental trade-offs involved in buying and eating non-local foods.  That we're even cognizant of the issues of locavore cuisine and the unsustainable life our civilization is pursuing full-speed-ahead and damn-the-torpedoes is a step up the green ladder from the vast majority of consumers.

But it's still a dilemma nonetheless, and not one I'm willing as yet to solve wholeheartedly and completely on the local side.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cooking Up Some More Tastes of Italy

When we visited Michael and Sam in Italy, we had some really great meals, and as someone who spends a fair amount of time in front of the range myself, I found good inspiration from the cuisine we enjoyed abroad.  Last weekend, I put together some homemade pasta; today while out grocery shopping, I came across some "Bufala" Mozzarella, and decided to bake up some bruschetta.  (It's amazing, really, what you can find at Costco.)

I started with some halved flatbread rolls--normally, I'd make my own crusts, but I was on a constrained schedule. The bread went into the broiler for a few moments, followed by a rub-down with a half a clove of garlic when out and just toasty.  Then, a thin layer of tomato sauce (maybe 1-2 tablespoons each), topped with some sautéed onion and mushrooms (or "funghi" in Italiano).

A layer of fresh Mozzarella topped the bruschetta, followed by some of the Bufala Mozzarella, which has a creamier, "fluffier" consistency.  I added some prosciutto di parma (thank you, Costco) to mine, and finished each with a few grinds of pepper before putting them under the broiler again.

I also prepared a bit of breakfast ahead of time, juicing several oranges by hand to be chilling overnight in the fridge.  Costco has had some fantastic Sicilian Tarocco oranges--yes, we're not being very good localvores right now, I know--which are very sweet and often have the distinctive "blood orange" flesh that gives some extra color to our morning glass of OJ:

And, of course, we had espresso.  It wouldn't be an Italian meal without some Joe.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brewing Up a More Authenitic Cuppa

Beth and I are both coffee-heads, so we definitely appreciated the fine coffee on our trip to Italy--and, by comparison, realized just what a poor job of producing espresso our combination coffeemaker did.  Thus, atop our list of priorities once back stateside was tracking down a good espresso maker, one which would yield proper "crema" on each and every cup.  (That light foam atop my cup in the photo to the left isn't milk or added cream; it's the crema of the coffee itself.)

A bit of online research really helped unmuddle the waters; we needed something more than a basic steam-driven espresso maker (like the one built into our drip coffee machine) because the steam-driven units simply don't generate enough pressure to produce truly good espresso--and certainly no "crema" on top.  High-end, fully-automated units would certainly fit the bill, but we weren't about to spend $1000+ on an espresso machine, either.

So we settled on the Jura-Capresso 121.01 Ultima, which several sites reviewed as being nearly perfect within its price range.  A pump provides 18 bars of pressure (most models in the sub-$500 range only manage 15 bars), yielding nice crema each time, and the machine manages tamping the grinds for you.  Surprising was that no one seemed to stock the machine locally; I checked Bed Bath & Beyond (they do sell it online), Macy's, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, and several department stores fruitlessly before giving in and ordering it from Amazon as I should have originally.

The machine came in yesterday afternoon, and though I don't typically go for caffiene in the evening, I had to try it out by making a couple of cups of espresso for Beth and myself to celebrate.  Excellent results, I must say--though I've yet to put the frother/steamer to the test for a milk drink.  (This weekend, perhaps.)  At any rate, we're now well-equipped for good coffee, between the French press Michael & Sam gave us a few years ago and the new espresso machine... plus our not-so-bad drip coffee maker for the big pot of Joe when family comes to town.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cooking Up Homemade Pasta

After some fantastic pasta eating in Italy, I decided it was time to put my six-plus-year-old pasta plates for my stand mixer to work and craft up a homemade batch of noodles.

The absolutely most fantastic dish I had during our brief Italian vacation was a "gnoccietti" in garlic cream sauce with mushrooms and pancetta.  Readers may be familiar with gnocci, the small potato dumplings cooked like pasta; gnocietti are small gnocci, though they may be made from wheat flour instead of potato.  I decided to emulate at least the gnocietti--if not the sauce, at least not this evening with a weekend of hard labor at the garden and laying tile in the basement behind me--and whipped up a batch of basic pasta dough, which I flavored with some of my homemade pesto:

  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup ground semolina
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp basil pesto
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • water, as needed
I beat the eggs and added them to the flour and salt, mixed, and then added in the pesto and a couple of tablespoons of water to bring the dough together, then it was time for the Kitchen Aid to take to kneading the dough and putting the gluten in the flour to work.  After about 7-10 minutes of kneading, the dough went into the fridge while I prepped the boiling water and got my pasta extruder set up.

I tried a few of my pasta plates out, making some serviceable linguine before switching over to the fine meat grinding plate to create 1/4" solid tubes of dough, which I cut into 1" long pieces as they came out of the extruder.  After a bit of boiling, I drained and plated the gnocietti.

The sauce came out of a jar, though I did juice it up a bit with a decidedly non-Italian touch: a splash of Irish whiskey to bring out the tomato flavor.  Service included some grated Romano cheese, and a nice Petit Syrah (I've still enough congestion from my cold I didn't want to crack open an Italian wine, yet), accompanied by some rosemary sea salt bread.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spending a Spring Weekend in the Gardens

At Chateau Papillon, we took full advantage of the fantastic weather this first weekend of Spring to get to serious work in our gardens.  Mother Nature, too, has been busy in and around our yard, bringing the first real signs of the season, from the birds singing each morning and dusk (including a pair of Eastern Bluebirds we hope choose one of our nesting boxes) to the early flowers and new growth on the trees and shrubs.

One of the more stunning images of the nascent season is the bark on our River Birch (Betula nigra), which for the first few decades of the tree's life flake away like paper each year to reveal the new growth beneath.  That River Birch, despite being bent over to the ground by the weight of three snowfalls, has done very well and currently stands at least 15 feet tall.  It was only 7 feet or so last March when Beth and I planted it.  We plan to add a couple more birches to create something of a curved wall of the trees, but as yet, haven't come across specimens we like yet in browsing the garden centers.

Another sign of the coming of the vernal equinox is mulch.  Last year, we filled several Rubbermaid containers we'd unpacked of clothes with load after load of free mulch from the Fairfax County recycling center, tallying at least 15 cubic yards combined across shredded leaf meal (which by this year has broken down into nice, rich, black soil) and more traditional hardwood mulch--stuff for which people pay $4 a bag down at Home Depot, all free.  This year, I got a hitch put on my Forester and rented a U-Haul trailer to make the loads a bit easier to manage.

Pictured is the first load of hardwood mulch, 2.5 cubic yards when all was said and done.  We picked up a couple of loads of wood mulch, using it to refresh our front planting beds and to begin on the same out back.  To that, we added another load of leaf meal, which we're putting to the task of an expanded "natural area" (read: grass-free) out back.

Late last Fall, in planting the front bed, Beth "mass planted" with spring bulbs along the border of the natural area we crafted, something which paid dividends in the crocus field which has sprung up despite having been buried beneath several feet of snow in February just as they began to emerge.

Next up at Chateau Papillon: springtime planting.  We picked up a trailerload of flora at the garden centers on Saturday, including an American Redbud tree we'd talked about since last year--and which I'm not quite sure how we'll move to the back yard (it weighs at least 350 pounds by my estimation).  For curbside appeal, we picked up a weeping Pussy Willow--currently covered in flowering, fuzzy catkins--and a couple more native Red-twig Dogwoods.  For the back yard, we found three Rhododendrons, two red-flowering and one pink.  And a Ninebark, which I'm not sure exactly where we'll place just yet.  Finally, we picked up two more Inkberry Hollies for the front bed, to fill in the gaps from snow damage.  (Still to come are a couple of American Hollies, with one to replace the specimen we lost out front.)

We picked up two bags of Holly fertilizer (also for dogwoods and blueberries), a bag of "bio-tone" (mycorrihizial fungi to help with rooting), six bags of composted "Merrifield Mix" for planting, and nine bags of composted manure for sheet mulching to expand our natural areas.

It's times like these I wonder why I have a gym membership.  Between the lack of time and the intense workouts I get from loading & unloading, carrying, digging, mixing, and the countless other garden chores, I sometimes think I singlehandedly keep generic ibuprofen manufacturers in business.  But Spring is here!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Five Things I Miss About Europe

Beth and I are back from our too-brief European vacation, a trip which took us to Germany, through Austria, and into northern Italy, and already I have a hankering for what we left behind.

  1. The Autobahn.  Yes, the fabled "no speed limit" highways of Germany (and their fast-but-limited cousins in Austria and the Autostrade in Italy).  It wasn't so much that the Autobahn's speeds--and curvy sections, construction zones, and busy metropolitan stretches did actually have speed limits, typically between 50 and 70 mph--but the fact that everyone knew how to drive.  For a frustrated American driver, what a breath of fresh air to see cars yield to overtaking vehicles, to use the left lane for passing, not cruising, and to refrain from typical passive-aggressive road rage machismo.
  2. Coffee.  Real, honest-to-god, Italian coffee.  Beth and I are both coffee junkies and to a lesser degree connoisseurs (we've done the slurp-from-a-spoon coffee tastings), yet we rarely drink espresso in and of itself at home.  After a week of some of the best espresso and espresso drinks we've ever tasted, I'm off shopping for a quality machine that goes beyond the typical steam-driven "espresso" machine built into our coffee maker.
  3. Wine.  Yes, we've our share of fantastic wine in America, and Beth and I are downright European in our wine-with-every-dinner habit, but we visited Amarone country.  (A bit of tangential wine trivia: in the novel Silence of the Lambs, it's a big Amarone Dr. Lecter enjoys with some fava beans and his victim's liver, not the Chianti from the film--the screenwriters felt no one in the US would know what an Amarone was.)
  4. History.  We've got our share in the United States, but to be fair, as a nation our past stretches hardly more than a handful of centuries.  Europe may not have been the cradle of civilization, but Western civilization does go back millennia in Europe.  Ancient buildings, buildings reconstructed after World War II in their original style, Roman ruins... well, we were quite inspired by some of the colors and architecture and techniques and brought back many great ideas for our "wine bistro" we're going to build at Chateau Papillon.
  5. Friends.  Last but not at all least, we miss the great friends we left behind, and who played such great hosts to us during our trip.  Ursula, we'll have to make a trip just to Frankfurt sometime.  Michael & Sam, it's too bad you'll be heading back from Italy so soon yourselves!  I'm tempted to give you two a hand bringing some of your stuff back... by flying over with a couple of empty suitcases.  Yes, I think I could stand to do that, indeed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Winter's Toll, Part 2: Assessing the Gardens

Yes, I've been a bit laggardly in fulfilling my promise to post photos of the damage "Snowpocalyse 2.0" did to our gardens.  Better late than never, though, don't they say?  At any rate, now that the majority of the snow has finally melted away--a month later!--we're getting a better idea as to how the poor plants fared.

First, the large American Holly we planted last fall in our front bed didn't make it.  I think it was already in pretty dire straits after enduring the December blizzard and an ice storm, the thaw from those (super-saturating the soil), and then a long cold snap which likely damaged the roots.  But Snowpocalypse 2.0 without a doubt drove the nail into the holly's coffin, snapping the main trunk completely in two.  (The photo above is from about 2 weeks after the blizzard--before that, the holly was just a lump in the snow.)

The inkberry hollies in the same bed came out reasonably well, all things considered.  I did have to trim away about a third of the branches from each due to breakage--there will be some bare spots for a couple of years, anyway--but they seem to have survived.  The "Shamrock" inkberry--with the most full foliage of the three inkberries--came out the worst.  And the little male pollinator holly seems fine as well, despite being crushed beneath the snow for nearly three weeks before we were able to carefully dig it free.

Our English Holly came out the best of all of them, actually.  In the photo above, the majority of its foliage is still buried (you're seeing about the top 8-10 inches); it's completely free of the snow now, though, and is in fine shape, with no broken limbs.  Every other holly had several branches snapped by the weight of all that snow.

We did leave them buried for as long as we dared; snow acts as an insulator to a degree, keeping the plant's roots from freezing, but as the snow melted away, it began to get very dense, icy, and heavy, threatening more damage to the plants, so we carefully dug things free.

The Arborvitae which came with Chateau Papillon (originally in a raised, cookie-cutter bed we've subsequently blended into a large natural area) looked pretty bad after the snow began to melt; like the American Holly, it was just a lump in the snow for over a week.  Since I took the photo above, it's actually mostly regained its posture, although it's still a bit fan-shaped where before it was fairly columnar in habit.

In the back yard, one of the Japanese Hollies is in poor shape, having been flattened out concentrically and sustaining several broken limbs, and several of the little evergreen shrubs might not have made it--the foliage is a bit brown for this time of year for a healthy dwarf Arborvitae and our native Juniper.  It's too early to tell about the flowering dogwoods, although I will say their cousins the red-twig dogwoods look to be fine (not surprising, given several species of red-twig are found in Siberian and Canadian tundra--ours are US natives, but the kinship is clear).

Amazingly, some of the spring bulbs which had begun to peek through in late January seem to still be alive despite being buried for a month (some STILL are under snow!).  We'll see how the blueberries, wildflowers, and a few deciduous shrubs turn out, and the Azaleas we relocated in the fall.

All said and done, the toll of winter on our gardens has been rather disheartening this year, but I think with a bit of TLC many of the plants are going to make it.

Tiling the Basement: Part 1 (And Other Household DIY Tasks)

A couple of weeks ago at Chateau Papillon, we had a bit of a plumbing snafu.  Earlier that afternoon, I'd unclogged the master bathroom toilet, then gone into the hall lav to take a bath.  Beth, meanwhile, was doing some laundry in the basement.  A few minutes later, Beth came rushing upstairs: the downstairs shower, toilet, and the floor drain in the laundry room were all backed up, flooding incredibly nasty water into the basement.

If you recall, last time we had a drain issue in the basement, I'd been able to solve it by use of a pressure attachment for the garden hose.  Beth and I tried that again on both the laundry room floor drain and the downstairs shower to no avail; the clog was bad enough that even the high-pressure jet simply forced water out of the other fixtures.  Getting the drains fixed took a couple of visits by our plumbers, plus a subcontractor (Sparkle Drain Cleaners) who used a powered, bladed auger snaked into the main vent stack from the roof to clean out the entire line to the county sewer system.  You'd be amazed what they found in the main line: coins, nails and screws (none from our work--some were likely as old as the house itself), and even a socket wrench head, which was simply too large to have fallen through any of the drains (maybe via a toilet?).  But that whole experience is a bit tangential to the story at hand, if necessary set-up nonetheless.

Despite quick work with the carpet cleaner, we knew the basement carpet simply had to go.  Within a day, the entire basement began to smell like urine, and despite running the dehumidifier unseasonably and at a brisk pace, the laundry room in particular stayed damp--an increasing risk of mold, to be sure.  We'd planned to redo the basement, anyway--as you may recall, both Beth and I hate carpet (and who ever heard of carpeting a laundry room?)--but the flooding moved our schedule up a bit.

Taking out the carpet was a cinch; unlike the main downstairs carpet (in the "jungle room," no relation to Elvis and Graceland), not that much glue had been used to install it, and the water took care of what adhesive there was.  Quick work with a utility knife and some twine to bind up the rolled strips of pee-reeking carpet and we were done.

Sort of.

The water had gotten underneath some of the 1980s-era vinyl tiles in the basement, too, and where they'd come loose, I lifted those tiles up and away, expecting adhesive-stained concrete beneath.  Unfortunately, I found more tile underneath the vinyl, and not just any tile.  9"x9" black asphalt tile, probably original to the house from the 1960s.  There's one real problem with that sort of tile: it's laden with asbestos, up to 85% or more by weight.  (Some vinyl tiles up until the late 70s/early 80s also contained some asbestos, but what we've got post-dates that, luckily.)

The problem with asbestos arises--pun intended--when it gets airborne, and when microscopic fibers of it travel deep into one's lungs.  A few decades later, and your grieving relatives might be calling one of those ambulance-chasing law firms advertising on television, looking to cash in on your mesothelioma.  So long as it's undisturbed and sealed up, though, asbestos is fine--and likely lurking in the floors, walls, and possibly attics of tens of millions of homes across the United States.  What this meant, though, is that we had to entomb up that exposed asbestos tile ASAP.

The past week, we've been troweling in floor patch and sealant compound, building up to level where any vinyl tiles came up, and sealing all the way to the edges over the asbestos tiles.  It's still not quite level enough to do a good tile installation, so next up is a "self-leveling" compound, which we'll pour onto the floor and let settle to even out the edges and rough spots.  (Yes, I do plan to remove the baseboard, and re-seal the block walls along the bottoms where there's some inevitable water seepage, which you can see in the photo above if you look really carefully.)

A lot of the work has involved wearing my double-cartridge respirator, which I originally got for attic work (and which has now seen service in sanding down wall compound, cutting holes in the ceilings, attic work, and  basement asbestos remediation).  Obviously, we've avoided any scraping or removal of the asbestos tiles--just leave those suckers be, and seal them up; that's the way it's done.  And the one good thing about all that plumbing backup: wet tiles are much less likely to be "friable" and to flake off airborne asbestos particles.

While waiting for the last coats of floor patch to dry, I went ahead and installed a couple of lights in what will eventually be a basement hallway.  We'll be walling off the laundry and storage room area (which Beth calls the "water closet" now), so the hallway thus created leading from the "jungle room" (the main basement living space) to the wine bistro, downstairs bath, and around to the guest bedroom needs light.

Beth picked out some inexpensive sconces which ended up being very easy to install--as I mounted them on the wall around our furnace and utility closet, which was only finished on the outside, and the drop ceiling in the back half of the basement made for easy routing of the wiring.  I intend to move the lights over to another circuit once I relocate the larger fixture which currently sits over the laundry area; I discovered last week that the same circuit serves my office, the laundry room lights, and one set of living room lights upstairs.  When we pulled out the electric range, that freed up room for several small (15A) circuits in the main breaker box, and it will be a simple matter to tie into one of the unused 15 amp breakers and split these lights off of the other circuits.

Much more to do; I hope we can lay most of the tile itself tomorrow.  We won't have time to finish the hallway walls before going to Europe for a short vacation in a few days, but we'll at least be well on the way to having the "water closet" redone.