I should be hibernating

Yesterday at this time, it was a whopping -2°F.  Today, it's 0°.  I normally like winter, but this is a little too cold for me.  The heat is clicking on about 10 minutes after it shuts off, and our storm windows are covered in frost.  Our thermostat is set at 68°, I'm wearing a long-sleeved shirt under a hoodie, sweatpants, and down slippers, and I'm still chilly!  Brrr!  Times like this make me thankful that our house is insulated and that we have a reasonably efficient furnace.  I'm still dreading the gas bill, but it shouldn't be too bad. 

Tonight we're going to Lowes to get the 2 by 4s to frame in the closet openings.  I doubt we'll see much progress on it before the New Year's, but at least we'll have the materials on-hand.  Maybe someday soon we'll even work on the office..!


Vintage-Modern love

A few months ago we walked into Target, and I fell in love...
This is the Crosley Solo "audiophile" radio.  It's only about 5 by 7", but has fantastic sound.  Although it only has one speaker, it will supposedly mimic surround sound.  Since Shayne got it for me for my birthday, I can say that it will absolutely fill a room with music, and the sound quality is excellent.  There's an auxillary switch for me to plug in my mp3 player or XM.  I occasionally had the radio on in the house before, but now I switch it on as soon as I come home at night and first thing in the morning.  If nothing else, classical Christmas music sounds gorgeous on this wonderful little contraption.  And, it looks pretty sitting on the bookcase; it doesn't look old, but it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb like a normal new radio would in a room full of vintage furniture.
I'm in love...  <3


She's making a list...

Of all the crap I still need to accomplish, preferably before I'm pregnant again.  It's not a big list.  It's not even a terribly difficult list.  It just requires time.  That's what I'd like for Christmas, Santa.  MORE TIME.

Since Shayne's on midnights and I'm on afternoons, there's no good time to accomplish anything together.  His days off are so screwy that we hardly have any together.  He's working afternoons for the rest of the month I think, so tonight when we're both home, I really want to accomplish something.

Finishing the upstairs was on my list of New Year's Resolutions.  With only 2 weeks left to go, I think we're going to fall miserably short.  Here are the things we have left to do:
  1. Finish skimcoating the office walls
  2. Frame over the existing closet opening and rough in the new one
  3. Drywall over the closet door opening
  4. Paint office
  5. Move bedroom into office
  6. Remove paneling and funky built-in shelf from bedroom
  7. Frame divider between the two closets
  8. Drywall bedroom wall and closet divider wall
  9. Refinish bedroom floor
  10. Refinish office floor
  11. Refinish nursery floor
  12. Replace/recreate missing trim in office
Looks kinda like a seriously messed up version of the 12 days of Christmas.  "On the first day of Christmas, my house made me..." Ugh.  The thing is, it could be done in 12 days.  At least if I were a highly motivated, highly dedicated individual.  I'm just highly wishful and lazy.


An abundance of apples

Since my mom and I split a bushel of Fuji apples, I've been trying to come up with creative ways to use them.  Two of my favorites so far haven't been all that creative, but they're darn good!  Here are my recipes:

Apple Crisp

5 or 6 medium-sized apples
2 tsp of cinnamon, or to taste
1 tbsp Fruit Fresh
1/4 - 1/3 cup of water

2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F
Peel, core, and slice the apples into 16ths.
In a bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour, and butter.  Mixture should be crumbly and moist.

Place apples into a 9 x 13" baking pan.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and Fruit Fresh, then mix until apples are coated evenly.  Add water to pan.  Sprinkle oat topping evenly over apples.  Bake for 35 - 40 minutes.  Let sit at least 30 minutes before serving, otherwise apple juice/water in the bottom of the pan will be runny.  As it cools, the juice thickens and the apples become much more tender.


10 - 12 medium-sized apples
1/3 - 1/2 cup brown sugar, to taste
approximately 1 cup of water
cinnamon to taste

Peel, core, and slice apples.  Put into large saucepan or pot, along with sugar and water.  Cook for approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cinnamon, then mash the apples.  I've heard a potato masher works, but I use a hand mixer.  Mash/mix apples until desired consistency is reached.  Cook an additional 5-10 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Also works for canning.

Finally feels like home

Ever since we bought the house, I've wanted to decorate for Christmas.  The first year we put up a tree and some icicle lights outside.  Then we tore up the living room.  The next year we had the tree in the middle of our crack-house living room.  Last year I finally got my crap together and finished the woodwork.  So we got the tree up the less than a week before Christmas, even though there wasn't much furniture to speak of.

This year, it's 2 weeks before Christmas, and I have a Christmas tree, outside lights, and furniture.  And, the furniture isn't cheap, college dorm stuff either anymore.  YAY!  As I was walking through the room, I realized again how homey it looks now, especially compared to when we bought the house.  Remember??

In the past year, I've acquired the majority of the furniture: a mission style futon frame (which will eventually move to the office or basement family room), two matching victorian-ish bookshelves from my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Chuck, my gigantic arts and crafts bookcase with leaded glass doors, and my bargain basement mission-style rocker.  Tying it all together is the awesome rug that is reminiscent of the arts and crafts period, a leaded glass table lamp, and a leaded glass floor lamp.  And there's the mission style table that I got almost 2 years ago.  Considering how much I adore the room, I'm amazed at how little it cost to furnish it.  All told, the antiques were less than $1000, which proves you can find nice vintage furniture without paying a fortune.  Granted, collectors would probably laugh at my assortment of nameless pieces, but I'm so very happy with the way it's turned out.
It's still not quite done, but soon we'll be hanging pictures and replacing the last few bits of woodwork.  And note to self: find a nice mica lamp and move that damned Eiffel tower lamp somewhere else...

An Early Christmas Present


It needs a little help (doesn't everything in this house?), but it's in good condition as-is.  The original finish is long-gone, so I'll eventually refinish it.  The seat needs a little help, as one of the springs is out of place.  The twine that held it in position snapped.  But for $120, I really couldn't pass it up!


I just saved $54,000!

Things had been moving rather slowly on our refinancing project, but move they did.  On November 26 we signed our closing papers and went happily on our way, knowing that we were protected from going to a variable rate two years from now.  The rate wasn't great (6.375%), but it was lower than our original rate.  And we were happy just to know that we had a fixed rate.

And then, the day after Thanksgiving, something made me look at the bank's mortgage rates on the website.  As of the 19th, the rate had dropped to 6.25%.  And we had signed a rate lock-in to allow us to get a lower rate if it should present itself.  It had, and the bank had screwed us.  The bank was closed, but I planned to call first thing Monday morning and take advantage of the 3-day-cancel-with-no-repercussions paper we had signed.

Monday morning came. and I checked the website yet again.  As of the 26th, the rate was now 5.75%!  I called, the bank manager kissed my ass a little, and we went in the following day to cancel our loan.  As we were sittining his office having the new paperwork drawn up, he received a message saying that the rates had dropped again.  We were now down to 5.625%.

Over the life of the loan, that saves us $54,551 in interest...!

All I can say is that it pays to do your homework.  The only one looking out for you is you, so make sure you do a good job of it!  Had I not checked the rates on the website, I never would have known they had dropped so much.  I was tempted not to do business with them again, but since they made it right, I guess we'll just stick with them.  We're going to save another $30-60K anyways, depending on how early we pay off our mortgage.  Amazing how it all adds up!

Helping others help themselves

My Uncle Chuck has spent most of his life so far working for the steel companies in Detroit.  When they started to fall on hard times 5 or so years ago, hechose to retire and begin working for PIME Missionary in Detroit.  He has gone to India a couple of times, visiting the poor and the sick through mission activities. He has also helped to set up the Mission Store.  Following is an article he wrote to help share the story of the Mission Store and the people behind it.

The Mission Store continues to explore opportunities for our sponsors to help the people help themselves. Fr. Franco Cagnasso tells us of an ambitious group of young ladies from one of our missions in Bangladesh who have handcrafted some of the beautiful jewelry that has been marketed and sold through the Mission Store.

And the leader of this enterprise? Martha...a young woman of about 30 with two beautiful children - an 8 year old girl and 5 year old boy. And a cruel drunkard husband who is in jail.

Fr. Franco shares this story about Martha...

Some time back, Martha appeared at one of the PIME houses in Dhaka. Weak and pale with a high fever, and bleeding from a kidney operation that she had the previous day. The Sisters of Mother Teresa were contacted to address her needs. Having received the care that she needed, she left the Sisters only to return a few weeks later to say "thank you" and to offer some of her handicrafts in gratitude.

Born in the south of Bangladesh to a poor landless family, she came to Dhaka as a child with her parents and three sisters looking for a better life. Her father used to pull a rickshaw, work that killed him in a few years. Her mother collected wastepaper from door to door in an effort to make some kind of living, and the children helped by rummaging here and there along the streets. Martha and her sisters were fortunate to have learned a little bit of reading and writing that would help them along the way.

When her mother died, Martha took the lead, struggling like a tiger for her life and for her sisters, by doing any kind of work. One such job included housekeeping for a British family, where she picked up sufficient English to make herself understood. She read old fashion magazines, providing her with design ideas for handicrafts.

Martha lives with her two children, her younger sister Purnima (meaning 'full moon') and a colorful little group of girls whom she accepts in her small house when they get into trouble for any reason. She teaches them how to use a sewing machine, how to create Christmas decorations, to clean a modern house, to make rosaries and necklaces, and to print cloth for saris.

"With me," she says, "they often starve, but we starve together. I do not exploit them. They learn how to make a living...and they feel accepted."

Martha has a strong. simple faith. "I am a sinner," she says. "I tell lies... But only to survive."

She says that Pope John Paul II smiled at her in a dream. She keeps a photo of him in her house and feels protected by his prayer.

Martha and the girls continue their struggle. They put on the only sari they have or their best "punjabi" and go to sell their products in the rich areas of town, knocking at the doors of clubs, schools, fairs and exhibitions, convents and parishes. They keep cleaning houses, washing clothes, and occasionally being babysitters and cooks. From time to time, Martha is called to teach school children how to decorate their classroom or to prepare gifts for their parents. They starve when there is no money; they feast when they earn some.

PIME World magazine has supported the efforts of these ladies by offering some of their handicrafts in the October 2006 issue and again in this issue. Life is still difficult, but Martha and the girls are more confident and they boast: "We sell our jewels even in America!"

Help us help these hard working ladies help themselves through your support.

You can help Martha and other women like her by purchasing handcrafted, fair-trade gifts through the PIME Mission Store Online.  They have a nice selection of handmade jewelry, as well as handpainted Christmas cards.  All of the proceeds benefit the crafters and PIME Missionaries.


Modern conveniences

Of all the "modern" conveniences I love, I honestly think that my favorite is the carpet cleaner.  Pretty sad, huh?  But with two big dogs to track in dirt and a kitty who yaks up every time she eats so much as a blade of grass, I don't know what I would do without it.  Especially since whenever someone has an accident or illness, they always seem to look for the nearest rug to barf or crap on.  I don't know how people had carpets in their entire house before home carpet cleaners were invented.

And as I was cleaning up one of the critter's messes this morning, I took a good long look at the carpet cleaner.  It was filthy.  Absolutely disgusting.  So I took it apart to clean it.  I recommend a pair of rubber gloves and a strong stomach for that part.  All I can say is it wasn't pleasant. 

I also cleaned out the microwave this morning.  I must be on a cleaning-things-that-rarely-get-cleaned binge.  The microwave wasn't so bad, though.  We're not complete heathens.


Financial Peace?

Shayne loves talk radio, and every so often tells me stories about the people who call in and the goofy things they say. One of his favorite shows is Dave Ramsey. I've listened to bits and pieces of the show, but never paid much attention. Until last night, when something clicked in my head, and I went to his website. Unlike some of the folks he talks about, we don't have much debt. Just a couple of student loans and our (used) car payment. Overall, I think we've done okay with our money, and we save a decent amount every month. Our big debt is obviously our house payment, and we just started our 30 years over again when we refinanced. During all the signing of papers, there was a "truth in lending" statement that gave us a friendly reminder of all the interest we'll pay over a 30 year period. It was somewhere in the nieghborhood of $130K, which is more than the house itself cost us or is even worth.

So we ruminated over that for a few days...

Last night, I went to a mortgage calculator and saw that if we paid an extra $300 per month, we'd save ourselves $70K in interest and pay off our home in 14 years instead of 30. And somehow, through a few different internet searches about living frugally and paying off debt, I ended up at Dave Ramsey's site.

Dave's suggestion is to have a $1000 emergency fund in place. You then pay the minimums on all debt, and select the smallest to pay extra on. Once that one is eliminated, take the amount you were putting on that loan and pay it towards the next smallest. The result is a debt elimination "snowball", where with each successive payoff, you have more to pay on the next loan.

After reading this, a little lightbulb went on in my head. We already have an emergency fund and a Roth IRA, so we're a little out of order from his full list of recommendations. But his "snowball" idea convinced me that we should take half of our savings account and begin to pay off our debt. That will eliminate 2 student loans immediately and enable us to pay $175 more per month on the 2 that are left. If we follow that snowball idea through with all of our debt (excluding the house), we'll have all the student loans, plus the car, paid off in less than 18 months. The student loans will be gone in 9 months (as opposed to 2016!). This is all without a single change in our lifestyle or working any part time jobs. Obviously, we can make this happen even faster if we limit otgher expenditures and/or dump our tax return or any overtime pay onto our debt.


The next step is to amass a bigger emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses. It'll be much lower than it was, without all those monthly payments! And then you start hacking away at the mortgage. Can you imagine life without a mortgage payment?!

The only downside that I really see to all this is that the bathroom reno will have to wait about 18 months. But we can save up for it that much faster once our debt is gone, and I won't have to worry about spending the money or borrowing from our equity. We'll pay cash. The remainder of the upstairs reno is DIY work, and the only expense we have to worry about is a $40 sander rental. So we'll keep plugging away at that. The bathroom will still be there in 18 months.


It's not having what you want...

It's wanting what you've got.

Words of wisdom from Sheryl Crow (Soak Up the Sun).  And they're so very correct.  I'm having a hard time lately remembering exactly how to be satisfied.  Right now, it feels like my wants and the failings I see in the world are just taking over. 
I'm angry at people for having their priorities so messed up and for overconsuming everything from houses to energy to food. 
I'm angry at the government for wasting our tax dollars on programs that don't work and on frivolous items ($600 toilet seats anyone?). 
It also bothers me that our election results anymore are predicted by the amount of advertising dollars the candidate spends.  Does a millionaire really know how the average people in America live?  Do they have the same values? 
I'm angry at the FDA.  Can we really trust an agency who establishes a safe level of malamine in infant formula?  I don't care how small the amount is, chemicals like that are not safe for our children.

And because of the dissatisfaction I'm feeling about the world-in-general, I want to run away.  I want to go live in the middle of nowhere, with lots of property, a few chickens, and some goats.  I want to be far away from everything and everyone.  I want my children to not rely on electronic gadgets for entertainment, to enjoy playing outside, to love to read books.

I also know that running away isn't a good way to solve problems.  Like Ghandi said, you must be the change you wish to see in the world.  I can't exactly be a good role model if I'm a hermit...  And despite the problems I see in the word, I do not have a bad life.   I love my house, our little piece of property, my job, and my friends.  I have plenty of good, healthy food and clothes to wear.  I have enough time to sit back and enjoy life.  I can live my life by my values and not get sucked into the consumer culture followed by far too many.

I need to remember that I have all the important things that I want.  The rest would just be icing on the cake.  And I usually scrape most of the icing off anyways; it's too sweet.  The cake by itself it just fine for me.


Black Friday: The American Holiday

Because, of course, what's more American than overconsumption?

In South Bend, people have been camped out in front of stores since Wednesday.  People fight over toys, and literally run around stores to find their Christmas gifts.  All the stores are jam-packed with shoppers, though there are reportedly less than last year.  I suppose you could argue that people trying to find the best deals are being thrifty.  Or you can argue that Christmas has become more about gifts and less about Christ.

Today just bugs me.  I feel like the world has gone crazy and has their values completely screwed up. This is just reinforced when you hear about shoppers trampling a WalMart worker to death in a mad stampede to get into the store.  4 other people were injured, including a woman who is 8 months pregnant. 

What is wrong with people?


Look Ma! Progress!

That's been something of an unknown term around here lately, but today I got off my butt and decided it was time to start skimcoating the office walls.  We had bought a Magic Trowel over the summer, and we decided to dig it out and see if it lived up to the hype.  Step one is to start with a wall that needs help.  Check.
Tape any big cracks and fill or patch big holes.  Next, use a roller to "paint" on drywall compound.  The compound should be about the consistency of cake batter or yogurt.  You should use a setting-type compound, since it doesn't shrink as it dries, and that makes it less susceptible to cracking.  We used US Gypsum EasySand 90.
Then, dip the Magic Trowel (really a glorified squeegee) into a bucket of water and "wipe" from the top of the wall to the bottom.  Sorry, no action shots of this part.  But the results?
In case you can't tell, this is a nice, smooth, crack-free, non-green wall.  We opted to leave the window trim on, since we're not stripping it.  From past experience, removing the individual pieces will cause the paint to crack and chip, and that would be visible under the new paint.  The top piece of baseboard came off, since it is harder to work around, but the chips in that will be hidden.
Now, for the thing I wish I'd known before we started: this project is EASY!  The Magic Trowl works exactly as advertised, and it's very simple to achieve good results.  We have NO experience and kind of winged this, and we still have a tolerably smooth wall.  The only imperfections are due to our poor mixer (a paint mixer for a drill is not good enough!) or from not having the mud thick enough to smooth well.  Both of these will be pretty simple to fix on the next coat, and they're completely our fault.
This is the one and only easy fix-it project I've ever done on this house.  It's not tedious, it's not even terribly time-consuming.  We did one 8.5' by 10' wall in about 30-40 minutes.  It seems like it would be simpler with 2 people, but I wouldn't have a problem doing this by myself either.
I'm sure something will come up and make me eat my words tomorrow, but I'll enjoy my happy afterglow while it lasts...


Scheduling conflicts

With both Shayne and I working different shifts, it makes it really difficult to get a two-person job completed.  Like skimcoating.  Our next day off together is sometime next week, and I'm bound and determined to at least start the job.  Well, I guess technically I have already started it.  I've put fiberglass mesh tape along all the big cracks.  So...  yeah.  Lots of progress there.  But I guess it is coming along.  And once we've figured out this skimcoating thing, I might feel comfortable doing it myself.  But until then, I'm going to be a weenie and wait until I have the proper moral support (and a big, tall guy who is better at patching holes than I am).

Another downside of the opposing schedules is that I can't do anything noisy (like sanding) during the day, since Shayne is sleeping.  I've considered working out of order and sanding the nursery floor while I wait for other projects to fall into place, but that can't really happen either.  And now my mom has stolen my zipwall, dremel sander, and orbital sander, so I can't even work on the stairs on days that Shayne works and I'm off(not that I want to).

So...  Stay tuned.  Maybe eventually we'll get something done.


Musings on a 1920s kitchen

Just thinking out loud here...

After looking at numerous photos of kitchens from the early to mid 1900s, I'm trying to figure out what, exactly, has changed.  Most folks now value a large kitchen with lots of counter space and even more storage.  Much of our food comes prepackaged.  We have lots of leftover containers.  We like appliances for everything: coffeemakers, blenders, microwaves, toaster ovens, and mixers, just to name a few.  The fridge stores condiments, plus the usual dairy products, meats, veggies, and leftover food.  We like dishwashers, plus sinks that have at least 2 compartments.  Many kitchens now have seating for at least 4 people, house computers and workstations, and sometimes even televisions.

In the 1920s, kitchens were often small, with limited built in storage, and maybe a table for a work space.  Most food was made fresh, from scratch.  The staples were stored in a "Hoosier" cabinet or a built-in cupboard.  Most "appliances" were hand-cranked, like small mixers or meat grinders.  Work space consisted of a table or maybe a small countertop.  Refrigerators were smaller and stoves were larger.  Sinks were wide, shallow, and had massive drainboards.

The ony reason I can think of for kitchens to be bigger and have more storage now is for convenience.  We (as a society) cook fewer meals and spend less time doing it.  Why do we need more space?  With prepackaged foods gaining popularity, we needed somewhere to put them.  Since we don't like to do things by had any more, we need appliances in abundance.  And why should we hide our pretty small appliances away when we can have them conveniently sitting on the counter waiting for use?

I don't want to kill the resale value of our house (assuming we ever move), but I also need to assess the type of cooking that we do.  We don't use many prepackaged foods, but I often buy things in quantity.  We keep the staples on-hand: baking basics, spices and seasoning, pastas, cereals, some canned goods, and several types of crackers.  I seem to use the same few pots and pans for everything.  We've been phasing out plastic leftover containers, but the glass ones don't nest as well.  I have too many appliances that I don't use.  We own a blender that I think we've used twice.  Our food processor gets used once or twice a year to chop onions and celery.  I do use the electric hand mixer a lot.  The food mill is used for pasta sauce, but I only make 1 or 2 big batches per year.  The toaster oven and microwave seriously hog our counter space.  I have a drawer full of utensils that never get used. 

I already knew that we don't want a "modern" kitchen.  For one thing, we don't have the space, but we also just don't live in such a way that the kitchen is the gathering space.  We don't entertain too often, and we make simple meals that don't require hours of prep.  When I do cook larger meals, though, I wish I had more prep space.  A work table would be wonderful.  We could also get by with less storage.  Eh, I need to get through the upstairs first, but after looking at kitchen pics at the Library of Congress, I just started obsessing again...!


One less thing to worry about!

The appraiser came today, and even though I won't know until at least Monday how our house measured up, I feel much more confident after talking with her.  For those of you who have never had an appraisal, here's how it went.

First, she walked through the house and took pictures of each room.  Next she measured each room and drew out a floor plan.  She also checked the furnace, electircal breaker box, garage, and roof.  I told her that the wondows were all double-paned wood replacements with storms, but I don't know if it makes a difference.  Hardwood floors got us a big plus.  She was interested in photos of the house as it was when we purchased it, which I thought was very considerate.  This way, she can see exactly what we had changed and how it may affect value.  She measured the outside of the house, the garage (which she considered to be a 3 car because of the workshop [yay!]), then asked about the well and septic.

When I asked what all went into the equation, I didn't get a real answer, which kind of frustrated me.  She did say that she wouldn't hold the office work against us, since it would be "easily" completed if we were to sell the house sometime soon.  She also took the quality of work in the living room into consideration and applied it to the soon-to-be-finished office.  And even though the floors up here need to be refinished, since they aren't buckled, patched, or warped, they count as being in great shape.

So...  Even though I won't know for a few days how we appraised, I'm certain that we will rate at least what we paid for the house.  I'm guessing it may be higher, since the garage suddenly became a 3-car and the hardwood floors are exposed.  And laminate flooring in the kitchen is better than carpet.  A somewhat comparable house in our area (newer home, but smaller lot; slightly less square footage, but similar features) is on the market for $140K.  Another similar home is on the market for $109K, so there's obviously some variance.  I'm hoping for $120K, since then we won't need to pay PMI.  It seems as though when we were looking at homes a few years ago, they were selling for less than their appraised value, so we'll just have to see.    Regardless, I feel much more optimistic than I did on my bad day.  Keep your fingers crossed for us!


Retail Therapy

Normally when I'm having a bad day, I find something constructive to do, or I just mope and get it over with. I can't remember the last time I went out and spent money because I felt like crap. Until yesterday.

I bought these:
They're "Les Saisons" by Alphonse Mucha (photo shamelessly stolen from art.com)I've been wanting them for quite a while, and never bought them. Now that we're actually hanging pictures in the living room, I want something vintage-y to go in there as well as our family photos and such. I didn't get the stuck-together group as shown; I bought the individual prints. We'll mat and frame them (Shayne knows how to cut mats - how cool is that?) as a matched set, then hang them somewhere in the living room. I'm excited to get them, so I guess I can understand why people go out and shop when they're sad. For what it's worth, I did also start staining the upstiars doors. They look gorgeous, but no pics yet...


Muddling through

Or, another post in which I whine about my life. I feel like I've been griping a lot lately. Maybe I have. Maybe I have something to gripe about... But I hate feeling like a whiner, so hopefully this will be the last of it. I just need to get it all out of my system, I think.
Although everything with the house and our lives are basically the same as they were 10 years ago, I feel much worse about it all. With the loss of our pregnancy, I feel like the rose-colored glasses have come off. I hate the house, and it's never-ending list of projects. I feel like we haven't accomplished anything in 3 years, even though I know logically that's not true. I completely understand now how the PO's could just say "fuck it" and put up paneling. 3 years ago, when we moved in, the house at least looked habitable. Now it's something of a train wreck. Every room I walk into, all I can see is how many unfinished projects there are or how I wish the room looked.

And we do have the living room. The one room of sanity. But instead of being my inspiration, I now feel like it's taunting me. It's telling me that this is what the rest of the house could look like if I'd get off my lazy ass and work on it.

I know I'm not really seeing things how they are. I wish I could come into the house and see it with an unjaundiced eye. All my friends tell me that they love our house, so it really can't be that bad. It just feels like it...


What? It's November?!

I can't believe that the year is almost over.  That means I have 2 months to finish the projects I had started in order to complete my New Year's Resolutions.  In cause you forgot (I did), here they are again:
  1. Finish office, master bedroom, and little front bedroom.
  2. Find and install a "new" front door
  3. Finish the stairway

 Doesn't sound like too much, does it?  Here is what I had accomplished as of June:
  1. Last pieces of paneling removed from office, little front bedroom (nursery!) done except for floor refinishing.
  2. New front door found! Carpenter AWOL.
  3. I've vacuumed the stairway several times and removed 1 nail. No progress.
  4. New laminate floor in the kitchen after ripping out the unsanitary carpet.
  5. Gotten rid of 90% of unnecessary junk in the house. I'm pretty proud of this one :)
  6. Begun restoration of 1941 Chambers stove. I've thoroughly cleaned everything and replaced the service cabinet door and floor, plus gotten the parts for natural gas conversion. I'm waiting for hubby to remove 5 stripped screws from the chrome top. Once that's done, we can send it to be rechromed, and then we're ready for reassembly!
  7. Edged the flowerbed with brick pavers.
  8. Agonized over how little I accomplish.
And since then, here's what else I've added to the "completed" list:
  1. All wallpaper removed from office
  2. Large hole knocked in immaculate plaster wall in order to make closet door opening wider
  3. Old knob-and-tube wiring discovered in new closet door opening
  4. Office walls prepped for skimcoating, which I'm crazy enough to want to try to do myself
  5. All upstairs doors removed, stripped, and sanded
  6. 90% of stairway sanded.  The top 4 steps after the landing are refinished and back in place (1 step still awaiting stain)
  7. Stove restoration on hold, pending removal of stripped screws via industrial drill press
  8. Spoke to carpenter numerous times and secured multiple promises to call when he's going to be out my way.  Resovled to find new carpenter...
  9. Veggie garden abandoned after pest infestation and discovery that there's not enough sun in that location
And still to accomplish:
  1. Skimcoat office walls
  2. Refinish all upstairs floors
  3. Finish sanding the damned staircase
  4. Stain and shellac the damned staircase
  5. Remove wall in master bedroom made of paneling and replace with drywall
  6. Reskimcoat some areas of the master bedroom walls to even out
  7. Strip and refinish master bedroom woodwork
Why am I thinking that this isn't all going to get done...?

The home appraiser cometh...

...And our house is a pit of unfiinshed projects.  We have stairs that aren't yet nailed down, and a dropcloth covering the bottom run of stairs in their semi-sanded state; a kitchen with no baseboard trim to cover the edges of the laminate floor; a nursery that is a catch-all room with no current purpose or organization; an office with bare and cracked plaster walls, a hole for the "new" closet door with exposed knob and tube wiring dangling in the opening, and unsanded floors with padding still stuck in places; a hallway with no woodwork, adhesive-covered floorboards, and two different colors of paint; and not a single door in the upstairs.


The office is beyond help.  I'm just going to accept that and move on.  All I can do is organize the chaos a little bit.

All the doors need to be stained and rehung.  Thankfully, they're out in the garage waiting for me.

I've got to paint the ceiling in the the hall.  Two different colors is unacceptable.  How did I live with it for this long?!  The floor will just have to stay nasty.

Must nail down stairs.  I don't need a lawsuit.  Dropcloth on bottom portion stays.  Not enough time to finish sanding and refinish the whole thing...

The kitchen...  I'll have to see if Shayne can ru by Lowes and pick up a transition piece at least to cover the fraying carpet edge leading into the mudroom.  I'm not too worried about the baseboards, since most are covered by another object.

I knew this was coming, but we've been so overwhelmed by other life happenings that we haven't had time or energy to get things moving.  Yikes...


Sticker Shock

The Stripper Guy called me on Tuesday with the news that our doors were finished.  A 5 day turnaround time, including a weekend, is awesome.  Unfortunately, he told me when I got there that the job was a lot harder than anticipated, so his estimate wasn't exactly accurate.  5 doors, fully stripped, sanded, and ready to stain, ended up costing $700. 


But, last time, he ended up coming in under his estimate, so I still trust that he's being fair with me.  I certainly know what a pain in the ass stripping lead paint can be, and I'd much rather have him do some of the more tedious work.  Less mess for me, and more time to work on the projects that are still piling up.  And, I have no idea when (if ever) I'd have gotten to those doors on my own.

So that left me free to work on the office today, except that I've been sadly neglecting the rest of the housework.  There are doghair tumbleweeds floating around our bedroom.  So that's taking precedence.  And then we have the memorial service tonight, and the funeral tomorrow.  So...  I'll see what I get done.  On the up-side, at leasr the doors are stripped now, even if I had nothing to do with it...  :)


Yes, he did. But now what?

Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States of America.  And, I have to say that I'm pround of our contry for overcoming racial barriers.  But why couldn't we have elected a man more like David Palmer from "24"??

Our country needs change.  And I do believe that Obama will bring change.  But is it really the change we need?  We have an economic recession, a record deficit, overstretched military, a huge drug and gang problem, and numerous other problems in our country.

To combat the recession, Obama will offer tax cuts to 95% of Americans.  The wealthiest 5%, people who make more than $250, 000 per year, will pay the same or more.  Does the average American realize that the people who are wealthiest are the people who give the rest of us jobs??  No poor man ever created jobs for others.  If we punish people for making money here, they will simply send more jobs overseas where they don't have to pay the same taxes.  And taxing the oil companies will just make them pass the higher costs of operation on to the consumers.  We will all still pay in the end...

And the military...  Who diesn't want out of Iraq?  I would love to see our troops come home.  But the fact is that we started something over there and we need to see it through.  By removing our soldiers too soon, we will destabilize the fragile government the Iraqis have achieved, and we'll end up with another civil war over there.  We don't need another Viet-Nam.  Obama supports a responsible withdrawal of our troops; isn't that what was planned all along?  I think people have heard what they wanted to hear.  Yes, Obama will bring our troops home, but he'll bring them home when it's safe to do so, the same as the Republicans would have.

I just don't know.  I'm glad George Bush is done, but I'm worried about the future.  I worry that the American public listened more to how Obama said things than what he said.  He's a wonderful, charismatic public speaker, especially when compared to McCain's obvious discomfort when speaking to large groups.  I wish that I could be hopeful and optimistic, but I'm just not.  Even with McCain in office, I would have had reservations.  But now, with one of the most inexperienced, liberal politicians at the head of our country, with a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House, I am very concerned about the future.


Saying goodbye to a friend

On Saturday afternoon we lost a friend and coworker to a DUI crash.  Craig Toner, the Town Marshal of Roseland, was killed after being hit and then run over by a drunk driver.  I knew Craig through work; Roseland backs us up on a lot of our calls, and we help them out as well since they are a small department.   He was a good person, always willing to help out, and he will be sorely missed.  My thoughts and prayers are with Toner's family and friend, as well as our brothers and sisters in blue.

Skimcoating the office walls: Prep work

Today I plan to start the prep work for skimcoating the office.  Last night, we made a trek to Lowes and bought 90 minute setting compound, a slapbrush for ceiling texture, fiberglass tape, a drywall sander, and a mixer that attaches to our drill.  I already have a Magic Trowel to smooth out the mud, and paint rollers to apply it.  Total cost = $65.

My goal for today is to remove all the woodwork, then tape the cracks.  Depending on how long that takes, I may also start to mud the cracks as well.

I feel obligated to mention that I have no idea what I'm doing.  I have NO experience working with drywall, plaster or anything other than putty to patch nail holes.  This project is an experiment to see if I can teach myself a new skill without completely messing up my house.  For what it's worth, Shayn'e not entirely sure I can do this either.  As we were walking out of Lowes last night, he was less than confident about my skimcoating skills.  I appreciate that he does trust me enough to let me give it a shot, though.  Thankfully, the walls in the office are relatively smooth, and in pretty decent shape.  Because of the doors and windows, there's also not too much wall area, so it's a good room to practice on.

Pics to come soon...


Moving forward

Because of our personal tragedy, I have the next 6 days off of work.  And as much as feel like sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I need to keep busy.  Hence, a "new" project.

We're planning on trying to get pregnant again once we've been cleared by the doctor, but I'd like to wait at least until after Christmas.  And there are a few things on the house that I'd like to complete so we don't feel so rushed for time the next time around.  Knowing you only have 9 months to complete some projects really makes a difference...  And, knowing the first 3 months will be hormonal agony gives only 6 months of real working time.  Eesh.  I want the upstairs, minus the bathroom (although that is a possibility as well), to be complete before I get pregnant again.

We're really going to push ahead with work on the office.  I took all the upstairs doors off the hinges last Thursday and took them to the Strip Shoppe.  He said they should be done by the middle of this week.  When I go to pick up the doors, I'll take him the office woodwork.  And, once the woodwork is off (by tomorrow afternoon, I hope), I'm going to tackle skimcoating the walls and ceiling.

I bought a Magic Trowel several months ago, thinking to try skimcoating, but talked myself out of it.  The folks at OldHouseWeb have talked me back into it.  I'll post my impressions on this "wonderful" tool once I actually work with it.

But, if all goes well, I'll have nice, new, paintable walls in the office by the end of the week!!


...And the Lord taketh away

I'm not one that generally shares my entire personal life over the internet, but I suppose this needs to be said, since I told the internet that we were expecting a baby...

Early yesterday morning I had a miscarriage. The embryo had never developed from the little ball of cells that is present about 2-3 weeks into pregnancy. My body didn't realize this for 6 more weeks, and I had no idea until two days ago that something might be wrong. The doctors say that in this type of situation, there was probably a chromosomal abnormality, and the pregnancy terminates itself rather than develop into an abnormal fetus. They couldn't give a reason as to why it took my body so long to figure it out.

After 2 ER visits and a minor surgery, I am physically fine. We plan on trying again once we are able, and hopefully the Lord will bless us with a healthy, perfect baby. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we go through this difficult time.


Well, we're not going to starve...

Today, Shayne and I picked up a bulk package of meat from Jaworski's, a local meat market.  Unfortunately, not all their meat is from local farms, but it's fresher and of significantly higher quality than, say, Meijer's meat.  I guess that's not really a good comparison, so suffice it to say they are one of the best butcher shops in our area.  The package we bought contained ~43 lbs of various meats.  There are whole chickens, boneless skinless chicken breasts, sausage, bacon, pork chops, steaks (sirloin and new york strip), stew beef, ground beef, roasts, and more.  Dividing the cost by weight, it comes out to $3 per pound.  This is definitely the way to buy your meat.

In addition to the meat, our little freezer is stuffed with frozen veggies.  I froze my own broccoli, corn, sugar snap peas, green beans, carrots, and peaches.  There might be some blueberries in there too.  Next year I'll make a chart of what I have and how much.  It'll make things a little easier to keep track of when it gets crowded in there!

I also have extra canned goods (veggies, fruits, tomato sauce, soups, and some pouches of chicken), pastas, rice, baking mix, cereals, instant puddings, and a few cans of freeze dried entrees (mostly for backpacking, but I'd obviously eat them in an emergency too).  I also have the staples: flour, sugar, brown sugar, oil, and other baking essentials.  Out in the garage I have a half-bushel of apples, and I plan to add potatoes and onions. 

I don't think I realized how much food I had until I just listed it.

Once I buy my onions and potatoes, I won't really need to shop this winter except for lettuce/spinach greens (which I'll buy out-of-season for the sake of variety and nutrition), dairy products, eggs, lunch meat, and crackers.  Seriously. 

It's a strange feeling.  I almost feel like I'm going to hibernate this year, since we have most everything we need already bought and ready to go.  It's also an adjustment in my way of thinking.  I'm used to planning out a meal, then going to the store to buy what I need.  Now it has to be the opposite.  The "store" is in my basement now.  And I'll be looking at what's available before deciding what to make.  It's certainly a different approach than most people today use.

In addition to the food, we also have about 15 gallons of drinking water, kerosene for the portable heater we currently use in the garage, propane for the grill and camp stove, and all my backpacking gear (tent, sleeping bags, water filter, headlamps).  If we were to be without power for an extended period, we would still be able to stay in our home, eat decent meals, and sleep in relative comfort - even in the dead of winter.  The only major lack I see is a large light source.  Without going overboard into the land of paranoia, I feel that we have prepared reasonably for the disasters that may threaten us in our area. 

We could probably live for a minimum of 60 days off of the supplies we have in our home, excepting water.  I had originally wanted to have 3 month's worth of food on hand, but I didn't realize the space it would take up.  Plus, I know that if I'm going to rotate it properly, I have to use it.  In the summer, I don't want to have to eat frozen broccoli when I can buy it fresh.  By having about 2 month's worth of food we actually eat and use, I don't think any will go to waste, and by next summer, my freezer will be empty again for the next round of food storage.  The shelved items are a little easier, and I'll just replace what I use. 

Wish me luck!  This winter will be a big experiment...!


Why I hate my house today

Ok, I realize it's not the house's fault.  It didn't invite the PPOs in and invite them to jack things up.  It didn't beg to be covered in 5 layers of wallpaper and paneling or have its woodwork painted brown.  It didn't request ugly 80s cabinets in place of the originals (even if the originals were green...).  And it certainly didn't say that half-assed work is good enough.  But I'm going to blame the house for everything, just for today.

I don't know if it's pregnancy hormones or just the fact that there always seems to be endless work to do on the house, but I'm feeling very discouraged today.  We went to the bank the other day to refinance our mortgage, and we were told that we'd have to have the house reappraised.  Meaning that someone will come into our seriously disorganized and half-finished house and we have to convince them it's worth just as much now as it was when it was all put together 3 years ago.  Like that's going to happen...

I've read some articles online about having ahome appraisal, and they say you should stage your home as you would if you are selling it.  But all the cleaning in the world won't hide the fact that the walls are bare, cracked plaster in the office, that th upstairs floors have bits of adhesive and carpet padding stuck to them, and that the woodwork in the hall and stairwell is still MIA.  It also won't hide that the dining room walls are painted paneling or that the kitchen floor is cheapo laminate. 



Hiring it out

I hate projects that rely on someone else doing the work.  I realize that I procrastinate, and I complain, and I am sometimes the least-skilled person available for the job.  But, I show up.  I communicate with myself, and I know when I'm NOT going to get a job done when I said I would.

Skilled tradespeople??  Not so much.

Our wonderful carpenter who is supposed to hang and re-mortise the prairie-style door we found at the ReStore?  He's great at telling me he'll contact me when he's in the area, but somehow that never happens and he was always in South Bend "just last week.".  The drywall finisher who we contacted to give us an estimate to skimcoat the office?  "I can come by tomorrow," he says.  Tomorrow must have never came.  The plumber who came to give us an estimate on moving the bathroom fixtures?  Actually showed up, spent over an hour looking at the bathroom, discussing layouts, and checking the plumbing in the basement...  He even helped us to adjust the pressure on our well.  But now we can't seem to get the estimate from him.

WTF is up with these people?!  Just tell me you're busy and don't want my money!  Don't string me along like a love-sick teenager...

I've found a couple of exceptions to the "rule" of unreliable tradesmen.  Our wood stripper did the work faster and for less than he quoted us.  He's my hero.  Seriously.  The other exception was the guy who drywalled our garage workshop.  He came when he said, and did very nice work.  Well, until he got a new job and stopped coming...  Hmpf.

This no-show problem didn't bother me so much before, but now that we have a 30 week deadline, it's a little more serious.  I do NOT want to have a baby in a house with unfinished walls and renovation dust everywhere.  I know not everything will be done by May.  The kitchen and bathroom are on hold somewhat indefinitely, since they're not in terrible shape.  I don't have a clue when I'll start the dining room.  But I at least want the chaos of the upstairs resolved.  And there are only 2 tasks that need professional help.  If I could just get someone to show up...


Homemade Laundry Detergent

Those who know me know that I'm sometimes frugal to a fault.  I won't say cheap, since I will buy expensive things when I think they're well made and will last a long time ($600 bookcase and $750 HE washing machine illustrates this).  I also don't skimp on food.  I'll always pay more for healthy food that doesn't have preservatives, additives, or funky chemicals.  Cleaning products are another story.

I found a recipe online in early spring for do-it-yourself laundry detergent that claims to work as well as store-bought detergent.  I'm surprised I even tried this considering the luck I had with the homemade dishwasher soap.  All of my dishes came out looking like they'd been dipped in milk and left to dry.  Icky.  And I've had poor luck with the natural laundry detergents as well.  I've since learned that vegetable based detergents don't mix well with hard water, and they tend to stay in the clothes and make them stiff.  Which is exactly what happened.  I had finally settled on Method detergent, which was reasonably priced (~$15 for 64 loads), smelled nice, and was biodegradable.  Oh, and it happened to do a good job cleaning my clothes...

But, like I said, I found the homemade recipe and decided to try it.  I bought two bars of laundry soap, a box of washing soda, and a box of Borax at the store, grated the soap, and mixed it all up.  I was a little nervous about using an unknown powdered substance in my new HE washer, but the information I found on the internet says it's low-suds and ideal for HE machines.  Apparently, suds have nothing to do with cleaning power, even though that's what people associate with clean.  Weird.

I've been using my homemade soap since then, with no complaints.  It costs about $.01 per load (compared to $.23), and I estimate the homemade soap has cost me about $1.50.  I use about 3/4 of a tablespoon per load, and I've never felt that my clothes weren't clean.  They don't come out smelling like perfume, which, once I got used to it, doesn't bother me.  They just smell fresh.  I used a dryer sheet a few weeks ago and hated it, since the smell seemed overpowering.  I don't use any kind of fabric softener or dryer sheets, but the clothes have very little static.

The recipe I use is 1/2 cup finely grated Fels-Naptha soap (about 1/3 of a bar), 1/2 cup of washing soda (I use Arm and Hammer -- not baking soda!), and 1/2 cup borax (I use 20 Mule Team).  There are recipes that call for dissolving the mixture in boiling water, which makes it gel, but it seems harder to store and more of a hassle.  I've never had a problem with the powder not fully dissolving, and a full batch takes up less than 2 cups of space.  I don't think the Fels-Naptha is biodegradable, but I use 1/4 tablespoon or less per load.  The wasing soda and borax are considered all natural and biodegradable.  I'll try to find a biodegradable soap for my next batch, but I can't say I'm unhappy with what I've got now.

Two Week Extravaganza: Progress Report

My two weeks didn't go quite the way I had planned.  I accomplished both more and less than I had hoped for.

Here is the list of possible projects to work on:
  1. Finish sanding the stairs
  2. Stain and shellac the stairs
  3. Sand/refinish nursery floor
  4. Have upstairs doors and woodwork stripped
I listed other unfinished projects, but more to show how much we have going than as an actual to-do list.

Here's what I actually got done:
  1. Nearly finished sanding the stairs.  The big hang-up was finding a sander that could get into the crevices and actually do a decent job sanding.  The Skil Octo sander we have just wasn't cutting it.  It works well for a limited number of things, but using any of the tools that extend its reach (the little finger sander and the extended mouse shape) doesn't apply enough pressure to really scrub off old finish.  Towards the end of my two days off I found a Dremel sander that absoloutely kicks butt, but I only had time to use it on 1/3 of the parts that need finished. 
  2. Shellac and stain the stairs.  Obviously this didn't quite get done, since not all the stairs are sanded and ready to go.  However, we did finish the top 5 stairs above the landing.  They're stained, shellacked, and reassembled.  And, I can tell ya, the stairways is going to look awesome if this is any indication.  The little piece of cove molding that goes under each tread hasn't been refinished yet, but I'm sending those to the stripper.  Photos coming soon.
  3. Refinish the nursery floors.  Didn't happen.  I didn't even clean the nursery.  Oh well, I have 7 months left.
  4. Living room windows and upstairs doors.  Haven't made it to the stripper yet.  I'm considering leaving the upstairs woodwork painted, since there's not much natural light in the hallway.  Would dark woodwork close it in?  I'm undecided.
  5. Add final coat of shellac to living room floor.  This one I actually did.  When we bought the bookcase, I knew we were getting too much furniture for the living room to be able to move it all around easily.  So, before the bookcase came home, I added another thin coat of shellac to the floor.  It made it super shiny (I've since learned that the wax in the waxy shellac makes it softer and dirt can get ingrained in it), and it looks great.  Almost like having a new floor (again!)!
  6. Felt sick and demotivated due to hormones.  Ugh.
  7. Was sad and pathetic due to going on light duty at work.  I spent 2 days feeling sorry for myself.  I never realized how much I attached my identity to my job.  I was also upset about going to midnights, but it has worked out well, since I no longer have morning sickness.  Shayne also is on midnights now, so we see each other more.  Note to self: Don't feel sorry for yourself until you know that something isn't going to work out well.
  8. Began fall yard cleanup.  I would have done more, but we have a mosquito infestation in our yard that makes it very difficult to go outside without one of these:
  9. Went for a much-needed hike to Indiana Dunes.  Nothing makes you feel better than slogging 5 miles through sand and up dunes.  Thanks mom!  :)

The bookcase arrives

Amazingly (if you know us, you'll understand why), the bookcase made it home without incident.  Not that I had anything to do with it...  Being pregnant and all, the doctor imposed a 25 lb lift restriction.  25 lbs is an absoloutely pathetically small amount, especially when I'm used to carrying big bags of dog food by myself, but there it is.  I've broken the restriction several times, but Shayne was dead-set against me helping with the bookcase. 

So I didn't.  Armed with our rusty old truck and his friend R, Shayne brought the bookcase home.

I looked much bigger in our living room than it had in the shop window.  It was also taller than I remembered.  The spot I had cleared for it didn't work out, but it fit in beautifully across from the sofa.  I was surpried to find that all 6 shelves were included, even though there had only been 5 when we bought it.  Paul had also given us a key that fit the locks.  And the bookcase is identical to the photo I found on an internet acution site, except that ours is in better shape.  Score!

Before we brought the bookcase home, I was habing doubts about it.  It's a lot of money to spend on a bookcase, and I was afraid it wouldn't be as nice as I thought it had been.  But if anything, it's better.  I feel almost like we stole it, and I'd have probably paid even more for it.  And, even better, it looks wonderful in our living room.  It adds some much-needed character and a bit of not-so-simple beauty.  The curves and leaded glass are a nice counterpoint to the strong mission lines of the rest of the furniture.  Here it is in its new home:
I wasn't planning on filling it immediately, but once it was in the house, it seemed it was just begging to be used.  So, within 15 minutes of its homecoming, I was unpacking books that had been languishing in a rubbermaid tote for nearly 3 years.  It's now full of books that I love, and seems much happer to be being used again (Yes, my furniture has feelings.  Doesn't yours?).
Someday in the future, I'd like to have it professionally refinished, even though the scratches in the finish are much lighter than I originally thought.  For now, though, I'm happy with it just the way it is.  It's the focal point of the living room, which continues to inspire me and remind me what we can accomplish when we get off our butts to do it!


Happy news!

I know I haven't been blogging as much as I should be.  I haven't been working on the house much either, to tell the truth.  But, for once, I have a really good excuse.

I'm 9 weeks pregnant!!

I've heard the first trimester is crappy, and that's how it's been working out for me.  I've had days where I have absoloutely no motivation to do anything, and just getting out of bed is a struggle.  I've also had some morning sickness...  And whoever named it "morning" sickness is a freakin' liar.  More like morning-noon-and-night sickness.  Bleh.  And, of course, I've had to be really careful of fumes and chemicals.

In addition to the physical changes, I've also had some emotional stuff going on.  They put me on light duty at work (which is a good thing), but that also means they took away my squad car and transferred me to midnight shift dispatch.  At least I'm not playing secretary in the records division, but I really miss work.  More than I thought I would. 

But, around May 22, 2009, our nursery will become a real nursery!



Shayne and I went to the farmer's market this morning, then decided to stop at Relics.  Relics is an antique shop with somewhat irregular hours, and it seems like every time I want to go there, they're closed.  However, luck was with us today, and they were open (yay!).

The store has been around almost 10 years.  My mom and I used to drive by it occasionaly and think about stopping, but it took us a while to actually go.  When we did, we found that the owner, Paul, was working on fixing up the storefront as well as selling antiques and furniture.  Paul has a background in historic preservation, and I asked if I could help him do some work on the place to learn about how to fix old buildings.  I was about 16 or 17 at the time, but I showed up almost every Saturday afternoon and used 409 cleaner, a dentist's pick, and a toothbrush to clean the paint off of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed glass tiles over the front plate-glass windows (those tiles sell for about $60 each, and there must be at least 200 in the whole shop!).  There was no central heat in the building, and still isn't as far as I know, so we used an old wood/coal stove to keep warm.  I was allowed to explore the old burned-out apartments upstairs, and learned that the building had once been a photography studio.  Even then, I was in heaven...

I eventually had to stop helping Paul out, but I try to stop in every so often to see how things are going.  Paul's partner makes stained glass, and his work now decorates the store as well.  It's unfortunate that the shop is in a shabbier part of town; there was a revitalization effort that started when the shop opened, but it has since fizzled out.  The neighborhood is crap, and filled with abandoned homes and buildings.  It really makes me sad, since there are so many unique and interesting buildings in that area.

Today at Relics, I found what I've been looking for for a long time: an affordable bookshelf with leaded glass doors.  I couldn't take a picture, since there was so much glare on the shop windows, but this photo is very close to what it looks like:
It might even be identical.  I'm not sure that the pattern in the glass is the same, but it's very close, and the feet and curved edges are exactly the same.  I'm so excited!  This is undoubtedly the most expensive piece of furniture I've bought in my life (and still under $600, lol!), and also the most unique.  It will look gorgeous in our living room and really bring in the arts and crafts feel.  It is missing a shelf on the left side, but we can either put large items on the bottom, or have a shelf made.  They have a very simple routed edge that shouldn't be difficult at all to replicate.  The top has some nicks and scratches also, but we'll just put a runner over it.  We couldn't bring it home today, but Shayne's going to get it by next weekend.  I can't wait!!


Home Improvement Extravaganza: Day 4

Here are a few photos of the disassembled stairway:
After the photo, Shyane vacuumed out the dirt and nastiness from the lath.  It's much less scary looking now, and all of the visible wood has been sanded with coarse paper.  I need to go over it with 120 grit, then 220 grit.

Yesterday, I sealed the pieces in preparation for stain.  I had some errands to run, so I didn't make as much progress as I had hoped for.  We're having a family dinner at our house today, but I'd like to get the last little bit of sanding done on the upper stairs, then seal them and maybe even stain.  Thankfully, the only other chores I have to do is to wash the dining room floor and clean up the kitchen a bit, so I should have plenty of time.

I am going out of town tomorrow to see my grandma, so the projects are on hold until Wednesday.  Just so y'all know I'm not slacking, I'm just not here.  Maybe Shayne will get more sanding done while I'm gone...


The financial "crisis"

In light of the bank collapses and general economic downturn, Shayne and I feel very fortunate.  We're grateful now that we decided what we could afford before we went to the bank.  Our mortgage payment, plus insurance, PMI, and taxes, is well below $800, which we can afford without difficulty even in the worst months.  We later found out that the banks would have approved us for nearly $100,000 more, which is well beyond our means.  Had we not done our homework and set limits ahead of time, we could be in the same mess as thousands of other people.  We've both sometimes wished for a bigger home or more property, but what we have is really all we need, even with plans to start a family.

It makes me mad that all taxpayers are going to have to bail out people who didn't do their homework or were misled by greedy lenders.  I know some people have lost their homes through job loss or other personal crises.  If I suddenly lost my job, however, I wouldn't expect the government to help me keep my home.  I understand that this bailout project is something of a necessary evil, since the problem is now so widespread that it could harm our economy so much more than it already has.  But $700 billion more national debt (I can't even fathom a number that high!!) isn't really an option either.  We're already operating at a record deficit.  Our country simply cannot fight a war, lower taxes, enlarge the federal government, and rescue the economy.  Something will have to give, and I have a feeling it will be ugly.

What angers me even more is that something like this never should have happened.  Businesses have a responsibility to consumers, the environment, and themselves.  What ever happened to ethics?  Responsible business practices?  When did we become a society that worships profit above all else?  Such practices are not sustainable, environmentally or socially, and we're seeing the repercussions.


Home Improvement Extravaganza: Day 3

Ugh, I'm beat.  Starting around 1 pm, Shayne and I finished sanding the baseboard-type woodwork on the laft side of the stairs.  Then we disassembled the 5 stairs above the landing so that we could do a thorough job sandinf them as well.  All 5 treads, what Shayne calls "kickboards" (the vertical pieces between each step), and the baseboard on each side are all ready for sealant and stain.  We burned through a TON of sandpaper, since there was so much old shellac and carpet adhesive that the stripper didn't remove.  I even scraped each piece with a carbide scraper, but it was still slow, tough going.  But the top portion of the stairway is pretty much done.

We wasted some time trying to figure out if it would be worthwhile to disassemble the bottom portion of the stairs.  I've been against this from the start, but Shayne (correctly) pointed out that we'd be able to do a much more thorough sanding job.  We couldn't figure out how to get the banister and newel post apart (thankfully), so the stairs stayed intact.  I was worried he'd figure out how to get them separated, and then we'd never get it all back together!  It's a bigger pain in the butt to sand this way, but I think it would be a bigger pain to reassemble the railing, newel post, and all 30 spindles.

Right now the 5 top treads are just resting on the risers, and the top one is really wobbly.  I covered the treads with towels to keep them clean and protected.  I also have to stand on the top step when the dogs go up and down to prevent them from freaking out.  I'm using the baby gate at the top of the stairway when we're upstairs to keep the dogs from charging downstairs without me.  With my luck, I'd end up with a dog falling through the basement stairway's ceiling...

I'm going to seal and stain the top 5 stairs tomorrow so we can reassemble them before we have a disaster...!


Home Improvement Extravaganza: Day 2

Yes, I know that today should really be day 4. Day 1 I spent catching up on housework; I spent most of last week in Minnesota for a class, plus it was time for some serious fall cleaning. I did some major vacuuming (including moving every piece of furniture), washed floors, and did piles of laundry. Fun times. I still need to go through my closet and get rid of clothes I no longer want, but that's a fairly quick and painless process.

Day 2 was my social networking day. I went out to lunch and then dinner with girl friends I haven't seen in ages. And after spending most of my work days and personal time with guys for the past few months, I seriously needed some female bonding!!

Yesterday I finally got to work on the stairs. I spent about 2 hours actually sanding, but maybe 3.5 hours on the project overall. This included 15 minutes breaks every half hour or so, since the respirator puts dents in my face otherwise. Still, it was nice not having sawdust snot afterwards. Even when I use a dust mask, I still manage to inhale quite a bit of dust. The respirator completely prevented dust inhalation. The stairway went from this:

To this:
And after I took that picture, I finished up the last two vertical bits at the top of the stairs, then started sanding the woodwork at the lefthand side of the stairs. I'm sure it has a name, but I have no idea what it is. I also sanded around the bottom of the newel post a bit to clean it up.
It's coming along, but slowly. Today my back hurts from all the strange contortions I have to make to be able to sand and see what I'm doing. If our stairs had been less solid, I'd have happily taken them apart. Thing is, the railing doesn't even budge when I lean on it, and I don't think I could put it back that way. So I'm stuck doing sanding yoga...
Today I'm feeling lazy. I'll work on the stairs in a little while, but I just don't want to.


The 2 Week Home Project Extravaganza

Starting tomorrow, I have the next 2 weeks off from work, so I'm gearing up for a home project extravaganza.  My hope is to finish sanding the stairway (this will get done even if nothing else does!!), stain and shellac the stairs, sand and refinish the floor in the tiny bedroom/nursery, and start prepping the room to actually be a nursery instead of a catch-all room.  I might also drop off the living room windows and the bedroom, closet, and bathroom doors at the Strip Shoppe to save myself some agony.  I'm getting lazy, and it's only 3 years in. 

3 years?!  I had a house-iversary about 3 weeks ago and didn't even realize it!  Time flies when your life is crazy...

I'd also like to skimcoat the office walls, but I'm really not sure that's within my skillset.  That one might stay in the queue for a while yet.  Other unfinished projects include the knob-and-tube wiring I found in the office, finding someone to reverse and hang our "new" front door, finding some way to insulate the pipes to the laundry room/back porch before it freezes, and adding a last coat of dewaxed shellac to the living room floor.  It never ends...!

I'll try to post my progress each day, since it'll keep me motivated to see that I'm actually getting somewhere!


Barefoot in the kitchen

I can't seem to stop cooking.  And for someone who never really enjoyed cooking (or had time), I'm amazed at how much fun I'm having.  Unfortunately, it is coming at the expense of working on the house, but I'm not all that concerned right now.  It's been pouring rain all day, and cooking is good therapy.

Shayne and I made a quick stop at the market this afternoon and picked up a chicken, about 6.5 lbs of roma tomatoes and a smallish basket of peaches.  I popped 3 of the peaches in the freezer to see how that works out.  Tomorrow I'll give canning them a shot. 

With the tomatoes, I made a big batch of spaghetti sauce.  I used my new food mill, which was worth every penny I spent on it.  It's absolutely amazing to shove tomatoes in one end and watch juice and pulp come out the other.  All the seeds, skins, and stems come out the waste pipe.  With the different screens, you can make all kinds of juices, jams, and salsas.  All that from a little hand-cranked appliance.  As much as I love technology, I think manual gadgets are awesome.  I boiled down my tomato juice/puree mixture, added 1 can of tomato paste (to speed things along), seasonings, mushrooms, peppers, onion, olive oil, sugar, and fresh-grated parmesan cheese.  The result was the best-tasting pasta sauce I've ever made.  I hesitated about using the tomato paste, since I wanted it to be completely homemade, but it really helped thicken it up.  I probably could have simmered the tomato puree and juice for another hour, but I'd have lost another quart or so of liquid.  As it was, I had 6.5 lbs of tomatoes, started off with about 6 quarts of puree/juice, and I ended up with 6 pints of sauce.  If I can find less expensive romas, maybe I won't feel so bad cooking them down to nothing...

I also baked a chicken, made granola bars, and cooked breakfast for dinner (mushroom and pepper scrambled eggs, chicken-apple sausage, and biscuits). 

What's even more amazing is that I don't think I'd mind giving up my job and becoming a stay-at-home mom/homesteader.  I'd love to have a big garden, some chickens and goats, and lots of property for it all.  If someone had told the 20 year old me that homesteading would be my adult aspiration, I'd have thought they were nuts.  I wanted a career, independence, and a moderate amount of success.  I still want independence, just from "The Man" instead of from men...  :)


Why it's perfect

I think I've finally settled on what makes our home so ideal to me.  Granted, part of it is the literal blood, sweat, and tears that we've put into it; after all, when you have that personal of a relationship with your home, you can't help but have strong feelings for it (be it love or hate!).  Part of it is also the satisfaction of bringing it out of the '80s and into the early years of the 20th century.  But what I think I love most is the human scale of the house and how it encourages togetherness of its occupants.  Nothing is imposing or designed to impress.  Even in its disco dressings, the house was homey.  Comforting, even.  The bedrooms are big enough for a bed and bedroom furniture, that's it.  It's not a separate wing of the house.  The bathroom is just that, not a spa retreat.  The dining room and living room flow together through a large doorway, allowing the space to be shared during large gatherings.  The stairs are a focal point of design, but they're still simply designed to complement the room.  Our lot (.5 acres) is large enough for kids to play and for outdoor parties, is nicely shaded, and encourages me to go out and play.

This an ideal house for our quest for simpler living, also.  There's enough space for a garden that won't intrude on the landscaping (er, future landscaping...).  I have enough room in the basement for our food storage, plus space to spare.  The closets aren't massive and have helped me to pare down our junk to a more managable level.  The scale of the rooms doesn't make me feel like I have to spend our yearly income just to furnish the place.  No rooms are unused (except for the future nursery, but we're working on that!).  It's big enough for our lifestyle and our needs.

Oddly enough, my interest in the Arts and Crafts movement helped me to start simplifying my life.  I've always been interested in restoring old homes, thought about living somewhat self-sufficiently, and tried to avoid getting caught up in pop culture.  Then came the Prairie Box, the Arts and Crafts movement, and voluntary simplicity.  I still don't like to categorize my lifestyle, since it's more of a reflection of my values and beliefs than it is belonging to a group.  But that's what people seem to call it, so I guess I'm trying to live a voluntarily simple life in my Arts and Crafts home.

And, oddly enough, my house was the catalyst for my lifestyle changes.  I never would have thought one little house could teach me so much.

Farmer's Market: Putting up summer's harvest

I've been shopping almost exclusively at our local farmer's market for nearly 2 months now and loving it. We're fortunate that the South Bend Farmers Market is open year-round and has many offerings that a temporary, tent market doesn't. For example, there are 2 permanant meat and cheese vendors, plus some dry goods vendors that have rice, flour, soaps, leather moccasins and gloves, etc. It's very well-rounded, and I'm grateful for the diversity. Even if not all the goods are local, I'm still supporting local businesses instead of corporate giants.

The fresh food tastes so much better. I didn't realize how much flavor food lost by being transported and refrigerated. And, instead of finding dead worms in your corn, you find live ones! How's that for fresh-picked?!

A few weeks ago, I found some of the largest, most perfect ears of corn I've ever seen.  the corn went all the way to the tip, and the flavor was excellent.  12 ears produced about 16 heaping cups of corn (average seems to be about 1 cup per ear or a little less) , which is now stored in my freezer.  We've used a little of the stored corn, just to try it out, and it beats canned hands-down.  It tasted as though I'd just bought and cooked the corn that day.  I'll be loving that in the middle of the winter!
I've also been buying and putting up, broccoli, green beans, peppers, tomatoes, and carrots.  The carrots are heirloom varieties and come in a multitude of colors:
It's a good thing we bought that freezer.  By the end of fall, it's going to be stuffed with produce...
It's currently home to the veggies, a chicken, a few miscellaneous cuts of meat, sausage, and venison.  I think on Friday I'm going to give canning peaches a try.  The market is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in the summer, so I'll stop on Thirsday and load up.  I can always freeze some if the canning turns out to be a huge pain.  I also need to get some roma tomatoes to make pasta sauce.  I would have never thought buying and freezing food could be so much fun!  And, I'm satisfying my New Year's resolution by expanding our food storage at the same time.  By winter, we should barely need to go shopping at all.  How strange...