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...