Farewell to more Redi-Shades

Ethan amazed me yesterday morning by taking a 3 hour nap (he must have known I needed some time to myself...), so I managed to put up the shades (blinds? No wonder they call the danged things "window treatments" now!) that had been languishing in their boxes under the couch since June. 

Only 2 more Redi-Shades left in the house!!

The dining room is far from being done, in fact we haven't even started, but having actual shades instead of accordioned paper makes a huge difference.  Yay for non-ghetto windows!


This year's harvest and next year's plans

Since I started my journey last year to become more self-sufficient, I've learned a lot about how to process and store various foods.  Learning almost completely from internet sources, I froze beans, peas, corn, carrots, peppers, and broccoli and canned peaches, applesauce, and spaghetti sauce.  The produce put up in the summer and fall lasted nearly til the next growing season, and I had to buy very few veggies from Meijer or other stores. 

This year I did even more.  While I am in no way close to being as food self-sufficient as I eventually want to be, I've made a lot of progress (especially considering that I was pregnant).  Starting in the spring, I planted a small 4x8' garden with broccoli, two types of tomatoes, and yellow peppers.  Some of the broccoli I started from seeds, but the rest were started plants from a local nursery.  I've never had a vegetable garden before, and I am amazed at how well everything grew with very little care.  I had a decent broccoli harvest, LOADS of tomatoes, and a few peppers. 

I also learned how to make jam.  I bought strawberries from the farmers market, but harvested my own mulberries (from my backyard, no less) and raspberries.  All of the jams turned out well, but raspberry was everyone's favorite.  That one was made kind of spur of the moment, after a friend mentioned that he had a bunch of wild black raspberry bushes on his property.  He let my mom and I pick (and brought me a big container that he had picked himself), and I made the jam with the last berries of the season. 

I picked blueberries for the first time, which is loads of fun when you're gigantically pregnant...!  I ended up with almost 10 lbs.  I dehydrated some and they turned out like little blueberry rocks, but they softened up after being in storage for a little while.  The rest are in the freezer for pancakes, muffins, bread, and maybe pie.

I dehydrated cherries from the market to use in my homemade granola bars or in salad.

I froze the same veggies as last year, minus carrots which are always available locally, but refined my technique a bit.  I've learned to let broccoli dry a bit so that it doesn't get soggy, plus I steamed it instead of blanching.  Last year's was only suitable for stir-fry since it was so mushy.  I bought a Reynolds Handi-Vac system, which is basically a cheap vacuum sealer, and used it for all my freezer veggies.  Hopefully it will work to prevent freezer burn, since last year's veggies ended up very frosty after a few months.

I canned corn and peaches.  Peaches are a major pain in the butt to can, but they taste like a little bit of summer when you open a jar in the middle of winter.  The corn was because the frozen corn starts to taste like the freezer after about 6 months...  So hopefully that canned corn will get us through once the frozen runs out.

I learned how to make basil pesto and froze some of that for later. 

My spaghetti sauce turned out WAY better this year than last year's.  I found a great recipe online, then tweaked it to my taste.  Even my mom likes it.  :)  Most of the tomatoes were bought from the market, but I got about 5-7 lbs off my plants that were tossed in as well.  There's really nothing better than making something edible from something you grew!

Then came applesauce...  I bought mixed seconds from the market instead of using just golden delicious and fuji.  I don't know that it tastes any better, but it was loads cheaper.  I also bought an apple peeler/corer/slicer which sped things up a lot.

On Saturday I bought another half-bushel of seconds and made apple butter.  It turned out well, but not seasoned enough, so this morning I dumped out my jars, added more spices, and cooked it more.  I ended up with 8 oz less than I had, but the flavor is much improved.  Thankfully apples don't require a long processing time, otherwise I would have just had to live with it.

As an experiment I boiled a chicken, froze the stock, and canned the meat.  I haven't yet tried the canned chicken, but it'll be very convenient to have on hand for stir-fry and other recipes.

In addition to learning to store more foods, I also learned how to cook more.  I've found awesome recipes for beef stew, chicken pot pie, roasted red pepper cream sauce, basil cream sauce, no-knead bread, and quite a few others.  It may not sound like much, but until a few years ago I never really bothered with cooking from scratch.  I had a few staples that I'd make (sloppy joes, some crockpot meals, steak, stir-fry), but wasn't interested in learning more. I still don't have as much time to cook as I would like, but I'm getting there.

Next year we are definitely going to have a bigger garden.  Shayne is going to make me more raised beds, and we'll remake the existing one so that it's deeper (and nicer looking!).  I'm going to stick to the 4x8' size, since it makes organization easy and I can reach across the beds without having to step onto the soil.  I'm going to plant a full bed of roma tomatoes (16 plants), red and yellow peppers, broccoli, potatoes, onions, and maybe some corn, squash, and carrots.

We're also going to build more shelves in the basement for more storage space.  As I learn more about canning and storing food, I'm finding that our existing pantry and shelving just aren't cutting it.  Plus, most ready-made shelving has a large area between shelves.  If I'm storing canned goods, I only need a 12 to 16" between shelves.  So I'm wasting a lot of space.

And, I'd really like to get those chickens.  We've been taking about it for 2 years.  I bought coop plans last spring.  Maybe next spring or summer we can get 2 or 3 hens and see how it goes.


Dear Ethan,

Today you are one month old.  I know it's a cliche, but I still can't believe how quickly it has gone by.  Tomorrow will be the start of my 5th week of maternity leave.  Only 7 weeks left to stay home with you full-time.

You are a very easygoing baby, and I really don't have any complaints.  When I was pregnant I tried to prepare myself for being up all night with a screaming baby, but that hasn't happened (yet).  Our first night in the hospital you slept for 6 hours straight.  You haven't duplicated that yet, so I'm lucky to get 4 hours between feedings at night, but you do go right back to bed after you eat and get a diaper change.  You sometimes have fussy periods during the afternoon or evening, which I think is due to your tummy bothering you.  I'm looking into remedies for that, but it might just be something we have to get through.

We're still waiting for your first "real" smile.  You smile like crazy after you've eaten, or in your sleep, but not really in response to me or your dad.  There have been a couple times when I thought you might be smiling at me, but I'm just not sure.  Most times, though you don't seem unhappy, you have a permanent scowl on your face.  It's the exact face that your dad makes when he first wakes up.  He's not a morning person, and I'm thinking you probably aren't either.  But he's afraid that you won't like him, since all you do is scowl at us, so you should really work on that smiling so he'll feel better.

Eating is without a doubt your favorite thing in the world.  You very rarely scowl while you eat.  And you're getting plenty, since you've already shot up to 12 lbs 4 oz and 23.5" at your last pediatrician appointment.  You're off the growth charts and already into 3-6 month clothing.  You also outgrew your x-small diaper covers.  At this rate, you'll weigh about 65 lbs at your first birthday... 

For the first few weeks we always swaddled you before a meal.  You got to know the routine, and when we wrapped you up, you would get so excited you'd start to snort.  Now you just make your mouth into an O shape and breathe really fast.  It's cute, but not as comical as the snorting.

You also seem to like going for walks in the morning.  Even when it's chilly I've been trying to get us both out for some fresh air.   Sometimes we take the jogging stroller (and yesterday I even jogged!), and sometimes I put you in the Beco carrier.  Either way, you usually go right to sleep.
All-in-all, everything is going much better than I expected.  I guess it can pay to expect the worst, but you're pretty much the best baby two clueless parents could hope for.  We appreciate it!


Old house pictures!

Today my neighbors across the street (D and M) gave me the most incredible gift: 2 pictures of my house, one from the '50s, the other from 1960. D's sister lived in the house in the 1950s, and when I talked to D a year or so ago about the house's history, he said that he'd ask her if she had any photos from when she lived there. Since it's been so long, I assumed he had either forgotten or couldn't find anything. I wasn't going to be a pest about it. But today when Shayne was leaving, D flagged him down and gave us these two photos. How exciting!

D's wife M wrote the following caption for this picture: "D's sister bought the house like this." To me, the exterior appears to be in completely original condition. My guess is brown on top with white below, which is a common color scheme for foursquares. The screen door is the same one I found beside our neighbor's garage and "rescued" on a hunch that it belonged on our house. I'm so glad I did, since the neighbor cleaned out the junk pile over the summer, and it would probably be long gone otherwise. The porch floor looks like it's wooden, and I love the lattice on the bottom. You can just barely see the original garage in the back. The tree on the right may be the same one that's there today. The one on the left, which is obviously a maple, is still there for certain.

The second photo is dated June 1960. M wrote another caption: "Then closed in the porch." I wonder why they changed it? I generally don't like screened-in porches, but I don't think it looked too bad. This one confirms that the maple is the same one there now. The second story looks to have been painted white., but not much else has changed. You can barely see the original garage in the back, as well as the fence along the railroad easement. Maybe it's the picnic table and swing, but I love how homey this picture makes the house and yard look.

And a year or two ago. Is it just me, or does the house look WAY smaller? I think the spindly porch supports make the house look less substantial. And the windows look so naked without trim! The 2 car garage was moved to the property at an unknown date. D told me the '50s, but it wasn't there in the 1960 picture. The original is still behind the new one, but I'm not sure now if that's its original location. It looks closer to the house in the old pictures. Obviously the original porch is long gone. And it's been "updated" with vinyl siding and fack brick. Ick. I'm almost positive that the mailbox on the left is the same one, it's just that the little slope leading up to the yard is higher.
I never thought we'd have old pictures of our house. Thanks D and M!!


Minor adjustments

Ethan is now almost 3 weeks old, and I've been on maternity leave for a few days more than that. Since then (aside from pushing the not-so-little guy out!), I've accomplished pretty much nothing. I have cooked one meal, vacuumed a few times, mopped the floor, and kept the kitchen mostly clean. I've washed diapers galore. I'm really scared to see our utility bill this month...! On nice days I put Ethan in the stroller or sling and go for a walk (except today because I'm lazy). But even when he's sleeping (which he does most of the time), I'm too chicken to be more than 10 feet away from him because I'm worried he might wake up and cry. 

Oh, the joys of being a new parent!  :)

I know I'm normal. I know babies cry. I know than the extra 4 seconds it would take me to run down, or up, the stairs wouldn't permanently damage him. But even when he's just sleeping, I feel like I should be doing ...something... with him. Or that I have to stay very close by in case he wakes up.  I do wear him in the sling or Beco carrier, but even then I end up playing on the computer instead of cleaning up the house.  When he's awake, I talk to him, and "play" with him, but that's only for maybe 20 minutes at a time. 

I've gotten out a few times, to the grocery store, Barnes and Noble, and to Applebees with Shayne or my mom. But aside from outside destinations like going hiking or something, there are not a lot of places I want to go. I'm not much of a window shopper, so I'm kind of at a loss for what to DO all day.  I don't even know what I want to do.

I'm not feeling any pressure to get things done, but I need a little bit more to fill up my days besides staring at the baby.  I like being a mommy, but I need a little structure or something.  There are plenty of things around the house I could do, I suppose.  Organize the "new" hall closet, make and can more applesauce, organize the back porch/laundry room/mud room, finish writing thank-you cards from the baby shower... 

My goal this week is to accomplish one small something each day, even if it's just getting out of the house.  I'm making a list, and every day I stay at home, I'll try to get something crossed off it.  If I can pry myself away from the sleeping baby...


Welcome to the world, baby Ethan!!

What do you know...  I actually finished a project for once!!

Ethan Edward entered this world on 9/29 at 1342 hrs.  He weighed 9 lbs 7 oz and is 21" long, and I delivered him completely drug-free!

I wanted to type out the story of his birth while everything is still relatively fresh in my mind.  If you have a problem with graphic descriptions, then you might not want to keep reading...  : )

I started having noticible contractions on Monday night at around 9:30 pm and told Shayne he should probably stay home from work.  They weren't bad, but they were regular (about 7-10 minutes apart), and something just told me that this was it.  I called my doula to give her a heads-up, then tried to get some rest. 

Yeah, that didn't happen...  I was feeling the contractions mostly in my back, and laying down through them was uncomfortable enough that I didn't want to do it.  I layed down for a while, and it was like I could just feel this gaping hole opening up inside me.  I wasn't trying to visualize anything, it just felt like that's what was happening.  I did the positioning exercises suggested to me to prevent or turn a posterior baby, but was still having lots of back pain.  In fact, there were very few contractions that hurt all the way around.  Or maybe it just felt that way because of the back labor.

By 4:30 am Tuesday morning, my contractions were about 3 minutes apart.  This is when my midwife told me I should go to the hospital, but I just wasn't sure.  I'd heard that you just know when it's time to go, but I guess I'm not one of those people.  I called my mom, who suggested I go, then my doula.  My doula didn't seem positive that I was ready.  I talked to her through 3 contractions, though, and by the third, we had decided I should go and get checked.  If I wasn't dilated to at least 5 cm, I figured I'd just come back home.  My mom agreed to meet us there.

Sitting in the car through contractions sucked.  A lot.  At home I had to stand and sway my hips through each one to find a position where my back didn't quite hurt as badly.  I obviously couldn't do that in the car, and when we it bumps while I was having a contraction it was pretty painful.  Shayne (carefully) ran every red light we came to, which I thought was funny.  When we got close to the hospital there was a stretch of brick-paved road we had to go down.  This stretch had hurt even when I was having Braxton-Hicks contractions, and I had warned him in advance that I'd kill him if he drove down that road if I was having a contraction.  Of course I was having one then.  We waiting at a green light for what felt like forever and waited for my uterus to behave itself, then finally made it to the childbirth unit.

We entered the childbirth triage, where I was told to pee in a cup (maybe I'm not really pregnant after all!) and put on a hospital gown.  I told the receptionist/nurse that I'd be staying in my own clothes, which seemed to offend her personally.  After I went into the bathroom I heard her tell Shayne, "Well, she's not going to give birth in sweatpants!"  Maybe not, but I sure as hell wasn't putting on something that would leave my ass bare to the world.  So in my yoga pants and tank top I stayed.

The actual triage nurse was much more accomodating and let me stand up while I was being monitored.  I continued with my belly-dance-through-a-contraction maneuvers until she was ready to do a pelvic exam.  I was completely expecting to be only 2 cm.  After all, first time mothers usually go slowly, and the contractions just didn't seem that painful.  Nowhere near what I'd been expecting.  To my surprise, I was nearly 7 cm.  I hadn't shown up pushing, but it didn't look like I was going to be spending an eternity in the hospital either.  I was admitted and called my doula to come on over.  It was probably a little after 5:30 am by now, but from here on out my time sense got a little fuzzy.

Once I was in my L&D room I was put on cordless monitors because they weren't seeing the accelerations in the baby's heartbeat with each contraction.  My doula arrived and we agreed to try a more aggressive positioning exercise (Texas Roll?) to try to ensure that the baby was not posterior.  My back labor was a little worrisome to me as my mom had had the same thing and I had been jammed against her pelvis and unable to come out.  I did NOT want a c-section if at all possible.  So with the first exercise, I had to lay flat on my back with a rolled-up sheet under my lower back.  It hyper-extends the lower back to allow the baby more room to reposition.  And it hurts like hell.  I stayed there for what felt like forever, then moved to the"roll-over" position.  In that one you lay mostly on your belly with pillows under whichever side you want the baby to move to.  That one hurt too, but I suppose most things having to do with labor do hurt...

After that I could feel that the baby was laying more "back to belly" than before.  My midwife confirmed it, so I was "allowed" to resume laboring in any position I wanted.  My back still really hurt through each contraction, though, even though the baby was supposedly in a better position.  I tried laboring in the whirlpool tub, walking up and down the hall, and probaby a few other things that I don't remember.  Nothing but standing up seemed to help the back pain, which really disappointed me.  I'd had visions of a zen-like labor in the whirlpool, then a waterbirth.  Not so much.

Around 11:30 (maybe?), I asked my doula if there was anything we could do to speed things along.  I was getting really tired, and I didn't feel like my contractions were geting me anywhere.  She said we could have my midwife break my water, assuming an internal exam showed that I was dilated enough.  By breaking my water, my contractions would hopefully become more productive.  She also expressed concern that I was so tired and didn't seem to be making any progress.  I was really nervous about having any interventions, so I decided I'd try to rest for a while first.  Shayne and I both laid down, and everyone left the room.  Shayne got a nap, but my back hurt so much with each contraction that I pretty much just laid there and wondered why natural childbirth was so important to me.  I still didn't want an epidural, but I totally understand why people get them.  I felt like every muscle in my body was contracting right along with my uterus, even though I was trying so hard to relax.

After a while I got up, found my mom and my doula, and told them I wanted to have my water broken.  I needed to get this over with, and that was the least invasive way we could all think of.  So Kristen (my midwife) checked me, found I was 9+ cm, and used a crochet needle-looking instrument to try to break the bag of waters.  Which didn't quite work.  After 5 minutes of fishing around, she finally managed.  For some reason, my membranes were extremely stretchy and tough, and she couldn't puncture it. 

From that point on, things really got going.  The contractions (and back pain) intensified, and I had a few panicky minutes where I swore I just couldn't do it.  Shayne, my mom, and my doula all talked me through it, though, and a little while later they asked me if I wanted to try pushing.

The nurse hooked a bar to the bed, and I tried a few different positions.  I didn't feel an urge to push, though, and I wasn't quite sure how to do it.  Another pelvic exam, and Kristen found that there was a lip of cervix that was holding things up.  I had to lay back down on my back, back on the rolled up sheet to tilt my pelvis, and Kristen held down the lip while I tried my best to push.  After a few tries, I finally got a decent one or two, and the baby moved over the lip and into the birth canal.

Holy crap.  I'd read on someone else's birth story that the pushing stage was like trying to shit a watermelon out your asshole.  I can't describe it any better than that.  I'm not even going to try.  Pushing sucked more than anything I'd ever imagined and hurt like hell.  At some point the folks at the business end said they could see the baby's head, and everyone kept saying how much hair he had.  I kept thinking, "Who gives a shit how much hair this baby has...  Get him OUT!"  I lost my contraction while he was crowning and had to wait for the next until I could push him out.  That was the worst part.  I begged for a shot of lidocaine.  My mom kept telling me to push, and I just couldn't.  It felt like forever, but I finally had another contraction, and out he came.

Immediate relief.  Ethan's hand had been up by his face, which was probably why I'd had such intense back labor.  They quickly wiped him off and put him on my stomach.  He DID have a lot of hair.  And he was huge.  I don't know that I was thinking much at this point, but I was (and still am) amazed that a fully-formed person came out of me. 

So...  I'd say I have a pretty good excuse for not getting anything done around the house for the next 3 months or so  :)


New marriage-saving device: tow-behind lawn sweeper

While we are on a tight budget in anticipation of 6 weeks without my paycheck, we couldn't resist the Craigslist ad for an Agri-Fab 46" leaf sweeper.  I may love fall, but raking a half-acre yard 2-3 times per fall is not my idea of a good time.  Shayne also tends to get extremely cranky during this chore, so there are no fun, playful leaf fights or happy romantic fall scenes in our yard...  Last year the leaves fell so late that we were raking wet leaves in the snow, and Shayne got so crabby that I vowed to hire a leaf service next year to preserve our my sanity. 

Well, here were are at "next year", but with no money to spare to hire a service.  Call me lazy, but I know that having a new baby this year, we'd never, ever get the yard raked in a timely manner.  Enter the lawn sweeper.

This nifty gadget is towed behind a lawn tractor and will sweep up grass clippings, leaves, or other yard debris.  You can supposedly dump it while still sitting on the seat of your tractor.  A new model retails for $420, but we got our lightly used one for $125.  Even if we end up paying a service for curbside pick-up (which appears to cost $45-65.  Our county discontinued free leaf pick-up the year we moved out of the city, of course.), I'll consider it money well spent. 


I'm due!

Today is the baby's due date, which he obviously doesn't realize, since he's showing no signs of wanting to vacate.  Oh well.  Nobody's been pregnant forever, right?

I think we've managed to accomplish more in the past 9 months than in any other year since we've been in the house.  It's amazing what a real deadline can do for people who are procrastinators.  And we're nothing if not professional procrastinators!  Here's a quick recap of what we've managed to get done:
  1. Purchased a "new" dining room set and removed most of the clutter from that room
  2. Rearranged living room furniture and installed new fabric blinds
  3. Finished sanding the staircase and stained handrail, spindles, and treads
  4. Framed over the hall closet opening into the office
  5. Made a new, wider opening into the original office closet
  6. Recreated the wall that was originally between the master bedroom and office closets.  The PPOs had removed it for God-alone-knows what reason
  7. Removed the knob-and-tube wiring from the office and installed bracing and wiring for a ceiling fan
  8. Removed non-original built-in bookshelf thing from master bedroom, framed over opening, removed remaining lath and plaster (boo-hoo), and drywalled
  9. Skimcoated the office, office closet, and master bedroom closet walls, fading in the drywall patches
  10. Primed and painted both closets, the new wall in the master bedroom, and the office
  11. Installed closet organizers into both "new" closets
  12. Began transforming hall closet into a linen closet and not a "junk drawer"
  13. Made the nursery into a nursery, aquiring all of the big-ticket items secondhand
  14. Amassed over a year's worth of baby clothes without spending a dime
  15. Planted a small garden and harvested lots of broccoli, a few peppers, and over 10 lbs of tomatoes
  16. Put up lots of fresh produce, including peaches, blueberries, corn, beans, broccoli, peppers, applesauce, spaghetti sauce, 3 kinds of jam, and basil pesto
  17. Paid off 2 student loans and a credit card
  18. Overflowed the bathroom toilet, ruining the ceiling in the kitchen
  19. Removed the jungle from the "garden" on the side of the garage and mulched until we can put patio pavers in
  20. Grew a baby!
It's annoying to me that none of the rooms upstairs are finished.  We really wanted to have the floors refinished, but ran out of time due to a 1 month delay because of a flaky electrician.  Still.  We're way ahead of where we were, and every room is at least functional.

Over the winter and into the spring, we'll be gearing up for the floor refinishing, trim re-installation, and, by summer, a bathroom remodel.  Well, at least that's the plan.  Who knows how it'll work out with a new baby...  But that'll be the best project of all!


Stocking up for winter

Living with the seasons has been such a fulfilling experience for me.  Now that we've been doing it for a little over a year, it's amazing to me that already certain times just seem to have certain homemaking activities attached to them.  I'm sure it would be much more intense with a big garden or a farm, but even the little pseudo-homesteading that I do adds purpose and meaning to the seasons. 

This year I've felt a lot of pressure to "bring in the harvest".  I know a lot of this has to do with expecting a baby and wanting everything to be as ready as it can be.  Since I put up my own fresh produce last year, I had a much better idea of how much food we really need to make it through to the next season...  And it was WAY more than I anticipated.  You don't really realize how much you go through until you want it all ready in advance.  So this year I tried to prepare better. 

My mom brought me a third quarter bushel of Romas from the market on Tuesday, then yesterday I took a half day and we made more pasta sauce.  I'm now up to 18 quarts made.  I gave a few away, and might give a few more, but this should get us through til next summer.  We don't eat spaghetti much when the weather is warm, so it only needs to last til around May.

We still need to finish up the applesauce.  I can't believe how much we eat when it's homemade, since we didn't eat any storebought.  Shayne loves it, and it makes a good gift.

I also need to freeze a few more peppers.  We use them in stir-fry, on pizza, in omlettes, and a few other things.

Today I stopped at Jaworski's Market and got a bulk package of meat.  I was hoping to buy grassfed beef from a local farmer, but just ran out of time to track him down (know where he lives, but no contact info).  At least everything from Jaworski's is all-natural and hormone-free.  For $130, I got:
7lb (2 - 3½lb) whole chicken

3lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
6lb (3 - 2lb) ground beef
3lb (4 - 12oz) New York strip steaks
3lb sirloin tip steaks
3lb chuck roast
4lb (2 -2lb) butterfly pork chops
5lb (2 - 2½) pork steaks
2lb polish sausage
2 lb Italian sausage
2lb bacon
3lb breakfast sausage
Which breaks down to a little over $3/lb for 43 lbs of meat.  Plus I already bought extra chickens and have about 7 lbs of ground venison from a friend.
I'm happy.  The freezer is stuffed.  The shelves are nearly full.  And I won't need to buy meat or any veggies except onions, potatoes, and fresh greens for at least 8 months.  I really wonder what that will do to our grocery bill, since I've been consistently spending about $100/week.  Withouth meat or fresh produce, I'm betting it'll be under $50.


More fall food: Beef and barley stew

In the spirit of fall, I made some beef and barley stew this morning to put in the freezer for after baby arrives (assuming he ever does...).  We're trying to get several meals stored so that we don't end up eating Chinese take-out or pizza every night.  I'm sure I won't feel much like cooking for the first couple of weeks.  So far we have stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, shepherd's pie, and crab corn chowder stashed in there.  Plus a few "emergency" microwave meals.  All-in-all we have 8-10 days worth of homemade dinners, but I'm somehow worried we're going to starve.  I guess because I have no idea what top expect or what I'll be up for in the days following the baby's arrival, it's making me a little edgy.  So I'm making more food!

I found a basic recipe on the internet, then added and fudged a bit to my own tastes.  It turned out really well, and I wish I wouldn't have eaten lunch so I could have had a nice, big bowl. 

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups cubed potatoes (I used redskins, since they hold their shape better)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced celery
2 cloves garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced baby portobello mushrooms
1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes, including liquid
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup uncooked medium pearl barley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a thick-bottomed pot, brown beef in olive oil. Add the carrots, onion, celery, potatoes and garlic; cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 90 minutes. Add barley; cover and simmer 45-60 minutes longer or until barley and meat are tender.  Remove bay leaves and add balsamic vinegar.  Serve!

Makes approximately 2 quarts (8 small servings).
And now I'm off to make some chicken pot pie...

Making applesauce

Fall is here!! Shayne and I went to the farmers market yesterday morning and were amazed at how quickly the harvest went from "summer" to "fall". There were corn stalks, pumpkins, and mums everywhere. And apples. We bought a half bushel of "mixed seconds" to make applesauce, then got fresh cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and apple cider. Mmmm....!

I love spring and summer, but I think fall is my favorite season. I love the changing leaves, the cool mornings and warm days, seeing Orion in the southern sky, and the rush to put up the last of the fresh produce. I also love fall food; we start making the switch to heartier fare like beef stew, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, and thick soups. And, of course, there's applesauce.

Poor Shayne has been waiting since spring. I didn't make anywhere near enough applesauce last year, and we ran out around March or April. I caved and offered to buy apples out-of-season from Meijer, but then we both agreed that making and eating certain foods in-season just makes them more special. So we've been waiting. And waiting.

I bought an apple peeler-corer-slicer from Bed Bath and Beyond yesterday, and Shayne tested it out on the first few apples. What a nifty little invention!! I still peel the top and bottom of the apple first, and you have to properly align the apple on the spikes in order for it to get the entire core... But what a time-saver! Definitely worth the $15 I spent on it.

And by noon we had our first batch of applesauce in the canner. I got 4.5 quarts and only used about half of the apples. For a cost comparison, my applesauce costs about $1.33/quart to make. Musselman's is $1.96/quart. And while I haven't ever tried Musselman's, I can tell you for sure that my homemade version blows Meijer's organic applesauce out of the water. And mine is certainly nothing special, just apples, a teeny bit of water, and cinnamon. Cook, smush, mix, serve. Doesn't get any easier than that.

If I haven't had a baby by next Saturday I'll definitely be buying more "mixed seconds" for more sauce and apple butter...



It's currently 49°F here at the Prairie Box, and I'm freezing my buns off.  I'm at that lovely stage of pregnancy (the end!!) where nothing fits, not even my maternity clothes.  Since I didn't get big enough to wear maternity stuff until summer, I have NO cool weather clothing that even comes close to fitting.  I need to go steal a sweatshirt from Shayne.  Even some of those are too small.  How's that for a self-esteem boost?  I swear I'm going to have a 15 lb baby...

Last night we went to Lowes and bought a closet organizer for "my" closet in the office.  It's a modular system from Rubbermaid that should almost double the hanging space available in my 63" wide closet.  It's also supposed to be easy to install.  We'll see how that works out.  I haven't opened the package yet, but the instructions I saw on the website made it seem straightforward.  Everything hangs from a top rail so that you only have to drill 1 set of holes into the studs.  We'll install it this afternoon and see what happens.

Also at Lowes, we found pine "door jamb" planks that are the exact width of our door and window trim.  It's stain-grade pine, the edges are already routed, and they're returnable if they don't work out.  Our walls are thicker than those of new homes, so we'll have to find something wider to frame in the door jambs themselves, but these should work perfectly as trim.  That's also on the agenda for this afternoon.

As for this morning, I'm continuing my "from-the-bottom-up" cleaning and organizing blitz.  Thanks to my mom's help, the storage section of the basement is now much-improved, and we started on the dining room.  Since I've been doing some shuffling of the furniture, quite a few odds and ends have ended up homeless...  I just need to rehome or trash them, then vacuum and dust the living room.  I feel like I'm doing Apartment Therapy's "Complete Cure" in 2 days.  Thankfully I already reorganized the kitchen and bathroom, so I just need to do some cleaning in those rooms.  Wish me luck!


It's kind of ironic; I'm busier at home on the weekends than I am at "work" during the week.  Now that the upstairs is almost as organized as it's likely to get before the baby arrives (we're still going to buy two closet organizer systems and install them in the "new" closets... One of them will be in by tomorrow), it's time to move elsewhere.  So, my wonderful mom is coming over today to help me organize the basement storage area.  Not sure why this is important before having a baby, but I want to get it done.  I'd like to have more space for food storage especially.  Ever since canning all that corn, jam, peaches, and spaghetti sauce, I'm really running out of room.  And I still have to do applesauce and blueberry butter.  And I hardly have any staples stored.  So today I'm on a mission to find some space. 

In case you're wondering where my hubby has been during all the help from my mom...  Today he's taking our nieces and nephews to the AirZoo in Kalamazoo as a reward for helping to clean up our yard and garage yesterday.  I guess hubbies "nest" too, since he suddenly decided the garage needed to be cleaned... NOW.  The rest of the time he's been working like crazy at part-time jobs.  Since I'll be off work for 12 weeks, we're trying to build up our savings account as much as possible.  He's not slacking, I promise!!

Our bedroom upstairs has walls again, and the drywall only needs 2 more mud applications and to be sanded.  Then that's done too.  We're not going to paint until spring I don't think, since we can't seem to find a new bedding set we like.  So we'll just prime the room and closet, then paint the closet and call it good.  I'm SO ready to be done with house projects for a while...

One of the up-sides of working on the house so much, though, is that I'm MUCH happier with it than I was in the spring.  We still want to move before the kidlet goes to school, but it seems much less pressing than it did.  Working on the house makes me feel like I have some control over my environment.  So even though the neighbors killed our privacy, I'm finding other things about our house and property to be satisfied by.  Like our little veggie garden.  Or the patio-to-be next to the garage (it was a jungle of weeds, but my mom and I ripped out all the weeds, then Shayne spread landscape fabric and mulch until we can add paving stones or something more patio-y).  Even fixing the closets upstairs has helped, since I know I'm adding value to the house, plus making sense out of something that was ruined.

And hopefully soon, we'll have a new little project to take up all of our time...!


Upstairs cleaning/organizing extravaganza

Yeah, what a perfect way to spend Labor Day Weekend - painting, cleaning, and organizing... Oh well. I'm too gigantic to do anything fun - like go camping - so cleaning it is!

My mom finished painting the trim yesterday, so we moved most of the furniture that belongs there into the office. I have a small desk-ish table that my aunt and uncle gave me a few years ago that we still need to put up there, and some of the shower gifts are still piled in the living room, but we're really making progress. Too bad we'll still be living with paper Redi-Shades and unrefinished floors for a while yet...

In other happy news, we finally got our check from the insurance company. It's going to be socked away in the bank at least until next summer, but we'll have about 2/3 of the bathroom remodel paid for when we're ready to start. I can't wait to have clean, new tile and a shiny, deep bathtub to soak in!


Down to the wire

In the final push to get the upstairs habitable (and CLEAN!) before the baby arrives, my mom is coming over today to paint the trim in the office. Tony put up the sheetrock in our bedroom, so as soon as he tapes and muds, that room will be ready for some fresh paint as well. I hate painting this close to the baby's arrival, but maybe we can get some VOC-free paint to assuage my conscience. Or we'll just keep the windows open (which we already do anyways).

After the trim is painted, we'll start moving office stuff into the office. I want the nursery set up by tomorrow. Yes, I'm a slave-driver. I already put the bedding in the crib a few weeks ago; I was dying to see what it looked like. All we really need to do is hang the curtains, arrange the furniture, and bring in the glider. Oh, and get the pile of baby shower gifts out of the living room. Not so bad.

And then, maybe, I can relax. Cause right now my impending due date feels like the day the world will end. At least in terms of accomplishing anything house-related, including cleaning. There's all this pressure to get EVERYTHING done in the next week. I'm sure I'm driving Shayne nuts, but he's been extremely tolerant. I'd have never thought he could be so patient. I'm probably good practice for raising a toddler...

More later...


Office photos

We finally got some paint of the walls...  The first photo shows the color more accurately.  It's a subdued greenish-blue, which is kind of funny since it's sort of close to the original color of the walls in this room.  We weren't aiming for that detailed of a restoration, but that's how it worked out.
This second photo is of the new-and-improved closet opening.  This is where the closet was originally, before the PPOs decided to sabotage the linen closet into a partial bedroom closet.  We did double the width of the original doorway, but the closet dimensions have been returned to what they should be.  The hall closet is again a hall closet (or will be once we have hanging rods and such in the "new" closet and move our clothes back where they belong).
The trim is going to stay white but will get a fresh coat of paint, probably this weekend.  I'll also be sorting through the salvaged trim in the garage to recreate the missing pieces on two walls.


Office progress: Ready for paint!

As of Friday evening the office is officially ready for paint.  It is nearly primed (Shayne just needs to cut in around the trim), and my mom is coming over tomorrow to help with the "real" painting.  Then we'll paint the trim (don't worry, it was already painted!), and it will be as finished as it's going to get for now.  Floor sanding and refinishing is going to wait until spring, since I don't want any residual fumes in the house when baby arrives.  Plus, we're just about out of time, and I'd rather concentrate on other things. 

I can't believe I'm due in 4 weeks!!  Yeek!

By Tuesday we should have all the office crap out of the nursery and into the office.  It'll be so fun to finally get to set up the nursery!  Not that the baby's going to sleep in there for the first few months, but still...  I'm especially anxious to bring up the glider I bought as a surprise for Shayne (he already knows, don't worry).  Babies R Us was having a floor model sale at the same time as gliders were 20% off, so I managed to snag the reclining glider Shayne really wanted for 40% of the original $400 price.  And with all the gift cards we had received, I only had to pay $50 out of pocket.  BRU cleaned up the cushions for me, and aside from one little stain on one side of the seat cushion, you can't tell it from new.  Yay for bargain shopping!

In the master bedroom, the Pepto-Bismol pink plaster was removed completely, and we're down to the studs.  It was a difficult decision for me, since I really prefer to keep the original materials when possible.  Sadly, part of my concern was time; it takes much longer to patch in drywall, skimcoat, and feather in the differing materials.  I really want this done and painted before the baby gets here.  Another issue was the plaster itself.  It wasn't in terrible shape, but by the time we removed the parts that were crumbling, there wouldn't be enough left to make the work worth it (IMO).  I'd have felt differently if it was the living room or dining room, I think, since we're really trying to keep as much original as possible in the main areas of the house.  But since the bedrooms have already been butchered...  I obviously feel guilty about my decision, since I'm trying so hard to justify it.  Oh well.

Also in the master bedroom, the closet opening is going to be reframed to better match the scale of the house.  It's currently 84" tall, making it a little taller than our bedroom doorway.  If we were to add matching woodwork to an opening that size, it would look odd.  So it will be shrinking to a more reasonable 72" to match every other closet door in the house.  Tony thought I was crazy to want make the openings so short, since we'll probably have to order custom doors (or find salvaged ones), but I'm convinced we should match the other closets as closely as possible.  We might be taking the width of the opening down as well, but I'll have to go up and measure to see. 

I'm not sure when we'll get woodwork for the closets to match the rest of the doors.  I have some bits and pieces out in the garage that may work.

Paint in the master bedroom should happen within 2 weeks, barring any catastrophes.  Talk about cutting it close!!

Spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes: Take two

Last year on a whim I bought a Roma food mill and made my own spaghetti sauce from fresh roma tomatoes.  While the sauce was decent, it wasn't anywhere near as wonderful as I'd hoped.  The food mill performed much better than I ever expected though, and it's become one of my favorite appliances.  How neat is is to plop whole tomatoes (or cut in half if they're big) into the hopper, turn a crank, and the tomato pulp and juice are quickly separated from the skin and seeds.  I was skeptical that it would work as advertised, but it really is that easy.  Definitely the best $45 I ever spent on a kitchen item.

This year, armed with an actual recipe instead of trying to fake my way through, I bought 10 lbs of tomatoes and tried again.

My results were WAY better.  My sauce is still not as thick as I would like, but the flavor is excellent.  I probably should have added an extra can of tomato paste, but I was afraid to because I liked the flavor and didn't want to ruin it.

Here's my recipe:

10 lbs of ripe roma (paste) tomatoes
1-2 16 oz can of tomato paste (or more if desired)
1 medium-large yellow onion
1 medium red pepper
3/4 head of garlic
1/2 c olive oil
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

You can add other veggies if you choose, but no cheese if you plan to water bath can.

Process tomatoes in a food mill to remove seeds, skin, and stems.  Cook puree and juice on a low boil for 3 hrs. 
After 3 hrs, add tomato paste until desired consistency is reached.  Stir in brown and white sugar, olive oil, spices, and salt and pepper.  Add finely chopped peppers, onions, and garlic.  Cook an additional 30 - 60 minutes, stirring and tasting often.  Adjust spices and veggies to desired taste.

Once sauce is finished, pour into canning cars, seal, and process.  Water bath 15 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts.  Yields approximately 5 quarts of sauce.


Bathroom Idea Board

As usual, I'm obsessing about the bathroom.  Big surprise there.  To organize my thoughts, I put together a little idea board of the products and materials I plan on using. 

Starting in the upper left and moving clockwise...
  1. Subway tile.  I love the classic look and easily-maintained surface.  Unfortunately, we can't afford to tile a wainscot around the entire room, so we're planning on using it for a tub/shower surround.  American Olean seems to have discontinued their "Greenwich Village" line, so we'll be looking for a suitable substitute.
  2. Pedestal sink.  This one is American Standard's Retrospect.  I like how this sink combines both rounded and squared elements.  It's not too mission-y, but not too colonial revival-y.  It also complements quite a few styles of faucets.
  3. Built-in medicine cabinet.   I haven't seen this particular style for sale anywhere, but I'm keeping my eye on salvage stores.  The open shelf underneath would be great for often-used items (q-tips, jewelry tray).  I definitely want the cabinet to be inset into the wall.  
  4. Some kind of square, mission-style sconce.  These are for either side of the medicine cabinet.  These are from Restoration Hardware, but I found some at VanDykes that are a little less expensive but still have the same feel.
  5. Kohler Bancroft faucet.  Not too rounded and swoopy, just clean and classic looking.
  6. Hex tile.  I'm definitely using this for the floor.  Not sure if we'll include some kind of pattern or accent in black tiles.  Probably.  What;'s the fun of mosaic tiles if you don't get to play with designs?
  7. Kohler Bancroft tub.  Big compromise, for both of us.  Shayne wants a longer, deeper tub; I want cast iron.  Budget and space dictate otherwise.  To keep costs down we're going to move the plumbing as little as possible.  The sink will scoot over 2-3 feet, but that's it.  So there's no room for a wider tub in the current floorplan, and the cast iron one I want (Kohler Kathryn) costs over 3 times as much. The Bancroft is a good compromise with a little vintage character, relatively deep bathing area, standard dimensions, and thick acrylic walls.  Anything's better than the 8" deep, cheap, POS tub we have now, though.
  8. Color.  Some sort of soothing, gray-green.  
  9. Beadboard (not shown).  Poor-man's substitute for a subway tile wainscot.  :)  Plus, since our house is something of a farm house, and is very simple with its detailing, I think beadboard is more true to its style. 
Since we're not changing the floor plan, I was concerned that the room would look closed-in.  It does now, but there are big, oak cabinets and a huge vanity hogging up physical and visual space.  I'm hoping with a smaller sink and no gigantic cabinet it will open things up.  I found a few pics online that show a bathroom almost identical to the look we're going for.  Currently, these are my inspiration pics:


Dumpster Diving

How cool is this??


Some creative folks have been taking unused Dumpsters or shipping containers and making them into pools.  A 30 yard Dumpster (the big ones you see parked in driveways) are 22' x 8' x 5' and would make an nice little lap pool for me.  I guess I'll be on the lookout for abandoned waste receptacles or shipping containers...

Movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches...

Gonna can a lot of peaches, more like.  I bought almost a half bushel at the market yesterday, just for canning.  Peaches are the only thing I don't like to can.  Cutting them up is a pain, even when they're freestone it seems like only about half separate easily.  Peeling them sucks (I've tried dipping them in boiling water, which didn't work for me, so I'm stuck peeling by hand).  They're slimy and difficult to handle.  And they taste SO much better than store-bought that I can't make myself eat anything else.

My mom helped me yesterday, for which I am eternally grateful.  She seems to have better luck peeling than I do, and I did better with cutting them up, so we made a good team.  I knew I only wanted to can 12 pints, so we stopped about 2/3 of the way through the basket so we wouldn't have too much.  I got 7 pints out of the first batch, so I had to finish up with the rest this morning.  I got 11 pints total, with 3 peaches leftover to eat.  With peaches a little smaller than my fist, I seem to use about 4 peaches per pint, meaning that we only peeled and cut up maybe 4 dozen.  It felt like a LOT more.  Oh well.  I'm done now, and I'll have yummy tasting peaches to eat all winter!

As far as cost goes...  Meijer sells a case of peaches (12 - 15 oz cans) for $16.76, or $1.40 per can.  I paid $10 for my almost-half-bushel and would have gotten 12 pints if I hadn't saved some to eat.  That's $0.83 per can.  If you add in the pain-in-the-ass factor, I'm sure mine are more expensive, but they are much firmer and tastier, so I suppose it's worth it.

Next up is tomato sauce, then applesauce and apple butter.  I'm considering potatoes, too.

Some rambling thoughts on the loss of a friend

Two weeks or so ago, we lost an estranged friend to suicide.  We hadn't seen him in about 2 years, but Trav was the best man at our wedding and had been Shayne's friend since the early '90s.  When he and Shayne started drifting apart, I wasn't too surprised.  Trav hated cops, and while I don't think he ever actually disliked Shayne and I, our jobs definitely put a strain on the friendship.  After a while, they just stopped talking altogether.

For as long as I'd known him, Trav had never been truly happy.  He was fun to be around, he had a great sense of humor, and he could always make me laugh.  He also gave the best back massages in the entire world.  But things were never quite right (and had gotten progressively worse in the past 5 years or so), and I'd be lying if I said I was even the least bit surprised when I heard he'd killed himself.

In some ways I'm not even sad about it.  The way he chose to die needlessly involved a lot of other people, including some friends and quite a few of my co-workers, and I'm still pretty angry.  Maybe it could have gone differently, maybe not.  But I'm just incredibly pissed that he got so many people involved in his drama right at the end.

Some of me is sad for what could have been.  Trav was incredibly smart and talented; he designed and made costumes for his friends' film projects, enjoyed acting, and was a trained massage therapist.  Even though Shayne and I didn't talk to him anymore, it's different than now when we can't talk to him.

And part of me wonders how things can get to a point where he would feel that dying is preferable to living.  I know that's pretty much the classic question people ask when someone they know has killed themselves, but it really is a mystery to me.  Even on bad days, or weeks, I can look around myself and find something beautiful and worthwhile in the world (even if not in myself).  If I wasn't alive, I couldn't watch the sun rise on my way to work in the morning.  I wouldn't ever see the northern lights from a beach in northern Michigan.  I'd never again enjoy a mug of instant cappuccino while snuggled in my sleeping bag on a winter camping trip. 

It's not like my life is perfect or that things always go my way.  There have been setbacks, and surprises, and tragedies.  I've had times of uncertainty, depression, and fear.  It's just how life goes.

This song played on the radio sometime last week.  I've not heard in on the air before or since, even though it's by a popular country artist, so I an only assume that I was meant to hear it. 


Crackhouse Chic

Gotta love waking up to this in the morning:

Sadly, this is progress.  That's gotta be the worst part of home "improvement" for me; you almost always make things worse before you make them better.  Tony should be by sometime next week to patch in drywall and make the scary-ness start to go away.

But in the meantime I get to feast my eyes on crumbling plaster and Pepto-Bismol pink.  Whee!



The insurance adjuster came out on Tuesday.  I had no idea what to expect, since we've never filed any kind of claim before.  She took a look at the damaged part of the ceiling we had exposed, noticed the laminate flooring was warped, took a couple of pictures, then told us the ceiling, laminate, tile floor, underlayment, and subfloor should all be replaced due to "blackwater contamination". 

I wanted to hug her.

She said she'd send us a letter soon.  She also explained to us that they have their own estimation process, so basically she'll just mail us a check.  If our repairs cost over the estimated amount or we find additional damage, we call her, she comes out to do a re-inspection, and we go from there.  She said if we do all the work ourselves for less than the estimate, we keep the change.  After 1 year from the date of the claim, if we haven't completed the repairs, we waive our right to any additional money for any additional damage found.  Sounds simple enough.

All-in-all, I am very happy with the process so far.  The adjuster was friendly, loved old houses, and complimented all the work we had done.  She was also understanding regarding the old damage; I'm sure she could tell it didn't happen just from that one incident, but because the water was contaminated and we had no way of getting to certain areas to dry them/disinfect, it was obvious to her that we had to get to the covered areas to at least disinfect. 

So...  We're tentatively planning a bathroom remodel for the spring.  Since the ceramic and underlayment should all come up, it would be stupid not to do the whole remodel at that point.  I'd love to do it now, but with a baby due in 6 weeks or less, I'm thinking we should probably wait...  I'd go a little nuts if there was anything else torn up and unusable right now.  We've already had to put our floor refinishing plans on hold because of all the unexpected vet bills.  We had a target amount for our savings account to be at when I started my time off work, and the loss of $800 and knowing we have incoming medical bills from Shayne's surgery kind of threw a wrench in things.  Oh well.  The floors will still be there in the spring.  And our room and the nursery aren't in dire need of refinishing anyways, so it's really no big deal.


And then the ceiling caved in...

It's been an interesting month.  We seem to have stumbled into a run of bad luck that is encompassing just about every area of our life.  First, our dog Ares managed to somehow cut off half of one of his toe pads while playing in the backyard.  We have no glass or metal laying around, but a nice, clean chunk was missing.  Shayne called him to come inside, and the poor dog was leaving bloody tracks everywhere.  7 stitches and $350 later, he was all patched up and unhappily wearing an Elizabethan collar (or at least a baby sock to cover his bandage) for 2 weeks. 

Several days later it was the cat's turn.  She had been hacking up little spit balls all over the place, so I called the vet.  Kitty is very nice at home, and she often sits on my lap or crawls under the bed covers when I'm reading at night.  She's not so nice at the vet.  In fact, she won't let anyone come near her.  She hisses, growls, spits, pees, scratches, and bites.  They have to use a device called the Cat Nabber to even give her shots.  A physical exam is impossible.  So...  The vet sedated her ($75!), examined her ($40!), and reversed the sedation ($30!) in order to diagnose her.  And it turns out that she has raging gum disease.  This doesn't surprise me, as she is 13 years old, does not chew her food, and has never been examined in the 12 years I've had her.  Vet recommended a dental cleaning ($255, including blood work and anesthesia), with extractions to be determined (2 at $25 each).  While she was there I got her rabies vaccination, which was on the verge of expiration ($30).  Expensive freakin cat.  Thankfully, because she's such a bitch, no follow-up appointment was deemed necessary.

Right before this, Shayne had an outpatient surgery.  Nothing major, but still not pleasant.

My mom slammed her finger in the storm door at her house and had to get 4 stitches.  Ouch!

And then, the kitchen ceiling caved in.

The night before, I had used the upstairs bathroom.  I flushed, but nothing went down.  In fact, the water level in the bowl rose dramatically.  I plunged frantically, to no avail, then decided it was best left alone.  I called Shayne to ask him to buy a better plunger while he was out.  When I went back upstairs an hour or so later, the water level was back to normal.  I thought this was a sign that maybe it wasn't completely clogged, just running a bit slow...  I plunged some more, then flushed again.  Water level rose to the top of the bowl.  Yeek.  I decided to let it be again, and Shayne could try to plunge with the new plunger when he got home.  So I went to bed.

Shayne came home two hours later to a flood.  In the kitchen.  Apparently, at some point after I went to bed, the toilet had decided it needed more water in the bowl and started running.  It overflowed onto the bathroom floor, through the bathroom floor, and through the kitchen ceiling.  The countertop was flooded, and there was standing water on the kitchen floor.  Ick.

My wonderful hubby cleaned up the entire mess without even bothering to wake me up (He gets major brownie points for this.  I can't honestly say I'd have done the same in his position.  I'd have probably come shrieking into the bedroom and demanded he clean up his own shit.  I'm not proud of this, but...  yeah.).  When he came to bed, all he said that the toilet had flooded and that some ceiling tiles needed to be taken down in the morning.

Morning came.  We took down 6 or 7 soggy ceiling tiles.  And then the plaster, which hadn't been in great shape anyways, came down with it.  There had been a water leak at some time in the past, which we knew about from the several small water spots on the kitchen ceiling tiles.  Since the bathroom had almost certainly been redone after the ceiling tiles were installed, we knew the damage was old and planned on taking care of it when we remodeled the kitchen.  Now that some tiles were off, we could see that the remaining visible plaster was just barely hanging on.  Joy.

Because the flood waters pooled near the bathtub before leaking down into the kitchen, we're concerned that there may be lots of dampness under there that we have no way of getting to.  Plus, the fact that it was a "blackwater" flood...  Eew.  In our non-professional opinions, the ceiling in the kitchen needs to go, as well as the underlayment and maybe subfloor in the bathroom.  Since the subfloor is really just the tongue-and-groove pine, I would feel awful ripping it out.  I'd probably be happy with just sealing it.  There is no way to just cover up or patch the damaged portion of the ceiling, short of buying new ceiling tiles (no way).  So....  We decided to file an insurance claim.

To be continued...


A bushel of corn

I went a little crazy at the farmer's market yesterday...  Sweet corn started coming in a couple weeks ago, and I obviously needed to get some to put up.  Last weekend I bought a dozen ears, planning to continue the dozen-a-week trend over the next few weeks since cleaning, blanching, and cutting up the corn is rather tedious.  Except one farmer had a "sale" on extra sweet bi-color corn; a whole bushel (approx. 4 dozen ears or 35 lbs) was only $10.

So I spent a few hours today cleaning, blanching, cutting, and canning/freezing corn.  I ended up with 12 pints canned and ~24 cups in the freezer. 

The Reynolds Handi-Vac got mixed reviews on Amazon, but I love mine.  I've had a little trouble getting bags to seal if they have powdery stuff in them (like flour), but they're awesome for freezing veggies.  With the corn, I put it in the bags loosely, and tomorrow I'll vacuum the air out.  That will keep the corn from sticking together too much, I hope.

I decided to can about half of the corn because last year's freezer corn lost some of its taste around March.  It started tasting more like the freezer and less like corn, even though the texture was still good.  Plus, by March, I'm less likely to be able to save my freezer food in case of a power outage.  In the winter I can just toss everything outside to keep it cold in an emergency.  This way I've diversified my storage a bit and gave myself some insurance.

As for cost of home canned vs. store bought...  A 16 oz can of Del Monte corn (purchased by the case, which is cheaper) costs $.95.  A pint or 16 oz of frozen corn cost me $.41 to make, and tastes WAY better.  Plus it came from a local farmer and I know there are no preservatives, chemicals, or sodium in it.  Cheaper and better.  Can't beat that!

More stairway progress and pics

I'm almost done!!!  All that's left to do is stain the landing and the baseboard caps (which are sitting in the dining room), then shellac the whole thing. 

I never thought I'd get here.

And it even looks good!

The slowest renovation ever

Is there anyone who renovates a house slower than we do?  I was reading through some of my old posts and realized that we started tearing up the living room in November 2005.  Ths stairway stripping started in early 2006.  And I started into the office in June 2006.

It's 2009! 

And I haven't truly finished anything yet!

Living room is at 98%.  I have to put 3 pieces of woodwork back up. 
The stairway is at about 75%.  I need to finish staining, then shellac.
Office...  Maybe 50%.  We need to paint the walls and trim, buy/salvage/create new trim for the new closet opening, and refinish the floors.
Nursery is at about 90%.  Floor refinishing.
Master bedroom...  Well, we haven't even completed the demo part, just removed the crappy bookshelf to make a lovely hole in the wall.
Kitchen is a lost cause.
We actually haven't messed with the dining room except to paint the paneling.  It's the only room in the house that is still intact.


But I thought this was a house blog...

I was checking out my Google Analytics account a little bit ago and noticed that a lot more traffic than usual was coming from search engines.  My top keyword source??  Mulberry jam.  And here I've been suffering under the illusion that I am a home improvement/DIY goddess.  Silly me.  *snort*


Stairway progress pics

The weather cleared up, so after work I came home and started staining the staircase.  I did the newel post, railing, "front" of the spindles, and the "front" woodwork/baseboard.  I still have to do the stairs themselves, the "back" baseboard, the other 3 sides of the spindles, and the "cap" of the baseboards that we removed when we repaired the walls 3 years ago.  Still, we've come a long way, and I think it looks great.

Remember before??
I feel obligated to mention that that's before we even bought the house...  That's not our furniture!

A very scary "during" picture from another angle:

During the stripping:

And after sanding (and paint! and floor refinishing!):

And today:
The flash isn't terribly flattering to the color.  Imagine it richer and with more golden tones.  I tried to get one without the flash, but my tripod is AWOL, and I'm not really in the mood to go searching.  Suffice it to say that I'm really happy with how it's shaping up.  It'll look even better once we put the missing bits of woodwork back on.  There are a few spots that are less than perfect, but that happens with any old house project, I think.  I'll also have to get some wood-colored paint to touch up the spots of paint that absolutely refused to budge.  There are also a few spots where the old shellac/stain remains, and the new stain matches just about perfectly.  If you don't know where to look, you'd never notice.
And I remembered the other day that we bought woodwork at the Habitat ReStore that will match what we have and fit around the window at the bottom of the stairs...  Maybe I should start sanding that too.  'Cause woodwork really adds something.  Like making it look like less of a crack house.
I'm so excited!  We may actually finish the entire living room renovation/restoration before I die of old age!


Wasting time...

I'm waiting for Shayne to get up so I can work on the stairway.  Unfortunately I'm also looking at vintage-ish kitchen remodels.  *sigh*

Since we've realize we're not going to live in this house forever, we've been having some huge renovation dilemmas.  Like, how far do we take our dreams for this house?  We've pretty much scrapped the bathroom ideas since any bathtub I want would mean moving plumbing around.  I'm fine with that.  But the kitchen... is ugly.  And we absoloutely have to do something to it before we sell the house.  But how much "something"??

The el-cheapo laminate floor we installed last summer really should be replaced before we sell.  $125 was a great temporary fix, but it's really cheap.  And looks it.  I've dinged up a few spots by dropping large items, and I don't think a crappy floor would be a great selling point.  So the floor is kind of non-negotiable.  But what do we do?  Lay a subfloor over the scary linoleum, then some kind of linoleum?  Take out the base cabinets, get rid of the scary linoleum, and refinish the original hardwood?

And if we take out the cabinets, do we "replace" them with the originals out in the garage?  Paint the current dark wood to brighten up the room?  Just buy new hardware to spruce them up? 

What about my beautiful Chambers stove?  At 37" wide, it's not going to fit a standard opening.  And I so want to start cooking on it...

Ugh.  I'd probably feel better about it if I didn't cook quite so much.  For the past 2 or 3 months, it almost feels like I've been living in the kitchen.  And the more I'm in there, the more I hate it!

Oh well...  At least now it's super-clean and organized.  Yay for nesting!  I have at least 6 months before I have to even start thinking about what to do to improve that God-awful room.


One year of eating fresh/local

A little over a year ago, I made my first real shopping trip to the South Bend Farmers Market.  The market has been around pretty much forever, but I'd never really considered doing my shopping there until I realized how much better it is, for me, the economy, and the environment, to buy local produce.  Since then, with very few exceptions, I've bought my chicken and produce exclusively from local farmers.  I've also learned to can and freeze my own produce, cook more from scratch, and make my own jams and sauces.  This year I started gardening and just harvested my first "crop" of broccoli.  My next project is to learn to make my own pasta.

I've come a long way from the Lean Cuisine entrees I used to live on.  Now there isn't a single frozen dinner in my house.  Not many processed foods, either.  I wonder what the cashiers at Meijer think when I go through the checkout with a few gallons of milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, some baking staples, and a few boxes of cereal.

Most of the time I love buying only fresh/local produce, but right now I would really like to go take a nap.  Instead, I'm heating water to blanch a dozen ears of corn for canning and freezing.  Then I'll have to clean the chicken I baked.  And I bought more black raspberries, since they were on sale at the market; those need to be made into jam.  Since I have so many fresh veggies on hand, maybe I'll make a stir-fry for dinner...  So much for the lazy days of summer.  Lots of fresh produce + weekend = BUSY!

And I just realized that the reason my water was taking forever to boil is because I had the wrong burner turned on.  Duh.  This is why I need a gas stove, people.


Stairway of the Damned Revisited

John the handyman came over as promised on Wednesday morning at about 8:30 am.  He was still there when I got home from work at about 3:15 pm, just finishing his clean-up.  I know it would be difficult to mess up sanding flat pieces of wood, but I was still nervous about what I would find.  I have control issues with people working on my house; I'm going to be terrible with babysitters!

But I didn't need to be worried.  The stairway is fine, and I've only found maybe 3 spots that could use some touch-up sanding.  We'll knock that out this weekend, and we should have a fully refinished stairway within a few days.  It was definitely worth $150 to save myself 7 hours of work and untold pain and aggravation.  Poor John, though.  I don't think he'd agree to this project if I asked him again...  Not that I blame him!

I'm more nervous about finishing the stairway that I've been about any other project.  Thankfully, I've worked out a "system" for refinishing, and I know a lot more about staining and shellacking than I did when I first started sanding the stairs.  But it's just so BIG.  It takes up an entire wall in the living room and is extremely visible.  If it doesn't look good, it will ruin the whole room.  Yikes.  I'm also nervous because the top 5 stairs that we disassembled and refinished look sort of orange-y.  I'm not sure if it's the lighting on that part of the stairs, since the wood there is the same as the wood everywhere else in the house and I used the same method to refinish it...  But if I end up with an orange stairway, I'm going to cry.  A lot.  I think I'm going to test the color on one spindle and one tread to see what it looks like.  It would be strange to switch stain colors halfway through a project, but I just want to be sure it's right.  I couldn't take having to sand it all down again.

So...  Stairway touch-up sanding tonight or tomorrow afternoon, then sealing and staining on Sunday.  Wish me luck!!