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!!


My first harvest

This afternoon, I harvested my first-ever homegrown crop: broccoli!!
There are actually 4 heads, but the other one was already chopped up and in the pot.  The heads were each about 7-8" in diameter, which I thought was a very good size.  I had contemplated cutting them a few days ago, but now I'm glad I waited.  They seem to have grown a lot in such a short time, maybe because of the recent rain.  I was a little disappointed that it didn't taste better than store-bought broccoli, but I suppose it's something that they were so much bigger.  At least it didn't taste worse!
I'm really happy that it grew without any pesticides or fertilizers.  I used organic manure compost and organic potting soil in my raised beds, then put grass clippings on top to keep the weeds out.  It seems to have worked well.
It was very fulfilling to eat something for dinner that I had grown myself.  I think this homesteading stuff could get addictive...!


Cheater, cheater...

But since I'm 7 months pregnant, I figure I'm entitled to cheat just a little bit...

One of my pet projects has always been the staircase.  I used the heat gun to strip all the paint off the newel post, banister, and spindles, then sanded all of the little intricacies.  It took forever.  So long, in fact, that I lost motivation for a while.  Then a LONG time later, I came back and sanded the treads, baseboard, and vertical pieces.  That also took forever.  And since I only had a random orbit sander at the time, I left little triangular spots of unsanded wood in all the corners as well as between each spindle.  Other than that I am finished, but have no inclination to sit hunched over with a sander for several hours doing touch-up work.  I wasn't all that motivated before I got pregnant, but now it's even worse.  I just want it done.

So...  On Monday night I was with my mom at a friend's house when I remembered that the friend's husband is a handyman.  He built the framing over the old hall closet opening in the office.  And he did a very nice job.  So I asked him whether or not he would be willing to sand the remainder of my staircase.  He agreed and said he'd be there Wednesday morning.

I feel slightly guilty for putting this project off on someone else, but I also feel very liberated.  I'm in full baby-preparation mode, so I've been taking on some odd projects instead of the ones I should be doing.  I spent most of Sunday afternoon removing every single item from the kitchen cabinets, wiping down the cabinets, and then completely reorganizing the kitchen.  Shayne said I need to put up signs so he'll know where everything is now.  I'm also repainting a cheap little wooden bookshelf and dresser for the baby's room.  Honestly, just keeping up with the general housecleaning is something of a chore now since I'm tired most of the time, and anything I can get done on top of that is just a bonus.  Still, I feel like I'm busting my ass every spare moment and especially on weekends.  So, in the interest of FINALLY finishing a project, I'm cheating.  :)

By the time I get home from work tonight, we should have a completely sanded staircase...!!! Time to go buy some more "golden mahogany" stain and clear shellac!


I'm going to cry

Not only did our wonderful neighbors cut down the woods to put in "landscaping"...  They decided that they should build a gravel road right next to our now oh-so-visible property line.  A freaking road.  Cause that's loads better than woods, right?


What made this sound like a good idea??

Ugh.  Pregnancy and home renovation do NOT go well together.  I have days where I seriously wonder how the human race managed to propagate so well.  I feel like I can't get anything done, since it either involves fumes (bad for baby), heavy lifting (not allowed), or lots of bending (belly gets in the way).  Or I'm just to damned tired/sore/crabby.  But if I don't set aside this weekend as stairway sanding time it'll never, ever get done.  Other unfinished projects include stripping the upstairs door frames, sanding the last few pieces of trim, and shellacking the stripped doors.  We decided to wait on sanding the floors for now, since we really don't want to have them get messed up accidentally.  Though the risk is small, it isn't one I'm willing to take.  And the nursery floor, although not perfect, still looks presentable.  If we have to, we can get away with not refinishing until after the baby is born.  But I want it all finished, if possible.  Who knows when we'd be able to work on the house with a new baby in the picture?  I may have 3 months off of work, but I doubt I'll be spending it stripping and painting.

It also doesn't help that summer is obviously the primary time for fresh produce.  Yesterday my mom and I went to go pick blueberries, and I brought home just under 10 lbs (7 quarts).  Thankfully, all I had to do was toss them into the freezer.  Saturday usually means at least a couple of hours in the kitchen to cook and/or take care of whatever produce I'm storing.  When peppers, tomatoes, corn, and peaches come in, I'll be a busy girl.

And the yard...  There's so much I want to do, but it just isn't going to happen.  The "garden" - really a big patch of weeds - behind the parking pad is a mess.  We want to make a patio there, but can't spend the money right now for paving stones.  I'm considering pulling all the weeds (or hiring the neighbor's son to do it), then dumping a load of mulch on it ($4 a yard from the city organic resources department).  Then at least when we have the time, money, and inclination to make our patio, we'll be part way there.  And the yard won't look quite so trashy either.  Nothing says class like a big patch of waist-high weeds...

And my vintage stove project...  My beautiful Chambers is sitting in pieces in the garage.  I'd really hate to have it out there for another winter.  But the top needs re-chromed before I can even start to put it back together.  Maybe if/when we scrape together some money that doesn't need to go into savings, I'll splurge for that.

And so the list never ends...  :)  Can I win the lottery now??


More pesto, please!

Today I made basil pesto for the first time.  This is yet another thing where I didn't realize how easy it was.  Where on earth did we get this idea that cooking from scratch is difficult??  It took about 10 minutes to make a cup of pesto, which I later added to a cream sauce and served over bowtie pasta and steamed carrots, broccoli, and zucchini.

Here's the recipe for the pesto:

1 cup of basil leaves/stems tightly packed
3 cloves of garlic
5 tablespoons of grated parmesan or romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Process ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped.  Slowly add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of olive oil, creating a paste.  Use immediately or refrigerate.

For the cream sauce:

3 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of flour
3 cups of milk

Melt butter in saucepan, then add flour and cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly.  Add milk and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 more minutes.

Add 1 cup of pesto, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and salt to taste.  Remove from heat and serve over pasta and veggies of choice.

I think my next feat will be to make a tomato cream sauce.  I love the roasted red pepper and sausage pasta at Friday's; maybe I can make something similar at home.

Simple Pleasures

I love summer, but not for the same reasons as most people.  I do like the warm weather, long evenings, and cool mornings.  I like the thunderstorms, flowers and green trees.  But my favorite part about summer is the food.  I love going to the farmers's market every Saturday morning and marvelling at the abundance and variety.  I love having bags of fresh produce lined up on the kitchen counter just waiting for me to turn them into something yummy (or begging me to eat them fresh).  I love the little "pop" sound from canning jars cooling next to the stove.  Or warm peach crisp.  Or fresh Michigan cherries.  Plums.  Blueberries.  Corn.  Cucumbers.  Little orange peppers the size of my thumb.  Mmmm, summer....!

Today's trip to the market yielded a cucumber the size of my forearm, a "candy apple" sweet white onion, bell peppers, 3 little zuchinni, broccoli, sweet cherries, a bunch of fresh basil, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 lbs of green beans, and 3 little stalks of asparagus.

Today is definitely going to be a day spent in the kitchen.  I few years ago I would have cringed at the thought, but now I'm as happy as a little kid at Christmas.  I've already baked a tray of granola and pitted 1.5 quarts of cherries for the dehydrator (if there are any left...  I keep eating them!).  I'll toss in the last of last weeks blueberries too.  I'm going to mix up a batch of basil pesto, some of which I'll use for dinner (creamy basil pesto pasta with veggies and chicken).  The beans need to be cut up and blanched for freezing.  Shayne's going to make up a batch of salsa later this afternoon with the peppers and onion and fresh cilantro from last week.

Out in the garden, my broccoli has sprouted heads, and I have little dime-sized peppers on each plant.  My romas are growing quickly and are about the size of silver dollars.

On Thursday evening, a friend brought over some black raspberries he picked and invited me to his property to pick more.  My mom and I picked what was left (a week ago would have been perfect, but they were starting to dry out), then came home and made jam.  I had just enough for 4 half-pints.  

I really don't think there is anything more satisfying to me than making my own food.  It's more fun when it's not from store-bought items, but something I've gone out and harvested myself, but I still love going to the market or local farms.  I'm not a very creative person when it comes to crafts or sewing or things like that, and I used to feel bad about it.  Maybe food is my thing.  I'm not going to ever be a gourmet chef or master gardener, but in spite of all my high school feminist rants, I'm finding out that I'm happiest when I'm playing in the garden or barefoot in the kitchen.


Office electrical finished!!

Finally!  Our electrician (and her electrician boyfriend) showed up last night as planned and knocked out the rest of the electrical work in the office.  We now have a reinforced box for the ceiling fan, and the knob and tube was replaced with romex and re-routed.  Also, she fixed the two outlets in the living room that had stopped working after we removed them to refinish the woodwork.  The only downside is that she knocked out a decent chunk of virgin plaster from inside the closet.  If it had been on the bedroom side, I'd be pissed.  As it is I'm just kind of miffed.  Lesson learned: if your tradespeople aren't historically minded, watch them closely and ask them to discuss with you before cutting into walls or otherwise altering anything.  Sounds like a "duh", but obviously I wasn't really thinking about it...

The best part is that we can start moving forward on the closets now.  Since we're done working inside the walls, our skimcoat guy can now finish fixing the walls (yay!!).  He'll be here tomorrow, and we'll have a better time table then, but our tentative plan is to rent the floor sander this weekend or maybe a few days after.  Even if the walls aren't completely done, we can use canvas dropcloths to protect the floor until we're ready to shellac it.  I guess we'll just see how it goes, but at least we're getting to the homestretch.


Are we THERE yet??

*sigh*  I feel like I whiny kid on a long road trip.  Our electrician keeps flaking out on us (to finish other side jobs, no less!!), which is holding up the rest of the plaster repair.  Our plaster/drywall guy is not happy (especially since the electrician is a family member of his).  I'm not happy.  We have a "date" set for Monday, so here's hoping that everybody shows up like they're supposed to.  Granted, Tony is doing a much nicer job in the office than the guy did in the living room, and the work is more extensive, since it involves patching and framing, but the living room only took maybe 2 weeks.  I feel like the office is taking forever.  But I guess there have only been about 20 hours of work done on the office, it's just been really spread out because of scheduling conflicts.  And no-shows by certain electricians. 

I'm also really anxious to finish work on my antique Chambers stove.  It's been sitting in the garage for a little over a year, and I'm kicking myself for not sending the pieces and parts off to be porcelained and chromed a long time ago.  Now, all of our spare money is being channeled into savings for when I'm off work on maternity leave.  I feel insanely guilty if I spend anything beyond what is necessary.  But I really, really want my stove in my kitchen!  I'm so sick of only having 2 burners to use on the Jenn-Air.  Yes, a built-in griddle is nice, but not when it leaves you only 2 burners! 

The only real problem with using the Chambers stove is that it doesn't really fit in our kitchen.  Our current stove is 31" wide; the Chambers is 37".   I can remove a lower cabinet without much fuss, but the uppers... not so much.  At least one cabinet would need to be modified, and it would throw off the symetry.  Now it goes almost without saying that the original cabinets that are out in the garage were of course built to accomodate a larger stove.  You see where this is headed, right?

My biggest probem of all is that I absoloutely love our house.  Even though we've agreed to start looking for a "new" house as early as next summer, and wrapping up our current projects without starting new ones, we both still talk about future projects in this house.  Everything from bathroom remodels to re-finishing the basement in a new configuration.  Obviously these projects will add value, but that's hardly the motivation behind them.  When we bought this house, even though it was our first house, it was going to be our last house.  And that's a really hard thing to let go of, especially since there's nothing wrong with the house itself.  We just want more property and are very bitter about the neighbors cutting down the woods.  I dream of owning some acreage, but I can't imagine living anywhere but here.  And as long as we are here, I don't see an end to us working our butts off to try to make it better.