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*