Up To Our Elbows

I like that saying, “up to our elbows [in] [insert random task or item in quantity]”.  I have an image of people with rolled-up sleeves, grinning maniacally while about to tackle something outrageously complex, difficult, and/or tedious.  It’s not a bad image but it does imply that there are Big Things Happening (and that the people doing them are pretty much nutso.)

We sort of have Big Things Happening around here (and are up to our elbows in them).  DH has found a lovely contractor (is that even possible?) who is going to replace the retaining wall along the steps that go to our basement door.

Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the “before” wall.  Suffice it to say that it was a grey block wall, slightly bowing out in some places and slightly sagging in others, which was both unattractive and unpleasant, and probably even a little bit dangerous.  The contractor is going to re-set the wall and put in new block with a lightly less “death-warmed-over” tone.

Here is where the wall once stood.  (There’s another wall on the opposite side of the steps which is also being replaced, but you don’t quite get the full effect if I shoot the photo down the steps.)

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The remains of the old walls:

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The project site:

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A random onlooker:

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Bob [PLEASE STOP ME BEFORE I TYPE “THE BUILDER”] should be here this morning with new block in the “desert sands” colorway. It will not necessarily match our pinky-grey house, but it should look nicer than death-warmed-over grey, and definitely better than white or red (the other choices). When in doubt, go with the beige, my Realtor mother would probably say.

Meanwhile, I am pleased as punch that the transplants I have randomly scattered painstakingly placed about the yard seem to appreciate their new homes.

Last week, I moved these two large Zebra Grasses from the front yard to the back. I put them alongside the bridge that leads off the bottom of the deck to the yard, near the kids’ playset. I think they soften the bridge and look lovely. Happily, it has been a week and they are not dead!

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Even more amazing is this Lamb’s Ear. It was a cutting given to me by a friend a month ago. A month! And still alive! That’s got to be a record around here.

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I also found these two Coral Bells plants at the grocery store. They were 50 cents apiece; who can pass up plants for 50 cents? Not I. They’ve been in the ground for a few days now and- fingers crossed- are still yellow. That’s good. These ones are supposed to be a chartreuse-y yellow-green.  I have several plants this color in the yarden, but these ones are supposed to look like that.

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In the wings is one other large-ish project, namely putting some steps off the back of our deck.  We do have some steps leading off the deck, but they lead towards the south end of the yard.  Our firepit is on the east end of the yard.  We would like people to be pointed in the proper heading when they leave the deck so they end up at the firepit and not, say, at the neighbors’.  Or in Virginia.  (The real reason, of course, is that we are lazy and want to waddle down off the deck and directly to the fire pit, without having to slog through grass and without having to take 100 extra steps to get there.  Because it’s SO FAR AWAY.) Here. I will illustrate with clever photos and schematics.

Our firepit, awash with heavenly morning light:

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Now, here is a view from the deck. As you look off the deck towards said heavenly fire pit, the current set of steps lead way off to the right, AWAY FROM said fire pit. And they’re dark. And one has an extra deep tread, so they become treacherous, especially when one is carrying marshmallows and a pointy stick for toasting them on. You can see that this is not a good plan. A much better plan is to have steps go directly toward the firepit, with proper lighting and a railing. (If you’re going to dream, dream big.)

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Here is the current view of that part of the deck from the yard. As you can see, we are not going to lose any valuable landscaping with this project.

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This next drawing/photo will give you an idea of what the steps will look like. Of course, in reality they will look a lot less like an inflatable emergency airplane slide and a lot more like real steps. They’ll be wood and stained to match the deck, instead of baby-poop brownish yellow. I’m working with limited resources (and ability) here, so just go with it.


However, before we tackle the steps, we must first replace the air conditioning unit.  Our outside condenser unit has been damaged by a marauding band of pirate mice, who chew up wiring insulation and trade it at the salvage yard for cheese.  There are so many tasteless jokes to make with that metaphor that I’m going to just drop it right now.  Suffice it to say, our home’s air is not very cool at the moment.  And that sucks, because it has been in the upper 80s F all week and yesterday was incredibly humid to boot, so while I very much want steps with the proper heading, I am a selfish human who lives in the moment and at this moment would rather be cool than walking down nice steps.  Because, you see, I can just not go down the steps for now, but I can’t just not be sweltery hot.  Not now.  Unless I go into the basement, of course.  But then I would just hide there and not come up til September, and that would not be very productive.  And I so want to be productive (*snort*).



Now There’s A Weight Off My Shoulders

I am purging today.  The kids are at an all-day gymnastics camp, DH is working in another county, and I have THE ENTIRE HOUSE TO MYSELF.  Goodness, I hardly know what to do.

Actually, I have been planning this day for nearly three weeks, ever since our gym announced the waiver day camp.  I made myself a list, because if I hadn’t, I knew that myself would waste the entire day surfing, or sleeping, or doing some other non-productive thing (like, uh, blogging.)

The list almost exclusively revolved around my studio/craft room, which of late really ought to be called The Junk Room.  Or The Scary Place.

I wanted to:

  • purge the cardboard, newspaper, and other recylcables that have accumulated since the holidays
  • organize my knitting WIPs
  • clean off the horizontal surfaces so they could be used for something productive, rather than just as long-term storage
  • go through my craft supplies
  • round up the dust bunnies

And, guess what?!  It’s only noon, and I have nearly done all of that… and then some!

In my efforts to “clean as you go” and “only touch an item once”, I have been forced to address some lingering unfinished-business types of things that have been lurking on my horizontal surfaces.  And that has been very freeing.  For example, when I got to the pile that had the girls’ Camp Fire vests and the club applications for this year (which should have been sent in LAST SEPTEMBER), I emailed the Camp Fire woman and told her we would not be participating this year.  Because, realistically, we won’t be.  It’s already freaking February.  I had noble notions and good intentions, but just not enough time.  So I took that off my plate, rather than pretend to myself and the rest of the world that we would be getting around to it someday.  We still can, if we really want to.  But purging is all about being honest with yourself, and to be honest, if I really intended to do Camp Fire this year I would have already done it.

The other thing I did was to cancel my Weight Watchers account.  I lost 55# on Weight Watchers, but not a single pound of that was in the last year.  I’m maintaining, which is fine (even though I’d still like to lose a bit more).  But what I’m NOT doing is tracking, or going to meetings, or weighing in, or counting points, or anything.  So I’m just wasting that fairly pricey monthly membership fee just to pretend I’m GOING to lose more weight.  When I’m ready to actually do that, I will sign up again.

And you know what?  I already feel several pounds lighter.


Moving Along

Okay, so my last post was August 24 of last year and, yes, it was a good day. There have been several good days since then, in fact. I don’t know why I have been so blog-phobic in the meanwhile, but let’s just move along and pretend the last 6.5 months happened. I mean, they did happen, but I don’t feel like going back through all the pictures to figure out what happened when and then write it all down.

More important things are happening, right now, anyway. I will ignore the really important things, like the earthquake & tsunami in Japan and other, weightier world-issues, and focus on myself and my house, since that’s all I really know about anyway. Write about what you know, someone semi-famous once said.

So in MY world, things are upside down and torn apart, but in a good way. We are knee-deep in this house’s first major remodel since we’ve lived here, and I can’t believe it is all coming together. It’s slow progress, but that’s okay. I am finally doing renovations for ME, not because I want to sell a house or rent a house or even to fix something that’s broken… I’m just making it nice. For me to look at. No one else. I’ve not been this selfish in a very, very long time and it feels embarrassingly good.

Like all big projects, this one started out small enough. Our home has four bedrooms, listed below from largest to smallest:

Master bedroom- me and DH, random cat and occasional child sleep here
Kids’ room with bunk bed- girls start out night here
My office (“studio” didn’t stick)
Spare room AKA “Nana’s room”- guest bedroom that my mom uses when she visits

For some months now, the girls have been talking about having their own rooms. I’m not opposed to this at all, other than the fact that I think it will be twice as hard to keep TWO kid rooms clean than one, but the upside is I can send a kid to her room now if she’s been naughty. So that’s a wash. We figured it wasn’t really fair for one girl to have the old kids’ room to herself because it is considerably larger than the two smaller bedrooms. And since I’ve kind of outgrown the small space in my office, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to switch things around. I’m moving to the kids’ room, S6 is taking Nana’s room, and O5 will have my old office. Sold.

S6’s new room and my new office were going to be painted, and that was pretty much the extent of the remodel as we originally planned it. But after a little discussion with DH, we decided it made sense to do some more serious work since we were moving all kinds of furniture around anyway. For example, the floors in two of the bedrooms need refinished. I tried doing them a few years ago, but refinishing hardwood floors is not something I’m very good at (obviously, you would say, if you saw them up close). So we decided to have a professional come out and do them. And if we were going to pay a pro to redo those two rooms, it made sense to get the other two bedrooms – which currently have carpeting- done, too.

And here is where the little pebble becomes a giant avalanche.

We are now into floor refinishing in all four bedrooms and the hallway, all new wood trim around the windows, paint in three of the four bedrooms, new hardwood baseboards, new closet doors, perhaps even a new light fixture for S6. We’re having plaster repaired, even to the point of adding texture to match other walls in the house.  The hallway will be repainted and then, eventually, so will the living room and dining room.  The strangest part is that this was mostly DH’s idea. He’s the one who suggested redoing the floors in the first place, and then went with the cascade of renovations. I can’t believe it, because he is not really one to dwell on aesthetic, but I’m not complaining at all.

Not really, anyway.

I’m tired, and I’m living in my basement while we empty everything out of the bedrooms to prep the floors for finishing. The kids’ clothes are in their suitcases and their toys are in plastic bags. My home looks like a warehouse storage unit. But we’re having fun with it. We moved a bed down into the basement, and the girls’ mattresses are on the floor next to that. The kids and I camp out down there now because I don’t want them breathing the fumes and dust upstairs in their [soon-to-be-former] room. I think they find the whole thing pretty darn exciting. So do I, to be honest.

Switching Gears

I really need to get some of the clutter out of this house.  It weighs on me so heavily it might as well be a physical burden.

The clutter here is a combination of:

  • Projects half-finished and therefore not put away
  • Recent acquisitions/purchases that haven’t yet found a home
  • Stuff that someone else has given us in an attempt to clean out their home
  • Dirty socks (seriously, they multiply under chairs and tables around here)

Most of the stuff taking up space in our home, though, are not current items being brought into the house daily through the mail/shopping/adventure du jour, or things being dragged out of their hidey-holes as we go about life here.  And we don’t have a lot of knick-knacky items collecting dust, so that’s not the problem.  Most of it, truthfully, is stuff I’ve held onto out of some sort of imagined obligation to family continuity.

For example, I literally have about 1000 books that belonged to my dad.  Well, maybe not 1000.  But it’s a lot.  Many of the books in our library were mine to begin with.  Like, I have about six Richard Peck novels (one of them autographed by the author- my first-ever autograph) which I’m pretty sure my dad never even read, let alone owned.  But probably more than half of our library stash are dad’s old (1960s and earlier) books from when he went to college, plus books he accumulated over his lifetime, and I’ve held on to them all these years because I felt like I ought to. Like there was some sort of eldest-daughter-as-family-historian requirement that I keep all this stuff. And they’re fascinating titles, like Finding Latitude And Longitude On Cloudy Days, Masterpieces in English Literature, A Handbook of Machining and Milling, Menlo Park Reminiscenses, Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I have my own copy, thankyouverymuch), etc, etc, etc.  Some of these are practically antiques.  The oldest volume I found was from 1861, with many in the 1930s-1960s range.   But interesting as they sound, I am never going to read them.

I don’t even like having them.

That bizarre epiphany occurred when I took a handful of titles off the shelf to clean, then decided to see if I could sell some to a used bookstore.  (Side note: if you want to sell books online, you pretty much have to have an ISBN number.  Many of my dad’s books were printed before they even had invented Times New Roman, so the ISBN number probably hadn’t even been dreamed of yet.)  Seeing that clean little space on the bookshelf was strangely liberating.  That was all it took.  I grabbed every book that had a searchable number and started furiously typing them in to the search box.  Powell’s offered me about $85 in store credit for 35 titles.  I took it and ran.  Meanwhile, another pile of outdated textbooks, anthologies, manuals, handbooks, historical accounts, novels, journals, and coffee-table books began filling the family room.  I pulled scads of stuff off the shelves, practically rejoicing in the knowledge that I had no intention of ever putting them back.

When DH and I were dating, a bizarre sequence of events happened that helped put me in this position.  I bought a house, just before my 30th birthday.  In fact, I closed in January and my birthday was in March.  The day before I turned 30, my grandfather died.  Nevermind that it sucked spending a significant birthday (or any birthday, for that matter) at a funeral home.  My mom and uncle had to clean out his apartment.  And since I had just bought a house, it seemed logical that all of his everyday things (lamps, chairs, dishes, etc) go to me.  And I was happy to take them, honest.  I firmly believe in the waste-not-want-not philosophy.  And I was poor, having just spent everything on the downpayment for my house.  It was nice to have drinking glasses and a light and not have to shell out money I no longer had in order to get them.

The year after grandpa died, I got married.  We got a good amount of stuff from a bridal shower that my mom and aunts generously threw for us.  We good another haul from a shower that my now-mother-in-law generously threw as well.  Then DH’s gramma died, so even more stuff arrived when they cleaned out her place.

Right after we got married- like 11 days later- my dad passed away.  It was expected, and my mom had already started to clear out her house in anticipation of downsizing.  Most of the stuff she didn’t have a use for came… you guessed it… here.  But I wasn’t complaining.  It seemed easy to just take everything and get rid of what I didn’t need later.

Then we moved.  I moved with DH to the house we live in now, and mom moved to a smaller house up the street.  More stuff came here when mom moved to her smaller house.

Then my mom moved to Florida full-time.  Aside from a couple of sentimental photos and her darn stick blender (the one thing I’d actually use), everything else ended up here.  Books.  Photos.  Family albums.  Dad’s records.  Tools.  Clothes.  Furniture.

So, in the course of 8 years, I have absorbed four households plus a ton of stuff my MIL has purged from her own ginormous collection of inherited family treasures.  She has a similar situation, except my FIL won’t let her get rid of anything.  Poor woman.

The problem is that I hate to throw things away.  Hate it. It’s not that I can’t let go of the object (although I have had a bit of a hard time getting rid of some of my dad’s more valuable possessions), it’s that I can’t stand the thought of burying it in a landfill when it is still perfectly usable.  I just haven’t found an efficient way to match up the unwanted but usable item with a willing taker.   So this is taking for-freaking-ever.  But at least I’ve started.

So bye-bye, dad’s old books.  I’ll check you out at the library if I have the urge to read Contemporary Literary Criticism any time soon.

Pantry Raid

I make a point of cleaning out the pantry twice a year, once in January and again in the early fall.  A few years ago we had a terrible infestation of pantry moths (which I suspect rode in on some bulk grains from Whole Foods, although I can’t prove that).  Suffice it to say that I no longer store flours and grains in their original wrappers.  Everything goes into airtight containers, which are checked regularly for little larvae.  During the biannual pantry raid* , I remove everything from the cupboards and wash the whole inside of the pantry with a good disinfecting soap.  All the containers get wiped down, too, just in case some wayward worm has managed to survive the regular onslaught of chemical and mechanical cleaning. We haven’t seen any in at least two years, but I’m still scarred from the experience.  One can never be too careful with pantry moths.

Since I’ve been doing this more regularly, the pantry purge no longer results in a huge trash bag of stale croutons and outdated relish.  Cooking seems to be easier with an organized pantry (would you believe it?)  And shopping is a breeze, because I keep two of everything we use most often (flour, ketchup, etc).  When I open one, it gets written on the shopping list.  This way, I still have a spare in reserve in case we finish the open one before getting to the store.  The pantry is probably THE ONLY part of my life that is, has been, and will continue to be reasonably organized (by my own loose standards, of course).  But, hey, you gotta start somewhere.

So if you want to instantly make your kitchen look small, cluttered, disastrous and disorganized clean out your pantry properly, you must take the plunge, set aside an afternoon, make a pot or two of coffee, and just do it. Viciously remove every item from your food cupboard.  Pile the items up on the counters in precarious stacks as best you can.

Precarious piles

Stacked Counters

You must cover every horizontal surface in the kitchen and surrounding areas for maximum effect.

Raided pantry

Pantry contents

Try to group things into “collections” to make the putting-away process a little smoother. For example, this is my “poser gourmet’s vinegar collection”.

Vinegar collection

You will find, of course, several items that you will not remember ever purchasing, let alone putting into the pantry. You will also find several of those “what the heck was I thinking?!” purchases, such as the Pound of Chili Powder:

Pound of chili powder

the quarter-pound of Bay leaves:

Quarter pound of bay leaves

or the post-apocalyptic quantity of peanut butter:

Peanut butter collection

But once you’ve purged, wiped, and organized your thoughts,


you can put the whole shebang back together without a terrible fuss.  And not only will you enjoy the luxury of a clean and organized pantry, you will be able to fool people into thinking you are really amazing simpy by finding an excuse to open your pantry door.  One glance at your shelves, and they will think things like, wow, not only does she live like Martha Stewart, but she must know how to cook.  Look at that vinegar collection.

Home for vinegars

Or, she must be very healthy. Look at those organic soups and beans. There’s not a single can of Chef Boyardee to be found.

Healthy tins

You can see how this could be very useful in advancing one’s social status.

But in the end, we keep house for ourselves and our families, right? And there’s nothing better than a sparkly, shiny, odor-free cuboard when you’re scrounging for something to eat in the wee hours.

Clean cupboard!

Organized wire racks

Happy pantry

Grains and pasta

And once you have finished, and everything is put back together, take a moment to be smug and admire your success.
All done
Because sooner or later, you’ll have to open the freezer.

Next project

*yes, I totally cheesed that from Alton Brown.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/motherme/4279058810/&#8221; title=”Grains and pasta by MotherMe, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2705/4279058810_b4c8559443.jpg&#8221; width=”500″ height=”375″ alt=”Grains and pasta” /></a>

How I Do Love Thee

I love my washing machine.

Aside from yours truly (and DH, of course), the washing machine probably works harder than anyone else in our house.

I’m so glad you’re in my life, washing machine.

Washing Machine Love

I love the sound of clean water filling your tub, waiting to tackle the dirtiest clothes.


I love your gentle reminders about how much soap to add, or what temperature to use for towels.


I love your simple dials, your streamlined sides, and your Super Wash cycle.


I love how, even though I had absolutely NO intention of EVER having children when I purchased you, you still scrub my kids’ dirty diapers every single day, without complaint.


You rock, washing machine. You’re the best major appliance we own.

Just please, don’t say anything to the dishwasher.