Thursday, April 28, 2011


In Spring the Sailboat comes out!

So it's Spring in Chicago and we know this how? Because it's raining. And because the grass is turning green--in places. I don't know about the rest of you, but for us, living in a city with dogs and a small backyard, we inevitably turn to lawn repair in the Spring...and Fall, year after year after year.
Perhaps there are some among you who have beautiful lawns that green up perfectly in the Spring, with no brown patches. You have adorable little crocus sprouting in perfect clumps that pass on just before the first moving of the year so you don't have to mow the prettylittleflowers. But alas, with two diabolical little dogs using our small yard as an (ejem) potty all winter, that is not to be at the 2-flat.

So rather than aspire to the perfect lawn, we aspire to be lawn-free! For perfectly manicured lawns are not only high-maintenance as we all know, they are not very environmentally-friendly. For now we continue dutifully repairing our sad little lawn every Spring, but we look forward to the day when we can eliminate this chore and put the push mower to bed permanently.

At least the rain helps the grass grow faster...
Our plan is to create a patio in the center of the yard surrounded by garden beds full of perennials and vegatables, maybe a pergola and a tucked away seating area where we can sit quietly and read a book in the shade. An oasis of privacy in the city. A staycation if you will, although more often than not, I can be found working in my yard rather than reclining. I'm convinced if I had more comfortable outdoor furniture, I would be more likely to recline. Time will tell...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Missing an old friend

Art Institute Staircase March 2011
 I took my blog down for a while, mainly due to a haranguing husband, who has some issues with certain information being posted publicly. Does anyone else have this debate in their houseblogging household? I'd love to hear from you.

There is no one in the world that can drive me insane more than my beloved spouse, except maybe my co-workers, who I spend an inordinate amount of time with-- because we live in a country with such a crappy vacation policy. But I digress.

Anyway, because of my dear and beloved spouse, and life just changing and altering my needs and focus, I have seen my blogging dwindle down to 2 posts last year. A far cry from the peak of posting in 2006, when I created 156 entries. How did I do it? I have the say that the years 2005-2006 had a life of their own and I experienced both the joys and exhaustion of being consumed by our home and its projects. I remember many dinners of pizza slices from JB Albertos and salad, manwiches, and tacos because that was about all we could manage. Now we are more likely to be observed cooking something delicious from the Silver Palate or making Beef Burgundy on a week night, rather than lying flat on our backs waiting for the aches and pains to subside from a long weekend of hanging drywall. And I have been known to bake cupcakes just for the heck of it.

In 2007, I turned 40 and I remember feeling as if I was waking up from a dream. I couldn't believe the years that had passed with Steve and I consumed by our home and working together. I truly love working side by side with my husband as a team. It brings me a real feeling of contentment and connection and if too much time passes without that, I find myself longing for the experience. I will always fondly remember the "summer of the wood pile," where I experienced a moment of true connection looking down at my hands sanding board after board of straight oak trim. I realized how immensely satisfying it was to work with ones hands. Because of this experience, I relate to contractors and tradesman quite a lot. I admire them.

New Year's Eve 2010 at Zoo Lights
That same year, I said to Steve, "Oh my God, can you believe how much time has passed? We've been together 7 years!! I think we should get married this year, seriously." And Steve said, "Okay, sounds like a good idea." And we got married. And that felt right. And our lives moved gradually towards more "normal," time for extracurricular activities like the theater, dinners out and friends, volunteer work, block clubs, gardening, vacations, family etc... All of which we barely had time for in 2005-2006.

Of course, living in a 100+ year old building, we are still working to maintain it and the DIY urges have not left us. This summer we are planning to build a new fence in the backyard and plant some large evergreens among other things. We have an endless supply of improvement ideas and wish lists. I hope, someday, to convert the basement and have "a room of my own," which I think would do much for my contentment.

This morning and lately, I found myself missing my old houseblog and decided to bring it back online. I know there are oodles of you out there in the thick of things. I remember those days well and fondly. Once you've done something like renovate your own home, no one can take that away from you. It gives one a similar feeling to putting yourself through college on your own dime and effort, it's hard but builds character, something inside that is yours. That's how I feel about it anyway.

I may re-design this blog (with Steve's help as he is a graphic artist). I offered this option to him as a compromise, he who wants me to edit my blog and keep some things offline. I want my spouse to be happy, but I think I still need my blog. Writing can be extremely therapeutic and there's a whole world of brethren out there. I'm not done with you just yet.

Happy Spring everyone...!

Out of the Closet

I've kept a pretty low profile with my houseblog for a while. I didn't mention it too much to acquaintances or co-workers. Sometimes people from my past would happen upon it and drop me a line, and my family has started to read it a bit more, but otherwise it was mostly strangers reading. Quite a few strangers that have become "blog-friends" I like to say.

Then, blogger forced me to upgrade to the new blogger and I merged my two blogs. My "secret" identity on the neighborhood blogs

When good projects go bad

I've hesitated posting about this because it doesn't fit my image of us. We are seasoned DIYers after all, we know what we are doing and we are perfectionists (at least Steve is, it only takes one anyway). I've singlehandedly refinished over 1000 feet of oak and a dozen doors after all. Steve builds furniture by hand (the hard way/the craftsman way). We don't make mistakes. (cough cough)

But then I thought to myself, "Self, you haven't got that much going on with the house that you can post on the blog to be so choosey" and "Self, aren't you supposed to be all about keeping it real?? This isn't some HGTV show after all. I mean, really."

So I decided to share our recent disappointment with one of our previous projects. The thing with DIY is you don't want the work just to look good when you finish it, you want it to last a really really long time so you don't have to do it again for God's sake.

Sometimes, it doesn't work out that way. And yes, this even happens to people like me Steve who do their homework and have been doing DIY for almost a decade. It happens because....(hear this all ye disgruntled contractors!!)--we are not professionals. And actually, now that I think about it- things can go wrong for a professionals too. So there.

So now you want the dirt right? Everyone always does.

It was late in the season, November 2007 to be exact and we were worried our dilapidated garage door would not make it another winter and would splinter and crack into pieces leaving a garage without a door, which would be certain disaster (relatively speaking of course).

We would have started sooner, but we got behind and didn't find a a replacement door  until mid-October...

From that point, it was a race to finish the door before it got too cold. The door was painted and needed to be stripped. That was my job.

I did my usual heat gun and strypeeze combo outside in the backyard and all seemed well until I put the first coat of primer and some red dye seemed to be bleeding through. Uh oh.

As it was now November and getting colder fast, we perservered and continued painting. Steve replaced the glass panes, fabricated muntins for the missing pieces, and concentrated on framing the door.

It was one of those times I felt bad for Steve because he was working outside in not very nice weather and there was no turning back. Kind of like when you go on a hike and the weather turns bad, really bad. You have to hike back, no option. That's the kind of project replacing an outside door is. You can't just leave it till next year when the weather is better etc... From this and other such experiences, I don't recommend starting a project like this so late in the season. Live and learn.

Anyway, Steve managed to get the new framing and trim in though I recall some choice words uttered and real frustration with the fit. He wasn't 100% happy with the finish carpentry.

I remember he said (almost as a warning to the errant trim), "I'll be redoing this in the Spring!" And I was like, "Oh, great. Can't wait." I didn't say that out loud mind you, just thought to myself. I'm not that dumb. Rather, I behaved more along the lines of, "I'll make dinner tonght okay?" and "I'll do the grocery shopping and bake some cookies for you okay, honey?" And Steve said in reply, "grrrr. okay."

Painfully, he managed to get the door finished before Christmas. And after that punishing end to the season, we took a much deserved break.

Happy ending right? Not exactly. This is a good project gone bad so it doesn't have a happy ending.

Remember that red stain bleeding through the white primer? Well that seemed to effect the bonding of the paint to the wood. It was either that or the cold temperatures that caused the paint to fail in several places.

So, for the past two years, I have scraped, caulked and painted that door . Steve hasn't redone the trim yet either. We've had other fish to fry and there's still some healing to do before we revisit this project.

I never posted about this because it was so annoying and I couldn't stand to write about it, but now after a few years have gone by, I have enough detatchment it's okay now. These things happen when you are a DIYer and in life. Things don't always go as planned. It's another important lesson and another life lesson that we have fully actualized through our DIY activities. Life as a house. It really fits sometimes.