28 February, 2008

Are We Ready for Another Cat?

When we first met, six years ago, Pascal and I took an immediate and active dislike to each other. She was Ted's cat, and I was the new woman in his life. Whenever I visited, she would look at me with disdain, judging me from across the room with her beady-little eyes. My attempts at befriending her were met with soft hisses and sharp claws. "She's a bit of a bitch, sometimes," Ted would shrug and smile apologetically as Pascal wound herself around his ankles, looking up at me with half-slit eyes and an air of cool superiority.

"Humph," I humphed. Who cared if the stupid cat liked me?

But I did care. I could see that Ted and Pascal had a special bond, and because I found myself liking Ted quite a bit, I knew that I would have to get his cat to somehow like me. Or at least tolerate me. Or at least stop biting me. I tried to woo her with treats, scritch her behind the ears as Ted did, but nothing worked. I gave up and decided we'd simply give each other a wide berth. Really, she was already 11, it wasn't like she was going to be around forever.

There really wasn't any one event that caused Pascal and me to raise the white flag and form a truce. No single act on my part or hers that allowed us to overcome our differences and jealousies--because yes, I was jealous of a cat--and form our own friendship. Pascal did not wake up one day and suddenly decide to leap up in my lap and lick my chin adoringly. It was a gradual shift. I think she slowly came to realize that I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, and decided to accept it. We weren't friends, exactly, but there was no longer any animosity between us. We could sit together on the couch. She'd let me rub her head briefly or feed her a tidbit. No, we weren't friends, but we weren't enemies, either.

It wasn't until after I moved in with Ted that things changed between Pascal and me. Late one night, I woke up with her curled up on my pillow. I picked up my head slightly so that I could see her face, and she reached over and briefly laid her paw on my cheek before turning away and going back to sleep.

Stupid little furball had somehow wormed her way into my heart.

Pascal and I eventually fell into a routine. We always managed to wake up before Ted, and would creep down to the kitchen for coffee and Catsip, a lactose-free milk that she adored. Our conversation would go something like this:







Then we'd go to my office, flip on the computer, and she would sit purring in my lap while I checked e-mail.

Over the years the three of us--Ted, Pascal, and me--would establish a dozen similar routines. Naps on the couch. Burrito night, where I would pick out bits of carne asada and feed them to her while we watched a rented movie. "The Hall Game," where I would sit at one end of our shotgun hall and rub and scritch Pascal while Ted sat at the other end, calling her and calling her until she couldn't stand it anymore and had to run down the length of the hall to see if his scritches were better. Then I would try to call her back.

My favorite game was "Attack the Poofy Slipper," a.k.a. "Foot in the Belly," depending on who instigated it. In the winter, both Ted and I wear our thick sheepskin slippers. Pascal loved to walk up to one of us, throw herself on her side, grab onto the toe of our slipper, and rip into it with her back claws. Then she would stop, look up at us, and meow a question at us to see what we would do next.

Or one of us might say "Foot in the Belly" while Pascal was sleeping or lounging in the sun, and poke her with the tip of our poofy slipper until she went on the attack. None of us ever tired of this game.

It was last fall that we began to realize something was not quite right with Pascal. She wasn't eating as much and she drank a lot of water. We would find her drinking from our water glasses or from the toilet. She was slowing down quite a bit, too. We figured she was just getting old. Rather quickly, however, she stopped eating altogether. She would only want the gravy from her food or Catsip. We had just moved to my mom's house, and took Pascal to the vet up the road, sick at heart at what he was no doubt going to tell us. She was 17, nearly 18. Old, for a cat. But it was too soon.

He told us what we didn't want to hear. That Pascal was suffering acute onset, chronic renal failure. It had come upon her fast. A month before she was attacking squirrels on the deck, running like a maniac down the hall, and chowing on her dinner like a hound dog. And now she was creeping across the room like an old woman, and all she wanted to do was to sit next to us and sleep. In just a few weeks, she had lost half her weight.

The vet left us with few choices. We could let Pascal live to her natural end, unassisted by treatment, and she would live maybe a few more weeks. Or we could try aggressive therapy, bringing her in three times a week for fluid treatments, and maybe gain two months at the most. Or we could bring her home for a few days to say our good-byes and bring her back to be euthanized. We didn't want her to suffer and we didn't want to traumatize her with all those vets trips. We brought her home.

Those were the saddest two days. It was obvious that she was not happy. She would try to drink her Catsip or eat some gravy, but quickly lost interest. She started to hide behind my mom's rocking chair, or the bathroom door. I guess she felt safer. She couldn't get comfortable in my lap, but she was able to sit on Ted's desk. When she walked across a room, she would lay down to rest every few feet.

The last night she was with us, Ted and I placed her on the bed between us, stroking her head and telling her how much we loved her. We talked about the fun times we shared. And as I scritched her little, bony chin, I found it hard to believe that I had ever disliked this cat. And I couldn't imagine what it was going to be like without her. Pascal looked up at me, blinked her kitten eyes, and reached out a tiny paw to lay against my cheek.

I can't talk about what happened the next morning at the vet; it's still too painful. All I can say is that we brought her in, we were with her at the end, she was calm and quiet, and then she was gone.

It's been four months, now. We've been telling ourselves that when we're ready, we'll start the search for another cat. A home is awfully empty without a critter in it, isn't it? But how do you know when you're ready to bring a new animal into your home? How do you know when you'll be ready to accept a new pet for all her own quirky qualities, and not see her as a replacement for the love you lost?

We've begun to visit pet adoption shows in the area. My cousin fosters animals, and is at Petsmart every weekend, so we go there. And while we've played with the cats and kittens through the wire cages, we haven't picked up any of them to snuggle yet. So maybe we're not quite ready yet, after all.

I didn't mean to work myself into this sad state this evening. But yesterday, Ted sent me a link to the Garfield Minus Garfield comic spoof and it got me to thinking how big a hole Pascal's loss has left behind. How different our daily routines are without her in them. Now, if you've made it down this far in the post, let me give you something cheerier before signing off.

Here's the idea behind Garfield Minus Garfield:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

Go to Garfield Minus Garfield for More

No Flies on Me...Oh, Wait a Minute

Okay, I know I shouldn't have sent out all those business reply cards for gardening catalogs. My new address has been sold, and sold again, I fear. Today I received a catalog from Garden Tools by Lee Valley with this:

Yes. Those are dead flies. Okay, some of them may be merely dying, squirming atop her head as they try to free themselves from the sticky trap. But they're flies. On her head. Here's the product description, straight from the Web site:

As you know, deer flies seem to land on silken feet and give you no warning before they rip out a piece of your carcass. But their motto is: "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad". So, they fly round your head a dozen or more times before landing on the back of it.

If you have one of our deer fly patches on the back of your cap, they will immediately be trapped when they land. The patch will not stick to your fingers, but will still trap the deer flies. It's all small-scale jungle warfare.

Can everyone say "eeeeeeeewwwww."

Actually, Lee Valley does have some cool stuff, and if it wasn't $19.95, I'd be tempted to get this:

I'm a big believer in catching and releasing spiders. Good for the garden, eat other insects, blah, blah, blah. One weird summer, my cousin Jason and I caught a couple of scrawny, long-legged, web-building spiders from his dirt-floor farmhouse basement and kept them as pets upstairs, where they built tiny webs in the corner of his room near the ceiling. We do love our spiders.

27 February, 2008

Goodbye, My Childhood Home

At the front door of the house, beneath the soft glow of the porch light, my first boyfriend John gave me my first kiss. My grandfather had his wedding reception here, and my cousin Kristen her bridal shower. The house has hosted its share of slumber parties, birthday parties, and holiday parties. So many happy memories are sheltered here, so many sad memories, too. It was nearly four years ago that my dad passed away here, suddenly, and without warning.

But it's time to say good-bye, now. In a few days, we'll pick up the U-Haul and load it up with the bulk of my mom's remaining furniture and take it to The Box House. After months of gypsy-style living and waiting for repairs to be completed at the new place, after weeks of lugging our computers back and forth so we could work on the new place and still get work-work done, after endless trekking back and forth across the snow-laden suburbs, we're finally doing it. We're settling into our new home.

I've enjoyed a rare privilege that not many adult children have. Last October, when Ted and I rented out our condo, we put the bulk of our possessions in storage and moved to my mom's house to wait until close, and stayed longer as we decided to get some crucial work done on The Box House before moving in. For the last four months, I've lived at my childhood home.

As I write this, I'm sitting at my desk, looking out my window on a street scene that hasn't changed much in the thirty-one years my mom has owned the house. Since being here again, I've found myself falling into many of the same routines as before: shopping at Stratford Square Mall, driving up to Portillos for a hot dog, walking the dog to the park--it's a different dog, sure, but the route is the same. Many of the neighbors who were here three decades ago are still here, and I'll wave and exchange hellos as before. "Yes, we're getting ready to pull out. Any day now, yes."

Our beloved Harley, who died last year at the ripe old age of 12.
He's posing most reluctantly for Mom's annual humiliate-the-dog picture.

Some things about my hometown I said good-bye to long ago. Wags is gone; the 24-hour diner with its bottomless cup of coffee was our after-work hangout in high school. The movie theatre I worked concession at has been gutted, expanded, and now serves Starbucks Coffee. It looks nothing like it did back in the day. And while I see an occasional almost-familiar face, softened somewhat by the years, most of the people I grew up with and hung out with are scattered across the globe.

Over the years, I've left and returned and left again, but part of me is feeling homesick at the thought of leaving for good. Whenever I left before, I always had the stability and reassurance that my parents would always be here, that their home would perfectly preserve every memory I had of growing up. And if I'm feeling troubled at the thought of other people living here instead of our family, how must my mom feel?

She has lived in this house exactly half of her life. Of course, she didn't plan on staying here forever. When my dad retired, the two of them were going to sell the house and move somewhere warmer. Maybe Florida, where my brother lived. Maybe somewhere else. Wherever it was, it was going to be bright and sunny.

But life can throw you a curve ball and change your plans forever. I know my mom never pictured getting a two-flat with her daughter and staying in the cold Chicago suburbs. She was supposed to enjoy her golden years with my dad, not argue with me about what color to paint the stairwell. She was supposed to live in some low-maintenance condo, clean and new, not in an 80+ year old brick house that will need work over the next year or two to make it into her dream home.

What I don't think my mom realizes, though, is just how much Ted and I enjoy having her around. We've actually liked hanging out with her these last months. My mom is one of the sweetest, kindest, funniest women around, with a heart as big as all that. I like having her in my day-to-day life again, and I love how she and Ted have formed a real bond.

Ted and Mom

When plans change so abruptly, it's hard to let go, make a leap of faith and follow them. My mom and I each feel, in some way, that we're leaving my dad behind in this house. I loved him so much, and I still miss him terribly. I worry that memories might fade if not bolstered by and surrounded by the physical things, the places, and the people that helped create those memories.

But I'm slowly coming to realize that a home is not the physical building itself, it's the people we love. I will remember my father whenever I see my brother use one of his gestures or my niece one of his phrases. Or when I see my aunt and uncle smile--they look so much like my dad it aches, sometimes--I can hear my dad's laugh again. Those are the kinds of things that will go with us to the new place, and we'll build a new home.

Dad and Me, 1970. It's one of my favorite pictures of the two of us.

We'll encounter difficulties long term, I know that. Perhaps by having our own units in The Box House my mom and I will still be able to maintain a good level of independence--and sanity. We have our own interests, our own hobbies, our own lives. When we don't feel like visiting, we could in theory go days without having to see each other. But it will be good to know that whenever one of us needs the other, it's only a short flight of stairs to the other apartment.

While we'll continue to come back to the house I grew up in each week until it actually sells, after this weekend it will no longer really be our home. Our future is in a new home, now, and I think it's looking pretty darn sunny.

26 February, 2008

Evanston Postcard History Book

There seems to be an Arcadia Publishing book available for every Town, District, and Hamlet across America. I love these books--sometimes they're the only regional history book you'll find for an area--and now there is one coming out for Evanston: Evanston by Mimi Peterson is part of Arcadia's postcard history series.

I'm sure the book will show the Francis Willard home (below), but will it also feature Samantha Baker's residence from Sixteen Candles, which was filmed, in part, in northwest Evanston? When the weather warms, and when I buy a new bike, I'm going to take my new bike on down to see the "Molly Ringwald" house for myself. I loved that movie, and I'll still watch it if I catch a glimpse of it while channel surfing.

Home of Francis Willard (1839-1898), American educator, suffragist, and president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. This image is from the 1920s; I think the house is being decorated for the Fourth of July.

From the promo literature for Evanston:

Book Description
Enjoy a trip through historic Evanston. See how Davis Street and Sherman and Orrington Avenues appeared around the beginning of the 20th century. Learn how Fountain Square has evolved and how the Merrick Rose Garden is connected. See Northwestern University as it was founded, along with early Evanston’s lakefront, city hall, library, and post office. Many of the buildings shown in this book are still standing, while others have been demolished. In some postcard views the stately elm trees of later decades are seen as saplings. The Library Plaza Hotel, North Shore Hotel, and Georgian Hotel are here as well, along with the historic schools, churches, train depots, and, of course, Grosse Point Lighthouse, which all helped shape the city in its formative years.

About the Author
Mimi Peterson is a longtime Evanston resident and community activist. She is cofounder of To Rescue Evanston Elms (TREE), the organization that spawned preservation of the city’s historic elm population. Peterson creates a visual essay using nearly 200 vintage postcards to share a unique snapshot of Evanston in the early 1900s.

25 February, 2008

Chatter Marks on the Floor, But At Least the Cat Pee is Gone

There have been a few complaints from friends and family that while I showed pictures of the floors midway through the sanding and refinishing process, I neglected to upload pictures of the finished floors. To remind y'all of what we were dealing with, here we go:

Cat piss stains.

Badly scratched and scarred floors.

Floors with strange orange spray painted bits and gunk left over from the carpets.

Floors with mysterious burn marks.

Old insect damage (more extensive than we thought) patched with whatever was handy.

Floors with water damage.

We chose Stanley Flooring, a Chicago-based company, because they gave us a competitive quote, had high recommendations on Angie's List, and agreed to replace "for free" the insect damaged boards. It took them two weeks to sand, repair, refinish both units and the main stairwell. We could not stay there during that time period, and slept out at my mom's other house. We checked throughout the week to keep track of the progress.

Tools of the trade.

Ted in the living room of the top floor.

The room that previously was coated in gunk and had the orange spray paint.

Insect-damaged portion. It looked like sometime in the far distant past there might have been termites brought in on the wood, or some wood-loving insect. Stanley removed and replaced a patch of boards about five boards wide and 12 feet long in this room as well as a section in the room on the other side of the wall. There is no evidence of termites now.

Overall, the floors turned out pretty well. We noticed that most areas had a very faint ripple pattern that wasn't visible prior to the varnish application. When we questioned the Stanley representative, he indicated it was unpreventable, and that it often happens when dust is trapped under the sandpaper. You can see some evidence of the ripples in the photo below.

Ripple marks on floor.

I later looked this up and these ripples are called chatter marks; while they are extremely common, they are also sometimes preventable with a lot of effort and care. They are the number one complaint people have when their floors are sanded. Here's what PureWoodFloors.com had to say about the causes:

This is one of the most common problems flooring contractors encounter and the cause of many complaints from customers. The chatter marks only become visible after the finish has been applied. There are several possible causes:

  • Parts of the floor flex up and down as a heavy sanding machine passes over.
  • The abrasive is not tightly fitted on the belt or drum sander.
  • A badly balanced drum.
  • A shuddering movement in the sanding machine.
  • The abrasive is not clamped in properly around the drum and protrudes slightly.
  • An overlapping seam on the belt rubs against the floor. Regarding the last of these causes, the problem is easy to avoid by using a belt with a flat butt joint.
Short of stripping and redoing the floors (with no guarantee it wouldn't happen again) it looks like we're stuck with these marks. Bummer. However, one site told me that if you use an oil based finish rather than water based, which we did, the natural mellowing will obscure these marks. To be honest, I don't even notice them anymore, but still, I think it wasn't completely fair to be told they were unpreventable.

Our only other concern was the stairwell; I'll have to amend this entry with a photo later, as I just realized I forgot to take an after picture. In the tight corners of some of the turnings, where the angle of the tread meeting the wall is less than 50 degrees, the contractors did not remove the old varnish, sand, or revarnish it. When we complained about that, we were told that their equipment wasn't designed for those tight corners. That's complete bunk, because there are hand tools you can use to get that done. So the stain in the turnings is much darker than the rest of the stair. This only affects about three stairs total, but it's very irritating.

However, we decided not to pursue this, as Stanley Flooring's original quote included replacing the insect damaged wood for free, and this ended up covering much, much, much more square footage than they planned on--from maybe 10 square feet to 35-40 square feet, taken altogether. Considering two of the companies we interviewed quoted us a price of between $300-$1000 for replacing the damaged portion (before we even knew how big it would be), it seems a fair enough trade. Ted and I may, in the next few weeks, try sanding out those corners, staining them to match, and revarnishing the whole thing. It won't be clean, but it will at least look even-toned.

Here are some after shots. Like I said, we're pleased overall:

Dining room looking toward living room, top floor.

Living room looking into dining room.

This is the room that had a lot of scorch marks and about 15 square feet of damaged or partially damaged boards.

Now that the floor refinishing is complete, I'm glad we had someone else do it, and glad that we were able to pay for most of it with the 20% rebate we got from our buyer agent's commission. We were able to get the entire Box House done at once, before moving furniture in.

We interviewed four contractors, and the quotes we received ranged from $2000 to $6500. We chose someone in the middle. (Considering this couple we know paid $1200 to have just their living room sanded and refinished--after interviewing numerous contractors as well--we feel we got a great deal.) My suggestion for anyone considering this is to get as many quotes as possible.

So, that's it. The absolute best feel-good project you can undertake to strip the grime away and make the place feel cleaner and brighter.

24 February, 2008

My Career as a Stripper is Off to a Rocky Start; Franmar's Soy Gel is a Bust

All the wood trim in The Box House, and all of the wood doors, will eventually need to be stripped and refinished. Some of the wood is covered under many, many, many layers of paint. Some of it has been worn down to bare, grayish wood. And on most of it, the surface is coarse and bubbly, as if the varnish had been applied too thickly in the past, or, more likely, the wood was not cleaned and stripped before being revarnished.

Before the reality of what this task actually would entail sunk in, I was really looking forward to revealing all that lovely, lovely old growth wood.

Earlier this week, I had a night to myself at The Box House--the first night to myself in almost three years. Ted and Mom were at her other house, giving me a night completely on my own to destress and decompress. (I know I've been somewhat bitchy lately.)

Instead of just chilling by myself, maybe by watching a little bad TV or reading a trashy novel, I decided to start stripping the paint on the bathroom cabinet in my mom's unit as a surprise.

Ted and I used a Home Depot gift card we got for Christmas--the best kind of gift ever--to buy a respirator mask rated for lead paint:

I coated the exterior of the cabinet in Soy Gel paint remover, which had worked so well on our annunciator box. It claimed to be able to quickly strip several layers of paint at once, including latex and enamel. Ha! I left it on for a few hours, and it barely softened the first layer. I tried scrapping off as much as I could, slathered the Soy Gel on again, and left it overnight while I watched the original The Wicker Man on television, a much better movie than the Nicholas Cage remake.

Even with a good 12 hours, it still only barely was able to soften the top few layers, and not even all of that. Again, I scrapped off as much as I could, discovering that about three layers down was a layer of golden-yellow enamel paint. Damn. Its cast iron constitution didn't even flinch in the face of the Soy Gel.

Later in the day, Ted came back with the car and a few odds and ends from the other house. I had hoped by this time to proudly reveal the clean and bare wood of the medicine cabinet, but no dice. I hadn't even been able to soften the paint on the hardware enough to dig down to the screws to take the door off. But we gamely slathered on another coat of Soy Gel, this time on the hinges only, and went out for sushi.

Eventually, with some softening, scraping, and scrubbing with a wire brush, I found the screws and we were able to get the door off, which I carted to the basement, so completely sick of the whole thing that I couldn't even look at it anymore.

Still, we decided to give the Soy Gel one more try and coated the inside back of the cabinet with it as well as the frame.

By morning, the only section that had bubbled up is the chippy bit you see on the back. I attacked the cabinet with my carbide steel scraper, and was able to get off just enough paint to see that yes, the cabinet is indeed made of wood. Very solid, dense, thick-grained wood. Yes!

I didn't wear the mask in the morning, figuring that I wasn't actually discharging lead dust, and besides, I had the exhaust fan going the whole time. Still, something about the Soy Gel chemical itself made me sick, and I was puking the rest of the day. Poor Ted. He calls me his Canary because I am always the first one affected by chemically smells, and once I get a headache from something like this, that's it. I can't keep anything down in my stomach.

So now I'm feeling completely dejected and bummed out. I need to find some non-toxic or low-toxic product that actually works, as I have 30+ doors and miles of trim to refinish. Anyone have a suggestion for what has worked for them? Soy Gel has been a total bust; I had such high hopes based on their promo:
In addition Soy Gel goes a long way, with one gallon giving you up to 200 sq. ft. coverage. That's THREE times the coverage of most traditional strippers!! With SOY Gel you won't have to deal with harsh odors that we all know so well with other strippers. No odor SOY Gel is the perfect helper for anyone wanting to remove paints, urethanes, and enamels.
I've gone through more than half of a quart bottle already, and all I've had removed is the paint on my annunciator box and the first layer and maybe part of the second on the medicine cabinet. If I'm doing it wrong, I wish Franmar would come out and show me how to get it to work. Twenty bucks for a quart of the goo--which is certainly not "no odor" as they claim--is a bit steep.

23 February, 2008

Last Days of Disco, or It's Lights Out for These Switches

Ted was so sweet to put this home improvement project at the top of his list, because he knew how much I hated this funky seventies style gold and ivory toggle light switch inside our front door. (Love the music of the era, hate a lot of the home style--shag rugs that you needed a rug rake for? Shudder.)

He installed a nifty retro push button switch with faux mother-of-pearl buttons and a Craftsman style switch plate, which I found at House of Antique Hardware. I know, I know; they're a bit pricey, but this is the light switch in the entryway, one of the first things people see when they walk in, and I wanted to splurge a bit on something nifty. It's based on a vintage pattern.

We were pleased to see that the wires in this wall had been updated at some point. This switch controls the nipple light in the stairwell, itself an add on of later date, so it's possible there never was a switch here prior to the installation of the light. The other two lights for the stairs are controlled by switches inside each of the units. I suspect these may be the only upgraded wires we find!

Eventually, we'll replace all the switches in our unit of The Box House with push-button ones. I love the very satisfying "click" they make when you push the little button.

Speaking of the last days of disco, does anyone remember when Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl had his Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park? I was ten at the time, too little to realize that Kool and the Gang's "Ladies' Night" really wasn't all that cool, no matter how well I could skate to it at the local rink with my feathered roach clip in my feathered hair and my glittery unicorn t-shirt.

Here's what the Chicago Tribune had to say about it:

Dahl, who had been fired from WDAI-FM when that station switched to an all-disco format, had garnered national recognition for his crusade against what he called "Disco Dystrophy." Comiskey was filled to capacity; the official attendance was more than 59,000. An estimated 15,000 fans milled outside the park. After the first game, which the Sox lost 4-1, Dahl ceremoniously blew up a crate filled with disco records. All was orderly up to that point. But as Dahl finished, thousands of fans stormed onto the field, tearing up clumps of sod, burning signs, knocking over a batting cage and flinging records like so many Frisbees. Police arrested 37 people; by the time order was restored, the grounds were little more than a grassy moonscape. The second game was canceled and later awarded to the Tigers by forfeit.
Keep on truckin', people!

Blogging on Auto Pilot

I spotted this on Architecture Chicago, one of my favorite blogs:Momenta is a necklace-style gadget that contains a Web cam programmed to automatically begin recording when your heart starts to race, capturing "the best and most exciting moments of your life." It's a bit like the Zoe chip implanted in Robin Williams' brain in The Final Cut. Bloggers take note: Even if you leave your digital camera behind, you'll never again miss a shot.

22 February, 2008

Traditional Housewarming Gifts: Bread, Salt, Broom

We had our first guest at The Box House this week. My godmother, Herma, stopped by for pizza and a tour, and she brought with her a loaf of bread, a container of salt, and a hand-held mini duster (to represent a broom). Herma is from Austria, and like many Europeans, she grew up with the tradition of bringing housewarming gifts that represented certain good wishes for the new homeowners. The bread is so we never go hungry, the salt is so life is always flavorful, and the broom is to sweep our troubles away. Actually, this duster came in quite handy, as the floor contractors, despite all the bags on their sanders, left dust everywhere. (Which reminds me, I never posted final pictures of the newly finished floors. I'll get to that soon.)

There's a variation of this in the movie It's a Wonderful Life, when George and Mary Bailey give the Martini family three gifts when they move into their new home:

  • Bread - that this house may never know hunger.
  • Salt - that life may always have flavor.
  • Wine - that joy and prosperity may reign forever.

Here are a few other traditional gifts I've heard about or received in the past:

  • Candle: So you'll always have light to banish the dark times
  • Coins: For luck (When I bought my Jeep Wrangler, a coworker threw a handful of coins on the floor by the driver's seat. A few years later, when the car was completely totaled by a drunk driver--who pushed me into oncoming traffic and two other cars after he clobbered me--I survived. I like to think it's because of the luck Cheryl tossed my way)
  • Honey or Sugar: To remember life's sweetness
When Mom's other house does sell, we'll leave behind the broom for the new residents. It's bad luck to bring it with us, and good luck for them.

And now for something completely unrelated:

Viva Obama!

21 February, 2008

Peel, Stick, Repeat: Vinyl Floor Tile Adventures

Crap. Crap.

The tile we picked up from Lowe's to re-do the sewing room floor at my mom's other house, the tile that we thought matched exactly the tile she already had in the rest of her downstairs rooms, doesn't match at all. Not at all.

Under the florescent glow of overhead lights at Lowe's, they looked the same. A perfect match. Even the Lowe's guy said so.

Mom already had three full boxes of Italia Stone tile left over from tiling her kitchen, hall, and downstairs bathroom, and we figured we would need only four more boxes of tile to complete the sewing room. Only the manufacturer, Cryntel, had fazed out the Italia Stone, replacing it instead with their new line of EuroStone tile. But the patterns looked the same. We would all swear to it. I just assumed Cryntel was remarketing their old product in pretty blue packaging with an obviously hipper name.

But back at my mom's house, under her lights, the tile didn't match at all. The new stuff is more bluish-greenish. Hmmm. Although it didn't match the old tile, it did nicely compliment the unplanned for mint-green wall.


But now what?

The top half of the photo shows the Cryntel Italia Stone tile in the hallway. Below the wood-like transition piece I still need to install because the floors are not level, I have the old and new tile laid out together. Can you tell the difference between the two?

Our choices were this: We could go back to Lowe's and pick up enough of the new EuroStone to complete the room, or we could return the new tile and search online and see if anyone was clearancing the Italia Stone. But after checking the Lowe's web site and elsewhere, it was clear we weren't getting any more Italia Stone tile without driving to 42 different places. Lowe's didn't even carry the product number anymore. The new EuroStone, no problem. Every Lowe's in the Chicagoland area was fully stocked with the new product.

"We could blend the old tile with the new," I suggested, still hoping to save a few bucks by using what we already had. "You know, scatter them in so it makes a patchwork." My mom the quilter just gave me The Look, indicating what a stupid idea that was. Ted shot it down pretty quick, too.

Stubbornly, to prove it did not look stupid, I arranged several of the old and new tiles out on the floor.

Crap. Crap.

The new tile has a beveled edge. Well why didn't they say that on the package--?


"Fine, new tile it is."

When I started to lay out the EuroStone vinyl tile, I was soooo careful, paranoid that just one set slightly off would ruin the whole floor. But by the second box, I was ripping off the backing paper, tossing it over my shoulder, and nearly flinging the tiles in place. The job is not as scary as it looks.

What is scary is this:

Does this really happen often enough, people sliding across the floor and injuring themselves, risking life and limb to tile a floor, that they actually need to put a danger label on the paper, telling you to throw it away?

At any rate, I got the job done without too much stress. Most instructions online advocated using an exacto blade to cut the tiles; those are all packed, so I used a cheap-o pair of scissors to cut them to size for the closet and along the edges. While the scissors didn't exactly cut through like butter, it was not a problem and I got the floor laid out in an afternoon. Or what would have been an afternoon if I didn't spread it out across three days. I can now happily check "lay vinyl floor tile" off my Bucket List.

Here is the final result, with our carefully staged furniture.

Why only two chairs? To make the room look larger, of course! Actually, I have no idea what happened to the fourth one; the third one broke when I sat down on it. Seriously. I'm no wee skinny thing, but all I did was sit on the damn thing. Definitely time to get to the gym.

Look how nicely the unplanned for mint-green paint matches the window blinds. The bowl on the table is one my grandmother brought back with her from Finland when she took her mother to visit with family in Helsinki. Great Grandma Marta (Aiti to those who loved her) emigrated to the United States, alone, when she was only seventeen.

The room looks fabulous now, doesn't it? Surely, someone will make an offer on my mom's house now. Everyone think positive thoughts!

Full Lunar Eclipse February 20 2008

Ted and I had a front row seat for the lunar eclipse yesterday. We went to the local Barnes and Noble for coffee, and grabbed two seats in the window facing east so we could watch the moon as we sipped our lattes. An altogether lovely date night.

Very few people seemed to be aware of what was happening. There was a group of students huddled near our table, peering out the window, and the barristas came over for a quick look before returning to their espresso machine, but the other forty or so people in the store seemed completely oblivious to what was happening. It made me a bit sad.

Here's a short video from YouTube that someone made of the eclipse:

20 February, 2008

Antique Quilt Making and Sewing Photographs

The Library of Congress is an excellent resource for vintage photographs. A great number of images in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog are in the public domain. My mom and I recently searched through the collection to find old photos of women sewing or quilting. We downloaded them to our hard drive and, because there were no known rights restrictions on the images we selected, we cropped them, modified them, and uploaded them to Shutterfly to be printed.

We're planning a "quilting" theme for her bathroom, as my mom's a quilter. I'm not sure to what extent we'll take the idea, yet, but to start with we're going to hang photographs spanning from 1890 to approximately 1945 of women, children, and the occasional domesticated male sewing or making quilts. Here are a few of the images we found:

I love this one. It was taken in Chicago right around the time The Box House was built and shows a group of flapper girls demonstrating a new seam ripper. The caption indicated they were models.

This one cracks me up. It's from an old stereoview card and the caption was "A stitch in time." We found a variation of the theme, same caption, with a grandmother sewing a little boy's pants, but I think this one is funnier.

Here is a little girl hand sewing quilt pieces in a pattern called Flying Geese. I was probably her age when my mom taught me how to sew; I made a Flying Geese quilt top some time in college, but like all my quilt projects, it was never finished.

In the tenements, everyone had to work.

This one makes me a little sad; the poor mom looks just so exhausted. Her son on the right looks like he's up to something, and the cat looks plain smug.

All in all, we found about 12 suitable images--way more than can be crammed into the tiny Box House bathrooms, but enough for my mom to swap 'em out when she gets bored.

*Although we've modified these images a tad, feel free to use them on your own Web site if you stumble across this--we'd just appreciate a link back. Click each of the images for a larger view.

19 February, 2008

St. Joseph Statue vs. Buddy Christ

Family tradition holds that my red-headed Great Aunt Dorothy is a witch. Among her many talents is a sure-fire way to sell a house: bury a statue of St. Joseph in the front yard.

When Ted and I put our condo on the rental market last fall, we buried a St. Joseph statue in one of the flower pots on our deck. It might go against tradition a bit, but we were three stories up and it was the best we could do. It worked, and we did get the condo rented out during an otherwise bad time of the year.

When we moved, we took the St. Joseph statue with us and buried it in my mom's front yard, because we're now trying to sell her house. Is it wrong to have a St. Joseph statue do double duty? Should we have purchased a new one for the task? Our intent is to bring the St. Joseph statue to The Box House when Mom's house sells, and put him in a place of honor in the entryway. But her house has been on the market a few months now, and I worry that maybe the magic only works once. I haven't brought up the metaphysical details of this problem with Aunt Dorothy yet.

Burying religious figures in the yard in order to sell a house seems to be a fairly common phenomenon. For good measure, I also buried a dashboard Buddy Christ that I gave to Ted a few years ago. The statuette always makes me feel good, winking and giving me the thumbs up sign. (If you aren't familiar with Buddy Christ, he is from the 2001 movie Dogma.)

I'd be curious to know what particular rituals others may have used to help sell a house. While we're not desperate to sell, trekking back and forth between the houses does get tiresome.

External Resources:
St. Joseph Statue
Buddy Christ Statue
St. Joseph: My Real Estate Agent