28 September, 2008

Wreck of the George Morley

We've often walked down Greenwood on our ambulations, but we didn't realize that near where the road meets Lake Michigan, about 150 yards out into the water and 15 feet down, is the wreckage of an old freighter that went down in ought-seven. In the captain's words:

The wreck off of [the beach] is the freighter, George Morley. She was a wooden steamer, nearly 200 feet long that caught fire while underway south for Chicago in 1907. She put in at the Greenwood Street Pier and the E-- Fire Department was summoned. The firemans' hoses were not long enough, however, and the fire rapidly got out of control. All hands were evacuated and George Morley was pushed away from the pier. She burned to the waterline and sank.

Here's a nifty dive video someone made:

I wonder what other secrets and treasures our new home town will yield for us in time?

27 September, 2008

The MLS, Ladder Safety, A Hornet Nest, and Outdated Kitchen Cabinets

What is it about a whopping big hornets' nest that just makes you want to poke it with a stick? It must come from the same primal part of the brain that makes you think, just for a moment, that jumping from the top of a tall bridge would be fun. Some kind of suicide-is-cool death wish.

This picture doesn't do the hornets' nest justice, either. It is freakin' huge, maybe twice as big as my head. And I have a big head.

I didn't end up whacking it like a pinata; instead, I saturated the thing with wasp and hornet spray, which *supposedly* you can use at a distance of 25 feet. Ha! Maybe if it was below me or on an even level could I get it at 25 feet. I was lucky to get a 10-foot range from the can, so I was standing just below and maybe two feet out--way too close for comfort. Sure, it was after sunset, and the hornets were all slumbering quietly, unaware of their impending doom. But I was a wee bit paranoid all the same.

It was just one of the fun tasks Mom and I took on this week at her other house.

We had taken a few days off to roadtrip to her place and do a little more work on it. We pulled the house off the market at the end of June, after firing her agent; it's been 90 days now, so we could relist it in the MLS with a new number and it would show up as fresh. However, with the economy tanking and no one able to get a mortgage, we're not hopeful. Instead, we'll be strongly pushing the rent to own or straight rental option. In a year or two or three, when prices (hopefully) improve, we'll revisit the idea of selling. It's not where we wanted to be, but at least the house is paid off. There are a lot of people in worse shape.

So, between general maintenance and priming and painting various things (the first time the garage had been painted, um, ever), I dug up the St. Joseph and Buddy Christ statues we had buried in the yard to help with the sale. They'll get a good bath and get reburied next week, with new prayers said. C'mon guys, do your stuff! If any of you out there have another charm we should try, let me know.

These are the kitchen cabinets. They are extremely outdated, the last remnant of a kitchen which once sported funky green and orange seventies wallpaper with chickens on it, or something. I'm not sure what that architectural feature above the cabinets is called. I call it a waste of space. It juts out into the room, taking up valuable space that could have been used to stack stuff on top of the cabinets.

We thought briefly about doing some sort of treatment on them; I don't know, paint them or something. But now since we're focusing on rental instead of resale, I don't know if I can be bothered. I doubt it would make the house rent out more quickly if they were freshened up. Still, they just bug me whenever I'm there. (The stained glass window, however, always makes me smile; it was done by my grandmother. We're taking that with us to put in The Box House somewhere.)

I checked out rental prices on Craig's List, and there's some good news and some disappointing news. Average rental prices are higher than I expected for the area, but there also seems to be a lot--as in a ton--of rent-to-own options. Last time I checked, back in the spring, there was only one listed for her town. Now there are seven or eight. So, perhaps a bit more competition than anticipated.

The only thing we have to really decide on yet is the carpet. When we were trying to sell, we had offered a carpet allowance, to be paid at close, so the new owners could rip out the stuff themselves and choose what they wanted. Now that we're focusing on renting the house instead, the carpet seems to be a detriment. It's very old, and has seen its share of pet action and spilled cokes. One room even has the original carpet yet, a not-so-lovely shade of peach once popular in the seventies. If we replace the carpeting with something cheap, we might be able to command a higher rent overall. And we could recoup the cost with a few months' worth of rental income. Does anyone have an opinion on that?

All in all, it was a productive couple of days. The only hitch was when Mom and I got into a bitching session, mostly my fault, and instead of staying at the house with me she went up the road to stay with my Aunt Marsha; she actually called her and said, "Joanne's being a bitch, I'm staying with you tonight instead." Sheesh. But it was my first night to myself in a long time, so I'm not going to say I felt bad for the spat!

On the way back to Evanston, we took a few pics. Sorry for the bad quality, as they were taken in traffic. Look closely at the house on the left. Go on, click the images to enlarge them. The top window actually shows the attic with the chimney right up against the window. It's very odd, and I don't think I've seen anything quite like it.

But it's this picture that takes the cake. We drove past this house on Oakton Avenue, where the residents are obviously taking out a very large tree. Several major limbs had been cut with a chainsaw. But it's the ladder I want you to look at. The bottom is resting against a lower branch and is at least eight feet off the ground, and sort of tied to the main body of the tree. I ask you, would you really want to be wielding a chainsaw from such a set up? Talk about an accident waiting to happen!

Really, it's worth renting a big ladder from Home Depot.

18 September, 2008

Home Depot Gift Card

Recently, Ted and I received a Home Depot Gift Card from two of our favorite people. It was a very generous gift, and one we really appreciate.

Back in June, as you regular readers may recall, I bought a hand edging tool and made a big production out of edging our front walkway to the door. By now, you would think I had the whole sidewalk done. Well, I was full of sh**. Edging with a manual edger is hard; I gave up after a while, simply because it was taking too long, and the grass has continued to overtake the sidewalk.

We used the Home Depot card on an electric Black and Decker Edge Hog. Oh. My. God. This tool is fabulous. The edger cuts through the turf in a fraction of the time--love it. I'm still not completely around the house; even with the electric edger, I'm still cutting through turf 2-3 inches thick. But I should be done by the weekend, working on it a little at a time.

The other thing we bought was a motion light for the back yard. With all the creatures and critters and Buddha-statue thieves we have prowling around, it seemed like a prudent thing.

So thank you, thank you, thank you, to you who gave us the Home Depot card. You've made our lives a little easier. :-)

15 September, 2008

Double Wedding Ring Quilt

As long as I'm showing off Mom's quilts today (and working from her computer where these pics are stored), here's the one that she made for me and Ted. I actually bought the fabric with her when I was fresh out of college and still living in Iowa City; we went to a quilt fabric store outside the Amish community of Kalona, where Mom nearly swooned at the variety on sale (this was pretty much before the Internet, so quilters were usually stuck with their local sources only, such as JoAnn Fabrics).

The Double Wedding Ring pattern was popular from the twenties through the forties. A long history of this particular pattern can be found here, but in summary, the motif of interlocking rings is quite old, stretching back at least to Roman times.

At present, we have this one packed away because Ted and I are basically still sleeping on a mattress on the floor. We'll assemble the bed one of these days, before the crick in my neck becomes permanent. Hard to believe I used to be able to sleep sitting upright on overnight trains across Europe back in my younger days.

Mom's Dresden Plate Quilt, with Pattern History

Mom recently finished a baby quilt for Ted's new niece, Anaiah Christine. If you click on the images, you can enlarge them to see the hand stitches. It took her ages to finish.

The pattern is known as Dresden Plate. According to Judy Ann Breneman of Quilt Patterns from History, the Dresden Plate quilt pattern was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It came under a variety of names, including Grandmother's Sunburst, Friendship Ring, Aster, Dahlia, and Sunflower.

Breneman goes on to say: "The popular name for this quilt, Dresden Plate, reflects the romance of the Victorian Era with its love of elaborate decoration on household items and d├ęcor. Dresden, Germany was a center of 19th century romanticism movement in art, one that included the fine decoration of porcelain. The plates were embellished with elaborate design using flowers, fruits and foliage. The beautiful plates would surely have been admired by women of the early 20th century."

Here's Ted's dad, Bob, with little Anaiah.

14 September, 2008

Yesterday Was Chicago's Rainiest Day. Ever.

With folks suffering some serious losses due to Hurricane Ike, and my own brother affected by the storm, it seems just wrong to complain about the weather here. But it should be noted that yesterday broke all records for rain in Chicagoland:

After the rainiest day in recorded Chicago history, residents across the area faced more storms, closed roads and flooded basements Sunday as the remnants of Hurricane Ike were expected to arrive. Saturday's rainfall, as measured at O'Hare International Airport, was at least 6.63 inches, breaking the city calendar-day record of 6.49 on Aug. 14, 1987. Records have been kept since 1871. The storm, which was blamed for at least one death, also clogged dozens of roads and stranded motorists from Evanston to Schaumburg to Naperville. The Edens Expressway was closed for hours, and access to O'Hare blocked by both road and train... (Full story here.)

This is not a great time to need roof repairs done. After trying to schedule in contractors to examine it, and wait for them to get around to getting us estimates, we can't even schedule a day for repairs until the rain clears and the roof dries out. And in the meantime, it's been the rainiest weekend in Chicago history--nearly eight inches fell in some areas and another three to four inches are forecast for today--and the water continues to drip, drip, drip into the tenants' unit. There's not much we can do, but I'm feeling like a crappy landlord.

Texas Roads Closed, and We Worry as My Brother is Stuck There

Well, it looks like my brother and family can't get out of town, at least for now. The roads are closed to all but official vehicles and there's a curfew in place for Houston for the next week (I'm not sure about the suburbs and outlying areas). There are 2.5 million people or so without power, and the current estimate is that it may be four weeks before power to their location can be restored. I'm not sure what they're going to do.

Here are a few images of my brother's area that I found on Flickr that show the damage from Hurricane Ike. Click on the link below each to go directly to the site and see the full-size versions, and to find others that the photographer took.

Fallen tree severs home, Tomball/Magnolia Texas.

Trailer with Ron Paul 2008 painted on front, minor damage, Tomball/Magnolia Texas.

13 September, 2008

My Brother and Family OK after Hurricane Ike

Thanks to family and friends who have called to ask how my brother and his family are doing. They live in a small town outside of Houston, which was directly in the path of Hurricane Ike. There was not a mandatory evacuation for their specific area, so they had decided to ride out the storm.

While their neighbors have been pummelled and one family lost the roof of their house, my brother's house survived. Unfortunately, they're without power. They've already been informed not to expect to have any power for three or more weeks. So now they need to decide what to do. I'm trying to convince them that it's cheaper to come up here and stay for a while than to stay in a hotel for the next several weeks, even if it is a thousand-mile drive. (The gas will still be a killer, tho'). We haven't seen my brother in over two years. Keep your fingers crossed he says yes.

10 September, 2008

Bones, Bullets, and 17 Bags of Poo Later...

See that?

Actually, you probably can't; it's a terrible picture. But that is the crawlspace under the back porch stairs of The Box House. After three weekends worth of effort and 17 bags of cat poo later, I'm gonna declare it cleanish.

In addition to a few scattered bones, we did find an assortment of treasures in the crawlspace that, had they been from a more recent era, I would have called junk and simply tossed away. But their very age indicates they probably belonged to the original owners, and as such, are a tangible connection to the early history of the house.

There are a few bottles, one of red nail polish with a bakelite cap, another that once held pickles from Marshall Fields, and one that contained some kind of "oil". There's a child's toy tea cup; several glass marbles; an old metal flashlight; a bit of carved gesso and gold-painted wood, perhaps from a mirror; an old bullet; what might be a lamp from a 1920s car; a lead figure, sadly, without his head; numerous fuses; and a finial in the shape of an acorn are among the more notable treasures.

I plan to tuck them all into a box and keep them somewhere on the property; maybe I'll even tuck a note inside about how we found them, and bury or hide the box for a later owner to find.

The next step in dealing with this open dirt crawlspace is to create a vapor barrier; I'm not quite sure how we'll go about it yet, with all the wood framing. But before we do anything, I'm going to take a metal detector back there to see if there's anything else of interest we might have missed.

What cool things have you found in your old house?

Lipstick on a Pig? Sheesh.

Seriously, can we get back to real political issues this campaign?

The news all morning has been on Obama's "pig" comment. The false outrage from the GOP machine is ridiculous, when McCain's own adviser Torie Clarke wrote a book called Lipstick on a Pig, Dick Cheney used it to refer to John Kerry, Obama has used the phrase in the past to refer to George Bush's Iraq policy, and John McCain himself used it last year to refer to Hillary Clinton's proposed health plan. It's a popular enough phrase, I remember my grandma using it. It's certainly nothing new when it comes to politics.

Politics this season have me feeling particularly cranky. As an independent contractor I want to hear about health care; as someone who still needs to help sell her mother's other house, I want to hear about the economy and the mortgage crisis; and as a citizen of an ever-more-interconnected world, I want to hear about how we plan to build relationships with other nations. What shocks me is how much airtime these non-issues get on the news, and how the silliness can actually sway voters.


I think I need to get away from the news outlets for a while and do some work on the house; maybe pound nails or break drywall or something...

09 September, 2008

New Push Button Switch in Dining Room

This, I believe, is the ugliest switch plate cover in the house. Uglier than the Winnie-the-Pooh one we replaced upstairs for the tenants, and uglier than the "God Bless This Home" one we still need to replace in my mom's bedroom. Seriously, look at that thing.

One of our long-term goals is to replace all of the switches in the main living areas, the "show rooms," with good ol' fashioned push button switches. It's a long-term goal because, individually, these switches are not cheap. The only one we had switched out so far was in the stairwell by the front door. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, maybe this was the ugliest switch we had. What do you think?

The new one in the stairwell is soooo much better!

So, having saved up enough pennies for another one, we decided to swap out the seriously fug dining room switch with a three gang push button switch from Classic Accents. It was $20.95 for the cover plate itself, and another $65.00 to get the three switches that would control it, including the dimmer switch for the chandelier. (Seriously, I can't believe I just typed that. Eighty-six bucks? It will be another half year before we replace the next ones, I think! Or else I need to find another source for push button switches.)

One of Ted's major accomplishments last week was to map the electrical for the downstairs unit. He had previously done so for the tenants' unit, but until this week, the downstairs was a bit of a mystery. So, while I essentially baked my concord grape pie by candlelight, he was flipping breakers on and off to see which fuse serviced which outlets. The goal is to get as clear a picture as possible of our wiring, a combination of old and new.

These are the switches we found behind the ugly dining room plate cover. They're ceramic.

Here is Ted putting on the finishing touches to the switch; I'm not supposed to be peeking, so don't tell him I took this shot.

And voila! Another nifty new switch. The one on the far left is actually a push button dimmer. The top button turns it on off, and the bottom controls the brightness. It blends in nicely with the true push buttons.

Please don't look at our dingy wall, or the fact that we still need to strip and refinish the wood.

07 September, 2008

Weight Watchers Recipe Cards from the 1970s

Would you eat this?

Why oh why don't I find things as cool as these in our basement? I first spotted this link to Vintage Weight Watchers Recipe Cards (with commentary no less) at Holy Hudson, home to fellow houseblogger Hallie, who is currently trying to rid her home of a horrific chicken wallpaper border.

Click on the first recipe card when you get to the site, and scroll through the rest. I nearly bust a gut laughing because I actually remember these cards.

05 September, 2008

If Proust Had a Grapevine

During my seventies childhood in the far western suburbs of Chicago, there were only two choices when it came to grocery stores--Dominick's and Jewel, each one a Chicago-area institution with roots stretching back a hundred years. But, like many grocery stores of the era, their selections did not lean toward the exotic. If you wanted jelly, it was strawberry or concord grape. If you wanted juice, well, you could chose between orange, apple, or grape.

Ignorance is bliss, they say, so I grew up completely unaware that I was being deprived of a wider assortment of flavors.

What I remember most about grammar school days is following my first crush John D. around like a lost puppy, sneaking off on my pink dirt bike to visit my grandma--who would forever help keep our visits secret from my parents, as I had to travel across two towns and through a forest preserve to get to her place--and endless lunches centered around peanut-butter and grape-jelly sandwiches, swallowed down with enough grape juice to float the Titanic.

It's no wonder that when I reached junior high, I rebelled and would no longer drink grape juice willingly. In fact, for years, the smell of grape jelly would make my nose curl.

Eventually, I went off to college and forgot about concord grapes altogether. There were more interesting fruits beginning to appear in the grocery stores--exotic mango or lingonberry or boysenberry fruit spreads (don't you dare refer to them as jellies) tempted my palate instead.

I still ate fresh grapes on occasion, although more often than not they were simple green or red table grapes. I don't think I've eaten concord-grape-flavored anything in nearly thirty years.

But we inherited a grapevine with The Box House, and I wasn't going to let all those grapes go to waste. Even after I gave away bags of them to the neighbors, and told the tenants to have as much as they wanted, we still had a large amount of grapes left. Buckets of them. So I decided the first thing I would try was a Concord Grape pie.

Yup, I said pie. I didn't even realize that people made grape pie until Marilyn suggested I attempt one. I don't have a food grinder, so I prepped the grapes the old-fashioned way by slipping off the skins, heating the pulp to break it down, and pushing the pulp through a sieve to catch the seeds. Somewhat tedious work. Then I mixed the pulp back with the skins, stirred in the sugar and other ingredients, dumped the whole mess into a pie shell, and tossed it in the oven.

The whole house quickly filled with the aroma of Concord grapes. Like Proust and his madeline, the delicious scent and that first juicy bite of freshly baked pie sent me reeling back to my childhood and three word popped into my head: Welch's Grape Jelly.

The memories that the grapes invoked were strong; they went beyond my somewhat-stale memory of school lunches to actually being able to taste those PB&Js, the squish of the bread and the squeak of the jelly on my teeth. I thought of lunchtime at DuJardin Elementary, sitting at the faux wood grain folding table with my friends Karen, Kathy, and Alana in our Girl Scout uniforms, giggling over how cute we thought John Christenson or John Slenk or whoever the crush of the week was; I remembered the cold metal feel of my beloved Muppet Show lunchbox, the matching thermos more often than not filled with Spaghetti O's or Campbell's Tomato Soup (and I thought about how many times I traded my lunch for something "better"). The memories made me smile (and search eBay to see if I could find that same lunchbox, without luck.)

In a week where I've been feeling crabby about the vandalism to the flower pots and the theft of the buddha and our caving-in roof, the simple act of harvesting grapes in the sunshine from my very own grapevine made me fall in love with The Box House all over again and made me realize that, despite the hassles and nuisances and the money the house seems to suck up, I'm pretty content here.

Concord Grape Pie Recipe

Thanks to Marilyn at Simmer Till Done for suggesting we make a concord grape pie with our backyard-harvested grapes. I ended up making one with a streusel top and it was sublime! I used this version from Epicurean.com, making enough pie filling to put up for three future pies as well.

Unbaked 9" pie shell
4 1/2 c. Concord grapes
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
Oat Streusel

For Oat Streusel: Combine 1/2 c. quick-cooking rolled oats, 1/2 c. brown sugar, firmly packed, and 1/4 c. flour. Cut in 1/4 c. butter or regular margarine to distribute evenly.

Pie Directions:

Wash grapes and remove skins by pinching at the end opposite the stem. Reserve skins.

Place pulp in saucepan and bring to a boil; cook a few minutes until the pulp is soft. Put through strainer or food mill, while pulp is hot, to remove seeds.

Mix strained pulp with skins. Stir in sugar, flour, lemon juice and salt.

Place grape mixture in pastry-lined pie pan.

Sprinkle on Oat Streusel.

Bake in hot oven (425 degrees F.) 35 to 40 minutes. Note: You can bake filling between two crusts if you prefer pastry instead. Me, I love a good streusel topping.

Spiced Grape Butter Recipe

The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do. —Galileo

With grape concord pie filling tucked away for future desserts, I used the last of the concord grapes to make grape butter. As I type this, the entire house is filled with the scent of simmering grapes and spices. What an absolutely heavenly aroma, much like mulled wine.

Here's the recipe I used, from Wenger Grapes. I modified it by pureeing the skins with the pulp after the seeds had been removed, to make a smooth butter.

1 1/2 pounds stemmed grapes
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves

Wash grapes; separate skins from pulp. Cook pulp until soft; sieve to remove seeds. Add orange peel and water; cook 10 minutes. Add skins; heat to boiling. Add sugar and spices; cook till thick. Pour into hot, sterilized jars. Seal immediately. Makes about four cups.

Roof! Roof! Roof! Roof!

Welcome to the Money Pit.

We were hoping to not have to replace the roof of The Box House until we can sell the other house(s), but I'm not sure it can wait. We first noticed a tear in the membrane in July, when we were up on the roof in order to take down the grotty old TV antennas. We put a temporary patch on ourselves at that time--a large contractor construction bag held in place with duct tape. But two weeks ago the tenants reported water was coming into their bedroom on the opposite side of the building during a particularly bad thunderstorm.

Well, we decided to have a few contractors come in to give input and estimates. One by one, we took them up onto the roof today. Yesterday was a real soaker, a non-stop rain of about 24 hours, with more water coming into the tenants' unit, although not as much as before--a good time to have contractors see it, I guess.

There are several more tears in the roof membrane now. The ballpark estimates so far range from $85 to $12,000. Yup. You read that right. For eighty-five bucks, one of the contractors would cement the patches and hopefully get us through a winter season, but with no guarantees. He suggested it was time for a new roof. The second contractor said $6,000-$12,000 for a new roof, but will write us up a quote for some more extensive patches. Again, no guarantees the patches would solve the leaking. The third guy said maybe $12,000 for a new roof, but he'll write up a quote for patchwork, too.

*Sigh* I'm not sure how we'll proceed, but we do need to quickly find a solution for the leak in the tenants' unit.

And now for a bit of levity...