30 November, 2008

Introducing Our Maine Coon Kittens, Séamus and Belisama

After maybe four hours of sleep the night before, Ted and I woke up early, early, early yesterday to meet with our breeder at the Chicago Shorthair Cat Club Show at the DuPage County Fairgrounds and pick up our new kittens.

I know this picture completely sucks; I didn't want to use the flash to startle them, and since my computer died last week, I'm without PhotoShop for the moment. So a crummy, dark picture is all you get for today.

We decided to go with Celtic names for them to celebrate Ted's heritage and my obsession with Irish folklore and culture. Séamus, the little boy, is on the left. His name means supplanter, or "one who grasps by the heel". Well, he did keep nibbling my toes last night, so I guess that's close.

The girl we've decided to name Belisama, or Bella for short. Belisama was an ancient goddess worshiped in Gaul and Britain. She was connected with lakes and rivers, fire, crafts, and light of all kinds. An inscription in France reads MINERVAE BELISSIMAE SACRUM/Sacred to Belisama Minerva, indicating she was perhaps an aspect of Minerva/Athena and a goddess of wisdom and healing as well. Anyway, I think the name is cool, and she seems to be responding to it. Her name translates roughly as Bright Summer, which is nice because they were born around Midsummer.

Would you believe they are only 12 weeks and nearly 6 pounds? Yikes! When full grown, they may be around 20 pounds, making for very big cats.

27 November, 2008

Eyesore Across the Street

Seriously, is it any wonder we haven't been able to sell Mom's house? Look at the one directly across the street.

Sure, it's a tough economy; nothing is really selling. But this doesn't help. You must click on the above picture for a larger view of the damage.

There are things falling off the facade and things living in the attic--I know, because there are at least two ginormous holes that I've seen squirrels come in and out of.

Sheesh. I don't even have to try to obscure the house number in this pic. That fell off ages ago.

24 November, 2008

Sideboard Blues and a Standard Bathroom Sink, Too

Sunday night was garbage night, and about half a block up the alley I spotted this vintage sideboard:

It's an old piece by John M. Smyth, a Chicago-based furniture company that only recently closed after 140 years of operation. (Those who grew up around here no doubt remember their warbling theme song "John M. Smyth Ho-o-ome-makers!")

The veneer is chipped in a few places, which is why it was no doubt painted this stunning blue, although you can't see the chips unless you inspect it closely. I'll call it shabby chic.

Ted calls it crap.

Although he very kindly helped me haul it down the alley to the garage, I think he's starting to lose patience with my junk-collecting habit. Especially since I haven't had time to either rehome, resell, or refinish the pieces that are stacking up. We are finally ridding ourselves of the last few pieces of junk left behind by the previous owners, which means that maybe, just maybe, we can think about fitting a car in here.

But not if I keep bringing home stray pieces of furniture. But I just can't stand seeing perfectly usable, vintage pieces sitting in wait for the trashman. Soon, I'll be able to run a bungalow restoration and furniture store out of our garage!

So. Um. Does anyone need a vintage Standard bathroom sink?

23 November, 2008

Cat Food Bowls on the Cheap

We are picking up our kitties on Saturday. Yay!

I went to Target to stock up on some necessary items: cat food (manufacturer's coupon, plus store coupon, plus a free Target gift card for buying two cases cut the price in half), water dispenser, cat scratch pads, etc. But I balked at the price of the fancy cat food dishes. I wanted something kinda cute and made of stoneware, but the prices seemed a bit ridiculous for what I was getting: up to $9.00 for one, single cat food dish? Grrr.

So I wandered on over to the dishware section, and for only 99 cents each, picked up a couple black melamine "dipping" bowls and two stoneware ones. Tres chic, no?

A Smile to Warm Your Heart

What a beautiful, toothy grin!

I was just checking out the Web site for Animal House Shelter, a local shelter that has dozens of cats and dogs available for adoption. This beautiful girl caught my eye. She's a two-year-old Am Staff Terrier whose name is Laverne. Wouldn't you just love to wake up to that smile every day? Unfortunately, we don't have the space right now for another dog...

19 November, 2008

Anybody Need a Brand New Chandelier?

Although they are completely wrong, Mom and Ted think the chandelier is too big. (I think they're just used to the dinky one in place, LOL.) So, it looks like I'm outvoted.

Does anybody need a new chandelier? Here is the pic:

And here are the specs, taken from an online store:

A simple collection paying close attention to detail. The sultry oil rubbed bronze finish and beaded fitters make the white alabaster globes defy gravity. Features 8 Medium Base Bulbs 60 Watt Max (not included), White Alabaster Globes.

Finish: Oil Rubbed Bronze
Overall Dimensions: 28¼"(H) x 29¼"(D)
List Price: $389.00 / Sale Price (ends Nov 28): $249.00

I'm only asking $65.00, which is what we paid for it on clearance. Let me know if you're interested by dropping an e-mail or leaving me a note in the comments.


Oh, heck. While I'm at it, I have another light I'm about to put on Craig's List. It's brand new, and this one we all agreed was too big for the space we wanted to put it. We liked it because it was not a nipple light.

Price: $85.00

Features aged golden copper finish with copper vintage scavo glass shade. Uses 2-60 watt (fan) bulbs. Originally $220.00, although I think we only paid $120.00. It's brand new and still in the box.

Weight: 25 lbs
Size: 6 inches high, 15 inches wide

E-mail me or leave a note in the comments if you're interested.

Is This Our New Light Fixture? Help Us Decide!

Ted and I went to a superdy-dooper store closing sale today, and picked up a chandelier for the dining room. One of us thinks it works and fits the size of the room, the other one of us isn't so sure (I won't say who quite yet).

First of all, here's a close up of our crappy old fixture:

Ugh. Don't click on it for the expanded view. We never even bothered dusting it after we moved in, because, honestly, we didn't think it would be hanging here this long. Only two of the bulbs are still working, because we didn't bother changing out the burned ones for the same reason. One of us thinks the old light is too small for the room, the other one thinks it's fine. (Again, I'm not sayin' who.)

Here's a close-up of the new one. Sources online are selling it for $242 to $659 (yeah, I'm not kidding. But the one at $659 includes the bulbs, LOL). We picked this one up for sixty bucks. Yeah, $60.00. Who cares if we have to buy bulbs, right?

The drop is about 28 inches, roughly where our old one hangs down to now. It is about 9 inches wider overall, but all of the upward facing lights are higher. So it's only the nipple-light at the bottom that hangs as low as the old fixture; the base of the others are about six inches up. It is freakin' heavy, and while we may have to swap out the electric box to support the weight, there is probably less of a chance of bumping your head on this one.

We're really having trouble coming to an agreement on this. Should we use it or not? Ted stood up on a chair to kind of hold it up there and get an idea. As far as perspective, he's standing maybe 1 1/2 to 2 feet closer to the camera than the old lamp is. It's bigger, but not that much bigger.

Basically, do you all think it fits the size of the room? All opinions are welcome! Rocks, paper, scissors can't decide it this time.


13 November, 2008

Nifty New (to Me) Dresser -- Dumpster Diving Treasure

While strolling down our alley last week, I spotted this dresser waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I ended up making half a dozen trips up and down the alley to carry all the pieces back. I found it at the same bungalow where, earlier this spring, we found the swinging kitchen door. That treasure is still in our garage, waiting for a new purpose. (If you're in the Chicago area and need a door for your bungalow restoration, let me know by posting in the comments. You may have to patch a bit of the corner with Bondo or something, but it's an overall good door that we don't think we need, and are willing to give away.)

Anyway, the exterior of the dresser is in excellent condition. There are a few scuffs, but nothing serious, and most can be buffed out. I'll replace the round wooden knobs that scream "hello, I'm from the eighties" with something modern and bronze. Half of the knobs are missing, anyway. But I'm not sure how to go about fixing the sliders. It's probably the reason the neighbors were tossing this dresser out.

Each drawer has a simple groove that fits onto the slider:

Here is what the sliders look like:

Each slider is about 13 inches long, and is just a simple plastic piece that screws in place. Half of them on the dresser are either broken or missing. I checked Menards, Home Depot, and Lowes without luck. It's kind of an old style piece. I Googled around, looking for replacements, but I'm not sure I'm even calling it by its proper name, because I can't find anything like it.

So, my question to y'all is this: do you a) know if this is actually called a slider or not and b) where can I find a replacement? Short of that, what else might I try as a replacement, without making this project into too much of a production.

You see, until I actually fix and use this dresser, both Ted and Mom will continue to mock me, as they often do, for my dumpster diving and alley prowling, because I tend to bring home things that are of genuine value, but don't take (or find) the time to fix them, so they collect in the garage. I just can't stand seeing perfectly good items getting tossed out.

11 November, 2008

Barack Obama's Historic Neighborhood

I love the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. It's home to such venerable institutions as the University of Chicago and The Museum of Science and Industry. Famous past and present residents include Mahalia Jackson, Saul Bellows, Muhammad Ali, Marshall Field, and our new President-Elect Barack Obama.

I want to thank my friend Andy for giving me the head's up on this Web site, which shows photographs from last week, taken a few days after the election. If you want to get a good look at some of the historic homes and architecture of Barack Obama's neighborhood, and see how the election is changing it all, check it out.

This is an early Frank Lloyd Wright house on Woodlawn Ave. just south of 51st St., in Barack Obama's neighborhood. Click for an enlarged view and to see the figures at the top.

10 November, 2008

Patching the Garage Gutter, A Mystery Solved, A Hidden Danger, And More Kitten Pictures!

Way back in March we began our plan to redo the gutter on the back of the garage because it is pretty much a disaster. In sum, the previous owners never cleaned it, it was solidly packed with mud, there were holes along the length, and most of the roofing material that anchored it was simply gone. Water was cascading down the front exterior, and also getting into the structure so that there were solid sheets of ice covering much of the interior back wall. In spring and early summer, we fought off a carpenter ant invasion that was no doubt attracted to the damp roof beams. That was fun (not). It took forever to get them all.

The photo below is from March. The shiny surface on the brick is ice. The ice on the ground formed from water pouring out a big hole in the gutter.

We originally planned to make the gutter repair (more likely replacement) a priority project. But you house bloggers out there know how it is. Other projects creep up unexpectedly, and you suddenly find yourselves diverting time, effort, and, most importantly, money to things like leaky roofs and rotting windows. Where did the warm weather go?

With temperatures plummeting into the thirties, something had to be done. The brick is in bad enough shape on the back wall; we definitely don't want the garage fending off another onslaught of ice this year. So today, on what may be the last dry, sunny (but chilly) day for a while, I patched the gutter. This is the before:

I don't know if you can even count this as a "patch" job. I had cleaned the area as best I could, using various garden tools to dig out and sweep away the inches of compacted dirt and trees (yes, trees) that were growing out of it. Then I used an entire can of black roof cement to rebuild the lip of the roof, where it meets the gutter. I used the cement and reinforcing fabric to build up the areas; hopefully, this will keep the water flowing along the gutter and down the drain. For the holes along the length of the gutter, I used silver aluminum gutter tape, the same stuff we used on the roof of The Box House.

And this is how it looks now:

Voila! Cross your fingers we'll get the garage through the winter!

Getting a job done, even a temporary fix, is satisfying. But this one was satisfying and solved a mystery that had been bugging us. When I was regrading along the side of the garage, I kept coming up with shovels worth of strange glass rocks.

The previous owner's granddaughter had never seen them before, and we finally decided it must be some kind of glass landscaping mulch, which is available in a rainbow of colors. But no! When I was cleaning out the gutter, some of what I was removing was old roofing tar that had slid down the front and solidified into this hard, brittle, glass-like material. I pulled back some of the roof membrane for a better look, and yes, there was more of it, hard and glassy. When I climbed down and told my mom about it, she had a sudden flash image back to her childhood in Chicago, when using pitch or tar as a water sealant was the norm. The tar would solidify, and you'd find just such stones as these in the alleyways. They made good toys.

Sometimes working on an eighty-five-year-old house feels like treading an alien landscape. The Box House is so different from the homes I grew up in.

After cleaning up, I sat down at the computer and Googled all sorts of things about tar and pitch and roof fixes. Researching roof and gutter repair (after the fact) made me aware of something I hadn't thought of before I began. Because the roof on the garage is way more than thirty years old, the tar I was breaking off along the edge and chucking into a garbage can might very well contain asbestos. I wasn't wearing a dust mask for this job, as I wasn't creating much dust. But let this be a lesson to you out there on the hidden possibilities of asbestos. Don't do what I did!

Oh, well. At least I was wearing gloves.

And now for something completely different--it's only two more weeks until we get our Maine Coon kitties! The breeder has been keeping me up to date with what's happening; they just had their neuter/spay surgery and were microchipped over the weekend. She had some new pics, too, so here they are:

Boy kitty.

Girl kitty (left) with one of her other siblings.

Girl Kitty.

Ted won't settle on names yet. Phooey. So until they arrive, they are just Boy Kitty and Girl Kitty. I have to think of them that way, otherwise the names the breeder gave them will stick.

09 November, 2008

Housing Market Got You Down?

I don't think I would have believed it if someone told me that there would come a time in our lives where we had too many properties. When we bought The Box House, we really did think we'd be able to sell the condo and Mom's house within a reasonable period. Alas, that has not been the case, and we've been working on the upkeep, maintenance, taxes, and general expenses on three different properties.

While our plans have not turned out as, well, planned, we still consider ourselves better off than many. The condo is rented out for the second time, and we're now in negotiations for a lease purchase option for the house. Cross your fingers and send your best wishes our way! Getting the house under contract would allow us all to breathe a little easier.

Sometimes I do think I'll collapse under all the housing-related stress, but there is one stress-reliever I enjoy that I want to pass along. It's a Web site called Cute Overload. Basically, it's a collection of photos and videos of cute little animals that will turn that frown of yours upside down. Go straight to the category marked "Interspecies Snorgeling"; you won't regret it. I go there every once in a while just to smile and go "awww" at all the cute little fuzzies. Check it out!

08 November, 2008

Painted Cabinets and Dining Room Murals

And now for a little house porn...

I love visiting Bob and Rachel, my future in-laws (although they're saying yeah, right, when are you guys really getting married?) The kitchen / dining room / living room area of their house is absolutely fabulous. When you walk in the front door, the first thing you'll see is the red living room:

I do love a bold, red room! It's one of the things I miss from our condo; my office was just this shade of red. And the white shutters here really make it pop. The fireplace is painted. Yeah, I couldn't believe it was a faux texture when I first saw it. I love, love it.

Just off the living room is the dining room. Although there is a smaller table in the kitchen, this is the one we gather around in the morning to read the newspaper and drink our coffee. The mural, I believe, was done by a friend of theirs. Isn't it gorgeous? I wish I had the talent for this, but the artistic gene in our family skipped me altogether. I wonder if we could hire a student artist from Northwestern University to do something like this at The Box House?

But oh, silly me! What I really wanted to show you all was the kitchen--but I neglected to take full-room pictures of it! You'll have to settle for these close ups.

Not long ago, I mentioned wanting to paint the old wooden cabinets at my mom's other house. This was my inspiration:
Aren't they incredible? Although our enclosed porch at The Box House is now gray and yellow, it is nowhere near as sunny and cheerful as this room. And I think Rachel's pottery collection is what really ties it all together. (I think if you click on the images you'll be able to see some of the textured faux finishes on the walls as well.)

This was our first visit to K.C. since moving into our own new home. So we found ourselves studying the bones and construction and finishing techniques in ways we haven't before. In fact, Ted says he felt like he got busted with house porn in hand, because he was all alone in the basement studying their ceiling joists when Rachel came downstairs!

We live and breathe home improvement projects these days; I don't think it's possible to just go to anyone else's house anymore without studying the construction itself.

The Terror of the High Seas

We got to be pirates for Halloween this year! While in K.C., we went to a pirate-themed hotel party with our friend Dawn, who is the one on the left. Seriously, no matter how tightly I lace my corset, I will never be able to achieve that impressive décolleté.

The party actually spanned two nights, and so I got to wear both of my Ren Faire costumes. (Because, um, yeah, I have two costumes. Doesn't everybody?)

Now if only I can do something about my hair, I see it's time for a cut again. Arrrgghhh!

That Gas Price Can't Be Right...

When I snapped this photo outside of Kansas City, Missouri, I was so excited. $1.99 was the cheapest I had seen gas in a long, long, long time. At the height of summer, we were paying $4.89 for regular. Ouch. Even when we filled up in Chicago at the start of the trip, it was still at $2.69.

Yet we would see it go even lower still, all the way down to $1.85. I wish I had taken a picture of that; no one here believes me!

When do y'all think it will go up again?

Driving Through Rural Missouri and Illinois

This is why I love road trips:

Eat here. Get worms.

Usually, when we come back from Kansas City, we take Interstate 70 all the way through Missouri to St. Louis, and then 55 up to Chicago. This time, we took a bunch of two-lane country roads to get to Peoria, where the Maine Coon breeder is located. Boy, once you get off the highways and away from the cities, the choice of radio stations becomes a bit bleak. Or, I should say, it's tougher to pull in NPR clearly. So we ended up listening to a lot of local ultra- conservative talk radio. The day before the election.

But election day is now in the past, so I won't get into some of the downright weirdness we were hearing, although some of it was pretty darn shocking...

Anyway, I love taking side roads. We passed through several interesting small towns, got to do some antique shopping (but no real buying), and couldn't have asked for a more perfect driving day. Sunny, clear blue skies and in the seventies. (Although part of me fretted over the fact that these were the last clear, warm days to get outside work on the house done without bundling up to my eyeballs! I think it's now impossible to get away from The Box House completely.)

We've been so busy lately with winterizing The Box House and trying to find new tenants for both our other properties, that I've almost forgotten what it is like to kick back for a few days and just relax, to be somewhere that's not home. Getting away to see family and friends was just the pick-me-up we needed.

Leggo My Eggo

Seen Election Day 2008, on the way back from our polling site:

07 November, 2008

Maine Coon Kittens!!!

If things have seemed quiet 'round The Box House these last few weeks, it's because Ted and I have been on the road. We went to visit family and friends in Kansas and Missouri, getting back just in time for election day.

On our way home we stopped at a cattery outside of Peoria that specializes in Maine Coons and Norwegian Forest Cats. After playing on the floor with the kittens for over an hour, we chose two that we plan to take home at the end of the month. Or, I suppose, they chose us.

Here's the little boy, a blue tabby:

And this is his sister, a blue patched tabby:

Just look at those sweet faces! They were born 7/27, and will be ready to come live with us in a few more weeks. They are part of a litter of eight (originally there were nine, but the mama cat rolled over on one--something the breeder says can happen when there are more kittens than nipples to feed them). We were a bit overwhelmed when all eight kittens came to meet us at once. They are extremely well socialized, even the most shy among them only waited a minute or so before approaching. The boy kitten we're getting jumped into Ted's lap immediately, and pretty much stayed right there, unwilling to budge to make room for the others, no matter how much they tried to push him aside.

Cats always seem to have a strong affinity for Ted, often ignoring me to get to him. But the little female we selected settled right next to me, and started to doze off. I was completely charmed.

Originally, we only planned on getting one. But the breeder likes to adopt them out in pairs, and offered us a good deal for two. So what could we do?

Eventually, they'll grow up to look something like this:

According to Wikipedia, The Maine Coon is one of the largest breeds of domestic cat, known for its high intelligence and playfulness as well as its distinctive physical appearance. The breed is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine (where it is the official State Cat). This cat is known as "Maine Coon", "coon-cat", "Maine Cat" or (colloquially) "the gentle giant".

Some authorities say that the Maine Coon is descended from Norwegian Forest Cats brought over by the Vikings, who used them as mousers on their ships, and from other seafaring felines. "Natural selection (and climate) has had a significant effect on (longhair/Maine Coon) gene frequency in the 200-300 generations since domestic cats were introduced to America. The Maine Coon developed outdoors into a large, rugged cat with a water-resistant, thick, longhair coat and a hardy constitution."

This is our first time going to a breeder for a cat. Usually, we have adopted rescue animals. But this time we were looking for specific traits in a cat. Because we have a large and rambunctious two-year-old rescue dog, we wanted a cat that was going to be big (Maine Coons can be over 20 pounds, and the largest on record is 48 inches long), laid back, friendly, and with a dog-like constitution. Here are a few pics I found on the 'net that show how big these cats can potentially be:

I don't think ours will reach quite this size--but you never know.

Also, we wanted a kitten this time around. Our reasoning for this is pretty straightforward. Our dog, Maggie, came with a lot of emotional baggage. She's doing very well, but there are obvious signs of past abuse, from the the scars all over her body to her timidness with strangers. We feel that a well-socialized and well-adjusted kitten would only benefit Maggie.

Finally, we wanted a purebred Maine Coon from a reputable breeder because the breed has a few known genetic health problems, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which causes sudden cardiac death, and hip dysplasia. HCM can now be tested for, and most breeders have been able to avoid passing the trait on. This is not always the case with mixed breed and Maine Coons of unknown origin. We didn't want to get a cat only to have it drop unexpectedly on us.

So now we just have to wait a few more weeks until they can leave their mama. And we need to think of names. The names that are on their official papers are Helio Courier and Sqwauk. Yeah, I know. Not the best choices. We're trying to think up names from mythology, gods or heroes or spirits, and preferably for mythological siblings or spouses. Here are a few choices so far, girl's name first:
  • Artemis and Apollo (actually, Ted hates the name Apollo, and has already vetoed this choice)
  • Bridget and Lugh (Celtic)
  • Luna/Selene and Helios (moon goddess and sun god, and if want to keep a variation of Helio, this would work)
  • Ishtar and Shamash (Babylonian)
  • Isis and Horus (Egyptian)
  • Titania and Oberon (fairy queen and king)
  • Mielikki and Tapio (Finnish goddess of the forest and mistress of the hunt, lord of the forest. I'm leaning towards these, as I'm half Finnish)
We're definitely open to suggestions, so if you have a favorite mythological pairing, let me know!

For further reading:

Are We Ready for Another Cat?
Maggie as Little Edie of Grey Gardens
Bark Softly and Carry a Big Stick