Still here!

Holy cow. I knew it had been a while since I posted here, but I didn’t realize it had been over a year. I mostly write this blog to have a place to catalog what I’ve been up to and share it with friends and family, and I guess other sites (FB) have been filling that purpose. But I’ve got a little bit of stuff to share.

Stuff like graduation:

And completed home improvement projects:
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And new home improvement projects:
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But most importantly, this:
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I made a post here there years ago (the fact that I wrote that three years to the day is a complete coincidence that’s kind of blowing my  mind at the moment).  I spoke ambiguously about a project I wanted to work on, and the obstacles I needed to climb over before I could do so.  That “project” is wearing the polka-dotted romper in the above picture.  She’s a cute little carrot, no?

Mr. Unreserved and I decided three years ago that we did want to add to our family.  I busted my hump and finally finished the World’s Longest MS Degree and graduated in the spring of 2011.  In the middle of all that, we had three early miscarriages.  (two of them mentioned in passing here)  One in October 2010, another in December, and the third heartbreak in April 2011, mere weeks before my thesis defense.   We cried.  We prayed.  The world continued to spin on its axis.  The home improvement continued, the knitting continued, the girls continued to grow and change.

And in February of this year, we got pregnant again.  And stayed that way for a change.

In June, we learned that our third child was a girl.

In July, we began demolition on the room that will eventually be her bedroom (it’s not quite finished).

And on October 23rd, we welcomed Audrey Grace into the world.  We are all smitten.
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Life is sweet.

I just hope my next project doesn’t take three years.

Work work work work

This summer we’ve been working on the porch. Two years ago when we painted, we never got around to the porch columns. If the brick isn’t repointed soon the railing’s going to disintegrate, so that’s underway, too.

The columns were covered (sort of; a lot of it was peeling) with a thick layer of paint. I figure the last person who painted the house was paid by the gallon.
I scraped them, then hit them with chemical stripper to take off as much as I could.

I still had a lot of paint to straighten out after the stripper, and I guarantee it’s lead-based. Safety first!
Also, say hello to my little friend – the Wagner Paint Eater. I love this tool.

That was a nasty, filthy job. I figured stripping the columns and the bulkhead would suck mightily, and it did.

Anna thought bandannas make a good fashion statement.

So did Claire.

In that picture you can see the trim is missing at the bottom of that column.  With the exception of the two house-side columns, all the trim was badly damaged on the bottoms, and on several columns the bases had rotted as well. We had to rebuild bases, in some cases jacking up columns where they’d sunk, and replace the wood. Then I cut all new trim with my router and installed it.

In this picture you can see one of the columns that had to be removed, along with the “ghetto column,” a
pole with an aluminum cover that had been added sometime in the 80′s (we think.)

We suspect it was needed because the removed column wasn’t doing it’s job anymore. We reinforced the roof to better distribute the loads, and built a new column to replace the old one.


With the new column in place, we cautiously removed the pole.

The roof didn’t fall in! A section of gutter on the corner had to be repaired as well.

Once all the columns were primed and painted, the porch looked 100x better.

The exterior brick on that side of the porch has been repointed. Our neighbor was kind enough to teach us how and give us a hand to get us started.

We’re still working our way around the back side, and eventually the inside of the railing will have to be done, too (it’s a double layer of brick). Some of the concrete caps need minor repairs.


The mortar was so soft you could shove it out with your bare finger in most spots. For other spots, we have a grinder. I love that tool, too.

A house’s #1 enemy is water. When water gets into a wall, the wall gets leprosy. After unsuccessfully sealing up the flashing under the window above the spot, I redid the flashing altogether and it’s all dried out now and under repair.

It’s obvious in several pictures that the beadboard ceiling has seen better days.  While we’d love to replace that, 600sq ft of beadboard is not in this year’s budget.  Or next years.  Or the year after that.  (I want a new bathroom first)  We will patch, scrape, and repaint to freshen it up.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be better.

The other spot we’ve been having water trouble is in the back corner of the house. There’s been a leak up there that allows water into the bathroom. It did a number on the ceiling. I resealed all the seams (there’s an EPDM membrane roof on that addition) but the water still poured in. To find the leak, we’d have to pull down the damaged portion ceiling. It needed to come down anyway.  (this shows only part of the reason we need a new bathroom before a new porch ceiling)

Despite the damage, which was as extensive as we figured it would be, it was really interesting to see what was above the bathroom. This is in the newest addition to the house, if you consider 1923 to be new. We knew the membrane roof replaced an old tin roof that had leaked in the past – there’s still evidence of prior leaks in the hall outside the bathroom and in the 4th bedroom. In this picture you can see the old exterior of the house (yellow-ish; I suspect it’s aged white oil-based paint), the underside of the eaves of the original roof (green), and the remains of a roof they covered over with the current roof (nasty rotted wood and tar paper).

I climbed up on the roof with the hose while Mr. Unreserved stuck his head in the hole. I called him on my cell phone so he could tell me when the water was coming in. Turns out the leak was from a small flashing area where the sealant had pulled away. I don’t think we’d ever have found it without hosing down the roof with a head in the ceiling. We’re really relieved to have figured that out.
How high up were we working today?

That high. I love my ladder.
Fortunately it was a beautiful day. With the leak sealed up, I started nailing flashing along the roof line.

When they put on the membrane roof, they didn’t bother with drip edge but rolled the membrane around and behind the gutter. In theory, the rain should drip straight down into the gutter. In reality, rain sneaks down behind the gutters and made a utter mess of the whole wall and all its windows.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Once the flashing was nailed along the roof edge, we smoothed over the transition with a special EPDM membrane repair strip.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. Bring it on!

Stairway before and after

I’d been meaning to take “after” pictures of the hallway for ages, but it’s not 100% done.  I’ve accepted the fact that nothing will ever be 100% done and am satisfied with a 90% improvement. The original front door needs to be properly stripped and refinished. The walls are still lumpy and bumpy. The sides of the treads and their moldings could use more attention. The ceiling is going to have to come down some day – it looks like a tin ceiling, but it’s wallpaper over sagging plaster. This will do for now, though.

First, the before pics. This is from when we moved in, as evidenced by how young Anna is:
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The walls and ceiling were reddish and had been painted. . . creatively. Chunks of plaster started dropping off the wall along the stairway not long after these pictures were taken. There were missing balusters, and of the ones that remained, many were loose. The whole railing rattled and shook whenever we went up the stairs. The treads were mangled. Downstairs there was a junky light fixture, and upstairs was a non-functioning bare bulb for illumination.

It’s been a lot of work, and it’s still not as polished as I’d like, but it’s safe, clean, and well-lit now.
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What was done? Hahahaha. Plaster fixed and patched, walls scrubbed and painted. Plywood removed from pocket of pocket door and replaced with drywall. Ceiling repaired, primed, and painted. Decorative stair moldings removed, repaired, replaced, repainted. Trim painted. New light fixtures, new wiring for the upstairs light. Switches replaced. Balusters repaired, removed, retightened, replaced, repainted. Railing and newel post refinished. Edges of stair treads sanded, stained, and refinished. Some tread edges replaced. Risers painted. Replaced plexiglass in upstairs window with actual glass, properly glazed. Finally, this winter I installed the carpet runner.

Man vs. Machine – the Christmas Version

This year, as last year, I decided to make the girls’ Christmas dresses. I was inspired by a smocked dress in a high-end children’s boutique that I knew I could make, and make better. I decided this back in August and bought the fabric and pattern at the beginning of October. I assmebled the bodies of the dresses and started gathering pleats well before Halloween. I started smocking at the beginning of December. These dresses have a ton of smocking/embroidery on them and have been very time-consuming (but fun), but I’ve been watching the calendar carefully and pacing the hand sewing so I wouldn’t be scrambling at the last minute. I may have to revoke my Procrastinator Extrodinaire card.

I finished the last bit of embroidery Sunday evening and was all set to do the final assembly. I needed to sew the back seam, put in the button placket, bind the neck, sew the under-arm seams, hem the bottom and the sleeves, and put the buttons and loops on. It should have been one solid evening of machine time followed by an hour or so of hand-sewing time.   I was so proud of myself for being on schedule (Wednesday is my deadline). 

Last night I finished Claire’s machine sewing.  I sewed the back seam on Anna’s dress, put in the placket, and was in the middle of binding the neck – the trickiest part of the whole assembly – when my machine crapped out.  Right in the middle of a seam.  A critical seam.  With two more seams to go before I was done with the machine.  This machine is known to be temperamental.  It has a knack of knowing when I’m most tired and frustrated.  That’s when it makes the thread jump course and the bobbin vomit thread in a big gob on the back of a piece.  Or the bobbin jams.  Or the needle snaps.  It laughs at me.  It dares me to punt it across the room.  But I’m on to all it’s little quirks and can straighten it out with a little tinkering and cursing.

Not this time.  This was no ordinary bobbin jam.  The machine had a terminal failure to sew.   Oh, sure, the motor ran and the needle bobbed up and down, but it would not take up the thread from the bobbin.  I fiddled.  I swore.  I changed the (perfectly fine) needle.  I brushed out the innards and blew out the tribbles and doused the thing in enough sewing machine oil to deep fry with the sucker, but something was seriously wrong. 

I did what I always do when things are seriously wrong in my life.  I grabbed the laptop and googled for a solution.  It’s easier to do this when you know how to describe your problem.  “Sewing machine goes ‘thunk’ instead of picking up bobbin thread” was less than helpful.  I considered “demonically possessed machine hates me,” but where was I going to find an old preist and a young priest at 11:30 at night?  Eventually I stumbled across a very helpful tutorial that suggested that my problem was loose hex screws behind the shuttle.  This meant taking the majority of the machine apart, which was just what I felt like doing at midnight!  Many’s the night I wake up from a sound slumber, grab a glass of warm milk and a screwdriver, and start disassembling small appliances for kicks and giggles!

I gathered up an assortment of allen keys and screwdrivers, got the machine open, fiddled with the timing as instructed. . . and. . . it still didn’t work.  There was still play in the shaft that runs from the motor to the bobbin assembly.  More cursing.  It’s late.  I’m tired.  I want to get this fixed and reassembled because I have a schedule to adhere to and this is screwing it all up and why the hell is the shaft still slipping?!?!?!  Oh no.  No no no.  The shaft that’s slipping is further into the machine.  I’ve got to go deeper.  But how?  The base plate.  I removed the base plate on the underside of the machine.  There’s an assortment of shafts with stupid teeny little hex screws in nearly, but not quite, inaccessible locations.  I found the loose one on the other end of the shaft of interest.  I tightened it, and, holding my breath, tried to turn the bobbin.  SUCCESS! 

I was able to get the machine back together with no leftover parts by 1:30 a.m.  I threaded it up and it worked fine, maybe even better than before.  Had I but known, I could have saved myself 45 minutes of disassembly and reassembly and just taken off the base plate, but all’s well that ends well.  Plus I saved myself a trip to Mom’s to borrow her machine tonight (that was Plan B).   It remains to be seen if I’ll be able to stay awake long enough to finish the job this evening. 

May your days be merry and bright, and may Google always have the answers you need in the new year.

Christmas is coming

You can tell it’s December by the way the kids are behaving.
Today the girls devoured 3/4 of a new package of cookies when they were told they could have a couple. Of course neither of them ate their dinner. Anna argued with me for fifteen minutes that 11-8 must equal four (because that’s what she wrote on her homework). She bit a huge hole in her sister’s flannel nightgown for no reason. This time of year makes me count my blessings that I’m not an elementary school teacher. I can’t imagine dealing with “OMG CHRISTMAS IS ONLY THREE WEEKS AWAY” craziness times 24 kids.

Meanwhile I’ve been making (scant) progress around the house. I finally got a closet door on Claire’s closet. This sounds like a simple thing on the face of it – buy door, install door. But the door was 2″ too tall. So I cut 2″ off the bottom. But the door is hollow, so that only left a thin piece of wood on the bottom. The thin piece of wood wasn’t enough to hold the bottom pivot pin. I had Mr. Unreserved cut pieces of wood to fill in the bottom, but they were too skinny. I learned how to use the table saw and cut my own pieces while he was busy prepping the attic for insulation. I glued and clamped them, then drilled a new pivot pin hole when the glue was dry. But the door still didn’t fit – the doorstops from the old slab door were in the way.

It was time for doorway surgery. I removed the stops from the door frame with a pry bar and we cut them down (table saw to the rescue again!). I sanded the doorway and reinstalled the stops, taking time to fill the old hinge mortises while I was in there. Also while I was in there I peeled off what I could of the old wallpaper that had been painted over and was peeling off the wall (this closet wasn’t originally a closet; I suspect it was the only doorway to our once-captive bedroom) and gave the inside two coats of flat white paint (since it’s just a closet). Or that was my intention, since I had a gallon of ceiling paint left over from previous projects. But that paint had turned into a giant paint puck, so it was off to the big box store to get more paint. While I was there I got supplies to finally carpet the steps.

So the closet was painted, the doorway was repainted with trim paint, and the closet door got another coat of paint. It was hung, all was well and happy in closet land, and I put an organizer in there (because conventional hanging rods or wall-mounted organizers aren’t an option when half of a closet is a trapezoid) Ta da! I think I started with that door a year ago. Maybe two years ago.

Also done recently: Got the stairs halfway carpeted. Halfway because none of the staplers in my house have enough oomph to get the carpet to stick to the risers.

Also also done: Repainted the kitchen wall and trim from last year’s new door installation.

Also up to: Knitting new hats and mittens for the girls, started my Bohus, embroidering Christmas dresses for the girls, had two early miscarriages, registered to defend MS thesis next semester. I’ve got all these things started, it will feel nice to get some of them finished.

Finished ahead of schedule: Christmas secret knitting project.

I suppose I should update more often.

The Perils of Education

I’ve read it suggested that you shouldn’t blow kids off when they ask questions, particularly questions you don’t know the answer to. This is fine with me. The girls and I spend time on the internet looking at things like octopuses, cat skeletons and the human digestive system. Some evenings turn into quite the little impromptu lesson.

Last night Anna asked me if a praying mantis would/could eat a wolf spider. We learned that the answer is yes, and also that a wolf spider can eat a praying mantis. Wolf spiders can grow up to two inches long. Then Anna wanted to know what the largest spider is – in case you were wondering it’s the goliath bird-eating tarantula. Of course none of this info is any good without pictures, and video is even better. Along the way we found a video of a giant centipede eating a tarantula. Nom nom nom nom! It was delightfully awful.

Unfortunately this mini education came back to bite me on the ass (metaphorically – goliath bird-eaters aren’t native to Pennsylvania) around three in the morning when Anna came into my room and told me there was a giant centipede laying eggs under her pillow. It had orange eyes and it was staring at her, and also there appeared to be a crocodile on top of my dresser.

Project Lepidoptera

The girls are not afraid of things that creep and crawl.  They’ve got a little cage they catch bugs in to observe and set free.  Pillbugs, tent worms, grasshoppers, ladybugs and locusts have all been guests in the bug cage at some point.  When I came home from work on Tuesday they had three fat caterpillars munching on some fennel.  Anna found them while (attempting) weeding the flower beds for me (yes, she is that sweet).

They wanted to keep the caterpillars, and I figured they be fun to watch.  We dug around on the web and learned they’re black swallowtail caterpillars.  Their favorite foods are  parsley, fennel, and rue – all plants we’ve got in abundance.  These were mature looking caterpillars – they go through three stages after hatching from eggs and before pupating.  We set up a caterpillar house for them in a glass jar with a layer of sand on the bottom, a stick to climb, and lots of fennel and rue in a small plastic cup.  We put water in the cup to keep the plants fresh, and surrounded the stems with cotton balls to keep the caterpillars from drowning.  While picking some rue for the caterpillar house, we found a fourth caterpillar! In it went.  We topped the jar with cheesecloth.

Here’s one of the caterpillars in their new (temporary) home, which stays on the porch:

The rue and fennel stayed fresh for a few days, or at least fresh enough for the occupants.  They ate and pooped up a storm.  Their whole objective at this stage of life is to be an eating/pooping machine, and they were living up to it until this morning.  Claire came in alarmed – two of the caterpillars were smaller and not moving.   It was nothing to be worried about.  These caterpillars were in position, getting ready to pupate! Their back ends were attached to the stick, and you could see the strands of silk they’d used to dangle their front ends.

We kept an eye on them all day in the hopes of seeing the skin split open and fall away, but apparently a watched caterpillar never sheds its skin.  I came home from church to find the girls were very excited.  One of the caterpillars had become a chrysalis!

A crumpled little pile of skin could be seen on the sand below. They had more news.  We have a fifth caterpillar – a baby!  The newly hatched black swallowtail caterpillars are black with a single white stripe.  I don’t know how they spotted it in there, it blended in so well with the poop.  Poop doesn’t climb the walls of the jar though. There must have been an egg on one of the plants we put in for food, or maybe a tiny newly hatched stowaway. I managed to get a picture of its underside as it crawled up the glass – it’s less than half a centimeter long.

I was looking forward to not having to worry about picking fresh plants for them once they were all done pupating, but it looks like we’ve got one more to bring up first.  I don’t know when they’re going to emerge.  Fall caterpillars overwinter in their chrysalis and summer’s a wastin’, so if the butterflies don’t emerge in a couple weeks we’ll have to keep them in the unheated garage for the winter and be patient.

If all goes well, eventually we’ll get to release some of these into the yard!

Mr. Scrubby

On Saturday we went to a family reunion.  One of the traditions is to play bingo for prizes, generally dollar store type items that are wrapped and labeled as being for kids, adults, men, women, etc.  There’s usually enough prizes for everyone to win several, and we play until the prizes are gone.  This year I won a candle, a bath poof, and a notepad.

Claire nabbed a prize that was either ambiguously labeled or was a hastily distributed end of the prizes as we’d all tired of bingo.  Her pride and joy is a green plastic pot scrubber with a handle.  She has dubbed it “Mr. Scrubby.”  Claire loves Mr. Scrubby and in the past two days has lovingly and frequently detailed how she’s going to use it to scrub bacon off pans, and to help me clean up after baking, and how she’s always wanted a Mr. Scrubby and now she has one and Oh!  She loves him so!  We’re going to have so much fun with Mr. Scrubby!

I swear to you, my children do not want for “real” playthings.

My reader

Anna is wrapping up Kindergarten.  We’ve been really proud of her progress this year.  She’s been bitten by the reading bug.  Now instead of me reading stories to her, she’s reading them to me!

She demonstrated her new skills to Grammy:

When she was two, she’d bring me this book and demand “Read Ham Ham!”

Friday morning at breakfast she couldn’t tear herself away – would the man try the green eggs and ham?  We were on the edge of our seats!  (note cereal growing soggy in the background)

I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if she grows into a total bookworm.

The wisdom of 4yr olds

Claire is still consumed by the thought of going to school in the fall.  At dinner she asked us what the names of her new school friends would be.  I told her I didn’t know.  I asked her if she thought there would be any other Claires in her class.

“No.  There are two Claires in the world – me. . . and. . . um. . . the other Claire!”

It made total sense to her, I’m sure.