Baker’s Dozen – Memories of My Mom

Mother’s Day is this weekend so I thought I would list a baker’s dozen of things that I remember fondly about my mother from my childhood.

Helen DePaepe 06 30 1956 3

My mother on her wedding day.

1) I remember how efficiently my mother handled babies – fed them, burped them, changed them. She had lots of practice having 8 children in 9 years.

I believe that I was a more confident parent of infants because of her example.

2) I remember my mother sewing our clothes including our school uniforms which were red plaid. One year, she sewed the skirt of my jumper with the plaid going diagonal rather than up and down so I spent entire year looking different from the other girls. It was a long year for a shy and introverted kid.

Mama and Helen 1957

I learned to love to sew and made my homecoming and prom dresses in high school. I have recently returned to sewing and realize how much I missed it and how much I love to put something nice together.

3) I remember my mother making family traditions that included using the good china and eating in the dining room for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and First Communions. We felt special getting dressed up, and it felt fancy eating on the special dishes with the silver and crystal, too.

Patrick 1st Communion9 1968

DSH and I feel strongly about eating together as a family and learning how to properly set a table and use good manners and pray before eating. We have lots of family traditions that center around meals.

4) My mother was an expert at finding free and cheap things to do with kids. We went to the St. Louis Zoo (which is still free), we went to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the Science Center, the free seats at The Muny. We went on picnics and to parks and traveled to visit friends and relatives. We went on only one vacation that involved a resort, but I still felt like we saw a lot of the country.

DSH and I did all of these things with our kids, too. We like to call our experiences “adventures” especially if they involve getting lost or having something unexpected happen.

5) My mother drove the 8 of us kids across country twice by herself. We visited an uncle and aunt who lived in California and went to the beach and did all sorts of fun and interesting things that we could have never done living in the Midwest. We spent several days in Tucumcari, New Mexico, on one eventful trip when the big orange station wagon broke down.

Flair Court House 1963

We have traveled with our kids, too. One year, I took our girls on a month-long cross-country trip to visit my sister in Oregon. We followed the Oregon Trail and saw many historic, natural, and curious sites along the way. My mother gave me the idea and courage to do this.

6) My mother was not a good cook, but she was a pretty good baker. She wasn’t afraid to try new things either. She once made a meringue cake for a luncheon with the ladies which was pretty much a flop, but she served it anyway.

I love to cook and bake and get frustrated with my flops, but I am fearless about trying new things.

7) My mother had a tradition of making Christmas cookies every year. Several of her standby recipes, I still make because . . . well, it’s tradition.

Christmas Cookies

8) A few times a year, my mother would let us stay up late and she would make either popcorn or her special recipe of fudge. And we would eat the entire thing! And sometimes we even got to drink pop (that’s what she calls soda)!

I make special items for my family, too. It’s one way that I show them I love them.

9) My mother worked hard to keep our house clean and the laundry done and meals on the table. I remember going to the A&P grocery store with her. She would buy lots of groceries to feed her large family, but I was always amazed at the number of bags filled with bread that she bought, and I loved to watch the check out ladies ring up the groceries. Back then, there were no scanners – they had to remember most of the prices by memory and enter each of them manually. My mother hated to go shopping for clothes and shoes. She would race through malls and stores and our little legs would struggle to keep up with her.

I did not inherit the female shopping gene either except when it comes to food (grocery stores, specialty food stores, and farmers’ markets) and hardware stores.

10) My mother was not afraid to get her hands dirty doing what needed to be done – even if it was something a man would do (back then most jobs and chores were gender specific). She painted and moved furniture and stripped and hung wallpaper. She grew up on a farm, and she helped me with my first garden.

DSH and I have worked hard to teach our girls how to be independent and self-sufficient. We are confident in their abilities to take care of things even in an emergency.

11) My mother was a red-head with loads of large freckles all over her body. I was always amazed by that because I didn’t know any other mother who had red hair and freckles. She’s always been more than a little bit brash.

Helen DePaepe circa 1956

I think of my mother every time I look at my youngest daughter who has reddish colored hair and the exact same large-type freckles as my mother. (Our middle daughter has red hair and small freckles, too, but they are more like DSH’s side of the family).

12) My mother volunteered at our grade school. She was a room parent and one year they decided to cut down Christmas trees for every classroom in the school. I remember a bunch of parents and kids trudging through woods in cold and snow and cutting down and dragging a bunch of trees back to school.

I have always been an active volunteer, but I especially loved being in my kids’ schools helping out and getting to know the students, teachers, and other staff.

13) My mother had to scrimp and save so she made our lunches rather than bought them. I used to envy the kids who got to buy lunch and get ice cream on Friday. She made our clothes. She made us do chores – we had to wash and dry dishes by hand rather than use the dishwasher. We started earning money at a young age by babysitting for neighbor kids.

DSH and I both come by our frugal ways honestly.

Theresa & Helen 1957

Life for me and my siblings changed dramatically when I was about 12 years old and my mother decided to get a divorce. But that is a story for another day.

For this Mother’s Day, I am choosing to remember the ways my mother has influenced my life in positive ways.

Happy Mother’s Day 2014.

Posted in Faith & Family | 10 Comments

Spring Has Sprung . . . Finally!

It was a long, cold, and snowy winter here in the Midwest. We were beginning to think that Spring weather would never arrive.

We finally had a string of really nice Spring days and even though more colder weather is in the forecast, we have started working outdoors again. Last year, the last snowfall occurred on March 25. I remember it well since we had our old house on the market, and I had to shovel very wet and deep snow since DSH was out of town.

After moving from one house and into our new, old and much smaller home, I spent a good part of the next few months in Minnesota with my sister and brother-in-law. My plans for changes to our new home were put on hold until the end of July. We did manage to get a few things done in our outdoor space last year before the cold and long Winter set in.

Arbor Before and After 2014

The before and after included changing fixtures, adding shutters, painting,and cleaning up the landscape. We removed the wisteria from the arbor and spray painted it with a rust inhibiting primer. I finally added the final coat of spray paint in the oil rubbed bronze finish that matches the new fixtures. I have some solar lights to add to it, too.

More shutters and landscape work are in the plans for this year.

Porch planting bed before and after 2014

The before and after of the large planting bed surrounding the backyard patio. We removed the large overgrown yews that were home to several rabbit nests (or burrows or warrens). The biggest problem we have living in the city are the rabbits. We have an overpopulation of them, and they eat everything including woody plantings. I replaced the red-dyed mulch with dark mulch which I think looks much better.

The planting bed is now my herb garden. Last year, I grew my herbs in pots and although they have wintered over well in the past, this past Winter was so cold that nothing survived. Not the mint or the rosemary or the thyme which I have had for years. I have replaced all of these in the new space along with oregano and sage and lavender and parsley. I’ll add some basil and pepper plants and other things once it gets warmer.

Mosquito Pot

I planted a mosquito pot – this includes lemon thyme, lemon marigolds, catnip, and lemongrass all of which repels mosquitoes according to an article that I read about how to avoid using chemicals in your garden. We’ll see. At least it’s pretty!

Geranium Pot 2014

I did plant a few flowers, too. I have planted geraniums almost every year since I’ve owned a home. When my oldest daughter was a young girl, she asked me why I always planted those ugly flowers so I replaced them with petunias for a few years. But I love them and she is grown and flown so they are back.

Once the weather gets a little warmer, I will add impatiens to the beds that we added last Fall to the shady side of our home.

Garage Wall Before and After 2014

I’ve also been working on moving plants around. I prefer a more ordered structure so I’ve moved hostas and bulbs and torn down overgrown ivy. I love the flower boxes that were on the detached garage, but they needed some work so we’ve removed them so they can be repaired and painted and put back up along with some shutters on the windows. It looks a little bare at the moment, but in a few weeks it will look great with the cleanup and additions and new mulch and flowers (of course).

The other very big issue for us is the total lack of outdoor lighting in the backyard. The former homeowners ran the water fountain by plugging it into an extension cord that ran along the ground and into one of the basement windows. To start the pump, you had to go into the cellar and plug it in. For real.

We plan to add outdoor outlets and lighting. The electrician we hired to move the electrical box from the bathroom to a safer location suggested that we just add flood lights. I don’t want to sit outside in the summer under floodlights. I want more ambient lighting.

Dutch Boy and Girl Garden Statues

My sister and I went to a vintage market fair and found these cute little Dutch boy and girl statues.

I’m working on adding some whimsy to my outdoor space and these fit the bill for my first additions.

Grandma's Dutch Boy and Girl Salt and Pepper Shakers

They kind of match the set of salt and pepper shakers that I have sitting on my kitchen window sill and which originally belonged to my paternal grandmother.

Front Walk Spring 2014

I love how our new home is taking on more of our personalities and character. Petunias in the jazz frog bird bath and our new banner welcome visitors to our new, old home.

Welcome Spring!

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Readin’ – My 50 Book Challenge

One of my favorite and longest lasting hobbies is reading. I have loved to read since I was a little girl. I used to “borrow” books from my parents and neighbors and read them late into the night. The woman across the street used to read a lot, especially romance novels, and she gave me permission to read anything I wanted so long as I returned the book to her shelf when I was done. I’m not sure how my parents would have really felt about that if they knew some of the bodice ripping stuff I was reading at a very young age.

I collected books and read every Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery I could get my hands on. I used to save my money and, rather than get candy, I would buy a book. When I got older, I passed these books on to the daughter of a woman who I worked with since she loved to read, but they couldn’t afford to buy books for her. She wanted to pay me, but I simply asked her to pass them along to another young girl when she was finished with them. I sometimes wonder where those books ended up, and when I see these in antique malls, I look to see if they might have belonged to me at one point in time.

In grade school, the county library system sent a Bookmobile for children to check out books. Many schools did not have libraries then and there weren’t as many library branches as there are today. This was how we were introduced to the library and card files that used the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

I remember going through a biography phase where I read every single biography written about women that was available on the Bookmobile – Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, Joan of Ark became role models of strong women to me.

SLC Bookmobile

I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood when I was a young girl. Suspecting that if I asked permission to read it, I would be denied, I simply took it from my father’s bookshelf and read it. I also read Helter Skelter and The Exorcist and reading them didn’t scare me. I was, however, terrified watching the movies and walked out of The Exorcist.

In college I went through my science fiction phase – it was escapist literature for me. Adams, Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Tolkien. This love of science fiction would evolve into my current obsession with dystopic, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic literature. And I am currently re-discovering science fiction authors that I missed in the decades since college.

I may be one of the few people who loved the reading assignments in high school and college. I would actually really read the books completely and not just skim them or try to find notes to use to fudge about them in class. In fact, I would read my kids’ assigned novels with them when they were in high school. I loved that the reading lists contained not only the “classics” that I had read which focused on white, male European and early American authors, but expanded to include women authors and those from other cultures, too. Among my favorite novels are A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath, and Moby Dick.

As I moved into adulthood and started a career and a family, I continued to read a lot. But my focus moved away from fiction to other books and newspapers and magazines and really whatever I could get my hands on. And, of course, the Internet opened up an entirely new way to get information and my reading fix.

I read books about how to be successful in business. I read books about having a good marriage and how to be a good parent. I took a 4-year Biblical Studies program through the University of Dallas and not only studied the entire bible, but read a lot of material about it as well.

I read to my children and have amassed a collection of favorite children’s books that I hope to share with grandchildren some day. DSH, the kids, and I will often quote to each other from some of these books –Good Night Moon, Chrysanthemum, The Piggy in the Puddle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar to name a few.

My children have acquired a love of reading from me and for that I am grateful. During their YA reading stage, they would let me know which books they thought I should read and which ones I should not read. We all read the Harry Potter books together and then shared our love of the series watching the movies.

And, as anyone who knows me at all can guess, I have an extensive library of books about cooking and baking.

I love my hard copy books, but I also love using an e-reader and going to the library and reading on the computer. Two summers ago, I listened to some audio-books as I traveled across country with my sister and my niece and nephew.

Bookshelves (2)

You can say that I am a non-denominational reader – not just in type, but in genre!

This year I have challenged myself to read 50 books. I have read 21 so far which means that I am at 42% of my goal and 7 books ahead of schedule. I am on Goodreads which is a “user-populated database of books, annotations, and reviews”. It’s like a Netflix for books rather than movies. I love that the site gives you Recommendations, too, and I can see what my friends are reading and what they think about what they have read.

I do write reviews and always try to share what I found that was positive about whatever book I am sharing. I don’t really like people who just write reviews to pick things apart so I always try to balance what I write to share shortcomings (as I see them) as well as what I liked, too.

In our fast paced world, I think sitting down to read a book has become a luxury that people think they can’t afford to make. Think again! I am truly enjoying getting back to reading for fun and welcome recommendations!

Posted in Travel & Entertainment | 2 Comments

Taking a Break from Volunteering

I have been an active volunteer for all of my adult life. With five kids, you almost have to actively avoid volunteering if your kids are involved in any activities at all. So I have been a room parent, a girl scout leader, a school district and preschool, elementary, middle, and high school volunteer, a PSR teacher and church volunteer, a drama club parent, band parent, and cross country and track parent.

In all the years that I have been volunteering, I have only backed out of one volunteer choice and that was because it wasn’t a good fit for me.

MOTC 05 31 2007 (1)

Some of my twin mom friends.

The thing about volunteering is that you get so much more than you give. My life has been enriched by my volunteer experiences, and I have made many friends along the way. I have loved volunteering and spending time giving back to my community.

I also think volunteering provides good role modeling for our children. I am happy that my children volunteered when they were in school and not just to fulfill requirements in other areas. They continued their volunteering in college with leadership positions in their sororities, and I hope that they will continue to volunteer throughout their adult lives.

Scholarship Chairs 2012

Working the Scholarship Bakery table at the bi-annual twin club sale.

My longest running and largest volunteer commitment in terms of time and talents has been the 19 years I have spent on the board of a local non-profit parent organization that is solely run with volunteers. I love this organization, and I love being a member and volunteering to make it better.

After 19 years, however, I felt strongly that it was time to let the newer and younger members have their turn. To me, that is what keeps an organization relevant especially in a rapidly changing world. I gave up my most recent role as webmaster with this organization on which I have served in many capacities. Yes, a 50 something year old woman got to learn a lot of new skills managing the club’s membership site, working with a co-chair to maintain the website, and manage the social media sites. I have always liked technology and even though it required a lot of time in front of the computer, I enjoyed learning new things and helping our members and others. That is the beauty of volunteering – you can often learn new skills that you would not be given the opportunity to learn in a traditional work environment.

Band Banquet 2011-001

Attending banquets for various activities is part of the volunteer experience.

Last year, I made a decision to take a year off from all volunteering activities.

Why did I decide to take a break? Because I feel that I am in transition. In transition from one stage of life to another and that maybe it’s time to think about other ways to give back.

You know – that whole empty nester thing.

DSH and I have been talking about doing something together. He has worked so hard and so many hours during his career that he has been limited in his ability to spend much time volunteering.

XC Banquet 11 11 2010 (7)

Some of my Cross Country and Track mom friends.

So when a friend asked me to volunteer with a local child-centered organization, I went to the orientation, but I am holding back for now. I want to honor the commitment I made to myself to give myself a year. A year to think about what I want to do next.

Volunteering is important to me. I’ll be back.

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A Happy Husband

One of the things that makes me most happy is to do things for and with my family to make them happy.

While there are lots of small, everyday things that I do to make them happy, I also love to do bigger things, too. I love to plan and have holiday meals and other family gatherings where we share time and make memories.

I was able to plan one of those larger things recently for my DSH. A larger thing that was on his bucket list. His bucket list item was a trip to Jupiter, Florida, for Cardinals Baseball Spring Training.

Winter Jan 2014

And after a winter of brutal cold and snow, we were ready for southern Florida sun and warmth!

Florida Trip 2014

We packed up the car and saw lots of interesting sites along the way! Like this mother and daughter Chihuahua pair dressed alike that we saw at a highway rest stop!

The further south we headed, the warmer and greener it got.

Roger Dean Stadium Jupiter FL 2014

After two days driving and one night on the road, we arrived in Jupiter and headed over to Roger Dean Stadium where the Cardinals and Marlins share Spring Training facilities along with their minor league teams.

Jack Jupiter FL 2014

DSH was happy.

And so was I.

Spring Break 2014

I am not a big sports fan, but I have to say that I loved this adventure. Anyone who even has a remote interest in baseball should take this trip.

The fans were so friendly. It was like watching baseball and sharing stories with one big, happy family. People, even those from opposing teams, were anxious to introduce themselves, share where they were from, and tell stories of baseball celebrity sightings.

We saw two Cardinals players at a restaurant on our first night in Jupiter. No, we didn’t ask for autographs or take any pictures, but DSH was very excited.

Spring Break 20141

There is not a bad seat in the house at Roger Dean Stadium, but the two games we attended were sold out to standing room only so if you go, buy in advance!

We went to Arizona Diamondbacks Spring Training a few years ago and the players were much more accessible for autographs than they were at the Cardinals camp.

DSH went down to the stadium early each morning to watch the various groups of players practice. He is a sports guy and baseball is his favorite sport so he was in heaven. He found out that the best way to get autographs is to get there early and wait along the fence for hours. Needless to say, we didn’t get any autographs.

Spring Break 20142

We visited the beach in Jupiter and DSH and my sister chased waves. And got wet. Very wet. It was a joy to me to hear my sister laugh out loud and long. It’s been a tough few years for her so this was cathartic for her.

We saw baseball. We saw the beach. And we ate some awesome seafood along the way. We love to find out-of-the-way, local spots to eat. We got a great referral from a lady walking her two yellow labs on the beach. Seriously, why eat at a chain restaurant that you can go to at home when you can find great local cuisine with local food where you are visiting?

Cocoa Beach FL 2014

We ended our trip by making our way up the coast on the scenic route to Cocoa Beach where I had found a little out-of-the-way place right on the beach. It looked a little sketchy on the outside, but once inside, we found a lovely full-service condo-style room that opened out onto the beach. The place was filled with pergolas and sitting areas and fire pits and BBQ areas and water fountains and objets d’art.

Spring Break 20143

And plenty of hammocks with room enough for two. Perfect.

Roxie Spring Break 2014

Back home, our poor dog was being tormented by my niece and her husband who were dressing her up as a bumble bee.

We left Cocoa Beach and drove through the night after making a stop in Montgomery, Alabama to pick up a kid who went down for Spring Break, and arrived back home at 3:30 a.m. It was a long trip.

The dog was happy we were home. I was happy to make this trip a reality for my DSH, but I wasn’t so happy to be home.

We arrived just in time for more snow and cold.

Come on spring and summer!

Posted in Bucket List | 8 Comments

Bathroom Makeovers at the Quirky Old Home

Our new, old home has two bathrooms – one upstairs and one on the main level. There is no en suite. In fact, the main floor bathroom, where the “master bedroom” is located has no shower. What you gain in character and charm, you often sacrifice in other areas in these older homes.

The upstairs bathroom is full service and was completely renovated before we bought the house.

Upstairs Bathroom Before

Here is a picture of the upstairs bathroom before the makeover. It was quite lovely and nicely staged when it was put on the market.

There were, however, a few issues for me in this space.

I am not a fan of tan walls. Neutral. Boring.

There was no towel bar near the tub – it was located on the far wall by the sink. Inconvenient.

There was no storage. As in none. No drawers, no closet, no shelves.

The toilet was not working properly. Water in the bowl was draining meaning that two (or more) flushes were required every time it was used. Wasteful.

Upstairs bath looking at toilet

Here is a picture of the space after the makeover. As I mentioned in the stairwell makeover post (here), I tied the use of the gray paint used on the upper walls in the stairwell and hallways (the two bathrooms sit at either end of these spaces) into the two bathroom makeovers.

The gray color tied nicely to the white and black tile as well as the ceramic tile floor. Much better than tan.

I purchased a French Toile shower curtain for $30 from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and added a black fringe trim to the top. The gray of the Toile and the black trim tie the color scheme together nicely.

I put up a double towel bar so that when you stepped out of the tub or shower, you could simply reach for a towel rather than walk across the room to get one.

I added a hotel shelf over the toilet, so that extra towels were readily available. My sister used these in her last bathroom renovation, and I think it’s a genius idea for small bathrooms with limited storage. And the hotel shelf that I used was only $20 at the local big box hardware store.

And the toilet. Ah, the toilet. The leaking toilet. Turns out, after much work and research, that we had a hair-line crack in the bowl which was causing the water in the bowl to leak down the drain (not onto the floor thankfully). Poor DSH took the thing apart and added a new wax ring and employed various other strategies before determining that there was a crack causing the leak. After several hours of work.

We researched toilets and went off to the local big box hardware store to buy a new one to fit our needs. The toilet we so carefully researched and purchased turned out to be the incorrect size. Which we found out after DSH took the old one out and (tried) to put the new one in. Sigh.

DSH carefully re-packaged the toilet and off to the big box hardware store he went (I was so done with this part of the project, and I wasn’t even doing the dirty work) to purchase the correct size toilet.

There was one choice. Hell, there was only one toilet! All that research.  All that time. All those wax rings.

According to the directions, the entire project should have taken 30 minutes. Well, six hours later and one more trip to the hardware store to purchase a longer water hose and another wax ring (I should have added up how many wax rings we bought and used since I’m sure we’ll be able to laugh about it someday.  Just not today.), we had a perfectly functional toilet. Homeowner projects always have a way of taking more time than anticipated. And more money.

Upstairs Bathroom After looking at sink and tub

Here is a view of the sink area after the makeover. I purchased a gray, metal Ikea cart to place next to the sink to hold the various items used in the bathroom – soap, face wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair stuff, etc. My plan is to buy some cute apothecary jars to make it a little more organized looking and cute, but it sure is a lot more functional. And I like how the newer, industrial look mixes with the more traditional features of the space.

I kept the mirror and fixtures, which my friend had suggested that I spray paint, because I kind of like the eclectic mix of chrome and gold in the space. I added a smaller towel bar next to the sink and some robe hooks behind the door which came in handy with company over the holidays.

Upstairs Bath floating shelves

I also added some floating shelves with pictures of the kids and some old elf tchotchkes from my paternal grandmother. I have some pictures to put in frames to add some other color to the space, but all in all it is a very warm and comfortable and functional bathroom now.

Main Floor Bathroom Before

Here is our main floor bathroom which, as you can tell, is also our laundry room. The space is very small, and we discovered, when we moved the electrical panel which was situated over the bathtub (see that interesting story here), this space was, at one time, the back porch of the house.

This room was also nicely staged when the house was put on the market. But, again, I had some issues with the space.

The colors just did not work for me. And, after the electrical box was moved, we had to re-paint anyway.

Again, virtually no storage existed in the space.

Finally, I am working on ideas on how to provide some sort of separation between the laundry room and main floor bathroom functions.

Main Floor Bathroom After Full View

Here is the main floor bathroom after the makeover.

Painting it took two of us and was a quite interesting experience working around the large pieces in a very tiny and cramped space. It brought DSH and I closer together. Literally. Not figuratively.

I painted the wainscoting the same satin white color as the wainscoting in the hallways and stairwell. I (I should say DSH because he painted this part) painted the upper walls the same gray as those spaces, too.

Houston Electrical Project #1

Here is what we discovered when we were buying this house. A nice picture over the bathtub was hiding a little surprise.

Houston Electrical Project #2

The main electrical panel to the house!

Main Floor Bathroom After picture over electrical panel

The panel was moved to a more appropriate place and is now also properly permitted. The problem was that a junction box remained that needed to be hidden. So I used a large Impressionist print in a dark frame that once upon a time graced the wall in the office of my career job which I left many moons ago (in another lifetime it seems).

The other electrical issue in the space is that there is an orange extension cord that has been pulled through the wall and is plugged into the outlet on the wall next to the washer and dryer. We have been unable to figure out what it is powering and where the other end is plugged into. And we are not about to unplug it and find out the hard way!

We asked the former homeowners, and they played dumb (I believe that they know). The inspector and the various electricians who have been in the home cannot figure it out either. Our best guess is that the electrical cord must be powering a heat tape to prevent the water line from freezing in the winter. We decided this because, in spite of the bitterly cold winter, the water line to the washer never froze and it is on the coldest side of the house and runs through an exterior wall. We had a water line in a more protected wall and space that did freeze so that is our assumption for now and another good reason not to unplug it.

I’m sure we’ll figure it out some day.

Main Floor Bathroom After

Here is the sink and toilet wall where, once again, I added a hotel shelf for towels. I kept the rest of the fixtures and just cleaned them up.

And the toilet. Ah, the toilet. This toilet started leaking while we were painting. Onto the floor. We feared the worst! Fortunately, we just had a leaky valve which took only two trips to the local big box hardware store and a few minutes to replace.

Every house we have lived in has required work on the toilets. Do people never replace the guts or wonder why toilets leak? The last house we lived in had a hairline crack in the tank which we discovered when it wasn’t filling all the way because the previous homeowner reduced the setting so he didn’t have to replace it. Which we did because you cannot have a bathroom being used by teenagers that you cannot flush effectively. Ugh.

Main Floor Bathroom After View of Sink

The space is now so cozy and warm. But I have a few plans for the future.

First of all, I plan on getting rid of the $99 special sink unit and replace it with an antique dresser converted to a sink unit. It will take some time to find the right piece to fit in this tiny space.

The other thing that I am working on is adding some sort of separation between the toilet and washer and dryer unit. We have looked at antique doors – we even went to a place in the city that specializes in architectural artifacts which is a nice way of saying old junk from old houses. Old junk that is expensive.

I’m leaning toward something that is not too heavy looking. Like shutters that are painted in a crackle finish. But that is another project for another day.

I have one more interior project on my goal list for this winter and then, hopefully, we will be able to move onto outside projects and trips to our little cottage on the lake. If the weather ever takes a turn for the better!

Next winter, I plan on completing the main floor projects and garage game room as well as maintenance items that we are uncovering as we live in the house. Like adding insulation to the sunroom so it’s more comfortable in the really cold and really warm weather. And converting a small attic space into a linen closet. And getting the garage and other storage areas (I should say area as in singular) organized. And selling off the rest of the stuff we no longer need or use now that we have downsized. The never ending list of projects when you own a home.

In the meantime, I love our bathroom makeovers! Our quirky old home is starting to take on more of our character and personality, and we’re loving it more and more.

Posted in Food & Home | 3 Comments

Stairwell Makeover at the Quirky Old Home

It’s been a long, cold, and snowy winter here in the middle of the country. It has been so cold that we have worried about frozen pipes and learned, through experience, how really drafty an old house can be.

In spite of the extremely frigid weather and my desire to bundle up under layers of blankets and just read a book, I have been working hard on completing my list of winter projects before the warmer weather gets here – and I hope it gets here someday soon! I decided my goals for this winter would include getting the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom, the stairwell and back hallway, and main floor bathroom painted and decorated.

I deferred the kitchen makeover and the rest of the house for next winter. There is a part of me that needs to feel that the changes are right before I tackle making them, and I’m just not feeling those changes yet.

DSH and I finally finished re-doing the bathrooms, and I was going to share them first until I realized that the bathrooms – one of which is at the top of the stairwell and the other of which is at the bottom of the stairwell – were completely tied to the changes I made in the stairwell and upper and lower hallways.

Stairwell Looking Upstairs Before

This is a picture of the stairwell going upstairs before the changes. Yes, the stairwell is very steep and narrow. The step heights are not standard. We have learned to measure stuff we intend to take upstairs before making the trip.

We are learning to deal with the idiosyncrasies of older homes.

What bothered me the most about the paint colors was that the wainscoting was brown. To me, wainscoting should be white. So the decision on what color to paint it was easy.

Stairwell Looking Down to Cellar Before

Here is a picture of the stairwell going down into the cellar. It is even steeper than the one going upstairs. There were a few other issues to deal with here. One was a broken, brass light fixture with missing pieces. The door was installed to function as a pocket door which was nice since a regular door wouldn’t work here anyway. The problem was that the door was not functioning properly on the track and the brass door knob prevented it from opening all the way.

The other issue for me was what color should we paint the upper walls? I knew that whatever color was chosen would tie the upper and lower floors together and would, naturally for me, lead to the color choices in the two bathrooms.

Stairwell from downstairs looking upstairs

Here is a picture of the stairwell going upstairs after it was painted. After I painted the wainscoting a satin finished white (to offset the high gloss white trim), I was excited about the difference and couldn’t wait to add a color on the upper wall other than the neutral tan!

As you can see, I chose a gray. I was worried about choosing gray. Thankfully, my friend, Laura, helped me to choose one that had blue undertones rather than the brown ones. I love the look!

Stairwell looking down to cellar entry

Here is a view of the stairwell going down to the cellar now. What a difference re-painting it made!

We added a new aged bronze light fixture to replace the one that could not be salvaged. DSH fixed the door so that it would now slide on the tracks which was good since closing the door eliminated a lot of draftiness coming up from the lower level. We also removed the door knob and replace it with a recessed, aged bronze door plate. This one little piece made such a difference not only in tying together with the light fixtures, but in allowing us to completely open the door when taking stuff up and down the stairs in this tight space!

Stairwell from upstairs looking down

Here is the stairwell looking down from upstairs. You can get a sense of how difficult it is to move stuff up and down it, but you can also get a sense of what a difference the color makes to the feel of the space!

Upper Hallway After

I put some final touches on the upper hallway by adding the picture frames of four of our kids that include locks of hair from their first haircuts.

In case you were wondering why I’m missing one kid’s picture (we have five kids and only four frames with their locks of baby hair from their first hair cuts) – our second oldest daughter didn’t come to live with us until she was 13 so we don’t have a lock of her baby hair.

I found the old sewing machine base at an antique store and used a marble top that my sister had that used to be on a table from her now deceased in-laws. We love the re-purposing and are now on the hunt for another base for her to use with the other piece of marble.

Stairwell After with pictures

Here is the stairwell with the high school graduation pictures of my kids. I have to admit that I have already hung more pictures in this home than I did in the last one. I just feel more connected to this place.

I haven’t included pictures of the main floor hallway. Let me just say that this house has virtually no closets. There are no linen closets or coat closets.

When we painted the main floor hallway, we removed the brass light fixture which I spray painted aged bronze and re-purposed. DSH discovered that the ceiling in this space was lowered by a few feet. We don’t know why, but if it had been raised, the space would look so much more open! This may be a project we tackle in the future.

What we did do, however, was include a row of two coat rack hooks which we re-purposed from the garage space. We also reused an old black shelf unit which holds six canvas bins to store dog treats and related stuff, bathroom supplies, and other cleaning things. It’s not very tidy at the moment since so many winter coats and jackets are clogging the space, but once they are put away for the season, it will be neater. I did not feel like cleaning it out just to share a picture so I will leave it to your imaginations to visualize.

The entire project involved paint, spray paint, one new light fixture, and one piece for the door – all in all a very cheap makeover since everything else was re-used or re-purposed!

I am so pleased with how this turned out that I can’t wait to show you the bathroom remodels!

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Falconry (ˈfal-kən-rē)

We had an interesting experience over the holidays.  Our daughter is dating a guy who is a falconer.  When he came to visit, he brought his bird, a female Red-tailed Hawk, and we had the opportunity to learn more about this fascinating sport and see the bird and his trainer in action.

Every time I hear someone talk about young people critically, I think about my kids and their large group of friends.  Even the ones who aren’t achieving in the traditional sense are still likable and respectful.  They are more tolerant than many adults in our current polarized society.  They spend time together regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religious background.  They are starting to develop their own particular sets of beliefs based on their backgrounds and experiences.  When I see these young people, I am hopeful for our future.

I love getting to know them and learning about their lives and interesting hobbies.

Falconry_12_29_2013 (1)

On a cold winter afternoon, we went out to an old, abandoned nursery (we had permission from the owners to be there).  We were all participants in the hunt that day.

Falconry is an ancient art with the earliest known accounts dating to 2000 BC in Mesopotamia.  In Medieval Europe, it was known as the sport of kings.

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This young man’s father is also a falconer.  There are a lot of laws governing the capture and training of the various birds of prey that are used in this sport.  There is also specific training and credentialing involved with the first level being an apprentice who must learn under a master falconer.  The middle level is a general falconer which is where my daughter’s boyfriend is rated currently.  He trained under his father who is a master falconer who also happens to have developed some training techniques that are very well-regarded in the field.

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After getting the hawk ready to hunt, everyone traipsed into the field to help flush prey for the hawk to capture.

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After a long while in the cold, it was clear that the hawk was not going to capture anything on this day.  What was fascinating is that the hawk was free and could have escaped at any time.

The laws governing this sport are very restrictive and specific.  Everything from the capture, the equipment, the training, the housing, and the documentation is quite involved. This bird was closely monitored, weighed, and fed during its stay at our home.  It stayed in a cool room off our garage in a very specific container.  All of the activities of the bird including what and how much food it ate, what it weighed, how it acted were meticulously logged into a notebook.

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One look at the talons on this adolescent and beautiful bird reminds one that this is serious business.

Hawks and other birds used by falconers are trained using operant conditioning.  Basically, the relationship between the bird and the trainer revolves around food.  The bird is simply opportunistic and does not have a “relationship” with the trainer other than as a source of food.

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My daughter is having great fun learning and having new experiences.  She is attending a university that includes a lot of kids from smaller towns and rural backgrounds so she is learning about hunting, guns, archery, and other outdoor sports.

This is a long way from the dance classes, piano lessons, and Band geek activities of her youth.  I love that she is open-minded enough to seize the opportunity to try new and exciting things that she may not have ever considered or even know about.

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I had the opportunity to hold this bird.  Her grip was surprisingly tight and while she seemed to be fairly light at first, I could see that over time it would take some muscles to hold her up just right.

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DSH got a turn to hold the bird and see how she was being cared for while visiting us.

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Here is my daughter with her boyfriend and the bird.  Interesting kids.  Interesting hobby and sport.

While this was not on my bucket list, what a great opportunity to have a new and interesting experience and adventure!

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What’s Cookin’ During The Polar Vortex

The Polar Vortex is defining our Winter weather this year.  It’s been cold.  Bitterly cold. Here and in most parts of the country east of the Rockies.  There has even been snow in the deep South.

It’s been colder here than it’s been in many years and for a longer period of time than I ever remember.  And I’ve been around for a while.

Schools have been canceled a lot just for the cold and even in the northern states.  And, while I tend to be warm-blooded, I detest the unbearable cold and want to do nothing other than curl up in multiple layers of clothes and several blankets and just read a book.

But life goes on and, while it’s too cold to continue my painting projects, I can get caught up on some cooking and reading, too.

Blackberry and cranberry jam jan 2014

Over the holidays, I bought some blackberries that were on sale, cooked them down, and processed them through a food mill so that I had a blackberry puree ready to make into jam.  Since I didn’t have the time to put up jam at that time, I put the puree into the freezer.

I also bought some bags of cranberries that our local grocery store put on sale after the holidays.  I had seen a recipe for spiced cranberry jam so I put them into the freezer for a later date, too.

Then, on our third or fourth wave of really, really cold weather when we had to run the taps to prevent pipes from freezing and the furnace never shut off, I decided it was time to warm up the house by spending some time in the kitchen.

The kitchen is in the center of our really old house, and it gets really warm when you cook in it.

I made 8 half-pints of blackberry jam and 10 half-pints of spiced cranberry jam.  It’s a good thing, too, since we were down to our last few jars after a holiday season of giving away and eating our jars from my days spent canning last Summer and Fall.

And the bonus was that I was able to do this for under $20 or so.  Homemade jam with no preservatives or funny sounding chemicals in them and a way to warm up a cold house to boot.

Grandma Happel's Canning Pot

I use DSH’s grandma’s canning pot.  It just makes me feel so good to be able to use something so old that was used to make foods that fed my mother-in-law and her family when they were young.  That is a warming thought to me, too.

Multi Chip Cookies (1)

I also had three partial bags of baking chips left over from holiday baking, so I decided to make a batch of cookies before DSH discovered the open bags and ate them up by the handful.  I have a recipe for making Triple Chip Cookies that really is just a version of chocolate chip cookie dough but adding a variety of chips.  I pulled out the recipe and the partial bags of chips and threatened / begged / demanded that DSH keep his hands off!

I like to make my cookies small.  I use a 1″ cookie scoop.  This means I can get a lot of cookies out of one batch.  This worked well for me when we had five kids in the house.  A batch of cookies would last a little longer when there were more of them – at least if you could manage to control the number of cookies eaten in one sitting!

But, DSH and I don’t need to eat an entire batch of cookies, and I don’t really like them once they get stale, and they get stale to me after a day or two.  (Except shortbread cookies which actually taste a little better after a day or two and last several days.)

My friend, Laura, used to make a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and then she would freeze it.  Every day, when her two sons came home from school, she would make them a few, freshly baked cookies.  Yes, they are spoiled, but in a good way.  I love the memories that she made for them by doing this.  They are in college now and are growing into wonderful young men who we really enjoy being around.

I decided that Laura’s frozen dough trick is a good one to use for empty nesters and smaller households, too.  So, now I make a batch of cookies, bake a few, and freeze the rest of the dough into little dough balls that can be taken out of the freezer at a moment’s notice and baked fresh.

Multi Chip Cookies (2)

Here is what I do – I put the prepared cookie dough into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes after I mix it up just to make it a little firmer.  Then I scoop the dough into 1″ balls and place them onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.  I actually used the same piece of parchment that I used to make the small batch that I baked right away.  Then, I put the cookie dough balls into the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes.

Multi Chip Cookies (3)

I take them out of the freezer and put them into freezer safe plastic containers that seal tightly.  Simply put a label on the top with the baking instructions and put them back into the freezer to bake later.

The beauty of this is not only can I bake a few cookies at a time any time we are in the mood (you can use as few or as many as you like), but you can send these little containers off with your kids to college.  If they are living in off campus housing or if they have access to a stove on campus, they can bake themselves some fresh cookies, too.

Here is the recipe – I never noted where it came from originally, but I have adapted it for my use.


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Baker’s Dozen – 2013

2013 was a year of changes – radical changes – for our family.  Some were happy changes, and some were sad changes, and a few were a mix of both.

This is the reality of life.

The changes have caused me to withdraw a little and to contemplate life, my life, and life in general.  In the past, I have vowed to do things (or not to do things as the case may be) to make my life better. Happier.  But most of the time I have not lived up to these vows.

2014, however, will be different.

Life is too short, and the number of years I have left on this planet are dwindling.

That.  And you never know how many you really have left.

So, here, in somewhat chronological order are the changes that occurred in our lives over the last year and what they mean to me and my family.

Rachel Move Loading the Truck

#1 – On New Year’s Day, DSH and our middle daughter loaded a truck and moved to her new life as a full-fledged adult to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Rachel's Empty Room 2012

She left behind an empty room.

Rachel Living Room in Flagstaff

And we had great fun helping her get her new home set up.

Three down, two to go.

Jacci in Argentina10

#2 – We sent our baby off to Argentina for nearly five months.  She referred to this trip as a “life changing” experience.  She had many adventures.

Jacci home from Argentina

And when she came home, our relationship was different in all the best ways.  She returned a grown woman, and we sobbed when we saw each other.

It was life changing for me, too.

Hennsley House

#3 – We sold our big home in the nice subdivision.  We no longer needed all of the rooms, and I was sick of cleaning rooms we didn’t need or use.  I wanted to decrease our carbon footprint and our expenses.  This wasn’t our forever home and, in fact, only three of our five children lived there with us.  I never really connected with this home.  Downsizing.   It was time.

Lake Cottage First Visit #2

#4 – We bought a little cottage on the lake from a family friend.  We have been bringing the kids here for 23 years and felt really lucky to now be the owners.


This was going to be our place to relax and unwind.  I’m still trying to figure out how to get DSH to do that.  And to keep him off roofs and other high places.

An added benefit is that we have made new friends with the other residents of this beautiful little cove, and DSH got to realize his dream of having a place at The Lake.

123 Houston Street (32)#5 – We bought a smaller home in the historic district of a small city.  We “lost” 1,000 square feet in this move, and we are still trying to get rid of stuff.  We are also making changes to make this place our own.

So, we sold one home and bought two.  But, we still ended up with less total square footage and lower expenses so it was still a win.

Since we have lived in our new neighborhood, we have participated in several neighborhood parties.  The route of the local university homecoming parade went by our new home.  We can walk to local restaurants, shops, and post office, and we have met more neighbors in a few short months here than we met in our last two neighborhoods combined.

We barely got moved in and unpacked when I returned to Minnesota for an extended stay. I had been spending a significant amount of time there over 18 months helping my sister while my brother-in-law battled colorectal cancer.

David Birthday with Mama

#6 – I was able to be with my brother-in-law to celebrate his last birthday.  I made his favorite dessert, German Chocolate Cake, which he enjoyed.  I was also able to make other favorite meals for him over the 18 months he was sick.  Things like buttermilk pancakes and pumpkin pie and smoked ribs and brisket.

I was blessed to be able to travel on this journey with my sister and my brother-in-law from the diagnosis, through the treatments, through hospice, and through his final moments.

Ed and the girls 2010

#7 – 2013 was the year where we visited a lot of funeral homes.  We lost a dear friend from our old neighborhood whom we visited each year at Christmas.  The girls used to shovel his driveway when it snowed.

Many of our friends lost mothers and fathers.  We lost a friend who used to work with DSH at the golf course when he was a kid.  Seeing friends at funeral homes is becoming a frequent social event for us.

We are at that age and time in our lives.

#8 – Cancer continues to rear its ugly head in our lives.  Not only did my brother-in-law die from cancer, but three friends were diagnosed with this disease in 2013.  None of them were that old either – two in their 40s and one in her 50s.  I keep hearing about heart disease being the number one killer of men and women, but it’s cancer that keeps appearing with the loved ones in our lives.

Diane 3rd Birthday 6 Dec 1960

#9 – My Irish twin sister and I are very close.  We were born in the same year so when she celebrates a birthday, we get to be the same age for a few weeks.  While we have always been close in spirit, we haven’t been close geographically for many years.

Diane June 2010

In 2013, after her husband died, she sold her home in Minnesota and move to a home three blocks from me.  We are now within easy walking distance of each other.  We now not only talk every day, but we get to SEE each other every day, too.

Oh, and the dogs came, too.  Roxie, the dark one, is now living with us.  She was originally our oldest daughter’s college dog.  What goes around, comes around.

Snow Day 03 24 2013 9

#10 – 2013 will always be known to me as the year of snow.

The 2012 to 2013 snow season started out mild, but it ended with a lot of snow late in the season.  It snowed a lot where we lived.  It also snowed a lot in Minnesota.  More snow than average with most of it arriving late in the season.  It snowed into Spring.  Thunder snow. Both at home and in Minnesota.

I hate snow.

Then, it starting snowing EARLY in the 2013 to 2014 season.  We had snow early and often in December.

Then we experienced the Polar Vortex.  Deep snow.  Extreme cold.  Frozen pipes.  Leaking roofs.

I really hate snow.  I’m dreaming of the beach.

Katy Rombachs 1994

#11 – Our twins, our babies, turned 21 in 2013.  They are smart and beautiful young women, but when bad things happen to them, I think of them as babies.

Our second youngest baby was in a bad car accident two days before Thanksgiving.  She was at school 5 1/2 hours away.  She spun and rolled her van.  It ended up in a corn field.

She walked away from the accident unhurt.

By the time I found out about the accident, she was already safe.  DSH got the calls and went through all of the anxiety.  He was the one who got to be freaked out.  He was the one who was emotional and crying and who suffered the anguish.  By the time he got home and told me about it, our baby was safe, and I was the one who could be the voice of calm and reason.  For a change.

There was a lesson in this, but I’m not sure if DSH is aware of it.  I decided not to tell him to calm down, and that everything was all right.  This is how he has handled my pain and anguish in the past, and it often angered me.  It was like he was diminishing my emotions.

I let him own the pain, and I comforted him.  I hope something like this never happens again, but the odds are that it will, and when it does, I’ll remember how to handle it.  I hope he does, too.

Christmas 2013

#12 – With all the changes in our lives, traditions continue to evolve and change, too.  For many years, we took Santa hat pictures at Christmas.  I figured it was time to let that tradition go, too.  After a lifetime of our family having Christmas at our home, we had the holidays at my sister’s new home.

Later in the day, the box of Santa hats was retrieved from our home and pictures were taken of each family.  My niece and kids decided that they weren’t ready to let the Santa hat picture tradition go away.  All those years of them complaining about me MAKING them wear the Santa hats and here they were enforcing the tradition.

That made me smile and warm with joy.

Theresa's Birthday Cake 2014

#13 – In 2013, I passed the double-nickle and am now quickly approaching the next big milestone in terms of birthdays.  It’s a little scary.

Angel (2)

Our goofy and ancient cat decided to die on my birthday in 2013.  It was retribution.


So our theme for Christmas 2013 was “cats”.


And my sister “won” the best cat themed gift of all.  A solar-powered, googly-eyed creepy cat.  Truly awesome.

2013 was a year of many dramatic changes in our family.  As a result of these changes and other things that happened, I have intentionally made my circle smaller.  After nearly 20 years, I am no longer on the Board of a local non-profit.  I have reduced my family relationships to include only those that are positive and supportive and reciprocal.  I am limiting my participation in family events to those in my circle.

It’s probably defensive on my part, and it may expand again in the future, but for now my circle is only filled with those who truly know me and care about me.

2013 taught me that life is just too short to take up time with unhealthy relationships, toxic family drama, or situations that are not authentic.

I’m hopeful that 2014 will be filled with positive relationships and new adventures where I can heal my heart and soul.

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