Help Wanted!

Phew! What a weekend! I rested on Friday, but then I had to get to work, and now the dining room chairs are totally done. The closet is 99.8% done. The library is done! I can’t believe we actually finished it all. Thank goodness for great parents who help paint and install trim, a fantastic hubsy, and a very patient and neglected puppy.   

More pictures will be coming, as soon as I can get some of these rooms cleaned up!

In the meantime, I need to ask for some help for the Historical Homes Tour on Saturday, December 5th – in the form of 18 volunteers. You’d “work” (ie: Drink spiced cider and chat with people.) a two hour shift here at our house and help discourage people from taking things (Like we have much worth stealing – You like that wreath made from coffee filters? Or the one from an old book? How about that junk picked picture frame?) or falling down the stairs (That one’s real). I’ll give you a script with what you can say in each part of the house, if you don’t want to make things up, and you’ll get free entry to the other homes on the tour. If you’re interested, there’s more infomation at this link

If you just want to attend the tour, there’s info here on the Historical Society’s website!   

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The Storm(s) Before the Calm

I know “storm before the calm” is not exactly the conventional phrase, but Tony and I don’t always do things the conventional way… And storms pretty accurately describe what’s been happening around here as of late. More specifically: a blizzard and a tornado. 

Don’t worry! These are metaphorical storms. The weather has actually been beautiful!

No, we’re preparing for the 2015 Olathe Historical Society Homes Tour, which is in t-22 days. Much to Tony’s chagrin, I had a “To Do” list for this event with some rather ambitious projects on it. We really have been working for months on the list, but there are a few projects that are still very much in the works: hence, the storms. 

Project One: Insulation

Tony recently completed the insulation in attic, something that was badly needed, as I’ve previously discussed. That, combined with the new windows and the removal of the birds nest(s) in our heater’s floo (Yikes!) have made for a much warmer start to our winter! 

Tony used blown-in insulation, which meant he rented a big machine that sat on the front lawn, and he ran a 4 inch hose through the upstairs hall window and in through the attic trap door. Tony and his brother (Thanks Ben!) took turns dumping the fibers into the big machine while the other person wielded the hose up in the attic, shooting recycled paper and whatever else is in insulation twenty feet at a time. They did their best to contain things, but it was pretty much snowing in our house. Neat. That’s the blizzard!   


All those speckles that make the photo look grainy are the insulation fibers floating gently to the ground. 

This one shows how much I swept off the wall.

 Then Tony stepped through the ceiling in our bedroom. Ben thought it was funny, and kept trying to apologize for laughing, as he could tell I found it slightly less amusing. I tried to reassure him, “It’s fine, Ben. I laughed a lot too, the first time it happened.” This resulted in a playful debate. What was the first time? Not when Tony dropped the hammer through the kitchen ceiling. Was it when the closet ceiling caved in? We never could figure it out, and the good news is Tony’s fine. He didn’t fall all the way through – just past his knee or so. The hole was promptly patched, but I don’t know whether the ceiling will be painted before The Tour. People will have enough to look at, hopefully they won’t look up! 


Project Two: Chairs

The dining room chair reupholstery has been going on for a few months now. I’ve been planning this project since we bought our dining room furniture and even bought the fabric last school year when one of the online fabric companies had a clearance sale on indoor/outdoor fabric. I just knew it would be hard, and I was intimidated, so I put it off. It has been hard. I was right to be intimidated! I have one chair done done, and 5 more that are half done. Getting close!   

 Project Three: Closet

I asked Dad to help me build a closet in the guest bedroom, and he’s finally had the time to do it in just the last couple months. Don’t worry, it doesn’t look like this anymore! I should be able to post on this completed project very soon!  

Project Four: The Library

Tony’s Library has been 1/2 finished for about 6 months, but his first PhD course has gotten in the way a bit of finishing the rest of the room. It will be done by the end of the Thanksgiving Break though! He has all the trim and the crown molding painted any ready to install.  

So Project One resulted in the blizzard, and Projects Two, Three, and Four have led to the tornado.  With so many projects going on at once, my regular picking up/cleaning/dusting/sweeping/etc. hasn’t happened… for quite some time… it’s a real mess around here.

And, to top it off, I’m sick, which is the only reason I’m able to get this post out on a school day. Charlie’s keeping me company. He doesn’t seem bothered one bit by the coughing, sneezing, or nose blowing, as long as he gets to lay on the bed. And, ohhh, does he love the napping!

Love him to pieces!

Anyway, if you’re the praying type, see about sending good health and the ability to function without sleep my way! ; )  Just kidding. We’ll get there, and then we’ll finally be able to relax for a bit: the calm after the storm. 


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History of a Home II

So… I’ve had these shadow boxes for ages now, just waiting  to display all the great photos and history I was going to find about our house. Unfortunately, that hasn’t panned out quite like I’d hoped. Apparently the city and county don’t keep impeccable records as implied on TV. However, I have finally gathered enough memorbilia that I could fill the two shadow boxes. 

This first one holds some of the wires that were saved by the electrician as well as examples of the knobs and tubes (bottom left). The wheels and medal pieces were rescued by the window installers. There’s a pulley and some sort of brackets… I’m not sure about them! The photos came from the Johnson County Museum, and they look old, but they’re dated as being taken in 1995. The other interesting thing about those photos is the 1874 construction date listed in the entry. We’d been told the house was build in 1890, a pretty major discrepency in age.  I know the original property owner received the land in exchange for his Civil War service, so an earlier construction date fits, but I haven’t found any other evidence that supports it yet… still a mystery! 

This shadow box has more wires and tubing, as well as a 6 inch nail that Tony took out when removing some baseboard. That’s right – a 6-inch nail into trim! The photo is of the home’s original owner, Charles Eckengren. The newspaper was found when Tony took out the old tub. It advertises a record changer!


Both boxes have found their new home on the front hall staircase. 

I’m hoping our involvement in the Historical Homes Tour in Decemeber will help me learn even more about the history of our old house! 


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Chair Pillows

You know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? The (let’s face it, nosy) little girl enters the bear family’s home and can immediately tell which chair belongs to each member of the family? Well, if Goldilocks broke into our house, she’d be able to tell the same about our chairs… no inferencing involved. 

Last fall we inherited two of the brown arm chairs from Tony’s coworker (one shown above). They were upgrading and we had no furniture for the library, so we were happy to take some free furniture. One of the chairs was a little beaten up, and it eventually became Charlie’s. At first we’d sit in it and allow him to sit with us. Now we just put his blanket on it, he climbs up, and sleeps the day away. Well, we felt bad for the guy, having to sit all alone in the library at night while we lounged on the couch in front of the TV. So we recently moved his chair into the living room so he could be near us during Netflix binge-watching sessions, which left one lone chair in the libary (the left one). Shopping time! 

I really liked this chair I’d seen at Ikea, a gray wingback with buttons, and I got an email that they were on sale over Labor Day. Tony grudgingly made his third ever trip to Ikea to test it out, but he likes his chairs very soft and sink-in like, (Just like Papa Bear!) and this one didn’t cut it. I really liked it though, and we hadn’t seen anything we both liked at the previous couple furniture stores we’d visited, so we brought it home. I felt a little wierd about two different styles of chair in the same room like that, especially since it was the only real furniture in there, so I came up with a unifying element – custom pillows

Turns out, these are ridigulously easy to make. I used some thick duckcloth to create the envelope cases themselves, but it would be even easier, and way faster, to use a premade pillow case from Hobby Lobby. Then I “printed” out a stencil of the words I wanted to use on my machine and applied the vinyl to each pillow case. I colored inside the lines with a sharpie marker (Seriously!), ironed over the ink, and inserted the pillow form. Ah-mazing. 

I absolutely love them, and now I don’t feel like my mismatching chairs look quite so strange. Goldilocks would definitely know who was supposed to sit in each chair, though. 

Even Charlie has a pillow!


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Happy Adoption Day!

One year ago today we brought home this little bundle of love.

One year ago yesterday I would have been happy to never have a dog. Now I cannot believe how much richer our lives are as a result of this stinky, slobbery, shedding mutt! Happy Adoption Day Charlie!   

Yes, I’ve become that person who bakes their dog a special cake. The irony was not lost on Tony, for whom I forgot to make a special birthday dessert of any kind this year. Oops!  

  He had the whole cake in his mouth at once! I think he liked it.


And now I will overwhelm you with a bunch of blurry iPhone photos from the last year. Why? Because they’re just too precious not to share! If you’re not interested, better close this page right now. 



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It’s Always Something 

As a follow up to the electrician’s visit in August, Tony had a little work to do in his closet. His closet light was on the original Knob and Tube wiring, which all went away with the electrician. So that was issue number one. Issue two was there was no blue electrical box for the light to be installed to. It was just hanging by a wire from the ceiling. Tony’s installed those boxes before as he had the same problem in the half bath downstairs. So he went up to the attic to drill a hole in the ceiling for the box…
And it fell in. You know Chicken Little’s, “The sky is falling?”  Charlie, who was in the bedroom at the time, must have felt like that – he even had chunks of plaster in his fur! 

 All the sudden, this quick little job became much more complicated.
Luckily, Tony had already cleaned most of his clothes out of the closet, but now he was off to Home Depot for some sheetrock. He decided that since it was just his closet, and he doesn’t care, he would just put the sheetrock over the existing plaster and lathe – no easy task in and of itself. Tony and Dad had experience installing sheetrock this way when they’d tried to even out the ceiling in our bathroom. Pushing 4 inch screws through 4 layers of material and really hard wooden joists is no easy task.  

He now has a safe, working overhead light in his closet though… it just took about 10 times as long as it should have. 

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The View Out My Window

Before we taught overseas we had to take an online course about the International Baccalaureate philosophy. The first assignment was to describe what you saw out your window. There were people in the class from all over the world, so there were some pretty incredible responses to the prompt. I’ve thought about that assignment quite a bit over the years as my view has changed from town house parking lot to Caribbean cove to landscaped lawn. The view from this house had been somewhat distorted though. I have no idea how old our windows were. They had the ropes and pulleys and sash weights, which stopped being installed in houses around WWII, and some of the panes of glass were bumpy and wavy looking. According to my very brief research, US production techniques produced glass with wavy imperfections through the early 1900s. Some of our window panes had clearly been replaced over time, but quite a few had that slight wave in them.

Not, anymore. Window installation was almost three weeks ago! I’m still getting used to the new clarity of our view, but I love being able to whip those babies open on a cool evening or tilt them in to clean the outside glass. And there are no 70s era storm windows to have to deal with now. It’s glorious! 

Reading about the techniques for making old glass by hand makes me a bit sick about having replaced all that history. I love the idea of the antique glass in our windows, but the actuality was a serious problem. I mean, we do have to live here! These are some “before” photos.  

We had 16 of our 28 windows replaced, so there are several that still look like the images above, but doing two phases will allow us to pay for them all without interest. The process was incredibly easy. The workmen arrived in the morning, and Mom was there to greet them. When we got home that evening all the windows had been installed, the old ones hauled away, and there were just a couple guys finishing the caulk outside. It was a long day for them, as they pulled away from our house around 6:30pm, but the windows looked great. 

The next evening, the company’s owner came by to check on everything. We noted a few places where more caulk was needed, so he set a time to come back on Saturday to recaulk and clean the windows.  That was it! 

The more time-consuming part was getting all the curtains back up. The new windows are thicker than our old wooden ones, so the brackets for our bedroom’s rollerblinds all had to be rehung further from the glass. And when the trim pieces right next to the windows were reinstalled, they didn’t all go in quite the same way as before, so three of the roller blinds had to be recut. I had an excellent experience when I took them back to Lowe’s, and they replaced all three free of charge!

The living room curtains were trouble though. I first made them nearly two years ago, just in time for our our November 2013 housewarming party. I’d had a very specific look in mind for those four bayed windows, but I couldn’t find anything like what I was looking for. So I ordered 40 yards of the perfect fabric and the same amount of lining material, and I made them myself.  I was in such a rush though, I don’t think I ever prewashed the fabric. I also didn’t finish the bottom hem. I just pinned them with the intention of coming back to them after the party, but I never did. For the last two years they were just pinned at the bottom. 

Since the curtains were coming down anyway for the window install, I decided this would be the perfect time to wash them and then sew the bottom hem. I washed two at a time, dried them 75% as instructed by The Internet, then layed them over chairs, tables, the drying rack, etc., and spent an entire Friday night ironing all 38 feet of curtain while watching Orange is the New Black. When Tony rehung the curtains they were six inches from the floor. Seriously, Bad Word! 

I scoured Pinterest for what to do and came across a tutorial for curtain cuffs that seemed easy enough. I ordered 3 yards of coordinating fabric online and set to work sewing the cuffs. I pinned each cuff in place while the curtain was hanging, and Tony took them all down again so I could sew the cuffs on. All in all, it took about two weeks to complete this project, but now I think the curtains look even better than they did before. And I’ve been able to cross something off my To Do list that’s been there for two years!  


So, window installation is done, and everything is back to normal. Don’t worry, though. They left me several of those old wavy-glass window sashes, so be looking for more window projects in the future!


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Tony’s been wanting to insulate the attic for some time now. (Okay, not really wanting to DO it, just to enjoy the results of having it done. : ) When we would take Charlie for a walk on a snowy day last winter, our house was invariably the only one on the block with a perfectly clear roof – read: there’s little to no insulation up there. And it sure would be nice to have the job done before this winter hits. The problem has been that some of our old home’s wiring is original. Potentially 1890 original. It’s hard to know for sure. 

Original wiring for a nineteeth century home is called Knob and Tube as the insulated copper wire was run along joists and studs between porcelain knobs and through joists or studs via porcelin tubes. The research we’ve done has revealed that the wiring itself, when left alone and undisturbed by debris, is fine. However, it runs too hot to have insulation blown over it and the insulation itself can wear away at the protective coating on the copper wire. You can see that ours, up in the attic, was not in great shape.

(By the way, that railroad tie pattern is the top view of our plaster and lath ceiling. The ridges are where the plaster pushed between two pieces of wood lath. Most of it is now covered with sheetrock… we think. It’s hard to tell!)

We only have this original wiring left in our ceilings and through a few (mostly interior = no insulation) walls, but that meant Tony couldn’t insulate the attic until the wiring had been modernized. Tony’s gotten pretty good at basic electical work, but he was not going to take on this project! It was time to call in an expert. 

Unfortunately, finding an expert to do this sort of work was not an easy task. Our first bid came from a company just down the street. The guy walked around for about 20 minutes, took a cursory glance at things and quoted us $700. We though, “Sweet,” but decided it would be responsible to get a second bid. This time Tony called a company he’s called a time or two in the past. Their guy looked around for 30-45 minutes and came back saying the entire house needed to be rewired at a minimum of $9000, and that didn’t include wall or ceiling repair after the work was done. At this point we thought, “Well, *badword*!” Clearly, with such a discrepancy, a third opinion was needed as a swing vote. The company we called for that bid couldn’t even give us one. Despite my request for an electrician who was knowledgeable about Knob and Tube, that gentlemen practically ran from the house saying he’d need to check on some codes and talk to a coworker. Not promising! Finally Tony found a company out of Topeka who would come do a bid for a fee. At this point, if we could find someone who knew what they were talking about, we’d gladly pay them the $75 to come tell us whether our house was about to spontaneously combust! 

The electrician that came from Green Wave Electrical went up into the attic with Tony for a good hour and a half. He had Tony pull up nearly all the plywood flooring that was up there and he tested every wire at least once. He traced wires as they criss crossed the space, and both men were pretty sweaty by the time they came down! There was a lot to see up there as our wiring was kind of a (literal?!) hot mess with all the junction boxes and mix of both modern and original. 

He quoted us a price that was in between the previous two bids, but said it was the final price, no matter what he found once he started the job. It was more than we wanted to pay, but we’d actually found someone who knew what he was talking about! Tony told him we’d have to think about it and get back to him. I was eavesdropping though, and said, “Nope. You know what you’re doing, and that’s what it’s going to cost, we’ll make it work.” 

The work took the electrician and his apprentice an entire day. They arrived from Topeka at 7:30 am and left to go back home around 6:30 pm, but they took with them all the old knobs, tubes, and wires so there would be no confusion about which wires were live in the future. He’d told us the wiring in the first floor ceiling should be just fine. What he could see of it was in excellent shape, and since it hadn’t been damaged by debri like the attic wiring, he felt we had nothing to be concerned about (which was consistent with the research we’d done previously on Knob and Tube).

The funniest coincidence, though, came when I asked him about his British accent. It turns out he is from the same town where I studied abroad! In fact, he met his wife while she was studying there as a student at Baker University (where I went to college). She participated in the Meet-a-Family program, like I did, and his was her host family! They lived there for a number of years after they were married and have been here in Kansas for the last 5 or so. How cool is that?!

Anyway, back the attic. Since we’re talking about the wiring up there, I might as well show you some more pictures of the space. Who knows when I’ll be back up there again! 


 There’s the insulation – ready to be blown in!

Isn’t it weird how that chimney slants like that? I promise, it’s not falling over. It was built that way! 

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Painting a Ceiling Fan… on the Ceiling

The very final step in our Master Bedroom makeover was to paint the ceiling fan. In truth, I wasn’t going to paint it at all. Then Tony went back to work, and I had a couple days alone at home, and I thought – just do it! Spray painting this baby would have been the most efficient choice, but that involves removing the fan from the ceiling and dealing with the electrical. That’s Tony’s department, not mine, so completing this project in his absense meant painting the fan without removing it from the ceiling.

Step 1: Remove the fan blades. Easy Schmezy!  


Step 2:
Begin painting. A really good painter would probably prime first, but I did not. It’s not like a bunch of things are going to rubbing again the fan casing. Coat one looked absolutely awful. The important part at this stage, though, was there’s no going back!  


Step 3
: Keep painting. It took three coats to get to this point using a disposable foam paintbrush and regular latex paint. This color was actually a flat paint sample the we used for the inset paneling in the dining room a couple years ago.  Use what you have, right?!


Step 4
: Apply glaze. I wasn’t really loving the matte color – there’s something about metal that should be shiny. Then I remembered this glaze I’ve had for awhile. I got it on clearance at The Depot and used it on one other project with lackluster results. What could it hurt though, right?  

The difference was incredible! The glaze added just the right shine and texture. I applied it very lightly and went back over it several times to ensure a very sheer cover.  


Step 5
: Paint the fan blades. Our blades were white once, but even a thorough cleaning didn’t quite return them to their former glory. So, instead, I applied a very light coat of gray to the blades. It’s so light that you wouldn’t even notice it if you weren’t looking for it, but when you’re laying on the bed (which is pretty much the only time I notice the fan) the subtle color stands out from the white ceiling.  

Lucky for me, the glaze combined with the elephant ear gray color actually ended up nearly identical to a brushed metal color of spray paint that was left on my shelf. Spray painting the fan blade hardware was a snap (so much easier than painting by hand), and I had the whole fan back together and working by dinner time!  

After reinstalliing the blades and tightening all the screws back up, I went back over all the screw heads with the glaze color to dull the brassiness. VoilĂ !     


Step 6
: Ice your sore neck and enjoy your “new” fan! 

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Frugal Finishing Touches – Master Bedroom Part II

There are some aspects of owning an old home that are no fun whatsoever. For instance, windows. We desperately need new windows. Desperately. I went to open one not too long ago, which is an ordeal in itself. Opening a window in our house often involves assuming a wide legged, sumo wrestler type stance so one can push from their legs. (I say”often” because it does vary from day to day with the humidity!) Are you picturing this oh-so-lady-like pose? Goody. So I’ve asumed the position and start to  heave with all my might on this window rail when it pops right off. For real! That piece that holds in the glass and keeps the whole window frame together just dislodged itself. I was stunned… and horrified. All I could do was stare at it for a moment – the rail sticking up at an angle like a broken bone. Then I pushed it back down and called, “Tony!” I haven’t tried to open one since. 

We NEED new windows. 

But holy cow, expensive, right!?!

All this to say, finishing the decor in our bedroom could not be a financial priority right now, but you bet I was not going to leave it unfinished! Thank goodness I like to repurpose old junk from thrift stores! 

Picture Frames
I found a slew of old frames at our local Goodwill store for about $10 total.  (I already had the one on the left, but the other 6 totalled $10.)

I spray painted a couple and hand painted a couple. Spray painting is much easier, but I didn’t have the right colors to do them all that way.  

 The larger frames became the decor to the left of Tony’s side of the bed. A little scrapbook paper behind the glass and some vinly words affixed on the front was all it took. 

 The other frames ended up dispersed around the room.  


Can you believe how much better that little yellow frame looks now?  

Side Table

That side table above was a garage sale find years ago. I think it might have been orange when I got it? I spray painted it black back then, and it’s now finished in one of the greys that was rejected for the master bath. (One of those little samples goes a long way!) The table’s shape is a little more mid-century modern than I typically prefer, so I jazzed it up with a vintage French label on top.   

Travel Maps

We love to travel and have always wanted one of those pinboard maps that let you mark where you’ve been. I made these with pages torn from an old world atlas modpodged over double thick foam board.   

The photo wire is just twine tied onto old drawer pulls that have been painted grey. You can get screwy-things that go into the drawer pull on one side while the other end is sharp, so I used those to screw them into the wall.

I have some pictures from our Costa Rica trip all ready to hang there now!

Birds on a Wire

And, of course, there’s the wall art piece for over the bed.   

 To make it I bought an 8 foot board that measured 1in. thick by 8 in. wide. When I got it home I cut the board exactly in half so I’d have two four ft. long pieces. Each of those was painted with a thick coat of water before applying Ebony stain.  
 The water soaks into the wood and prevents the stain from completely seeping in, the result of which is a really nice aged look. I left the stained wood unsealed to keep that rustic finish. 

The two boards were attached with a scrap of 1/4 inch cabinet facing we had left over from the library project. The wood was sturdy enough to hold the two boards together without sticking too far from the wall, but to be safe we added a layer of wood glue where the two boards came together.

Then I used my machine to cut the birds from different colors of scrapbook paper. The seam where the two boards met became my “wire.”   

I used Mod Podge to attach the birds to the wood, which was surprisingly challenging. After some initial trouble, I realized the problem – usually with Mod Podge you coat the paper and the surface it’s sticking to with glue when you attach them, but I was trying to avoid any kind of finish on the wood itself (to keep the aged look). It just took a little more glue on the paper birds and a lot of careful scraping to get those birds to stick to the wood. 

Painted Ceiling Fan

The final touch was a ceiling fan makeover, but that will have to wait for another day. Now = bed time!

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