Archive for July, 2011


Despite the number of photographs that I take and post here, my house is actually completely empty of displayed photographs. I’m not really sure why. I seem to prefer paintings (often of cows) or mirrors (the older and more silvered the better).

Last week, I came across a box full of old and rather grubby photo frames at a church rummage sale (which was otherwise quite terrible). I bought a stack of them for five dollars, put them outside to clean them off, and then forgot them overnight—during a rainstorm. I guess they’re clean now, though a bit worse for the wear.

You can’t really tell from the front, though, and I tend not to like the look of immaculate new things anyway—with the exception of my continually problematic white twill upholstery. I should have gone for a bit more grubbiness there from the start.

Last year, a box of old photographs surfaced in my mom’s house— large portraits of my paternal grandmother, her family, and my paternal grandfather’s family.

One night—much later than was perhaps advisable—I started scanning some of them and printing smaller versions to fit in my new/old frames.

Some of the family stories that accompany these portraits are quite sad. Nevertheless, I like having their faces in my midst. I added in an old school portrait of my maternal grandmother and a picture from a dear friend’s wedding. One of the frames I bought came with a mirror in it, so my face is in the mix, too.

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I’ve been waging war against my basement ever since I moved into this house five years ago. Things have gotten better over the years; it has certainly never been as bad again as it was right after I closed on the house and discovered that the vibrations from our footsteps were causing dormant flea eggs—left behind by the previous owner and/or her one-eyed chihuahua—to hatch in staggering numbers. The cats, bathed in pesticides, were the only mammals who didn’t have fleas for that first month.

I dealt with the fleas (boxes and boxes of Borax to dessicate their nasty little selves), replaced damp remnants of Berber carpeting with clean wall-to-wall carpeting, painted, had the electrical fixtures upgraded, moved some furniture in and kind of gave up. A couple of years ago, I finally dealt with some of the hodgepodge by replacing my insufficient folding bookshelves with tall, white Ikea ones. Then I kind of gave up. Again.

Last week, I showed you what the room looked like after I moved the piano out into the unfinished half of the basement and got a new bed.

That major change made a few of the more minor ones finally seem possible: spackling and touching up the drywall under the window where a cat caused some major damage, adding window trim, putting on outlet covers that have been in the garage for five years, and painting the nightstand and the mirror, both of which came to me—at different times—in an odd, antiqued olive green.

I’ve painted dressers and mirrors before, but adding trim and framing in a window was something new to me. I’m sure I didn’t really do it “right,” but if there’s anything I’ve learned from five years of homeownership, it’s that there are varying levels of right-ness in any project.

I bought a bunch of scrap trim at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and just started cutting pieces and fitting them together inside and around the window frame.

Sometimes done is good enough. And there’s always wood putty to fix the things that happen when you’re not really sure how to use a miter box.

Glossy white paint will also distract from all manner of sins, especially when you’re used to staring at bare concrete, cobwebs, and flaking drywall.

The nightstand matches the painted dresser in my bedroom, but I’ve never had room for it there and feared that the custom-tinted paint—which has spent five Wisconsin winters in the garage—would, by now, be unusable. But, miraculously, it wasn’t, so now they finally match—except that I used this hilarious turtle knob on the nightstand and glass ones one the dresser.

I painted the mirror with “Celery” spray paint. I now want everything in my house to be this color. I may have to settle for an ugly table that is currently holding up some flowerpots in the garage.


So, things are much improved. Except that I got a little carried away and accidentally touched up the flat paint on the walls with what turned out to be semi-gloss. Win some, lose some.


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Last week, I promised to show you my exciting thrift store finds. I left you with a pink ceramic deer and while I certainly found that purchase exciting—did I mention that it was only FIVE CENTS??—you probably didn’t.

One of the more exciting finds was this iron bed, which found a home in my basement room:

My sloppy use of semi-colons and dashes here would probably horrify many of my colleagues; nevertheless, as a graduate student in literary studies, I make my living (ahem) by analyzing language. Or, as some would say: over-analyzing.

My point is that the passive construction of my statement above—that the iron bed “found a home”—obscures a great deal. Over the last week, I’ve turned my house upside-down. How’s that figure for you language types? While there was only a little bit of literal construction—and none of it involved actually moving the floors of my home—I do feel like I’ve picked the whole thing up and shaken it until all the pieces scattered across the floor. I have the bruises and scrapes to prove it.

It began with this:

And no, that’s not the same metal bed. After years of longing for one, I found two in the same unlikely spot. I decided right away on this one, which, for $17.99, seemed like a totally reasonable gamble for the queen bed in the upstairs bedroom. After I disassembled it in the parking lot (dressed, ever-appropriately, in a nice skirt) and packed it away in my car—padding it with a bright pink vintage wool blanket that ended up being a fortuitous addition to my purchases—I decided to head back in for one more look at the other bed, which, sadly, seemed far too large to fit in my car. But it was $14.99, solid metal, and a lot older than this headboard—which, though I like it, is clearly some kind of Ashley Furniture stuff rather than the interesting old kind of thing that I generally favor.

So, as you know, it ended like this:

Two metal beds in a Prius. In case you’re keeping track, this is where the bruising and scraping really started. But I got them into the car and then back out again with only minimal damage to myself. And then I went a little crazy on the home improvement front and started donating, sweeping, spackling, sanding, painting, hemming, and moving everything that isn’t structural.

I moved a piano. Not very far, but far enough. Then the dishwasher started leaking. A lot—five bath towels worth of hot water in one go. So I moved that, too, and fixed it.

Maybe it’s the Wellesley talking, but I get a great sense of satisfaction from completing tasks like this without the male presence* that the fine people at Home Depot seem to think is so necessary—no, I don’t need to “ask my husband.” I don’t have one yet, and even when I do, I doubt he’ll have much to contribute to this discussion of wood putty.

Sometimes I like doing everything. Sometimes I don’t. I’m the first to admit that my designer-jean-wearing/ hot-water-line-fixing feminisms are complex. The best ones generally are.

The first picture in this post is what the downstairs room looked like late last week. Soon I’ll show you what it looks like now. I might need another nap first.

*Darwin, Keats, Mr. Cat, Poe, and Hopkins are probably not what they had in mind

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I went (garage) sailing.

On my way to pick up a friend today, I stopped at a garage sale in my neighborhood. They’re usually terrible around here, but I found these three chipped pieces of Blue Willow china for a dollar. Generally I avoid chipped ceramics (nothing would make me sadder than a ceramic deer with a missing ear), but these pieces are old enough for the chips and cracks to seem somehow endearing. Most of my dishes are blue and white these days, so I have plans for these in my someday-it-will-be-new-and-white kitchen.

And then, because the universe wanted me to be late, I stumbled across another sale a few blocks further along the way. I bought a copper-lined tobacco cabinet for four dollars, a giant old tin coffee pot, and a wooden dough bowl. The cabinet needs some paint or stain, but I really liked the copper lining.

As I as leaving, the woman holding the sale said she thought that she had something else I’d like: an old piece of wood that was once used for hanging up slaughtered hogs. She was right. My vegetarianism is complex. I did grow up, after all, eating tofu off of a scarred Eastlake table that my ancestors relegated to the barn and used as a slaughter table.

The blue and white bowl on top of the cabinet is Shenango china; it’s from the same sale but I didn’t buy it at the same time. I came back a few hours later—after checking out a weird but not great estate sale and hauling six forty-pound bags of water softener salt—because I had been thinking about getting the bowl to add to my blue and white china. I caught the sale just as the owner was packing up and she was happy to sell it to me for half-price. Shenango china comes from New Castle, PA—just a few towns over from where my mother’s family comes from. Perhaps it was meant to be.

I’ve been hard at work cleaning and sorting. Maybe soon I’ll show you my other exciting thrifting finds. I’ve unburdened myself of several boxes of unwanted things this weekend, so these new finds feel especially rewarding… except for maybe this one:

(The umbrella stand, not Darwin—although both of them came second-hand)

Don’t worry. I didn’t pay for the umbrella stand. It was a bonus with my other purchases. It’s kind of hilarious, though. Ugly in a good way? Maybe not. We’ll see.



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So, it turns out that writing a dissertation, adding a dog to one’s menagerie, beginning a kitchen remodel, and going on three different trips is a good way to stay very busy for a month or two.

(Look, a new throw pillow.)

My return to blogging has been inspired by two days of remarkable thrift store and rummage sale finds. When I say remarkable, of course, I mean remarkable in terms of ceramic deer yield and other silliness.

This one was FIVE CENTS. Church rummage sales can have the oddest pricing.  I may be the only one who appreciates such things—but maybe not—so I overpaid on a strange elephant flowerpot that I also wanted so as to not deprive the Moravians of their rightful funds.

I’ve also been doing a bit of this:

After five years of staring at that painstakingly-laid peach and blue tile and wanting to hit it with a hammer, the time has finally come.

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