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13 minutes & it’s gone

bentwood rocking chair sitting on green grass boulevard

Years ago, after my parents had purchased a new portable color-TV, Dad decided he would put the still working black-n-white on the curb.  Being Dad, he first made a wooden sign with a white painted background and large block letters spelling, FREE.  With the giveaway item and his new sign deposited at the end of the driveway, we sat down for dinner on the screened porch. Within four minutes, we heard a car stop and then drive away, leaving only the sign which, 50+ years later, Mom still uses sometimes.

This morning’s 7am curbside giveaway lasted a tad longer … all of 13 minutes.  I bought my “brodhead” rocker with going-away money gifted from my fellow teachers as I moved from being a school librarian in Brodhead, Wisconsin to my first post-MLS1 public library position in Columbus, Georgia.  This 1979 purchase was inspired by an Oval Office picture of John F. Kennedy sitting in his Bentwood rocker. 

This chair has gone from Wisconsin, to Georgia, to Illinois and, finally, to Minnesota.  It is well traveled and well used – but we are ready for a change.  With our new red-birch living room floor beautifully installed we are also replacing some of the furniture.  We have a Stressless™ leather recliner on order and so I bid adieu to my “brodhead” rocker.

1 University of Wisconsin – Madison, Masters of Library Science

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One more vendor

As our renovation project nears completion, we have painters and plasterers working in all but one first floor room. The two rooms (bathroom and upstairs bedroom) which are not getting painted are temporarily storing a large portion of the moved furniture and the safely tucked away art creating a sense of chaos throughout the house.  Then, add to this disarray a semantical difference between our expectations and the language of the price quote/work order and this has become the most challenging part of a project that began in May.  Through discussion and an upward movement of the price, all has been resolved and the windows, walls and the base board skirting the new red birch floor will look fresh.

corner of summer screened porch with a deck chair and a large plant

The exterior work was completed yesterday.  While we still have a white house, Forrest Green has replaced all of the three+ decades of Billybong Blue on the doors and windows, giving us a color combo very reminiscent of my Grandmother’s Vine Street house. The screened back porch (our favorite summer space) sports a white clean-up coat and with today’s gentle breeze and the wind chimes ringing, it has become our hideout from the plaster dust and paint fumes.

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I love the smell of sawdust in the morning

criss-crossed pile of wood boards scattered on floor

As the floor crew removed the scarred maple in prep for the new red birch floor, the smells were reminiscent of time spent in Dad’s workshop helping to steady boards as they passed through the table saw and from an even earlier time when he hand-sawed wood in the garage while I dulled a drill-bit.  It was a favorite pastime, sitting on the garage floor, concentrating on a block of wood and carefully turning, turning, turning the crank of the hand drill through a board.  He kept one bit just for me as I was imprecise in judging my stopping point and the concrete never budged.

So, too, the renovation sounds evoked memories, although less than melodic, as crowbars wrenched wood and pulled nails screeched.  Previously, Richard and I performed the hours and hours of kitchen and bathroom demolition (1987).  This time – older, wiser, and financial solvent – we are paying someone to do the dirty work of removing the old and much abused living room flooring that hid for decades under carpet.  This week’s old house discoveries included:

  • An entire section of the original subfloor was never nailed to the floor joists
  • Maple flooring poorly patched with mystery wood when heat ducts and cold air returns were moved or replaced over time
  • Bowed living room walls – We have known for years that the wall between the dining room and the living room was out-of-square by nearly two inches which is why, in 1987, the dining room parquet was laid at an angle but now we know that that east and west living room walls are not straight 
  • Electrical wiring tucked under the baseboard on what had once been a front porch as it was quicker than drilling a hole where the electrical outlet was actually located. 

All relatively easy fixes or work-a-rounds, although the surprising and definitely not to code location of the electrical wire in the sunroom was discovered when nicked by a power saw which required adding a junction box and new wiring.

Oh the joys of 21st century renovations in a house built in 1925 and moved in 1927!  But the new red birch hardwood floor will be beautiful.

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What the heat gun reveals

There are times when layers are fun – chocolate cake with ganache filling – and then again when layers prove tedious – decades of paint needing to be removed.

bare wood trim piece against pale green wall

Having received a text alerting us that our new energy efficient replacement windows might arrive in late June rather than mid-August, Richard began the arduous, time consuming task of stripping the trim from around the five large double-hung windows in our sunroom (more aptly dubbed the cloud room as it faces north.) Neither of us can remember why these windows were not stripped with all the others during our 1980s renovations. It may be that we simply got tired and thus opted to skip that important step; applied our choice of color and left the layers of old-people beige, harvest gold and sickly green which eventually checked that newer coat of paint. After stripping so much trim work we should not be surprised when the removal of eight layers of paint reveals subtle wood details but we always are. Now to start fresh with Sherwin Williams Magic Night 1201.

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Birthdays & Gotcha Day

For 18 years (and then another 62) we celebrated our birthdays together. Me on May 7 and Grandma on May 8.  Some years, like this one, Mother’s Day is also in the mix. Twenty years ago, May 2 became our very own Gotcha Day and thus, with this celebratory triumvirate, John Lac and I continue the long tradition of angel food cake with pink buttercream frosting.

May 1955

Being part of that generation that took up the mantra to never trust anyone over 30 I had trouble in the weeks leading up to that birthday but Richard (already in his fourth decade) smoothed the rough edges for me.  Fifty was fun and 60 even better as I knew retirement was close and within a year I developed a detailed four-year plan outlining major tasks to be accomplished before May 2017.  But 70 is being a bit of a mental challenge as I keep wondering how I suddenly got so old.  I may just need more pink frosting.

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Renovations Anon

carpet tack strips in a corner with green and white linoleum, folded back yellow foam carpet pad and two putty knives

Our house was built in 1925 and moved in ‘27. We are only the second family to live here.  In the 1980s, as first time home owners, we undertook a myriad of refurbishing projects.  Our after work evenings and nearly every weekend were filled with stripping layers and layers of paint from wood trim or removing layers and layers of nicotine infused wallpaper, so saturated that when dampened the room smelled like an old tavern.  For a few years, we tolerated ugly orange shag carpet in the former front bedroom, now our TV room, and then put in hours of scraping the black foam backing that had been glued to the maple hardwood floor.  (Who glues down carpet, anyway?!?)  For years, the re-telling of that year’s remodeling tasks was the biggest story in our Christmas letter.  And then the house was finally ours and we were content for two decades.  In 2008, we added the screened porch that is our favorite summertime room, a new garage was built in 2012 and a rain garden replaced the old narrow driveway, and our favorite builder performed a major bathroom facelift just as I was retiring in 2017.

Now, after so many quarantine days, we have decided 2022 will be a year of home projects as we replace the last of the single pane, double hung windows, remove the carpet and lay new hardwood floor in the living room, and re-finish the dining room and kitchen parquet.  Unlike the 1987 remodeling when a construction manager organized the sub-contractors, these projects feel sufficiently discrete that we will coordinate the work ourselves.  Although, as I continue to wait for a call back from the asbestos abatement expert, (damn that 7 foot x 10 foot section of porch linoleum under the living room carpet!) I am beginning to wonder at the sanity of this decision.  I hope these blog posts will help keep me sane.

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Saharastaub – Sahara Dust

As Saharan dust swirls in the atmosphere, European skies look like a special effects canopy created for a sci-fi movie. Gone are the normal pristine vistas.  The Swiss Center of North America recently shared this surreal photo of the Stádtkirche steeples and the Facebook post – “Saharastaub over Glarus this morning.  Last seen in early February of last year, a rare weather occurrence has carried dust from the Sahara desert across parts of Europe.” I’ve added a comparison shot on a clear day and what I remember from my visits to this Swiss town.

Photo credit (top) Swiss Center of North America

Photo credit (bottom): mrsphoto.net

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Food Relief in a War Zone

Fans of late night TV may recognize celebrity chef José Andrés for his witty repartee and tasty dishes but millions more know him because the World Central Kitchen (WCK) helped make sure they did not go hungry.  In 2010 after devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chef Andrés was on the ground collaborating with local chefs to feed the hungry.  His work on that small island nation inspired the creation of his not-for-profit, non-governmental organization based on the belief:  Food is a universal human right.  

With years of experience and regardless of the conditions – hurricane in Puerto Rico, volcanic eruption in Tonga or the unprovoked war on the people of the Ukraine – the WCK moves with lighting speed to provide food, supplies, and logistical support to restaurant partners and volunteers on the front lines.

When you talk about food and water, people don’t want a solution one week from now, one month from now.  The solution has to be now.

Chef José Andrés

Within a day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the WCK had set up food distribution centers at border crossings and then began working directly in the war torn cities of Lviv and Kyiv.  The WCK news and Twitter feed share regular updates from Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and, of particular interest to me, Moldova.  A Tweet early this month caught my attention:

March 1 – In addition to meals being served in Poland, Ukraine, and Romania, WCK’s first meals in Moldova were provided to children and families at the Chișinău Airport. Local restaurants served fresh plates of baked chicken over pasta with a tomato salad and bread. Working with local groups, we will be expanding our reach in the country as needed. 

And more recent WCK #ChefsForUkraine Tweets:

March 11 – The Carpineni Orphanage in Moldova has suddenly become a shelter for Ukrainian families fleeing home. Housing 100 people, the shelter’s kitchen has relied on donations from the small, surrounding community. Now, WCK is supporting this team to provide fresh meals.

March 11 – To reach Mykolaiv, Ukraine—a city targeted by Russian forces—WCK partner Team Humanity left Moldova before dawn with fruit, baby food & more for families in the city. After distributing items, the team evacuated a group of women & children to safety in Moldova.

March 13 – Inside the Manej Sports Arena in Moldova, hundreds of cots now sit where athletes once practiced. The shelter is housing 600-800 mostly Roma refugees who have fled Ukraine. WCK partner Cafeneaua din Gratiesti is delivering daily meals for families here.

For more information on these herculean efforts or to join me in contributing to this worthy cause visit the World Central Kitchen website. Or follow regular Twitter updates @WCKitchen.

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Moldova Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees

wooden smokehouse sign hanging on a gray stone building

Pre-Covid retirement granted me time to travel and Moldova in October 2018 was distinctly foreign compared to earlier trips to Vancouver, Amsterdam, and Zurich.  In conversations before and following my trip, I discovered many people had either never heard of Moldova or, at the very least, needed a point of reference – – a small landlocked country in eastern Europe, with Romania on its western border and encircled by Ukraine to the north, east and south.  However, as our tour group of American professional women discovered, while Moldova may be small in terms of land mass, population, and economy, its people revealed a genuine bigheartedness as they offered warm welcomes and deep generosity.  That same kindness continues today as tens of thousands of refugees from war torn Ukraine pour over the border into Moldova.

For factual information and an on-the ground, local viewpoint, David Smith’s online newsletter, Moldova Matters includes “quick hits” that offer brief descriptions of what is happening at the moment, as well as “deep dives” on major issues affecting Moldova and that part of the world.  I met David at his American styled ribs joint, Smokehouse, in Chișinău.  (Yes, I know, not the usual Moldovan cuisine but when are ribs ever a bad menu choice?)  David was a Peace Corp volunteer who stayed in country to open a barbeque place and brew pub. 

As the distressful images fill our screens – bombs exploding, long lines of cars leading from cities under attack, or the bravery of a grandmother on a street corner telling a Russian soldier to go home – I want to offer solidarity. Hard to do, thousands of miles from the violence, but we made a small step last night when Richard and I participated in a peace vigil with Ukrainian flags waving and silk sunflowers in hand. For specific suggestions of how to help, David’s February 27 article provides information on how to support Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.  And, thanks to my friend and intrepid traveler, Lani, for recommending this local perspective on international news.