House and home

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Appliance hell

Published February 12, 2018 by livinggraciously

My washer and dryer failing me is a nightmare I don’t want to visit. You see, my current set came with the house 17 years ago, and were already 5 years old. The one set of appliances I’ve never bought is a washer and dryer–I’ve always purchased houses where they’d been left behind by the former owner, leaving me with comfortable but forgettable machines.

For the first time in my life, I’ve lived in a house for more than three years. Until now, I skedaddled before my washer/dryer had a chance to wear out. Now? I’ve been in this house for 17 years. Seventeen. Talk about things I never thought could happen! And since the “average life expectancy” of such appliances is about 15 years, I was alarmed when my dryer buzzer refused to stop buzzing–was it going to cost me money, and would it cost enough that replacement made more sense?! Fortunately, I was able to enact a minor repair and avoid a crisis.

But it made me think, for the first time, about the end of the useful life of those two appliances. For most people, that’s an unfortunate expense–maybe even a time to be excited about getting something new for the household. But not for me.

Because I am a fabric dyer. And fabric dying means handling a lot of dye in my laundry room area. Dye is messy. Dye looks like a wee drop of something, but when you swipe a damp rag over it becomes a swath of intense color that requires multiple rinsings to expunge. Dye means that even after you’ve done what you think is a commendable job of cleaning up the mess, you are likely to come across surprise disaster bombs of color–one teeny speck of concentrated dye on the back of a glove translates into large smears of mess.

I am blessed with a big, double laundry room sink, but I have no real work table in the laundry room. So the top of my old, white enamel washer and dryer end up serving as a work surface. This works well. They are relatively easy to clean, durable under the force of water, and large enough to hold a multitude of process containers.

It also means they are regularly a mess of dye. When a process is finished, they get a washing down. But there are streaks down their sides that refuse to come off, things I missed despite a careful inspection. And I shrug that off as okay, since they are my old and battered appliances.

The new ones are SO SHINY!!!! Stainless steel lunar launch vehicles that stand on their own podiums. Sometimes the podiums are, themselves, separate washing machines. Or spaces to store away unsightly cleaning supplies. Or maybe tanning booths and spas–it’s hard to tell these days. How could I possibly splatter such temples with dye and soda ash and Synthrapol? It borders on a mortal sin.

Oh yes, I do know that I could buy some baseline white enamel machines. But it’s like car shopping–the stainless steel model that looks less like a washer and more like a jet engine is SO TEMPTING!!! Buying the white enamel ones that would make more sense–flat tops to serve as good work areas like my current ones–seems like buying a Studebaker when for just a few dollars more I could get a Tesla. I’m not sure I’m up to resisting the temptation.

And so, for the moment, I will be relieved that my appliances still function. And hold onto them as long as I can.

Because…SHINY!!!!

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The philosophy of an unmade bed

Published January 21, 2014 by livinggraciously

Every “clean up your home” book tells you to make your bed every day. And for a long time I thought that was silly. In fact, I started this post almost a year ago from the presumption that it was silly.

Notice that “a year ago” thing. That’s important. Because two years is about how long this journal has lain fallow, gathering cobwebs.

It’s not that a lot hasn’t happened. 2013 was one of the most eventful years of my life. Some of it good, much of it bad.

I ran a bunch of 5ks. I completed 2 triathlons. We went to Hawaii. We got a dog.

Ferrett had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. A number of family members died. Our 5-year-old goddaughter was diagnosed with brain cancer.

And I had pretty much stopped journaling. Some of these events are recorded in my almost-equally-neglected Live Journal, but most of my internet interaction had moved over to the quicker but less permanent annals of Facebook and Spark People.I felt sort of bad about not following through here, but it was too much work, and took too much concentration. I was spending way too much time on the computer, and not really getting much constructive out of it. It was casually addicting, letting the hours slip by.

I wasn’t baking bread. I wasn’t quilting. I wasn’t reading books. I wasn’t gardening or doing as much cooking as I’d wish. I was, honestly, in the face of many crises, sort of just holding on. Getting enough work done to keep getting paid, but letting a lot else that made my life a good place just slide.

Then sometime in November, I started making the bed. Every morning. If I was out of the house before Ferrett was up, when I got home I would go and make the bed. It was suddenly, after many, many years, important to me. On the morning after my stepdad died, I made the bed. On Christmas morning, when we were all in crisis because my 6-year-old niece had seized the evening before and was lying unconscious in a hospital, I made the bed. On the morning when we got the good word that she was going to recover, I made the bed.

And then other things started happening in life. I began putting together menus again so that I can actually do the cooking I want to do to keep Ferrett and me healthy. I started quilting again. My workouts got more consistent. I have the next bread in the BBA Challenge, French bread, rising in the kitchen right now.

I can’t say for certain that it isn’t me kind of recovering from a tough year and regaining the energy to do all these things, but I know that starting the day with that one small ritual of making the bed causes me to then pick up any laundry or detritus in the bedroom, and I come out of it with a feeling that I’m starting out on the right foot. Now excuse me, I have French bread to make.

Battle of the bed

Published March 6, 2012 by livinggraciously

The bed is made again this morning. That’s two mornings in a row with Ferrett here, 12 days total.

I have gone back into the bedroom after he gets up and made the bed. We appear to have reached a good blanket detente: his extra quilt being sandwiched between the sheet and the top quilt is working, and makes pulling the bed together much easier than any other solution I’ve previously attempted.

So my bed battle is not with Ferrett. No, it is with fashion.

You see, you cannot buy a bedding set these days without the inclusion of decorative throw pillows. Decorative throw pillows are my undoing. It doesn’t seem like picking up a few pillows and tossing them onto the bed would be that difficult, but it is the place where my brain rebels. They are the appendix of bedding: useless, except as a source for trouble.

Because the throw pillows end up in the corner on my side of the bed. And soft pillows on the floor are seed for a pile. The next thing I know, I’m taking off my clothes in the evening and thinking, “these pants can just lie here on the pillows instead of being hung up; I’m planning to put them on tomorrow morning” instead of hanging them in the closet. Then my workout clothes join that pile instead of being folded up and put on their little shelf until the next day, then I can’t find those shorts I was going to re-wear, so I get out another pair, and then when I get undressed at night it’s easier to think that I will put my underthings down the laundry chute tomorrow.

The next thing I know, I’m wading through clothing shin-deep to get to the bed.

Of course the answer of “just don’t do that” is simple, but completely impossible. I’ve spent YEARS doing this. Every time I clean it all up, I swear it won’t happen again. But it happens every time.

Clearly, tossing the pillows into the corner is unacceptable. And I know I won’t put them on the bed. I am rather allergic to useless items, so that is a further mental block. If a thing has no purpose other than decoration, it better not require my attention for more than an occasional dusting. I don’t do fuss.

So I’ve made the decision to simply throw. them. out. Of course it goes against every grain to toss out something that is “perfectly good.” But they are only perfectly good for being an Achilles’ Heel for me. So they are getting stuffed in a trash bag and tossed. No, I won’t keep them for a garage sale or donate them: as Don Aslett says, you do no good in the world by passing on your trash to someone else. And I will make my bed in just a few minutes each morning and not worry about the frou frou that fashion has attempted to thrust upon me.

Warm and cuddly quilts: No one sees the blood, sweat, tears, and swearing

Published March 5, 2012 by livinggraciously

I owe quilts to many people. Many, many people. Some of them are partially done, some are still just gleams of ideas in my head. And part of my project to live more graciously is to get back to my fiber arts, my creative and giving side.

On Sunday, I attacked my sewing room, the last room in the house that had not been uncluttered in my “Hubby’s out of town, let’s spring clean” week. I got my work table and sewing table all cleaned up and found the fabric with which I intended to back a baby quilt that has been in the works since baby arrived.

He’s walking now.

Go ahead and laugh, but I know crafters who are working on “baby quilts” that might be high school graduation presents. So I’m not that hopelessly behind.

No, really.

Having all the pieces in one place, and being “on a roll,” I decided to sandwich and pin baste the baby quilt. For those who don’t know, a quilt consists of a top, generally pieced in a pattern, a fabric backing, and between these some kind of batting that gives it loft and warmth. In order to get these three layers to stay together, they must be stitched through with a topstitch that can either be functionally placed in the seams of the pieced top or decoratively sewn in a pattern on the surface–otherwise known as “quilting.”

Like the toilet paper.

In order to accomplish this permanent quilting, the layers must be temporarily basted together so that they don’t shift and wrinkle. The easiest way to do this is with safety pins pinned about every six inches all over the surface. Even in a small project, it’s a lot of safety pins. Generally this project is undertaken on large enough floorspace for the entire quilt to lie flat, and the quilter crawling about on her knees, trying not to wrinkle the portions she hasn’t pinned yet. With a king sized quilt it can take two days and hundreds of pins.

If you want to make a quilter laugh, innocently ask her if she has a safety pin handy.

I was almost 2/3 of the way through the pin basting when I realized that I’d misaligned the quilt and half of the top row was pinned only to batting, with the backing laid out too far down. In other words, the top layer of the sandwich had slid completely out of alignment and was not over the bottom layer at all. A hundred safety pins, and all of it was out of whack and had to be redone.

I’m quite proud of myself that I dismissed my first two reactions:

  • Reaction one was, “I’ll just cut off the top half of the blocks! He’s a baby; he’ll never know!
  • Reaction two was, “Kerosene and a match!”

But no, I took a deep breath, sighed, and unpinned all the work I’d done.

I’d like to say that I didn’t even swear, but I can only say that I don’t remember swearing, so it must have been minimal.

Once it was unpinned, I even realigned it and repinned it right. Tomorrow I’m hoping to actually get the machine quilting done. When it’s finished, it will go to a child who will never know the headaches that it caused me.

And almost every hand-made project has at least one headache/heartache moment. You may never learn the story, but when you are gifted with a piece of craft made by a friend, take a moment to consider the soul of the gift. It’s already been the source of joy and frustration to someone who cares enough about you to project their heart through their hands and make something of beauty for you.

The philosophy of an unmade bed

Published February 28, 2012 by livinggraciously

Every “clean up your home” book tells you to make your bed every day as soon as you get up. And it’s good advice: you psychologically establish a mentality of first-thing success before moving on with the day.

Which is great. Except that I am almost always out of bed a minimum of an hour before Ferrett, and usually working out when he does get out of bed. So my mindset is definitely out of the bedroom and on to other things by the time the bed is available for making.

And we have the further problem that after I get out of bed, he grabs all the pillows and makes himself a nest of tangled blankets such that I occasionally look to see if he’s laying eggs. Actually remaking the bed every morning would mean tearing everything off of it to put it all back on. Plus, he hates the topsheet and sleeps with an extra blanket, whereas I have to have the topsheet and often have a blanket only over my torso, so it’s almost like we have two separate sets of covers.

While he’s gone this week, it’s easy for me to slip into my side of the bed then slip back out again and pull the covers up behind me–after all, I’m not trekking across the giant bed to snuggle up with my honey, so my own bed habits are even quieter than usual. His extra blanket is folded in half on his side of the bed, under the duvet. All very neat and easy.

When he gets back, I will have to make more effort to keep the bed made. But I’d rather have his cuddles and a tangle of blankets than all the neatness of a too-quiet house. Maybe the bed won’t get made. But cuddles matter even more.

Digging out of the mire

Published February 24, 2012 by livinggraciously

A couple of things have come together to inspire me to spend the next week in spring cleaning and organization. First of all, Ferrett is out of town on his annual pilgrimage to his ancestral home, plus visits to places further east. So I have the house to myself and can tear through it without being in his way. And I can turn on whatever music I want to listen to at volume and enjoy it while I work.

Second, my friend Cat Valente has started a new Tumblr about getting herself organized called Girl Unlocked and she is inspiring me. I’m far too lazy to start a different blog for such things, so you will just have to bear with me here. It’s not cooking, but it is part of living graciously, so I feel justified. And it’s my blog, so I get to do what I want.

Ferrett departed this morning, and my first reaction…was to sit down and veg on the computer for a while. I was missing him terribly even as he pulled out of the driveway. Yeah, it’s nice to have this time to rip things apart, get the dust bunnies out of the back corners, and generally reorganize, and yeah, it’s something I do much more efficiently when I’m home alone than when I have someone around. But honestly, I’d choose living with the dust and clutter over having him gone.

I’m sappy. I know.

Anyway, after a short pout, I rousted myself off the couch and got to work. I’ve read several books on getting your house cleaned and organized. They universally suggest focusing on one room at a time, and for just a small part of the day.

Naturally, I attacked the living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, AND master bedroom.

Now admittedly, none of these rooms were in truly disastrous shape. It was clutter and dust more than anything for the living room and dining room. The bedroom had some junk, but most of it was easy to find a home for. And the bathroom just needed cleaning (don’t they always?!). Still, it took about four solid hours of work. But now I have all my main living spaces looking neat and uncluttered, just the way I like them, and they will stay that way for the next 10 days!

Tomorrow the real work begins: I have to attack my office. It looks like a Tornado Alley trailer park right now. And it needs more than just cleaning up; I need to think about properly reorganizing it so it’s not so prone to getting this messy. It’s probably a two-day job all by itself. After that, the guest room, which will not take too long, and my sewing room, which is another two-day job at least. Then there’s Ferrett’s office.

I’m thinking that I might just leave that be. A girl can only push her luck so far.

As I noted at the beginning, with Ferrett gone I could put on whatever music I wanted, as loud as I wanted, while cleaning. So I did. I dug around to find my favorite music of all time: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5.  And not just any recording. I own three copies, but even after finding the other two I had to keep looking until I found the recording of the Vienna Philharmonic with Vladimir Ashkenazy at the piano and Zubin Mehta conducting.  I listened to the whole thing twice, and it did my spirit good.

Now I am sneezing from the dust and a bit cobwebby. Time to reward myself with a relaxing bath. The tub’s even clean!

Home is what you make it–one workout at a time

Published February 7, 2012 by livinggraciously

When we repainted and remodeled the upstairs, a lot of our stuff got moved from upstairs to downstairs. This resulted in our upstairs area looking very nice: clean and sleek, the way I like things to look.

The family room in the basement, however, was another matter:

Now, this space is not one that we use on a daily basis, and being in the basement, it was very “out of sight, out of mind” for a long time. I would go downstairs to do laundry and sort of…shut my eyes as I walked past. I don’t like messes, particularly when I feel helpless in the face of them. And wow, did I feel helpless in the face of this one. I’d walk in there and just kind of flap my hands in despair. So it was easier to just pretend that half of our basement didn’t exist.

But then I decided to start working out again. And my exercise equipment is in the basement. So something had to be done.

At first, I just moved all the boxes to the other end of the room, freeing up the exercise equipment. This made workouts possible, but being me quite stressful. Remember about the not liking messes?

I began lifting heavier weights, and with the heavier lifting came recovery time between sets. With a minute or two needed to catch my breath came boredom. And with boredom came the need to do a little something.

I began picking up. A little here and there. Inspired, I urged Ferrett to help me sort through the books and get rid of some–as in 8 large boxes worth. And kept picking up. When we got our new bed, we decided to put our old one into the family room for extra guest space. Day by day, I organized for just a few minutes here and there.

This is what the basement looks like now:

It’s kind of hard to imagine it’s the same space. Now I walk down there and just smile.

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