Friday, October 05, 2012

What Happens in the Bathroom

I actually made it into the office a couple of days ago.  I had been confined to the home front for about 2 and 1/2 weeks running while I waited for various gangs of construction folks to do their thing.  All that time I have been monitoring the bathroom phase of the remodel.  On a day to day basis there was the total demolition of the master bath, the moving of drains (involving a jackhammer), the ungodly stink from the installation of the fiberglass shower pan, the partial demolition of the powder room, the addition of frames for pocket doors in both bathrooms (no doors just yet, only holes in the wall), the installation of sheet rock and copious amounts of plastic sheeting draped around during the spraying of texture on the walls, and massive amounts of dust filling the air.  My job was herding cats and dogs in the background and dosing myself with the odd amaretto and milk to keep my nerves settled.

Last week began the new tile work in the master bath.  I've enjoyed working with the boss of the tile crew.  He really knows his business.  Unfortunately, the day the setting of the tile began, he was leaving that afternoon for an extended trip out of the country, but we discussed the design before he left and I was confident that his crew knew what I wanted.  I wasn't able to check on the progress as they worked, because of the tiny space and poor lighting, but they had done such a spectacular job in the kitchen that I stayed out of their way and felt sure all would be well.

So, when they told me last Friday evening that the shower was completed and they would be back to grout on Monday, I bounced into the bathroom eager to see the reality of my mind's eye.  It took about 15 seconds for me to realize that we had a problem.

I had decided to add a stripe of art tiles in the shower.  Thanks to that little 4-inch blip in the line of the tiles, when they added the borders, they ended up staggering the grout lines at different points from the interior tile.  While I could understand why they did what they did, I also knew that my obsessive compulsion for order was not going to be able to live with the result.  I like clean, straight, geometric lines.  I knew that if I allowed this to stand, I was going to be angry every time I stepped into the shower.  

I hate confrontation, but I pointed out what I wasn't liking to the crew before they left that night.  They didn't really get the problem.  I gave up, sent them on their way, and called my builder.  I figured if he didn't understand the issue, then maybe I was being too persnickety.  Fortunately, he saw it the same way I did, got in touch with the boss in South America (aren't cell phones great?) and on Monday the crew arrived with extra tile and set about to make the client happy.

At the end of the day, I had straight lines, my stomach settled down, and I could really step back and enjoy the progress on my future shower.

I love the tile I chose.  We used the larger version to tile the floor of the bathroom and the dressing area just outside. 

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how much I love the choices I made in such a whirlwind of a morning studying the options.  Everyone who comes in admires the backsplash in the kitchen and the few folks who have ventured upstairs and seen the new tile in the guest bath have been very complimentary.  I've had no regrets, but rather I stand around admiring the effect.

When I was in the office Wednesday, I got a startled look from someone when I mentioned that my builder had used the "F" word.  I laughed and said I had been tempted to use a particular "F" word myself at frequent intervals during this process, but that I preferred his "F" word:  FINISH.

It looks like we are really approaching the end of this remodeling tunnel.  The pocket doors and trim are to be addressed on Sunday, the painters are coming back on Monday or Tuesday, then it will be a parade of  plumbers to install the new bathroom fixtures, counter folks to install the vanity tops in both bathrooms and electricians to install the pile of fixtures I've acquired since they were last here.  (And I got a call this week that my new blinds are in and ready to be installed as soon as the painters get the remaining windows painted.)  All that will remain is the fine work of installing mirrors, towel rods, and door knobs/hinges.  (I am on a mission to de-brass this house, switching to the oil-rubbed bronze look.)

I may survive this remodel after all.  Of course, in the back of my mind is the fact that I will need to do something soon about the hideous carpet.  Being a homeowner is a never-ending series of upgrades.  There's always something else that needs to be done.  But, I'm close to having an entirely new environment and I can't wait to get there - maybe by Christmas.  This has to be the biggest Christmas gift I've ever given myself.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Something odd has been taking place over the course of the last few days.  I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

I find myself suddenly laughing out loud as I read, or listen to a song, or stumble across a bit of humor on a website, or watch television or while playing the piano.  Sometimes I'm not even sure why I'm laughing.  Apparently I just feel like it.

Odd indeed.

On the surface of things, I should be feeling stressed.

I have huge portions of my house in complete turmoil.  I'm dealing with strangers wandering all over the place and I don't like strangers in my house.  If and when the work crews actually show up when they say they will, which they never do.

My back is giving me fits.  I've messed something up with all the packing and unpacking and furniture shoving around and my schedule is so up in the air I've not been able to indulge in my usual semi-monthly massage.

I'm trying to get a handle on the financial records of an organization I belong to and for which in a moment of insanity I agreed to take the office of treasurer.  (Today involved a trip to the bank to get that ironed out.)  I'm also treasurer for another organization and currently using my debt collection skills to pull in dues and then mailing out materials to the long distance members who have already paid.  I am secretary for yet another organization that doesn't call for quite so much work, but still creates pockets of activity when I least need it.  (Word to the wise:  Never, ever agree to hold an office in more than one organization at a time.)

I'm feeling a bit home bound these days (see above where the workers never show up when they say they will).  But, that isn't so bad, actually.  The animals are all thrilled that I'm spending so much time with them and I'm thrilled that I'm not having to spend so much time on the road commuting while the remodel drags on.

So why all the sudden fits of giggles?  I have no idea.  Sometimes I even stop and ask myself "what's so funny?"

I've been trying to figure out where it's coming from.

Maybe it's because I'm operating on a different time schedule these days, staying up a little later, sleeping a little later, eating on a different schedule.

Maybe it's because I spent the last couple of weeks re-breaking my sugar addiction and getting back on a lower carb diet.  I don't think I'm losing any weight - yet - but I can sense my body is recalibrating and I have energy again.

Outside work hours, I'm reading when I want to read, knitting when I want to knit, playing the piano when I want to play piano.  Trying to let myself go in whatever direction my mood takes me and not forcing myself to get anything in particular accomplished.

Today I watched a hummingbird flitting around the yard and took a break to fill the hummingbird feeder and put it outside the window where I'm working.  It's given me great delight to watch him come and go all afternoon.  I spent most of the day in silence - no TV, no radio - and have worked on the laptop at the dining table so I can watch my hummingbird, with the pine trees swaying in the breeze behind him.


There was a time not so long ago when I tried to remember the last time I was truly happy.  It's not that I've been unhappy, but it's been a long spell that there's been too much on my plate and no time to stop and just enjoy the moment.

Odd.  I dreaded getting started on the remodel, but I think it has had a lot of good effect.  I'm tired from the noise and dust and constant in and out of the workers, but I'm not frazzled from fighting traffic 2 hours a day.  I'm frustrated at times, but staying out of the way of the work crews gives me an excuse to sit on the couch, have a cup of tea and knit a few rows instead of arguing with myself about doing housework.  In the morning, instead of running around getting trash out to the curb, ironing work outfits, getting my briefcase packed, etc., I get to spend 30 minutes playing the piano before I sit down at the computer to work.

All this spontaneous laughter must mean that whatever I'm doing has been good for me.  I think I needed some "me time".

Or maybe I'm just going crazy.

Whatever.  I'm having a good time.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Living in a Jumbled World

Looking back at my calendar, it looks like the big remodel began on July 10th with the delivery of the new doors.  Today, September 18th, we stand about 75% complete by my best guess.

So far completed:
Exterior doors installed (front door, back door, two patio doors)
Gutters replaced all around
Decks repaired and stained
New porch lights and garage security light installed
New granite counter tops installed in the kitchen and utility room
New tile surround installed in the upstairs bath
New vanity top, sink, shower head and tub faucets installed in the upstairs bath
New light and exhaust fan installed in the upstairs bath
New ceiling fans installed in the guest room and hobby room
New upstairs hall light and stairwell sconce installed
New chandelier installed in formal dining room
Utility room, kitchen, office, formal dining room, living room, hall, stairwell, guest room, hobby room and upstairs bath repainted
Doors and trim painted

In progress:
Powder room wallpaper removed, vanity top and sink removed, door removed and pocket door framing completed
Master bath completely gutted, plumbing moved to new locations, pocket door framing completed, fiberglass shower base installed
Kitchen backsplash tile installed (waiting on grout to be complete)
Order placed for new window blinds

Still to come:
Master bath to be rebuilt, installation of shower, new toilet and sink, new tile floor and shower surround to be installed, new lighting, new exhaust fan, new counter top for vanity in dressing area
New ceiling fans in bedroom, office and living area
New hall lights, utility room light, kitchen dining area light
Removal of wallpaper and painting of master bedroom suite
Installation of new bathroom mirrors and hardware  (still desperately seeking one mirror)
Restaining of kitchen counters, stair railings, mantle and bathroom vanities

And, one of these days when my nerves and checkbook are somewhat recovered, I'll tackle new flooring in the master bedroom and living room.

Is it any wonder that I say I am hanging by a raw nerve at this point?  Boxes are still piled behind the couch and in the office (someday to be unpacked), all the furniture in the master bedroom is pulled to the center of the room to facilitate the materials to be carted in and out, the clothes I find necessary to have at hand are piled around the guest bedroom (because the closet is full of stuff that had to be moved out of the way for the painters), new lights and mirrors and bathroom hardware still to be installed are piled here and there and there is an inch thick layer of dust on everything.  I've tried a bit of cleaning here and there, but the dust is back before I can turn around good, so what's the point?

Then there are the animals.  I've moved the cat litter boxes almost daily, depending on where I can secure the cats out of the way for the day's work.  The dogs are happy as long as they can be with me (although the morning of jack-hammering had them thinking about packing their Milk Bones and heading for Uncle David's & Aunt Karen's house).  The cats are being extraordinarily good about the disruption.  I think they may even be enjoying the whole thing.  Every evening when I let them out of their daily incarceration, they roam the house sniffing and checking for what may have changed.  It took about a week before they all gave up and accepted the temporary move to the guest room, but now they all head upstairs about 9 o'clock, miaowing and barking for me to "come on".

The good news:
Everything that has been accomplished looks great and I can begin to see a teeny, tiny light at the end of the tunnel.
I should be on Lowe's Christmas card list this year.
I've learned how to make quick decisions and live with them (discard all the choices you absolutely hate and then choose from the 2 or 3 left).

The bad news:
There really isn't any, except I'm really, really tired.  But in a good way.

Really strange that I've lived in the house for 10 years and it's only now that it is beginning to feel like MY house.


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Reality Check

About 20 years ago, Mother embarked on a total remodel of the kitchen at the house on Walnut Street.  I can remember weeks of walking around the stacked boxes of pots, pans and cooking utensils in the dining room as the kitchen was torn out and rebuilt.  At the same time, the floor in the master bath was threatening to give way, so the second big project was to take the bathroom down to the studs and rebuild it.

Deja vu.

At least I had a fair idea what I was getting myself into when I decided that the time had come to get some needed repairs and updates done.  I did not panic when the exterior doors were replaced and several hours went by when there were gaping holes in the house.  I did not obsess over how long it was going to take to get the pile of old doors removed from the side yard.

I just gulped once when I saw the open wall in the upstairs bath that had to wait for the plumber to install new fittings before the new wall and tile could be installed.  I just shut the door to keep the cats from doing any additional destruction.  (I could picture shredded insulation blanketing the room.)

I cringed a few times as I listened to the old kitchen counter tops being ripped off.  I knew they knew what they were doing, but it sounded like the cabinets under the counter tops were splintering into a million pieces.

But, on the whole, having troops of strange men wandering in and out of the house wielding crowbars, hammers, saws and nail guns has not really bothered me that much.  I kept wondering why I was tolerating this interruption in my environment with relative unconcern.  Even the pets have been taking it all in stride, retreating to the safety of the bedroom during the day and inspecting the changes with great interest as soon as the workers depart in the evening.

It occurred to me that not only did it help to have had the previous experience of living through Mother's remodel, but my reactions also have to do with all the stress of the past year relating to the fires.  I realized that for a week I had lived with the very real prospect of going back to a burned out shell of a home and that having a home in any shape is a thing to be thankful for.  Who cares if there are stacks and piles everywhere while I wait for the next stage to be completed?  I have a roof over my head and areas in the house where I can relax and forget about the mess in the next room.  One of these days everything will be done and life will go back to normal.  All is well.

My nerves are in fair shape, but I am suffering a bit of cabin fever.  I refuse to have work done unless I'm home to keep an eye on the furry kids, so I've been rooted to the home front for the greater part of the last month.

Yesterday I decided to make a quick run into Austin to pick up a present for a wedding shower I'm attending in the near future.  With the way things are going, I had no idea if I would get another chance before the event.  I hate malls and I hate Saturday traffic, but I gritted my teeth, left the house bright and early and headed straight for Barton Creek Mall, intending to pick up the gift and make a bee-line back home.

On the way in, I kept thinking of other stops that I should make as long as I was in town:  a stop at the main Half-Price Book store to check for titles in a new series I've recently discovered and a stop by Central Market to pick up some prepared meals to see me through the weekend until the plumber returns on Monday to reconnect my kitchen sink and dishwasher.  (I had great success at both stops, picking up 5 hardbound books in the Mary Russell mystery series and 2 bags of soups, salads and assorted breakfast goodies.)

I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had beat the Saturday crowd to the mall and I had my wedding shower business taken care of quickly.  Feeling good to have that out of the way, I allowed myself to be distracted by a sales girl from one of the mall kiosks as I was making my way back to the exit.  I'm not exactly sure what she was selling, but it had something to do with skin care.  She was pleasant and chatty and I was enjoying watching her maneuver me toward a sales pitch, since I have no problem whatsoever in saying "no".

At one point before I beat a hasty retreat, she asked if she could guess my age.  I said sure.  She asked if she could be honest.  I said sure.  I have no problem with telling anybody my real age, all the time hoping she didn't push me into my 60s.  That would have been a tough pill to swallow.  She studied me carefully and I mentally crossed my fingers.

"Well," she said, "from your nose down I would guess....54."  I breathed a sign of relief that at least she had hit a few years on the younger side.  "And," she continued, "from your nose up...."  I braced myself.  "...58."  I laughed and told her she had hit it exactly.  She looked genuinely surprised, whether at her accuracy or the fact that I was not offended, I'm not sure.  She began to launch into her spiel, I guess with the idea of selling me something that would bring my eyes back to 54 to match my nose and mouth.  I made a quick feint and headed for the car.

So, my reality check for the day was finding out I look exactly my age.  I guess, all things considered, that's not so bad.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Entry Points

About 2 years ago, I began to notice that my exterior doors were starting to deteriorate.  The worst of the bunch was the patio door in the family room.  It began with small spots of rust that spread to huge spots of rust and finally to chunks of the door crumbling into dust.  I went into denial and attempted to make a temporary repair with Bondo.  That stopped the crumbling, but it was only a Band-aid on a problem that I knew was not going away.  Eventually, the utility room door began to follow suit.  I knew it was only a matter of time before the patio doors in the master bedroom got into the act.

The next problem was the front door.  It was not framed correctly from the beginning and the locks did not work exactly right. Gradually the gap between door and frame began to widen, allowing hordes of mosquitoes to make their way inside, where they hovered under my desk and waited for my bare legs to move into range.  My attempt to add weatherstripping was not successful. (A handy gal I am not.)

Finally I could ignore the problem no longer.  I needed new doors.  I also needed to redo the master bath.  I called on a builder friend to come advise me on repairs and remodeling and braced myself to start spending money.

The door problem was rooted in an insufficient gutter arrangement which allowed water to spill over and splash against the doors even in the lightest of rainfall.  We decided to replace all the gutters and replace all the doors.   Today the new doors were installed as the first step in the overall face lift we are giving to the house this summer. 

Before - the family room patio doors. 
After (painting to come later) - brand, spanking new doors
with embedded blinds.  No more tacky curtains hanging from
magnetic curtain rods.
Before - the master bedroom patio doors.
After - another set of doors with blinds.  I love that I can let
in the light or ensure my privacy with a slight flick of a switch.
Before - the utility room door
After - this new door also has the embedded blinds.
I neglected to get a before photo of the front door, but it was a blah expanse of greyish-beige.  I am enormously pleased with the new door that has a semi-circle of glass at the top to not only add a touch of class, but allow some much needed light to come into my dark entry way.

The new door is tight (take that, skeeters!) and the locks fit into place snugly.  I love this new front door.  I'm going to like it even better when I get it painted - if I can ever decide what color I want it to be.

Out with the old!  The pile of hated doors lies waiting
for pickup and hauling off.
It feels good to get one portion of the remodeling project out of the way.  The cats spent the day shut in the upstairs bedroom and the dogs spent the day huddled up against me and shivering when the saw or the nail gun was used.  I tolerated having huge gaping holes in the house much better than I thought I would.  We are all making periodic turns around the house to admire the new arrivals.  Well, I'm admiring.  The cats are sniffing at the new thresholds and the dogs are just thankful the noise has stopped.

Maybe I'll make it through this remodeling phase after all.  I need to just trust the folks that know what they are doing to get it done, make my job keeping the cats and dogs calm, and enjoy the end results.  I am SO glad those nasty old doors are gone.  Ready to tackle the next thing on the list!


Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Shawl Report

The knitting resolution continues on schedule.  Actually I am a little bit ahead of schedule, which I never expected to be able to report.  I figured, as with most resolutions, that by now I would have become bored with knitting and moved onto some other activity leaving my resolution behind without a smattering of guilt.

I am enjoying my current spate of knitting fever.  Mostly I have scarves to show for my 6 months work.  I can be fairly sure that I can start and complete a scarf in the span of a month.  But I like to have larger projects from time to time, so I started two shawls in the background, figuring they would be completed way down the line somewhere.

One of the shawls started off with gusto but came to an abrupt halt about midway when the contrasting yarn I had picked for the lace portion turned out to be the wrong choice.  It is lying in wait until I figure out what I can use instead.

The second shawl was an impulse yarn buy when I saw it hanging on display out at my favorite local yarn store, Yarnorama.  It looked easy enough, the yarn was a sumptuous silk mix, and I cast on in the early days of June, expecting it to be my July or August resolution project.  I spent some of my knitting time in June working on the last of my Fiesta scarf to be sure I had a completed project for the month.

To my surprise, not only did I finish the Fiesta scarf, but the shawl zipped along at a rapid pace and came off the needles yesterday.  Two completed projects for June.  I'm smokin'.

This shawl was mostly a stockinette knit with an easy lacy border and lace inset up the back center.  Most of my lace knitting in the past was with acrylic yarn that does not call for blocking.  This shawl, consisting of natural fiber, would have to be blocked.  

Thankfully I anticipated this possibility when I started my year of knitting and had ordered a set of blocking pads, pins and wires to have on hand.  Finally I had the chance to try them out.  With trepidation, I began the process by dunking my beautiful shawl into a sink of lukewarm water to get it thoroughly wet.

The photo above is the wet shawl before I started stretching it.  Not much signs of lace when you are at this stage.  The edges were curled in and it looked a bit like a wet cat, that is not so pretty.

I began to stretch it out and thread the blocking wires through the lace edging.  It wasn't too long before I realized I probably need a second set of blocking pads if I'm going to keep knitting shawls.  I was pinning the outer edges into the mattress and this wasn't an especially big shawl.  When I had it all pinned down, all there was left to do was wait for it to dry.

I was happy to find it completely air-dried by morning and was pleased to find it was holding its shape when the wires and pins were removed.  Voila!  One shawl with lace edges, looking just as the pattern picture looks.  Ok, the pattern photo doesn't include the stray Dixie hair or Boo drool, but that just adds needed character, right?

Another of my needle art projects this month was to breathe new life into the cross-stitch sampler I purchased in the antique store.  I decided that the quality of the sampler was such that it deserved to have a decent frame.  It started with a cheap blue frame and mat.

Some professional framing later and I have a show piece for my guest bedroom.  Yes the framing cost as much as the sampler, but together they are pretty spectacular.

Now here I sit on the first day of July wondering what I'm going to choose for my next project.  I need to get   busy!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Feeling Crafty

I've said it before and it was no different this year - May is a horrible work month.  On the plus side, this year was a little less stressful on getting the work in.  Almost all of our clients are now computerized and there was no last minute data entry to worry about.  On the other hand, a couple of our group were scheduled to take a vacation the last week of May and we were hoping they would not have to lug along a laptop to handle any last minute mailings.  We went into high gear from the last week of April until we finished the last file on Tuesday of last week.  I was relieved to finish up early, but really pooped and looking forward to the three day Memorial Day holiday.

I thought about just taking the weekend off and spending the time on the couch reading or knitting, but I decided I needed to do something different and get my mind off work.  I decided to make Saturday a play day and I started by going to my favorite yarn shop, Yarnorama in Paige, to take a class in needle felting.

I had only a vague idea what needle felting was all about, but I'm always ready to explore a new needlework technique so off I went.  It turns out that needle felting is about compressing roving (carded wool or other natural fiber) with a very, very sharp needle to create shapes and designs.  The teacher had a lot of interesting examples to show us, from small teddy bears to elaborate Christmas ornaments, and then she set us to work to create our own designs on a wool ball.  I started with a simple flower on one side.

And then I tried a free form design on the other side.  By the time I had finished the second design, I was getting the hang of the process.

I remarked to the teacher that it was rather ironic to deliberately felt wool when, as a knitter, you worry more about keeping wool from accidentally felting.  Felting (both by water and by needle) has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity lately.  I've never really had any desire to try felting, but this version I can see coming in handy for mini projects.  I'm planning to make furniture (a bean bag chair perhaps), pillows and wall hangings for my future hippie bus dollhouse.

When the class ended, I considered that I was only 11 miles from Giddings and one of my favorite antique malls, so I decided a little bit of antiquing would be a good way to spend a few hours before heading home.  I thought I would get away with just window shopping, but then happened across a cross-stitch piece that I decided I had to have.

It was a bit expensive and I managed to walk away from it at first, but it was well done and was based on Proverbs 31, one of my favorite Bible passages.  I finally decided it would fit in nicely in the guest bedroom where I have other needlework pieces on display.

Buying a piece for the guest room got me into additional trouble.  Last Saturday I had spotted a shabby chic lingerie chest in a store in Smithville.  I had continued to think about the piece through the week and I decided to swing back home through Smithville and see if it was still there.   I knew it would look very nice in the guest room and provide a little needed storage for guests during their stay.   

I figured when I arrived at the store and it was still there, I was meant to have it.  (Especially when the store owner told me another lady had her eye on it and was due to bring her husband in to take a look later in the day.  The early unmarried bird who doesn't have to check with anybody, has an advantage.)

That stop put an end to my shopping spree, so I headed home and arrived just in the nick of time.  Little Mojo had been out of sorts for the previous 24 hours, unable to get along with anybody, not even his Mommy.  I had not been home long before we discovered why.  He was hit by one of the seizures that come along every few weeks or so, and this one was more severe than usual.  When it subsided, we settled him on the couch for a long nap beside me, and I kept myself occupied with starting a new scarf.  

I've gotten a little tired of the scarf I'm knitting at the moment (miles of 3x3 ribbing, pretty but boring after the first mile), so I decided to switch over to crochet for a little while.  I'm having a good time with this pattern and the colorful yarn.  I expect I'll be working on this project quite a bit this weekend - when I should be mowing and pulling weeds and cleaning house.  

This is lots more fun.  And I've earned a little play time.


Sunday, May 06, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Klutzy Genealogist

The first Saturday in May is reserved for the annual reunion of the descendants of Will and Amanda Frankum.  Frankum kinfolk from all over Texas descend on West Columbia for visiting, eating and playing (dominoes and music).  I try to attend every year - and I usually make it.

I came close to missing it this year.  Every year I also have a standing date with my traveling buddy Lana to go to the Miniatures Showcase in Dallas, which normally falls in the middle of April but this year it was moved down to the first weekend in May.  It was a dilemma.  Miniatures Showcase is just about the only opportunity for us Texans to see and buy the work of the elite of the dollhouse miniatures artists/dealers.  On the other hand, the Frankum reunion is just about the only opportunity to see all the Frankum kin together, except for funerals.  There have been way too many funerals in the family in the last few years.  I hate to miss the reunion where I can see everyone in a relaxed and festive mood.

When you get right down to it, the decision wasn't hard at all.  Family comes first and this year David and Karen were able to attend the reunion for the first time in many years.  So bright and early Saturday morning, the three of us hit the road headed to West Columbia.

The day was beautiful and the reunion was well attended.  We visited, we ate tons of food, we took part in a spirited fund-raising auction (where I won a set of pictures of my grandmother and her 5 sisters and brother and David picked up a pint of honey), and enjoyed a period of pickin' and grinnin' by the musically talented family members.

We had a lot of fun visiting with my Aunt Ruth Nell. She lives about 5-1/2 hours away from us and we don't get to see her nearly enough.

Aunt Nell, me and David
Aunt Nell, Uncle Donald and my Daddy were 3 of the 21 first cousins born to the aforementioned 6 siblings.   All the cousins were raised together and were more like siblings themselves than merely cousins.  There are 14 of them still living and they have moved into the position of our family elders, also known as our Board of Directors.  (The only one missing from the following photo is my Uncle Donald Wilcoxen, who lives in Missouri and is unable to make the trip any longer.)

Standing, left to right:  Karen Ryman, Earl McVay, Hazel Heiman, Norman Frankum,
Faye Butcher, Ann Owens, Grace Harrington, Edward Frankum
Sitting:  Ruth Wilks, Peggy Murff, Glynda Wester, Dean Frankum, Bobby Frankum
We had a fantastic time and all was well - until I pulled one of my clumsy stunts.  David and Karen were participating in the music-making and I decided to get a jump on getting our stuff loaded into the car for the trip home.  I had taken a bowl of tuna salad for the luncheon, which it turned out was something we didn't need at all, so I thought I would go ahead and put it back into the cooler and have lunch taken care of for the next week.  I was making my way to the car, holding the pyrex bowl out in front of me, when I stepped on a loose rock in the parking lot.  My foot turned and I went down fast, skidding across the pavement on my left elbow and knee.  The bowl flew out of my hand and landed shortly afterward, shattering into a hundred pieces and spewing tuna salad everywhere.

I was so stunned at first I wasn't thinking about anything but the need to clean up the mess.  I picked myself up and stumbled on to the car where I scrounged a grocery sack out of the trunk and went back to clean up.    Two young folks who had witnessed my fall came to help me and I was busy cautioning them to "please, please don't cut yourself on the glass" when I half-realized that blood was streaming down my own hand.  I still wasn't processing what had happened and continued on picking up the shards of glass with only the thought of getting it all up before any of the little kids who were running around managed to get into it.  The young lady who was helping disappeared to find Band-aids before I bled to death and the young man took over getting the mess removed to the dumpster.  When I finally felt like I could deal with whatever was bleeding, I headed inside to the restroom where I was joined by my aunt and several cousins to make sure I was okay.

One of the cousins was a nurse and she took over the first aid.  We quickly figured out that most of the blood was coming from a shallow cut just below a cuticle.  Once we got the bleeding stopped and that finger bandaged, we checked on the rest of my injuries, which turned out to be a painfully skinned knee that I had not even realized was oozing blood through my jeans and a series of scrapes on my left elbow, both hands and my toes.  (Today I woke up to a very sore shoulder and hip where I landed and tender places everywhere I touched pavement.  What a disgraceful state of affairs for a 58-year-old spinster lady.)

While all of this was going on, David and Karen were blissfully unaware that I was leaving DNA all over the place.  Once they found out, they made sure I didn't do any more carrying or loading up.  We said our goodbyes and headed home about 4 o'clock.

My dad's family lived in and around Wharton until Daddy was about 10 years old and every time we travel to the area, we have to check certain Wilcoxen historical sites.  This year, due to my fall more than anything, we skipped the stop at the Wharton Cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried, and made our only stop in tiny Glen Flora.  Daddy, Aunt Nell and Uncle Donald were all born in Glen Flora, which is barely more than a blink along the road between Wharton and Eagle Lake.  However, there is a nice little antique store there which we decided to check out.

I fell in love with the old building that was once a general store.  I had a lot of fun exploring the structure, which included a big stage area in the back, with a viewing gallery on the floor above.  The lady who owned the place now did not know what the stage was used for, but I could picture the locals having a dance there, with the older and younger folks watching them from the seats upstairs.  Part of the stage floor turned out to be a freight elevator, which the owner said still runs and she uses all the time.  From the tin ceilings to the leaded windows to the elevator to the gallery rails, I enjoyed every minute and could imagine my grandparents and their contemporaries being a part of those long ago get-togethers.

Of course, I had to find something I needed while I was there.  I acquired a vintage crocheted table topper and a dollhouse fireplace. 

When we got back to Bastrop, the three of us decided to have dinner at the new Italian restaurant just inside the subdivision, and while we ate we watched that beautiful supermoon rising over the tops of the pine trees. It was the perfect ending to the day.

Never miss a family reunion.  (Even if you end up with a bruise or two.)  


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Savoring the Rare Peaceful Moments

(To preface this post, let me just say that Blogger has introduced a new editor and I am cautiously exploring my way through it.  Bear with me if things look a bit out of kilter for awhile.)

Something odd has been happening at random moments over the course of the last two weeks.  Just when I began to wonder if my nerves would ever calm down again, I find myself experiencing flashes of inner peace.  The flashes are not long-lived, but when they suddenly appear, the feeling is wonderful.  I've come to savor the rare moments when I sense all is well.

Yesterday was the first time in a long time that I felt truly peaceful for an extended period.  Central Texas woke up to one of those wonderful spring days when the sky is an intense blue, the breeze is just the right temperature, the birds are singing, the flowers are still in bloom and the air is filled with a light perfume.

The week before had not been so peaceful.  The aftermath of my annual birthday week vacation is a backlog of work that accumulates when I disappear for a week and that I have to clear out before I can relax and think about other things.  I finally caught up on Thursday afternoon, but at that point I was required to begin preparing to play hostess for the monthly DAR meeting Saturday morning.  Add to that, my mind has been mulling over what on earth I was going to do about the rapidly approaching deadline for the annual Frankum reunion newsletter when I had no ideas at all.  

So I woke up a bit frazzled Saturday morning, rushing about to pack the car with cookie tray, fruit bowl, pitchers of orange juice and tea, bags of ice and serving supplies.  I had been given a list of things to bring by the other hostess, so at least I did not have to think about what to bring, but it seemed she gave me all the bulky and heavy items (fair enough since I'm much younger than her, but Big Red was loaded down by the time I got everything packed).  This was my first time to act as hostess at one of our meetings and, naturally, it had to be a meeting that involved a field trip and we had only a slight idea of what our serving situation was going to be.  I headed to the McDade Historical Museum early enough that I would have time to deal with the unknown.

The McDade Historical Musuem has been on my to-do list for years, so I was glad to get the opportunity to visit.  Normally it is only open on the 1st and 3rd Thursday afternoons, when I am normally working.  I've just never been able to time it right to get in a visit.  The museum has a large collection of McDade pottery, which I also collect, and my Hodge side has deep roots in McDade, so I knew I would find a lot to interest me.  I was not disappointed.

There were samples of every stage of the McDade pottery industry, photos and family tree charts of many local families, displays with history of the more notorious elements of McDade's history (anyone familiar with the Christmas hangings?), local history books I've not yet been able to acquire for my personal library (I am eager to get back there to dig into those), and a marvelous backbar and bar that are not original to the building, but period examples of what must have been there back in the late 1800s when McDade was truly a part of the wild, wild west.  As I explored, part of me was recognizing that this old building was there when my granddaddy Hodge and his grandparents were citizens of McDade and I was walking in their footsteps.

An artist's rendering of the McDade Pottery 
In addition to touching the past, both literally and figuratively, I had the opportunity to have a nice private conversation with the curator, Audrey Rother, who I have visited with in the past and who is a fountain of information about the area.  Nothing I like better than to chew the historical fat with someone who likes to visit the past as much as I do.

When the exploring was over, the DAR meeting done, and Big Red packed up for the return home (incidentally with a good part of what I had taken over there untouched), I checked the time and realized that I might be able to swing over to the First Baptist Church of McDade and catch the ending of the McDade Cemetery Association meeting.  Since I have a bunch of relatives buried in the cemetery, I try to make regular contributions and participate in their meetings when I can.  I arrived just as they were ending their potluck meal and I had a chance to visit with cousin Dorothy Edwards and her daughter and to say hello to Mother's old school chum Maxine Wolf Turnipseed before they started their fundraising auction.

I do love auctions at family and community gatherings.  You never know what is going to pop up and quite frequently you can grab a rare book or handmade item that is buried in the pile of odd crockery and doo-dads I wouldn't have on a bet.  I lost out on a cookbook compiled by the local Kastner family (the Kastners were great friends of PawPaw Hodge), but I wasn't going to lose out on a set of 4 doilies handmade by Maxine.  (I also acquired one of those odd pieces of crockery that wasn't moving--basically a pity bid.)

Up to this point in my day, I realized I was having fun, but it wasn't until I headed away from the church with the doilies sitting in the seat beside me that I realized I was in one of those treasured tranquil states that are all too rare lately.  I impulsively decided to take advantage of the situation and extend my outing.  I headed to Paige to visit one of the truly great local yarn stores, Yarnorama, a store on the level of anything Austin has to offer and located in the Bastrop County boonies.

My luck was holding.  I arrived when the store was in a lull and had the owner all to myself.  I had no business acquiring any more yarn, but naturally I did.  I can't browse a yarn store and not bring home a new yarn.  I also found the yarn bowl I had been waiting for.  The shop sells yarn bowls created by a local potter and I've wanted one for a long time, but until now none of his offerings had spoken to me.  Yesterday there was a deep blue bowl that called out to me almost immediately.  The idea of a yarn bowl is that you can place your ball of yarn in the bowl, thread the yarn through the side and your yarn will not tangle as you knit.  Mine will be used primarily for display.

This yarn was my impulse buy.  I am drawn to interesting textures and I fell in love with this slubby linen/cotten blend.  I expect a scarf will appear shortly.  I also bought yarn for a wonderful little shawl that the owner had on display.  As I was leaving, she cautioned me about returning to Bastrop via Highway 21 because of a bicycle race that had traffic tied up, so I drove back by way of the back road from Paige to Smithville.  It was a good decision, because nothing makes me happier than to drive along a curving country road on a beautiful day.  My inner peace was extended.

When I got back home, I was busily unloading Big Red when I remembered the art show that was in progress at the Deep in the Heart Foundry that is just over the hill (as the crow flies) from my house.  I made another impulsive decision to get back in the car and go see what was happening there.

I've been to the foundry many times and there is always something new to see, as they are always placing pieces of their current works in progress around the property.  This time I was greeted by an enormous horse.

This will be a part of a new project to commemorate Route 66.  I believe the entire piece will consist of a horse and wagon meeting up with a Tin-Lizzie automobile.  The Tin-Lizzie was across the way, almost complete, and two horses rearing up in surprise were in another corner.  I look forward to seeing the completed work.

Inside the gallery are their smaller works and I had gotten wind that they were offering some mini-paintings.  I expected maybe a half-dozen that would still be priced too high for my wallet, but there were at least two dozen sprinkled around the gallery and, while not exactly cheap, they were reasonably priced for original works of art their size.  I decided to indulge myself in the purchase of two.  There were two different artists involved and I decided to buy one of each.

The little painting on the right grabbed my attention from the first.  It reminded me instantly of travels in New Mexico and, sure enough, I was told that John Maisano was influenced by the American west in his paintings.  The one on the left was a more difficult choice.  The artist, Jaime Howard, works locally out of the gallery and she herself was helping me with my purchases.  I was torn between a modern abstract and this painting that suggested a sunset.  I finally decided this was the one that should be added to my collection.  Now I need to pursue the dollhouse art gallery that has been simmering in the back of my mind.  These little guys need a good home.

From start to finish, yesterday was a day I needed badly.  History, yarn and minis, combined with time on the country backroads.  A perfect combination.

And I'm hopeful that these periods of peace are coming back into my life on a more regular basis.


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Birthday Indulgences

Traditionally my mood takes a big jolt toward the better when it gets close to my birthday. The bluebonnets burst into bloom, the birds are singing before the sun comes up, the butterflies are busy and the temperature is just right. For many years I've tried to take a week of vacation during the week of my birthday to take advantage of my good mood. It used to allow me the opportunity to adjust to Daylight Savings Time, but now that they've moved that back into March I tend to hit a really draggy spell just before April that corresponds to the last push of allergy season.

But with the dawn of the first week of April and a week of vacation and God's in His heaven and all's right with the world, I begin to feel better and I start to throw caution to the wind and allow myself a few indulgences in celebration of my birthday. My policy generally is "If I want it and if the price is not too outrageous and the money is there to cover the check and it's still in the month of April, go for it".

This year I fudged the rule just a few days early and bought my first birthday present toward the end of March. I had spotted this modified grandmother clock display cabinet a month or so ago at the Antique Mall in Round Rock and had managed to talk myself out of it. (It wasn't April yet and I still had my winter somber going.)

When I discovered it was still there waiting for me, I decided we were meant for each other. I've been looking for a mantle clock case for some time with the idea of creating a miniature clock shop and had not been successful finding the right case for the right price. I decided why not expand my plan to include the clock maker's workshop and living quarters. Now the big problem is where this piece is going to live in the house. Still studying on that.

A nice bonus to my annual feel-good month is that the Spring Antiques Fair in the Round Top/Warrenton area generally occurs the week of my birthday. This year I've been fighting a siege of back trouble, so I wasn't particularly interested in walking myself into a backache, but I didn't want to skip it altogether, so I made myself a compromise. I would go to my 2 favorite sites and also hit the big antiques mall in Giddings on the way home.

So yesterday I rolled out of bed early, visited my chiropractor and hit the road for Warrenton and Cole's Antiques Barn, a nice big collection of dealers who can be counted on to tempt me with a wide variety of the kind of antiques I enjoy - from oak furniture to dollhouses to textiles to Texana history books.

Last year I was on the prowl for oak bookcases and a bedstead for the guest room and could find nothing of interest. I'm sure glad I had already found the oak bedstead for my room and the North Wind bookcase and the white iron bedstead for the guest room before I made the trip to Cole's this year, because this year everybody had oak bedsteads, iron bedsteads, matched twin bedsteads and oak barrister bookcases. I like the pieces I have collected better than anything I saw yesterday, but if I had still been looking, it would have been more temptation than I could have stood.

I did find some tiny houses to add to two collections I half-heartedly add to from time to time even though I do not presently have anyplace to display them. (In the background are Sheila's houses and in the foreground are pieces from the Liberty Falls collection.)

I succumbed to temptation at another booth that drew me in with a display of items from the fifties. I was in flashback mode to my childhood. One item particularly caught my eye and I'll share that in closing. The lady had a Bliss dollhouse that I would love to own, but Bliss dollhouses have reached the stage of being museum pieces and I can neither afford them or afford to subject them to the natural disaster of living with 3 cats. But, I did find a tiny little yarn bowl to add to my knitting store dollhouses and I found 3 additions to my small collection of darning eggs.

I am accustomed to running into wooden darning eggs of various shapes and sizes, but I had never before seen a glass darning egg. I knew there were ebony darners with sterling handles, but had never seen one for sale and the multi-colored one I just thought was neat. They have been added into the yarn display that serves as a side table in the living room

I was patting myself on the back for sticking to small items and was on my way out to the car when I cruised through a booth and spotted a box of tiny little plastic figures that I knew immediately I had once possessed, but I could not remember where they had come from. I decided to buy a few of them to use as dollhouse figurines and sought out the dealer to inquire about them. It turned out they were Cracker Jack prizes, which explains why I could remember having a variety of them when I was a kid. (Unfortunately I could not get a good photo of them.) I was just wrapping up my business when I glanced over and saw something that I knew was going home with me if I could afford it. The same dealer had a number of old clothes wringers, some attached to old wash tubs but several that were designed to be clamped onto the tub of your choice. I think the dealer knew he had a hot one and he immediately knocked $15 off the asking price. So I brought home my traditional antique oak purchase from Cole's.

It is a pretty little thing, with ornate metal findings that have adjustable settings and a long, curving handle. Not so easy to find a corner to tuck it into, but I knew I had to have it and it is now sitting on the corner of the fireplace, happy to settle into my collection of rustic antiques.

My second stop was the antiques show at La Bahia in Burton. It was there that I saw bedsteads that would have tempted me if I were still looking. I found lots to look at, but managed to only purchase a quick lunch there, which I ate while visiting with other antique hounds on the hunt.

I had gauged my stamina fairly well, because by the time I left La Bahia my back was protesting. So I pointed Big Red for home and made my last stop in Giddings at the Whistlestop Antiques mall. This has become a new favorite place for me and I like to hit it every 3-4 months. I was resisting temptation fairly well, but in one of the last booths I found another little treasure. This little iron chair is destined to get a new coat of white paint and a bit of re-upholstering before it takes its place in the guest bedroom with all the other white wrought iron pieces that have come home with me.

And now for that trip down memory lane. Back when I was a little girl in San Gabriel, one of the ladies in the church made a framed ribbon doll for me. It may have even been a birthday present, but I can't really remember. It has seen better days and at one point Mother told me I ought to just pitch it, but I resisted and hung onto it. When I started working on the guest room, I decided to try and replace the frame although I feared that it would crumble into pieces when I took it out of the old, rickety frame. It made the transition to a new frame and it now hangs in the guest room where I've been enjoying seeing it again on display.

The booth at Cole's where I found all the great nostalgia pieces had a framed ribbon doll hanging on the wall. I was so surprised to see it because I had never seen another example and really did not even know what to call what I had. She told me they were popular in the 30's and 40's when ladies could buy the paper dolls and then create their own custom craft work with the ribbon and laces of their choice. It turns out there is a whole community of ribbon doll collectors out there and I was surprised when I got home and did some EBAY searches. Sure enough there are a lot of examples for sale. The dealer told me that for mine to be dated to the 50's was not that common, but the later versions usually included silk flowers (mine does). I can't really remember who gave me this piece, but I suspect that it was an older lady who probably learned the craft at an earlier period of time. Where the earlier versions made use of stock paper dolls with faces and more defined hands and feet, I suspect my doll's extremities were hand drawn. I had no idea I had something collectible in this little piece and I'm glad I decided to hang onto it.

So begins the month of birthday indulgences. This year's birthday may turn into an expensive indulgence. I just concluded a meeting with a group of folks who are set to do some remodeling for me in the next month or so. The older I get, the bigger I indulge!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wrapping Up Unfinished Projects

It can take me awhile, but sometimes I actually finish projects on hold.

Yesterday David, Karen and I went to Sherwood Forest Faire, a fledgling renaissance festival that is in its third year at a location between McDade and Paige. They are doubling in size every year and this year have reached the point where you can't see everything in a long afternoon. They have all the features of their big sibling, the Texas Renaissance Festival, but are still small enough that you don't get claustrophobic from huge crowds.

Last year I was delighted to discover a booth that sold little dollhouse sized dolls with a fantasy air. The artisan also fabricates fairy houses from gravevine wreaths, birdcages, birdhouses and odds and ends. I immediately grabbed one of the fairies last year, but could not make up my mind to purchase a fairy house. After all, I make houses myself and I thought I might like to fashion my own. At the last minute, on the way out that afternoon, I decided I should go ahead and get the fairy house I had my eye on, but I had procrastinated too long and it had sold out from under me.

Over the course of the year, I purchased odds and ends with the idea of making my own fairy house and I never could find the exactly right materials and it never got made. This year when we headed out to the faire, I decided that if I saw a fairy house that I liked, I was not going to hesitate. I had not been in the store 5 minutes before I had zeroed in on the fairy house that would come home with me.

The fairy houses are about 90% natural materials, with a few little commercial items thrown in for effect. This house started with a round gazebo-type structure and has been covered with ferns, dried flowers, seeds and mushrooms, has a table fashioned from the bottom of a pine cone and is decorated with a few miniatures like a mirror for fairy-gazing, a mini candle and some fairy snacks.

The little fairy who came home with me last year took up residence immediately, lounging in the soft moss and preparing to take an afternoon nap in her wooded bower. The project won't be truly finished until I find an acrylic box large enough to hold the entire thing and keep it safe from marauding cats, but it feels satisfying to get Tatiana a home at last.

It would have been nice if I had stopped there, but I ended up purchasing another of the little dolls, this time a lady pirate. I just couldn't resist and now I'm contemplating what kind of scene I need to create for her.

Another project has been on hold since last year's faire. Last year I was taken with the shimmery,ruffled skirts sold by one of the merchants. I was not taken with the blouses they offered and managed to convince myself that I would be able to find a blouse elsewhere to complete the outfit. Despite my best efforts, it is hard to find an appropriate modern blouse to partner with a renaissance styled skirt and the skirt had hung in the closet untouched. This year I marched into the booth and bought a blouse and sash to complete the outfit. Next year I can deck myself out in appropriate attire for the faire. (If I can find some comfortable shoes that will look right.)

In other quarters, the knitting resolution is still intact. I finished March's project, a soft cowl that is plenty big enough to be pulled up over the head to block cold air. It is very warm and very soft and I look forward to putting it to use next winter.

Three half-finished projects moved off the to-do list. But then, I have a new pirate lady who needs a home and I've already started another scarf. There is a shawl about to move onto the needles. Three things checked off and three things moving into their places on the unfinished projects list.

Oh, well. It keeps me out of trouble.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Little Rest and Recreation

Whoosh. That was the sound of February slipping past. I started working on this post 10 days ago, stopped to take a couple of photos and whoosh, 10 days later.

The knitting projects continue ahead of schedule. I take these crafting spurts of energy rarely, so I enjoy them while they last. Right now my mind is too scattered to read or work on my computer projects in the evening, so knitting is the perfect alternative. (So long as I don't tackle a complicated pattern.) It relaxes me, calms my mind and generally puts me to sleep, so it's a wonder that I'm making any progress.

But progress is being made. About a year and a half ago I tackled a crocheted shawl which turned out to be a study in frustration. I prefer knitting as a rule, but once in awhile I am tempted to the dark side of crochet. And every time I succumb to temptation, I have to relearn all the stitches. Since I don't particularly enjoy crocheting, I tend to work for awhile and drop the project for awhile, and then when I pick it back up I have to go back and learn all the stitches again. I have a real mental block about crochet.

So it took a long time to finalize the shawl, but the end was attained earlier this week.

I was a little upset that the shawl turned out to be a capelet, much smaller than the dimensions given by the pattern. I was upset until I turned to Ravelry (an online fiber arts community) and found that much more proficient crocheters had run into the same problem. Now I'm upset with the designer, but much relieved that I am not a total flop in the crochet arena.

Earlier in the month I completed another scarf, a kit I impulsively acquired back in December. Impulses get me into trouble and this was one of those instances. Even though the result is fairly pleasing, I hated the yarns in the kit and was much relieved when I finished. To add further aggravation, Dixie decided that one of the hairy yarns really needed to be killed and would sneak into my knitting bag whenever I was working on the scarf, grab the offensive yarn and race away. I lost track of how many times I had to rewind that particular yarn.

A couple of weekends ago, I was tempted by Yarnorama's Facebook posts to trek over to Paige and check out her sale. While I was there, I inquired about table swifts and if they worked as well as umbrella swifts. Swifts are tools that help you wind skeined yarn into balls of yarn when you don't have a handy set of hands to hold the skeins while you wind. I've had this umbrella swift for many years and it works fine - except, it scares all the pets when I set it up and set it to spinning.

Susan, Yarnorama's owner, assured me that table swifts work just as well and she had one in stock that she set up and demonstrated. I liked the thing immediately, so I added it to my pile of purchases. When I set it up at home and wound a skein, no pets were disturbed.

Not only were the pets happy, but I was happy that it will be much easier to set up and take down and store. That umbrella swift has always been a problem. Although, I don't know that I will be able to part with my old friend, so now I have two swifts to store.

Naturally I did not escape without buying more yarn.

And before the evening was over, I had completed another ruffled scarf made with a special yarn "fabric" that requires very little actual knitting and looks like it was a complicated thing to accomplish.

I'm actually way ahead at this point, having completed two projects in January and 3 projects in February. I am more than half-way done with a Bamboo/angora yarn cowl, so I should stay on course through March at least.

A nice side-effect of my current knitting passion is the discovery of the Ravelry website. I have been able to catalog the yarn I have stashed, the needles I have on hand, and now if I'm out shopping and run into a tempting project I can pull up Ravelry on my iPhone and check my stash to see if I have the necessary yarn and needles on hand. If I have yarn that I've forgotten what project it was purchased for, I can inquire on the yarn and see what others have made with it and get fresh inspiration. It's a really cool place for knitters, crocheters and weavers to hang out.

I'm enjoying getting back to my knitting. The thing I need most right now is peace and quiet and lots of calm. Knitting is the perfect solution. Although - I'm tempted to make another run at that Tree of Life afghan and if I give into that temptation, I may be headed for a nervous breakdown.