Monday, June 12, 2017

We're moving!

...No, not away from Turtle House. NEVER. But, since we no longer need a "construction" blog, you can find me and my permaculture adventures (garden! bees! ducks! aquaponics!) at:
(New site as of June 2017, still a work in progress!)

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Green beans, tomato plants, and loss

I haven't posted here in a long while, mostly because there's been no "house news" to report--and after all, this is/was a house construction blog. Life has trucked along, my beautiful girl is 3 ("and a half!"), and I still stare out the window every day reflecting on how lucky I am to call this place home.

Now that we are well and thoroughly settled in, and Matilda is old enough to play on her own or even help out, we've gotten back into gardening. I have a lot to say about this, and a lot of progress to document, and so I thought this blog would be a good place. I am 100% enamored with the philosophy of permaculture, and have been watching and reading everything I can get my hands on when it comes to this topic. I find myself daydreaming about plans for the garden, and feeling 100% peaceful when I'm out there weeding and watering and harvesting. I had forgotten how much I need to grow food, get dirty, and smell tomato plants.

This need came into sharp relief in May, when I lost one of the most important people in my life, Sidney Greenwald. My beloved grandfather. In lieu of spending more words trying to explain what he meant to me, and what it has to do with the garden, I am going to paste below the text I wrote for his funeral service.

When my mom first asked if I wanted to speak here, I was unsure. What do you say when you lose one of your favorite people? What are the chances I’d be able to say anything at all, without crying? How could I possibly summarize my relationship with the man I named “Bakka” in just a few minutes? I can’t… so instead I just thought I’d tell a few stories.

My grandmother passed away when I was a freshman in college. I was just down the road at Brown University. She and Bakka had had tickets to everything, it seemed—so after she was gone, I started going with him. Every few weeks we’d head to the symphony, or a play, or an event at RISD. He loved going to the Philharmonic. Every time we heard a piece by a “big name composer—Beethoven, Bach, Mozart—he’d make the same joke: “This guy shows promise. He’s really going places.” It made me laugh every time. It was like the ultimate dad joke.

It’s been a running joke in our family that half of the stuff in Bakka’s house should be featured on Antiques Roadshow. After Matilda was born, he found a little silver rattle in the back of his china cabinet. When we found that rattle, he immediately went on an Antiques Roadshow-inspired riff: “Well, if you hadn’t rattled it, it would have been worth $175,000! Since you rattled it, it is valued at… five bucks.”

A lot of things have made me cry over the last few days—some expected, some unexpected. Pulling out and shaking that little silver rattle was one of the expected ones. One of the unexpected ones was weeding the garden. After I heard the news that Bakka was gone, all I could do the next couple days was work in the garden. I would try to get other things done, but my mind just wasn’t there. So I would head back out to our garden, and weed. And weed. And weed. We haven’t had a garden the last couple years, because we had a baby and couldn’t find the time, so there were plenty of weeds. As I was weeding, I remembered that this was one of the things Bakka and I always used to talk about—the garden. What I’d planted, how the different veggies were doing. He’d give me tips on the soil and watering schedule. As I was weeding, I realized that I hadn’t gotten to tell him that we were gardening again. I hadn’t told him the list of veggies and flowers I’d planted, or about how a week after we planted them, we had a darn frost advisory and had to cover them all with pots and sheets. So I decided I’d tell you all about our garden. We have tomatoes, and beans, and peppers, and peas. Brussel sprouts. Greens and herbs, Zucchini, squash and pumpkins. We planted phlox, columbine, and foxglove by the front door.

It was hard to explain that Bakka died to our three-year-old. She kept asking where he is now. We told her that’s a big question, and no one really knows, and different people believe different things. All we can say for sure is that our bodies are made up of the same stuff as trees, and birds, and flowers, and all of the rest of life. We get to be us for a while, and then that stuff goes back to the earth to make other things. She keeps asking “is that flower Bakka? Is that tree Bakka?” All I know is, when I’m in the garden this year and always, those plants will be Bakka, and I will think of him, and miss him, and be incredibly thankful to have known him.

Bakka on his 95th birthday, April 2, 2016

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pocket door, Part 1

Alright, I've been sitting on a draft of this post for waaayyy too long, waiting for this project to be 100% complete before sharing. But apparently we are slower than a herd of asthmatic snails, so I'm slapping a "Part 1" on the post title and calling it a day. :-D

As I wrote about here, we'd been debating how to deal with the interior bedroom window that opens out over the living room. After debating pros and cons, price, aesthetics, etc., we decided we were on Team Pocket Door. This would entail ripping out a big chunk of drywall in the bedroom, but ultimately we thought it would look cleaner. Once we'd made the call, Jeff built us a custom-sized door to fit the opening.

We'd decided to use wood that would mimic the decking on the ceiling, and paint it white to match. Jeff brought it over to the house and I painted it, and then he and Brandon spent a couple of days working on the installation while I tried to keep the baby from eating drywall chunks. Here's Jeff adding framing for the pocket door track.

I didn't get very many photos of the process, but they were able to do a pretty standard pocket door installation - the only weird thing was the door itself, which was obviously not a standard size.

Here it is in place! Open...

...and closed...

They then added some nailers so that we could patch up that big 'ol hole in the wall.

Once it's done, it will sort of act visually like a giant headboard, since it sits right over our bed.

I am absolutely thrilled with it so far. It makes the bedroom feel infinitely more secluded and private, and it blocks noise pretty well too! This means that Brandon can take Matilda downstairs in the mornings, and mama can sleep in. SO WORTH IT.

It looks great from downstairs too - I like that it blends in pretty seamlessly, and doesn't stick out and visually compete with other features like the beams.

So where are we now? Well the drywall patch is actually already done, thanks to help from our super handy and definitely non-rabid friend Kit. She came over an embarrassingly long time ago to give us a hand, so it's hung, taped and mudded. We have to do another quick pass with the mud to hide the patch as best we can, and then sand and paint, and re-hang/caulk/touch-up the trim on the bedroom side. Then the last thing on the list is to find a good locking mechanism, since this little lady is getting dangerously close to mobile...

Friday, August 23, 2013


Big house news to share, and I am GEEKING OUT!

I probably mentioned way long ago that we really really REALLY wanted to install solar panels when we renovated the house, but it just didn't fit in the original budget. We figured it would be one of those way-off-in-the-distant-future projects. But then, thanks to a Facebook post by Matt Grocoff, I became aware of the MI Solar Works program administered by a local non-profit, the WARM Training Center. From their website: "MI Solar Works is a state-wide initiative to solarize 6,000 Michigan homes and businesses by the end of 2014 as part of the Department of Energy’s “Race to the Rooftops” national challenge." Basically, my understanding is that if enough people are interested in solar panels within a given metro area, they can provide low "bulk rate" prices for the panels and installation. Of course I immediately signed up, but was told that they didn't yet have enough interest in Ypsilanti. Wop wop.

But then, on July 31, I received an email that they'd hit the quota for Ypsilanti! They'd also already done a Google assessment of our rooftop to make sure it was suitable for solar (the side that faces the river is just a few degrees off from due south). The next step was for me to send our latest electric bill, so that they could assess how many panels we would need.

[Incidentally, apparently our local evil monopoly power company has been able to impose regulations on the number of solar panels people can have. We are only allowed to install enough to cover our average monthly usage. Even if we wanted to buy more ourselves - and pay to have them installed - TO PRODUCE EXTRA CLEAN SOLAR ENERGY that would go back on the grid, we wouldn't be allowed to. REALLY, DTE? I would love to hear their attempt at a non-evil justification of this steaming pile of horse shit.]

Anyway! Here are the numbers, in case anyone is curious. Turns out we use about $70 in electricity per month. This is perfect, because one of the standard sizes for solar installation covers about $72/month in usage. This is a 4.87 kW system, for which the array will be about 400 sq ft. We'll likely produce "extra" energy in the summer, which will go back on the grid and we'll get credit, which we can use if we're short in the winter.

Here is a financial summary. The total cost is nearly $14,600 (ouch!), but there is a 30% tax credit, bringing the cost down to about $10,200. MI Solar Works is partnering with Michigan Saves to finance all or part of this amount, and no down payment is required. If we finance the entire amount, our monthly payments would be in the ballpark of $160 over 10 years. We will probably put some money down to reduce the monthly payments a bit, but we're still figuring out what the best approach is for us financially. In any case, though, it is much more affordable than we ever thought it would be, and we are so excited! We have someone coming this afternoon to check out our roof and meter, and let us know about the next steps.

Check out all that glorious south-facing roof

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Well it seems we have our first "wish we would have..." moment with the new house. Remember our master bedroom with the large interior window over the bed? Brandon and I have conflicting opinions about it. He is in the unreservedly pro-window camp. I enjoy the window in the morning, when I can peek out and see the river - but after living with it for a year-plus, I can also say that (a) it's a bummer when people are in the living room and you're trying to sleep; and (b) something about the empty space over my head just bugs me in an indescribably feng-shui-y sort of way. I can't really explain, and Brandon thinks I'm nuts, but when I'm going to sleep I like to feel like I'm tucked in a safe little spot. The big open expanse of space just gives me a vague feeling of discomfort and kinda makes my skin itch.

Anyway, all of the above has been applicable from the get-go... but now we're going to do something about it. Why? Because we have added issue (c) OMG MY BABY COULD FREAKING FALL OUT OF THIS WINDOW SOMEONE GIVE ME A PAPER BAG TO BREATHE INTO. No, she's not mobile yet, but it seems like she will be in... oh, another 30 seconds or so. So we asked Jeff to come back out and brainstorm some ideas for us for a window covering. The criteria were: lockable and secure!!! Followed in a distant second place by the "like-to-haves" of blocking the maximum amount of light and sound possible, and curing Katy's neuroses (probably a reach).

Idea #1 was to do a barn-door style door on the living room side. I can't find a good photo of this side right now, so here is a crappy cell-phone pic because lazy.

Imagine something like this. The issue is that we (Jeff) would have to do some finagling to make that work with the existing trim, because we'd want the door to sit flush to be secure and light-blocking, etc. etc. The other issue is that Brandon apparently has some deep-seated [aside: does anyone else always want to write "deep-seeded"??] barn door issues and has made us (me) all paranoid about the door falling off the wall and onto our heads. See also: scaffolding necessary, major living room disruption.

Idea #2 was one Brandon randomly threw out yesterday, when he said "I wish we'd thought of doing this while the construction was still ongoing - we could have just done a pocket door." I think a little light bulb pinged on over my head when he said that. I hadn't felt totally satisfied with the barn door idea, partly because I enjoy the way the window looks now - between the roof beams, the white decking, the hallway bannister, the stove pipe... there is a lot going on up there, and I thought a big sliding door might look a little cray (as the kids say).

So after some more brainstorming with Jeff, we realized this would still be possible - but it will entail removing drywall in the bedroom, some re-framing for the pocket door hardware, and reconfiguring the window trim... but he didn't think there would really be a price difference if we take care of the drywall repair and painting after the fact. And thanks to my obsessive photo-documenting of this project, we know there won't be any electric to deal with.

The tentative timeline is for Jeff to build the door in the next day or two, then drop it off so I can paint it. Then he's going to come back Thursday/Friday of next week and we will work on getting it installed. We may have some additional drywalling going on in the near future, as part of an upcoming project - finishing off the basement to use as a play/rec room. More on that once I get some sufficiently dingy "before" photos.

So, I think I am on Team Pocket Door. What do you guys think? All I know is either way, I'm going to feel a whole lot better once this project is done.

Gratuitous adorable baby excited about a morel

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Loose ends

Can it be? Posts, on this abandoned blog, two days in a row? Indeed. I've had a few people ask about projects that I mentioned and then left hanging while I disappeared into the baby ether. First, our fantastic tile backsplash that the even more fantastic Meryl and Chris from Picardy Project helped us with during their Renovation Road Trip. When they left, the tile was all installed but still needed to be grouted. Brandon and I finished that up the next day, and then I actually did try to take photos for the blog, and they all came out crappy. So I tried again today, and... still crappy. I don't know why this is so hard to photograph, but in person it is so pretty that I just want to kiss it.

The photos make it look a bit washed out, but in reality there is tons of subtle and beautiful shading in the marble. It works so well with the dark counter, white cabinets, and stainless appliances. It really ties the room together. I seriously sit in the living room and smile at the backsplash... what, is that weird?

Oh, and here's what happens when I am trying to take photos while B is in the kitchen, and I ask him to move:

We still see you.

Anyway, the hugest thanks again to Meryl and Chris for their help with this project. It is one of those things I probably never would have gotten to without some extra motivation, which they are never short on. Seriously, the energy those two have boggles my mind... especially considering Meryl was secretly pregnant during their visit here! We can't wait to meet the sure-to-be-awesome Cashew.

Speaking of babies, loose end #2 is Millie's nursery! When last we spoke of this room, we had some paint swatches on the wall and some kickass artwork. Turns out you need a few more items to take care of a baby... like a crib, changing table, and rocking chair, for starters. Plus storage, because this teeny little room has no closet.

But first, we had to finish painting - and ideally before it became too hazardous for me to cut in around the 12' high angled ceiling. We ended up going with a Goldilocks color... what's that, you ask? Well recall that I was whining that Benjamin Moore's Sweet Orange was too bright, but Yellow Haze was too subtle... so the friendly paint store guys mixed something halfway in between that was juuuuust right.

It is bright and cheerful, but not crazy psychadelic. Millie already seems to perk up and look around when she's in there, so I think she approves.

We scored a great deal on this crib on Craigslist. It was a barely used Babyletto crib (this model, if you're curious), and even better, came with a shwanky organic crib mattress made of angel tears and unicorn farts lambswool, coconut fiber, and natural latex. So far Millie is still sleeping in our room, though, so the crib is serving as a great storage facility for cloth diapers.

We needed a teeny little glider for our teeny little room, so I was happy when I found the one pictured above (another Babyletto product, the Madison Swivel Glider in slate). It is really comfy for nursing and rocking, but I wouldn't recommend it for super tall folks. I got the footstool (with storage) on Amazon. I can go back and find out where it's from if anyone cares, but I'm afraid I'll be terrified by the amount of cr@p I've ordered on Amazon since then, so I'm going to hold off on doing that.

Here's the "changing table," actually just an IKEA Hemnes dresser. Millie used to hate diaper changes, but she's reconsidered her position and now thinks this is the most awesome place ever. We frequently have "happy changing table time," which involves lots of leg kicking, squealing, and grinning. Cutest thing ever.

(Some of my long-time buddies will recognize the polar bear picture on the wall in the photo above - it's good old Kobe, from the Roger Williams Park Zoo, subject of the undergrad research project that set me on the road to grad school! Also a super adorable picture.)

Speaking of artwork, here are the paintings I posted about before, in situ over the crib. Love them!

And here's the other side of the room, where we have an antique armoire that we already owned, and the IKEA Hemnes bookshelf.

We got blackout shades from Select Blinds. We've been really happy with them - they were easy to install, and really do block a ton of light. Plus, I was somewhat irrationally happy to find the perfect colors to match the orange walls and turquoise accents. Because I'm a dork.

I think there was something else I was going to write about here, but I'm on borrowed time because Millie has been sleeping over two and a half hours! Let me know in the comments if there's anything interesting I forgot about.

Oh hi, I'm adorable.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Matilda Gail

Oh hi, blog. You're still here? That's good. Whew, the last few months have been a blur! So much for the "catching up" I mentioned back in... October. What have I been up to? Mostly a whole lot of snuggling with this little peanut...

Millie, 3 days old

We welcomed our daughter, Matilda Gail, on January 1, 2013. A New Year's baby! Which was just a little bit of a surprise, considering she wasn't due until January 22. She was in a rush in more ways than one, and I thought I'd share her birth story here because I want to remember every detail.

Yep, it was that amazing.

But, I should warn you, this is likely to be very long and include the word "placenta." Read at your own risk.

Placentas are hilarious!

We are very lucky to have a midwife unit in our local hospital, so that is where we'd decided to deliver. My hope was to have a natural birth, with minimal interventions. But, never having done this before, I was also trying to keep an open mind and realize that this was something that I wouldn't necessarily be able to control - and the only important thing was bringing home a healthy baby in the end.

Brandon and I attended a New Year's Eve party on 12/31, with no idea of what was in store the next day! I felt fine that evening, except for a backache at the end of the night from standing up for several hours. Brandon gave me a back rub when we got home, and we joke that he must have hit the "eject" button by accident. I woke up the next morning at about 7:30am with VERY mild contractions - like, I thought they were still just the Braxton-Hicks I'd been having like crazy, but there was also the slightest bit of a period-like cramp with them. I timed them for a while, and they were 8-9 minutes apart, but so mild that I thought it was just false labor. I didn't even wake Brandon. He got up at 9:30 or so, and I said "don't freak out, but I'm having these contractions, but it's probably nothing..." haha!

The last pic we got of me pregnant: 36 weeks on Christmas Day

Interestingly though, I got VERY WORRIED that we hadn't yet washed the newborn-sized cloth diapers we planned to use - so Brandon got up and did a load of laundry first thing. I guess unconsciously I may have known something was going on! We had breakfast and took it easy the rest of the morning; I just laid on the couch that morning and looked at things on my computer. Then at just about noon on the dot... my water broke! It was one of the strangest sensations I've ever felt. I jumped up and leaped over to our slate hearth, so I wouldn't soak the couch or my beautiful orange rug (yes I was worried about the rug). I shouted "my water just broke!" and poor Brandon was like "are you sure?" Once he walked over to me I am pretty sure he was sure too. I'll leave it at that.

At that point we called our amazing doula Deb Rhizal. If anyone out there reading this is considering a natural birth, and is on the fence about hiring a doula, I can't urge you strongly enough to do it. Deb was absolutely indispensable in a multitude of ways, both during and after our baby's arrival. Going through this for the first time, it is incredible to have someone there who has seen hundreds of births and can tell you "you're doing great" - and you believe her! I just found her presence so calming, it was such a huge help. (All this despite the fact that our meeting to discuss the birth plan was scheduled for January 3, ha!)

At this point Brandon went out to get pads, since we didn't have any in the house (three weeks early!) and I was going to need them for the sake of our car upholstery. In his my-wife's-in-labor headspace, he decided to drive to a Meijer on the other side of town - in the meantime, passing a CVS, two Walgreens, a Target, and a couple grocery stores. Poor B. Strangely enough, I was in such a zone that I had no idea he was gone for so long. Oh, he also picked up a six-pack of one of my favorite beers, so I could have one after the baby arrived.

(Image found here)

I planned to labor at home for a while, so Deb came over at 2 or 2:30 to assist me. I wanted to hold off going to the hospital until things were really moving along (getting there at 4-5 cm dilation can help avoid labor stalling out, and subsequent interventions like pitocin). It was very hard to figure out what stage I was at, because I was having a really weird pattern of contractions. They were only ever 30-45 seconds long, but right on top of each other (often less than a minute between them), whereas a more typical pattern would be one minute contractions, four minutes apart. The contractions had also gotten very intense very quickly. We decided to leave for the hospital a bit before 3:30pm.

At this point we had an INTERLUDE OF ADVENTURE!! I should really let Brandon tell this part, but let's be real, this post is already long enough. Brandon had been packing up the car, and on one of his trips down he heard the ominous sound of a car spinning out on the icy, hilly, one-lane driveway that leads from our house to the road. Thinking that Deb had gotten stuck, he ran out to try to help push her car out. He got there and found it wasn't Deb, but a friend of the neighbors. He asked if they needed help, but they were going to try backing down the hill and getting a bit more speed to try again. He asked them if they'd mind waiting five minutes... at which point I imagine they were mildly annoyed, until he remembered to add "because my wife is in labor and we need to go to the hospital RIGHT NOW!" That probably helped put his frantic demeanor in context, and they backed down the drive and waited so we could get out.

So, no problem, right? We hop in the car, start to back out of the garage, and hear a CRASHBANGSCRRRAAAAAAPE.

Me: What was that?!
Brandon: #$&@! [those of you who know him can probably interject the correct exclamation here]
Brandon: ...I backed into the garage door
Me: *mid-labor peals of laughter*

Somehow the garage door had not opened all the way, so the bottom panel was still hanging down and the top of the car had hit it. It was popped out of the tracks, so Brandon had to get out of the car and wrestle it back in so that he could shut it. (We had to replace the panel, and we haven't been able to paint it brown to match the rest of the door since it's been so cold. Even now, two months later, I get a giggle when I drive up to the house and see that white garage door panel...)


We got to the hospital around 3:45, and the nurses in triage seemed to be taking FOREVER... chatting to each other, wandering in and out of the room, checking the fetal monitor hooked up to me. I know I was probably only there a few minutes, but the last contraction in the car, and the few I had in triage, had started to feel really different... like I needed to push. Finally I mustered myself out of my fog enough to say "I feel like I need to push!" No one seemed to believe me except for Deb. The nurses were like "oh no honey, you can't do that yet... here, we have to monitor a few more contractions, just lay still." I AM GOING TO HAVE A BABY ON YOUR TRIAGE FLOOR, JERKS. Luckily I remembered a secret code phrase that a friend had told me, that had worked magic during her super-fast labor (thanks, Jean!). If no one believes you, tell them you need to poop. No joke, I said those words (even though they weren't exactly true) and all of a sudden, like magic, there was the midwife. She checked me and I was at 8-9 cm dilation. Well well well. I TOLD YOU I HAD TO PUSH.

At this point there was a kerfuffle about whether they had time to get me to a birthing room, or whether I should just deliver in triage. Deb stepped up and said I'd like a birthing tub, and really helped expedite things to get me moved to a birthing room and into the water. And lo, it was glorious. It made the pain so much easier to deal with. The pushing stage was really hard for me - I felt so tired between each contraction. At one point I heard Brandon say "wow, she has a lot of hair!" That somehow really focused me - like, "wait, no fair, I want to see her hair!" Haha. In the next couple pushes Matilda Gail was born in the water, at 5:11pm. I had been so worried because she was early, but the first thing I heard was the midwife saying "wow, she's not that small for a 37-weeker!" (She ended up weighing in at 6 lbs 9 oz). They put her on my chest, and she was so alert - looking all over the place - and then she just WAILED and I knew she was OK, and I just couldn't stop looking at her and crying. It was the most amazing moment of my life.


They got us out of the tub for the placenta delivery, but I got to keep holding her - they did just about everything they needed to do with her on my chest. I really can't describe how amazing I felt - like I was high, like I was the strongest person in the world, just in awe of this amazing little person. I still get teary just thinking about the experience. I am just overwhelmed with thankfulness about how well it went, and how healthy and amazing she is.

TL;DR: I had a baby, and she's awesome.