Update after a long hiatus

October 21, 2012

It has been over 6 months since I last posted.  I give no excuses; it just happened.  But here’s a bit of a catch up.

One of our llamas died in the spring.  She ate some hemlock.  That left us with just Serendipity – and a lone llama has a propensity for getting into trouble.  SerendiptiySerendipity kept finding ways to escape our field.  One day a woman pulled into the driveway to tell us our llama was in the park that borders our property.  It took my husband, this woman, and 3 more passers-by to herd her back into the field.  She had so much fun!

And then the first day of school she did it again.  I got a call from the high school principal telling me he’d let my son out of school to help wrangle the llama.  She clearly needed friends (and we needed to upgrade the fencing).

Acci and Cheetah

The fencing was upgraded and my husband found a local llama farm that needed to downsize, and that is how we ended up with Acci and Cheetah.

Acci and Cheetah are older than Serendipity.  We don’t know for sure, but think Serendipity is about 4 years old.  Acci and Cheetah are 8 and 6 years old.  All three get along quite well, not super chummy, but they hang out together (but also spit at one another for the slightest offense).

No pictures of the flower or vegetable gardens.  We had a severe drought and very hot temperatures and everything was just fried.  Finally, in September, the tomatoes started to fill out and ripen – but not at anywhere near the rate we are used to.  We still have plenty of tomatoes, but also occasional frosts; we eat what we can.  Tonight, my husband made some green fried tomatoes for dinner, and oven roasted potatoes (also from the garden).  Mmmm.

The honey bees had a time of it too.  I obtained two swarms in May.  One I put in a Langstroth (the rectangular boxes) with some old comb from previous inhabitants, and one I put in the topbar hive.  Those bees, though, had to start from scratch, with no comb.  The drought was too much.  The couldn’t bring in enough nectar to both build comb and store honey, so eventually they left in search of better digs.  I hope they found some. 

The other hives, however, are doing quite well.  My husband and I put mouseguards on the hives today (so mice don’t winter in the nice warm hive) and rearranged boxes as we saw fit.DSCF1276  I like to have the bulk of the bees and their honey start at the bottom of the hive so they can work their way up during the winter.  I also moved a box of honey from one very strong hive to a weaker one.  I’ll feed the two weakest hives also so they can store more honey until it’s too cold for them to move about.  Fingers crossed this will get them through the winter and early spring.

That’s the short version of the last 6 months.  I’ll try to write more before another 6 months slip by.  Until then, enjoy the Autumn!


A Blissmo Bonanza!

April 14, 2012

Once again I have been single-handedly stimulating the economy and keeping FedEx, UPS, and the postal service in business.

It has been a Blissmo kind of week.  I talked about Blissmo here. Long story short, I get a monthly box of eco-friendly goodies and e-mail offers on other good stuff. DSCF0212

I’m a born and bred middle class American with the culturally instilled propensity to buy things.  I also tend toward the cheap side, so I really don’t spend liberally and we do live modestly (really, we do).  Still, I also believe that the only way to convince corporate America that it is worth their while to produce environmentally healthy products is by purchasing them.

I love getting my monthly blissmo box and I always check out the offers, although I often don’t buy.  Still, the voucher offers are always a good deal (often something like $40 worth of products for $20 or thereabouts) and I had accumulated a few last fall.  I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy for gifts (not that there weren’t plenty of gift-worthy items, I was just done there) so I stashed them away in my blissmo e-mail folder until spring when I wouldn’t feel guilty about buying for myself.

And now its spring.  Over the last couple of days my selections have arrived.

Thursday was my big haul.DSCF0232  My blissmobox arrived as well as packages from United by Blue and Green Cupboards.

I bought Burt’s Bees products from Green Cupboards.  The local selection for these products has been limited of late for some reason. DSCF0231

United by Blue is an organization committed to cleaning up waterways.  I bought a citrine and silver pendant from them.  They sent me the cool blue marble gratis.DSCF0220

On Friday my last package arrived.  It was from Zhena’s Gypsy TeaDSCF0238I am enjoying a cup of Caramel Chair as I type this. Ahhh.

Oh, and in the blissmo box.  So far I’ve scarfed down the dried apples.  So sweet I had to check, but really no additional sweeteners.  My husband and I also DSCF0233made quick business of the roasted almonds with wild rosemary. WeDSCF0213 are going to have to track these down again!

I probably should mention that no one has paid me in anyway for my opinions.  I’m just really happy with this week’s green take.  When it rains, it pours.


Time for more tea.


Bathroom Renovation: Green paint–green job?

April 8, 2012

The bathroom renovation is done – nearly – as I type this the door is off and still not painted.  But I think doors on bathrooms are overrated.  Actually, I just think that given I have no time now but will have more in about a month that the door may have to wait a month.  Until then we’ll either all continue to use the downstairs bathroom as we have for the past two and a half months, or I’ll put up a curtain in the doorway. [I haven’t yet because I’m afraid that if I put up the curtain we might get used to it and I might end up with a bathroom with a curtained doorway forever.]

Meanwhile, I thought I’d consider the re-do with a critical eye toward its environmentally friendliness. In some ways we did great, in others, we missed the mark.DSCF0207

Reusing: On the plus side we found a medicine cabinet at an antique mall.  We also reused our bathtub and toilet. On the other hand, we took out the old sink, and while I had intended to donate it to our local education foundation to be sold at their auction (the faucet set was worth a few pennies at least), my husband told the plumbers to take it.  I don’t know if they trashed it, saved the faucet or what.  We did donate the hardware and sell that at the auction.  Someone bought it too.

Landfill fodder: Also on the negative side was all the wall, floor, and ceiling material that was sent to the landfill.  The room was gutted.  The floor truly did need to be replaced, and frankly the ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape also, at least some of them were.  I think to be up to code the walls around the tub would have had to have been replaced also – and now that’s 75% of the room.  I think one wall did stay intact though.  The carpenters built a second wall out a few inches from the original to make room for the plumbing.  Which reminds me.  All the old plumbing and any other metal was recycled.

Insulation: The exterior walls needed to be insulated.  On one hand insulation is an eco-friendly plus.  On the other, I put absolutely no thought into insulation and so the typical bats of fiberglass were installed.  In hindsight I should have considered something along the lines of recycled denim or sheep’s wool

Flooring: A plus, however, was the flooring.  No way was I having DSCF0210a vinyl floor.  Eco-friendly alternatives included linoleum, wood, tile, and bamboo.  Linoleum turned out to be impossible to find in our neck of the woods.  Wood and bamboo would require vigilance and lots of polyurethane to keep it protected from moisture – no easy feat in a bathroom. So that left us with tile.  We ended up with tile that looks remarkably like hardwood.

The paint:  We lucked out there, which suggests that green consciousness is going mainstream.  I just went to Menards and bought paint, Dutchboy Platinum, semi-gloss.  I kicked myself for not going down the road to Sherwin Williams and buying their low or zero VOC paint, such as Harmony.  But, it turns out that Dutchboy Platinum is not so bad.  I noticed that it was not especially smelly, and a little research shows that it is designated a GreenCert product.  GreenCert products are “designed and manufactured taking steps to reduce environmental impact and to meet or exceed the most stringent regulatory requirements.”  Perhaps it is greenwashing, perhaps it is a truly eco-friendly step forward. It certainly makes me feel less guilty.

Painting Tools: I did pick up some green paintbrushes and roller covers called Earth Tones. They are made from recycled and renewable resources, such as recycled polyester fibers and bamboo.  We probably already had enough paintbrushes around the house, but I like to pretend that my purchase is a vote for green products.  The roller covers we needed and I’m tickled they were from recycled materials.

Now, according to Amazon, the painters tape I used, Painter’s Mate Green, (it is green colored) is actually environmentally friendly because of its water and rubber based adhesive.  Other companies use some percentage of recycled paper in their masking tape.  I don’t know that the definitive comparison has been done among masking tapes.  But once again I’m encouraged that anyone is paying attention to the environmental impact of painter’s tape.

Paint Stripper: As I mentioned, the door is not up yet.  It was in pretty bad shape, especially on the bathroom side, and so I’m stripping it of its many coats of paint and repainting it (with the probably relatively green Dutchboy Platinum paint).  Stripping could be truly environmentally evil, but strippers are going green also.  My husband was instructed to get as environmentally friendly a stripper as he could find and he found Ready Strip.  From all evidence it’s a non-toxic, environmentally friendly paint stripper.  Of course the paint and old finishes your remove with it aren’t environmentally friendly… Still, it’s better than buying a new door.

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends: It is nearly inhabitable.  It is kind of hard to put the old towels in the new cupboard – but I’ve been pricing new organic cotton towels and the old ones will have to due for awhile.  A shower curtain was a necessity.  The rod is metal and the curtain is cloth.  Not the organic linen I was considering, in fact, it’s polyester, but it is at least fabric and not stinky vinyl.DSCF0201DSCF0197DSCF0196[I love the handheld shower and glass block wall. I don’t know that they are especially eco-friendly, but I don’t think there is anything eco-unfriendly about them either, and I just wanted to show them off.  By the way, see the fancy strip of diagonal tiling – the carpenter and I came up with that, it actually serves a purpose.  The bullnose tiles were slightly narrower than the regular tiles so the joints weren’t going to match up in the corners, therefore, we needed a decorative strip to separate the two sections.  I like it.]

Overall, I’d give the bathroom a B on environmental friendliness.  Given the last time we redid a bathroom, 10 years ago, I didn’t give eco-friendliness a moment of consideration (i.e. vinyl floor, fiberglass shower, and your basic high VOC paint), it is a definite move in the right direction.  And now that I know you can buy environmentally friendly painter’s tape, well, my projects are bound to get greener and greener.


More pictures because people have been asking for pictures.  See the cabinet at the far end of the room – the carpenters made it for me.DSCF0195 It’s plenty roomy.


Even though the room is much bigger now, there isn’t much open wall space near the tub and it seemed silly to hang towels clear on the other end of the room.  So we hung one towel bar above the other.  My son and husband get the top bar; my daughter and I get the bottom (it’s a height thing).


My husband and I got this marble topped cabinet at an auction when we first moved to town.  It is perfect in the bathroom.

The only thing I haven’t taken a picture of is the toilet – in this picture of the table the toilet would be where I’m typing.  You’ve seen toilets.  It’s white. 

And a final p.s. – since I started this post I have put a coat of paint on the door and while the family was away I took shower.  Love It!


Spring Break– I need to go to work to rest

March 18, 2012

I’m on Spring Break from my academic job – and I’m exhausted!

When last I posted we were in the middle of the bathroom redo.  We still are.  The plumbers are 99% done – a part was missing from the faucet set for the sink, and a couple other plumbing niceties are needed to make everything look pretty.  The carpenters are also 99% done – quarter round  and cabinet doors to be installed early next week.  That just leaves the work that my husband and I need to do. 

I’ve stained the woodwork and put on one coat of polyurethane (water-based – of course), it needs one more.  My husband has given the ceiling on coat of paint, one more later today.  I will paint the walls.  All this painting involves protecting the other surfaces – I should buy stock in painter’s tape.DSCF0049  I will unveil the bath for all to see when its finally done.

I’ve also begun stripping the door.  I’ll give a rundown on the greenness of this redo in the near future.  DSCF0042[The stripper is green – both figuratively and literally.]

But the bathroom is only part of my break activities.  The very best part was a visit with a dear friend, Vicky.  She made the trek half-way across the country to see me (well, she did see her daughter in college in Chicago also).  We’ve been trying to get together once a year for the past few years.  First it was a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin, then some time at her place in the Berkshires, next, a funeral, but it gave me a few days with her in NYC, and this time showing her my digs in the Midwest.  I can’t believe that I didn’t take any pictures of Vicky while she was here.  I have witnesses though, including my friends, Jill and Ravonda, with whom we had a great evening over wine and snacks and lots of laughs.  [No pictures of them either, you will just have to take my word for it that I have friends.]

Vicky and I grew up in a hilly, tree-filled part of of upstate NY.  I now live in former prairie country – my new hometown had two, count them two, trees when it was established in 1837.  On the road you can usually see about 5 miles to the horizon.  There are some hills but they usually indicate a river valley and I don’t live in a river valley.  It takes a practiced eye to appreciate the subtle beauty of the Midwest landscape.  I tried to give Vicky a crash course – I’m not sure I succeeded.  We also explored big-box home improvement stores to find the perfect towel bars.  Can I show a girl a good time or what?  [We did have a nice lunch at the Mackinaw Depot Tearoom, I’m not a total dud as a hostess.]

Vicky is the reason I keep bees.  She did it first and I was a copycat. So one of the very nifty things we did during her short visit was to put together my new topbar hive. DSCF0034DSCF0033

My sweet and loving husband (who gave me the hive kit for Christmas) built the stand.  We had those metal table legs and he built a stand just my height using them.  On top of the legs would actually be too tall for me to work comfortably (I am not of willowy stature).  This design is the right height and works even better given the winds around here.  It will take a tornado to topple this sucker.  And if a tornado topples my beehive I’m afraid my beehive is going to be the least of my worries.

Tuesday morning, March 20th,  at 1:14 a.m. is the vernal equinox.  Spring begins officially.  Someone should tell Mother Nature, because she has gone completely whacko this year.  We had the winter that wasn’t, and now, as winter is supposed to be waning with DSCF0045normal temperatures this week usually in the upper 40’s and low 50’s, we have had a week of highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s.  I am not complaining, no siree. The warmer weather timed perfectly during my spring break (and wonders of wonders, during my husband’s break also, he teaches at a different institution and our breaks don’t always align) meant we could get into the yard.  My husband has tilled the vegetable gardens and planted seeds for lettuce and radishes and carrots.  I have been making progress on the flower gardens.  And spring has been busting out all over!

All in all it was a great and productive week.  But back to the salt mine tomorrow.  I wonder when I’ll find time to paint the bathroom?


Another Adventure in Home Improvement

March 1, 2012

It was clearly designed in another era, perhaps another planet.  It was a bathroom with shag carpeting.  Zebra-striped shag carpeting.  I’m sure it looked snazzy in its day, especially with the black tub, black sink and black toilet (which was a little scary for toddlers and adults alike).  

The carpeting did not last long, replaced within months of our moving in with more appealing and easier to clean, but alas perhaps even less ecologically friendly, sticky vinyl tiles.  But that was a) when we had less money, b) before I’d seen the (green) light, and c) when I was desperate to get rid of the shag carpeting.

Now, nearly 18 years later, it is time to totally redo the bathroom.  The underlayment around the toilet was rotting from decades of tiny leaks.  I was afraid someone would end up in the kitchen.

While most of the design features in the bathroom were not what I would have chosen, I have to admit I’d grown fond the of the tub.  It is a black, cast iron, drop in, soaking tub circa 1960’s or 70’s.  The outside dimensions are 5’ x 3’.  I can stretch my legs out straight easily.  Before my daughter became a tween and usurped the bath, it was my favorite hiding place.  It will be mine again!

Once the decision was made to redo the room the fun began.  Finding the people to do the work was easy – the same people who do all our work, most recently the garage

I have been seriously considering how to redo this bathroom for about a year, ever since our tax return indicated it was possible.  Last May, my husband and I spent a weekend getting ideas and I figured out what I wanted.  We knew the carpenter and his son would be booked through summer; it turned out they were booked clear through January.  But in February the work began.

Here are just some teaser photos:DSCF9937

Here’s the tub with a black slate surround.  The mirror is actually very nice in a wabi-sabi way – beveled glass but worn silver.  I hope to strip the paint from the wood frame and use it again.






There were many built-in cabinets. around the built-in vanity.  None of this is bad, but it made for cramped quarters (I think I may have been in the tub to take this picture).



The hardware was not to my taste – but it has held up well and is still in excellent shape.  I will donate it to the local Education Foundation to sell at the community auction.  I hope someone actually wants it.



After we’d cleaned out all our belongings (as well as half of the adjacent office where the toilet and tub are stored during the renovation) the demolition began.  That is a scary time.  DSCF9953I start to worry that something bad will happen to the carpenters and I’ll be left with a black hole for a room. 

There was an interesting surprise.  DSCF9950Where the sink and cabinets had been built the wall actually slanted back at a 22o angle. You can see on the floor where the vanity had been.  We just found some space!

Today I worked from home.  The carpenters were here all morning and then the plumbers arrived at 1:00.  It is now 8 p.m. and I still have a plumber in my bathroom. He is finishing up the plumbing for the bath so the carpenters can tile.  When you find good workers you hold onto them!

There are signs that the room will actually be a bathroom again. The room has most of a floor, a framed in cabinet (where I hoped we’d have a window, but alas a chimney made that unworkable), and a glass brick window/wall at the room end of the bath.  DSCF0028And Hark!  I hear water!



As tempting as it is to take a bath tonight.  I think I’ll wait until the room is done.


The Tale of the Missing Rooster

January 19, 2012

DSCF2629In 2006 we did a major kitchen renovation.  I was very picky about the details and found the hardware for the cabinets online at D Lawless Hardware.  I think I was shy one knob so I needed a 2nd order. One knob was going to cost about $1.22, but shipping was going to be $10.75. Shipping is free for orders over $50, however, and so I bought more things.  Important things.  Things I definitely needed.  Things like small Tiffany-style lamps and metal roosters.

OK, so need may be a strong word, but I liked what I bought – especially the rooster.  The rooster had a spot of prominence in the kitchen.DSCF2688  See it over on the white cabinet?  [Wow, the kitchen sure was neat and clean!]

The rooster watched over the kitchen all fall, but come Christmas it was packed away for the winter to make way for more wintery accoutrements.

Come spring I couldn’t find the rooster! I looked everywhere that spring, summer, fall, and winter.  I looked in the cellar, I looked in the storage area over the garage.  I looked and looked, but alas, no metal rooster.  Perhaps it went into the trash by mistake; I mourned its loss.

Fast forward 5.5 years.  I’m getting out holiday decorations and pull out a bedraggled box of packing materials.  Behind the box is a shopping bag, and in the bag – YES! – THE ROOSTER!.  Of course it was the holidays and the rooster’s spot was being used to display the Christmas Spode. 


The rooster is now back in the kitchen where he belongs. Typically, I wouldn’t bring him out until March (you can’t tell, but that windowsill behind the rooster is covered with little snowmen).  But I’ve missed Mr. Rooster and didn’t want to risk losing him in the cellar for another 5.5 years.

Now, perhaps you are also wondering about those small Tiffany-style lamps I also bought in order to save on shipping (Yes, I do realize that I spent $50 in order to save 8.50, what’s your point?).  Here is one of the lamps: DSCF9933

Notice the lovely stained glass pattern.  Can you see the flowers?  Look carefully and try to see the flowers. 


Perhaps it is easier in this shot.  Noticed the green leaves?  Try very hard to see the flowers because once I tell you what we, my entire family, all four of us, see in these lamps you will not be able to see anything else.

We have never been able to see flowers in this stained glass pattern.  We rather assume there is supposed to be flowers, we think the green glass pieces are supposed to be leaves.  For the life of us, we cannot see flowers, but what we do see, very very clearly are penguins with backpacks.

The penguins march around each lampshade; trudging really, those packs are full. 

I love my penguins with backpacks almost as much as I love my rooster.  I did a rather thorough purging of items from the house over the holidays and I can honestly say it did not even cross my mind to giveaway either the lamps or the rooster.  What does that say about me?  That I recognize quality?  That I’m still rather embarrassed by the purchases I made to save on shipping?  Probably it just says I’m a tad quirky.

So quirky I am.  But it is giving me an inordinate amount of pleasure to have found my missing rooster.


Happy Recycling Day

November 15, 2011

Today, November 15th, is America Recycles Day (which apparently follows National Recycling Week – who knew?).  It makes no nevermind to me because everyday is recycling day in my world.

What I wanted to share, however, was this very neat, very informative, info-graphic from reusethisbag.com.