The Slow Evolution of a New Home

WP_002380When my beloved and I purchased our “fixer-upper” retirement home last year, we weren’t thinking The Money Pit – we were seeing possibilities. We had a home inspector and a contractor go through the house with us to help us make a realistic offer and figure out what needed to be done. We also carefully considered and budgeted for some other enhancements we hoped to make. Still, with each piece of renovation we started, we found something seriously unexpected  I spent months with contractors coming and going, making decisions on the fly, while my beloved stayed behind in another state finishing up his employment. It was a wild ride!

Fortunately, we could still retreat to our relatively new colonial-style home on 3 wooded acres in Connecticut, which we didn’t truly appreciate as much as we might have. That “old” house had two outbuildings, a partly finished, dry basement, lots of big closets, and was completely up to code. It had a relatively flat front lot and easy access from several doors. (Of course, it also came with a substantial mortgage and tax bill.)

The “new” house isn’t terribly old – or at least, it was built during our lifetimes, in the 1960’s. Apparently there were no zoning codes here then. The house was not completely up to current codes structurally or electrically, much of the plumbing needed work, insulation was inadequate (we’re in Vermont now, at the foot of the Green Mountains), most of the kitchen was in rough shape, and the available storage is still forcing us to cull out lots of “stuff.” Don’t even get me started on the outdated decor, but we focused on the infrastructure, realizing that paint and elbow grease would cover a multitude of aesthetic sins. At least the roof was new!

More than a year (and a considerable blogging hiatus) later, we have sold the old house, my beloved has fully retired, and we are nestling in to our new place – if still slogging through some remaining boxes. Here are just some of the things we, our family, and our contractors have accomplished:

  • P1150247Ripped out the knotty pine walls in the kitchen, living and dining rooms. While we were at it, we updated and moved some wiring, replaced the 2 inch thick rolled fiberglas insulation with 4 inches of blown-in foam, and put up new drywall. We also made a cut-through between the living and dining rooms.
  • Regraded the front and back yards, added a drainage pipe, and cleaned up some landscaping.
  • Corrected plumbing problems in all three bathrooms (including replacing all the toilets and many fixtures.) This also necessitated some floor repair and tiling work.

WP_001989Laying a drainage pipe, Our old toilet graveyard!

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  • Replaced (and moved) a 40+ year-old oil tank and repaired the concrete threshold in one garage.
  • Replaced a degraded septic baffle and had the septic serviced.
  • Replaced the cardboard thickness, noisy garage doors with new foam insulated, quiet ones. The garages sit under living areas and needed the insulation.

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  • Ripped out and completely remodeled the tiny kitchen to: replace outdated and/or non-functional appliances, get rid of poorly installed granite countertops, add upper cabinets, install adequate lighting, and redo the floors (this was necessary since the new layout meant some exposed areas would have no finished flooring.) One part of the counter is being reworked, but otherwise, it’s done – and sooooo much better!

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  • Added an electrical box and ran wiring for my beloved’s wood shop.
  • Added serious structural support in the basement.
  • Painted, painted, painted… over some remaining knotty pine, dark walls, and much heinous wallpaper. In fairness, I’m sure the decor was very stylish wen it was new – it was just way too busy and overpowering for our tastes.

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P1140101WP_002463Before and after shots of the “plaid room”, the “pepto-bismol pink room”, and the powder room. We plan to paint the upper wall in the powder room a soft green.

There are lots of other small things we’ve done, and there are many more we’d like to do: some new windows, deck sprucing, front porch remodel, rework of paths from the driveway to the house, more painting, and more landscaping. There’s more attic and basement insulating needed, and storage rework in the garages and the basement…

But for now, I’m on vacation from remodeling. No contractors, no paintbrushes. This weekend I will unearth my Christmas boxes stored in the basement, and really put my stamp on this new home as we prepare to celebrate our first Christmas here. The old house in Connecticu and the prior owner’s version of this house, are gone – though certainly not forgotten. Still, it’s time to move on and make this house absolutely our own… no matter how slow that process seems!

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This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Slow   and  to the WordPress Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone but not Forgotten.  To see other bloggers’ creative entries and get more info on these challenges, just click on the links! 

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Crimson Cutouts

WP_002089A few weeks ago, the Japanese Maple tree on our front lawn presented us with an amazing fiery display. For about ten days, each day it was a little more brilliant than the day before.

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And then, before we knew it, the leaves began to dry, and the wind started to carry them away, leaving us just a tantalizing hint of the brilliant performance.

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Still colourful, but now more muted, folding up its tent for the season and getting ready to hibernate. Nature, ever-changing, with a plan.

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This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Colourful. To see other bloggers’ rainbows of responses and get more info on these challenges, just click on the link! 

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Honey, I’m Home!

Hi there, strangers.

200postsOK, my blogging hiatus has lasted much longer than I had intended. But since this will be both my “I’m Back” announcement, and my 200th post, I’m thinking I should put a little thought into where I hope to go from here.

While I haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire or saving mankind, my beloved and I have finally found our way into full retirement. I’ve made at least some progress on my original goals, and telling you about what we’ve been doing should be fodder for a number of fun and interesting future posts. For example…

  • We’ve settled into our retirement home (more or less… there will no doubt be a few posts on the rehabilitation of the fixer-upper we bought!)  We’ve also made our decisions on starting Social Security, pension options, and IRA distributions. Once we knew what our mortgage and healthcare costs would be, that got easier!
  • Now that we are both retired and in one place (we actually had two homes going for a while), taking care of our health and diet will be easier. A recent scare has given us new focus here. That’ll be worth a post or two as well.
  • 2015 will be a year when our time will be more flexible than it’s ever been before. I’m looking forward to the resulting possibilities, and sharing what we do with them!  So far, we’ve started planning a late Spring trip to the opposite coast. For the first time ever we aren’t limited by available vacation days! That should be good for a few travelogues…
  • We just had our first “Soup Day” in our new house. This year, sixteen people stayed here for the weekend, cooking soups and playing games… our newly installed kitchen received a baptism by fire (not literally, but it got quite a workout!)  The upcoming holidays promise several wonderful get-togethers with friends and family, and we’ve had lots of small visits recently, too.
  • I have updated my genealogy software, and my beloved and I each did a genealogy DNA test (with some interesting results.)  I’ve done quite a bit of online family research in the past month, in the hope of making some personalized Christmas gifts. I’ve also been consolidating and organizing my digital photo archives so I can more quickly add any newly scanned or taken pics as I go, and can better find what I’m looking for in my older digital files.
  • I still need a new digital SLR camera, but I can’t wait to get back into my favorite photo challenges. I’ve been sporadically following a number of my favorite bloggers, but have resisted taking time to engage, for the most part. I’m ready to jump back in!

And… that’s me caught up in a nutshell. I’ll have to think about whether to continue periodic retirement challenges or whether I’ll start focusing on other things. For now, I’m just hoping to get back into a regular posting and following rhythm, looking forward to reconnecting with my old blog-buddies and maybe even finding some new ones.

So, what’s new with you?

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Credits:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger Expendables 2 Clip: Lionsgate/YouTube
  • My Little Pony Power Pony Clip: HasbroStudiosShorts/YouTube
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The (Three Dimensional) Image of a Being

For millennia, man has been creating sculpted, carved, and cast representations of people and animals. No matter where in the world you go, you will find statues. These pieces were made for various reasons, but many of them are designed to honor their subjects.

The Maisonneuve Monument to one of the founders of Montreal stands in the Place d’Armes in Montreal’s Old City. The statue is impressive in daylight, but at night it is still imposing – and casts an interesting “reverse shadow” on the buildings behind it, just to the right of the pedestal. (To enlarge any photo, just click on it.)

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Also in the Old City, in Place Jacques Cartier, is a pillar topped by a monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died waging his successful campaign against the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. A larger, similar statue graces Trafalgar Square in London.

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There are also military statues dedicated to groups of people. The Commando Memorial in the Great Glen of Scotland commemorates the British Commandos of World War II. And most towns of any size in New England and Upstate New York have monuments honoring those who served in the US Civil War.

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Then there are the statues of royalty. King Kamehameha of Hawaii is immortalized in a statue in front of Honolulu’s Aliʻiolani Hale (home of TV’s Hawaii Five-O and the actual State Supreme Court.) Replicas are located in various other places, including Washington DC and Las Vegas. The second statue below is in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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The last monarch of Hawaii was Queen Liliuokalani. Her statue stands between the State Capitol building and the Iolani Palace. Her contemporary, Queen Victoria, is represented around the world in a variety of wonderful statues (after all, the sun never set on the British Empire during her reign.) The one included here is in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

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Rodin sculpted Les Bourgeois de Calais (The Burghers of Calais), and castings of the figures can be found in various locations, including the two below – in the gardens by the Parliament Buildings in London, and on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The statues tell the story of the siege of Calais by the English. The town was starving, and the English king agreed to spare the city if six town fathers would surrender to him. They did, and the town was saved. They were to be executed, but the English queen prevailed on the king to spare them so they could return home.

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And then some statues have religious or spiritual significance – Like the Great Buddha of Kamakura, or the Native American totem pole we saw in Central California.

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It’s fun to look at whimsical modern sculptures and then at older, more traditional pieces. Like this statue of a woman with a pool cue in the Beijing Olympic Park, and the three ancient statues is a display at the Ming Tombs outside the city.

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Or this clever sculpture, David Altmejd’s The Eyein front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal’s New City, with its surreal elements overlayed on a more classical framework – juxtaposed against the elegant simplicity of one of my favorite art objects, the ancient Greek Aphrodite of Milos, or Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

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There’s no end to the number of wonderful statues in the world – some small enough to hold in hand, others large enough to climb into. And all were wonderfully conceived and created by clever human hands.

___________________________________________________________ This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Statues. To see other bloggers’ shapely responses and get more info on these challenges, just click on the link

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Beautiful Gardens, Elusive Dreams

100_4570 (2)OK, I confess. I had a sort of nerdy childhood. The heroes I hungrily read about were composers, artists, writers, kings and queens. My mother was particularly fascinated by Henry VIII and his family, the Tudors. She told us stories about them from the time we were quite young. Maybe it was his red hair, or the fact that he spoke multiple languages, was well-read, and even wrote and composed some hymns. Maybe it was the passion with which he lived his life, and even the “bad boy” reputation that lives on today in historically dubious movies and TV series.

But I think mostly it was that Henry was a tragic hero with a tragic flaw.

With the zeal of Ahab, he sought to leave a male heir behind when he died. In his quest, he left wives, children, friends, mistresses, politicians, his relationship with the pope (and the Catholic church in general) in the dust. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, delivered him multiple children of both sexes, but only one survived – Princess Mary.

100_4490 (2)When it became clear that she would never give him a son, Henry found a pretense to divorce Catherine and marry his new companion, Anne Boleyn. You see, Catherine was the widow of Henry’s brother Arthur, and it was against the rules for princes to marry their brothers’ widows (Hamlet, anyone?). However, Catherine being a Spanish princess, the pope refused the divorce or annulment petition, because it would have made Mary a bastard and Catherine, well, you know.

Henry’s well-known solution was to break with Rome and start his own church. When Anne seemed only to be able to deliver one live daughter (Princess Elizabeth), he claimed she had bewitched him, his cohorts framed her for adultery, and she met her untimely end on the green at the Tower of London under a sharp French sword.

From there, the story takes one brief happy turn. His next wife, Jane Seymour, finally gave him a living, if somewhat sickly, son (Prince Edward) – but then she promptly died. Another Anne (of Cleves – marriage by proxy annulled as soon as he saw her), and two more Catherines followed. Catherine Howard was a silly and unwise girl. She probably actually was unfaithful, and literally got the axe.

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Catherine Parr was his last wife, and cared for him through his final illnesses. In a nasty hunting accident a horse had fallen on him, crushing his leg. Later, a jousting accident caused a head injury and exacerbated the leg wound. He became increasingly surly, immobile, and overweight (hence gout, and probably diabetes). Still, Catherine was an agreeable companion in his last years.

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In between all this marrying and begetting, Henry became quite accomplished in just about every aspect of his life, and also indulged his love of beautiful things. Among them was Hampton Court Palace. About 10 miles from London on the Thames, it was constructed for his friend Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York. As Wolsey fell from favor, the palace conveniently “fell” to the king, who enhanced it and used it as a retreat where he held lavish parties. In fact, he loved it so much that he spent three of his honeymoons there.

As you can imagine, when we grew up Hampton Court was a place we had to visit. And even though we were there too early in the year for the Tudor roses and some other blooms, we were as taken in by the beauty of the palace and its grounds as Henry had been.

Hampton Court has wonderful gardens full of topiaries and hanging wisteria, a maze, and a million other earthly delights. It also has docks on the river, fountains, tennis courts, and lovely paths to enjoy. Perhaps it was wandering here that Catherine persuaded Henry to reconcile with all of his children, and to make sure that they were all included (as legitimate heirs) in his final Act of Succession. She is widely credited with influencing these decisions. Scandalously, Catherine married Thomas Seymour shortly after Henry died.  (A separate, romantic saga…)

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In the event, Edward succeeded Henry as king, but died young of tuberculosis. After an unpleasant little interlude between Mary and their Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey (for whom things didn’t end well), “Bloody” Mary succeeded Edward. The lone Catholic in the line, she and her posse dispatched Lady Jane on grounds of treason, then executed several hundred Protestants (most by burning) in an attempt to win the country back for Rome. She died of influenza five years into her reign.

And then Elizabeth I came to the throne, and the Elizabethan Era was born. Reportedly very like her father in wit, charisma, and intelligence, she was the strong hand England needed and loved for the next 45 years. Not a son, but a worthy heir.

Here endeth my Mum’s tale of the Tudors (seriously abridged version)… Elizabeth was the last of them. Her heir was James Stuart of Scotland, and thus begins another history, for another day.

Walking these garden paths, we imagined what it was like there nearly 500 years ago, when nobles from around British Isles and the European continent were entertained by the Tudors. What trysts were begun, and what intrigues were hatched on those paths and under those trees?

Well, OK, maybe I’m part nerd, part romantic.

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This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Gardens. To see other bloggers’ flowery responses and get more info on these challenges, just click on the link! 

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Temptation and Sacrifice

For years, our friends bought calendars, boy scout light bulbs and popcorn, school music program candy bars, and any number of other tempting and whimsical things from our children and grandchildren when they were fundraising. Girl Scout cookies are my Kryptonite. They have been since I sold them myself back in… well, never mind about that. The point is, I’ve loved them for years. And when someone else’s child is selling them, I always tell myself I’m “paying it forward” by helping that little angel reach a goal.

Of course, the cookies have never been good for me. In fact, I seem to remember that until very recent years they contained trans fats, and it’s certainly no secret that they contain their share of calories. In past posts, I’ve shared that my husband and I have been working to improve our diets and our health in general. We strive to eat anti-inflammatory foods, and have cut way back on any wheat, dairy, or processed sugars.

WP_000135 (3)Still, when a co-worker approached my beloved, asking if he would buy a box of cookies to benefit his daughter’s Girl Scout troop, my hubby overflowed with generosity. Bless his philanthropic little heart, he bought four boxes and brought them home. They went right into our freezer. In years past, we’ve occasionally each had a couple of cookies with tea at night until the bounty was gone.

But this year, the cookies came home on Ash Wednesday. Hmmph.

We find ourselves again in the Lenten season. I was raised in the Presbyterian church, and this season was always a special time of study, setting aside extra offerings for those in need, and an emphasis on spirituality and preparation for the celebration of Easter Sunday. Following this tradition, as an adult I have long used a special daily devotional book that I work through each Lent. Over the years, I have made notations in the margins of my thoughts, or of hymns or scriptures that come to mind during the reading. It never ceases to amaze me, but each year something different touches or occurs to me as I go through the booklet.

Yesterday’s message was on letting go of our own wishes and desires, and following God’s will rather than our own. Today’s message is on not trying to control everything, and being willing to hand everything over to God. This has always been a struggle for me. Remembering to seek, find, and follow God’s will in my daily life. I generally do it for the big things, but sometimes the small day-to-day things get away from me.

Now mint chocolate cookies may not seem like much, but here’s the thing. I know I should stay away from them at any time. They’re full of wheat gluten, processed sugar, and any number of other inflammatory ingredients that will worsen my arthritis and add to my waistline and tummy troubles. If I don’t resist breaking into the cookies during Lent, when I’m specifically meditating on temptation and sacrifice, what does that say about me?

OK, not a pretty picture. So the cookies are still in the freezer, and there they’ll stay, at least until Easter. And when I open the freezer each day, they will be a reminder that the instant gratification of my every dietary whim is seriously not God’s plan for me.

And I also know that if I open my heart daily, I will find the things – in every area of my life – that are.

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This post was written in response to the weekly Travel Theme challenge by Ailsa of WheresMyBackpack: Tempting. To see other bloggers’ tempting responses and get more info on these challenges, just click on the link! 

To see my meditation on Lent from last year, click here: Faith of our Fathers – or Mothers – Why Lent?.

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Posted in Faith, Giving Back, Ruminations | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments