2013 in Review


1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

Defended a dissertation. Signed a book contract. Housetrained a dog. Worked with woodstain.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My resolutions for last year: Complete my dissertation. Defend my dissertation. Graduate! Finish my Singing in the Rain quilt. Grow some vegetables in the garden. Make more clothes. Keep up with my work-out routine. Paint the bathroom, bedroom, and living room.

I did indeed complete my dissertation, defend it, and graduate. I still have not finished quilting my Singing in the Rain quilt because quilting on a tiny home machine is really frustrating. I did grow some vegetables in the garden, including cherry tomatoes and zucchini, but mice ate all my zucchini. Flowers were much more successful. I did not make any more clothes this year, unfortunately. I also was not great at keeping up the work-out routine, though I was swimming pretty regularly before the pool closed for the holiday break, so there’s that. We also did paint the bathroom, though not the bedrooms or living room. Oh, well.

For this year I want to accomplish the following: get a new full-time teaching position, complete my manuscript, complete the Singing in the Rain quilt (I’m so close it’s ridiculous), complete my professional webpage, and make some serious headway on my fiction. I also think I’m going to do a separate post on goals for the house.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but a whole bunch of folks are currently pregnant. 2014 will be a bumper baby year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Chop lost both his grandparents and his cousin this year. That was awful.

5. What places did you visit?

I went to Ann Arbor for what will likely be the last time ever. We also had a great, great weekend trip to Galena in October for my birthday. It was incredibly beautiful and I hope to remember it forever.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

Steady employment. State budget cuts mean that a lot of the courses I usually teach have been axed. It sucks. So does job-hunting. I really want to get to a place where I don’t have to worry about either for a bit.

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

May 15th. Defended my dissertation.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Successfully defending my dissertation and graduating with my Ph.D.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not yet finding a more permanent teaching position.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I got diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis. So far it hasn’t been too bad and I am extremely grateful for this.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A new roof. Seriously, it makes me so happy every time I drive up the street and see it. Also nice that our bedroom ceiling no longer leaks every time it rains.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Chop, as always. He is the most patient and kind person who ever lived.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

My own. I’m pretty frustrated with myself as this year winds down.

14. Where did most of your money go?

New roof, new furnace, new dog

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Finishing grad school! Getting a dog! Teaching a really, really awesome group of students.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

“100″ by Brandi Carlisle

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder?

about the same

ii. thinner or fatter?


iii. richer or poorer?

poorer. but we have a roof and a furnace and all that jazz.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?


19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Screwing around online, watching terrible television on netflix

20. How did you spend Christmas and NYE?

Christmas morning we went to Rockford to visit Chop’s family. Christmas evening my family gathered at my aunt’s house, then my parents and sister came to our place afterward.  New Year’s Eve Chop and I stayed in, ordered pizza (as is our tradition) and watched a marathon of Burns & Allen.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?

I love my dog more than I would have thought possible.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Stuff I really enjoyed this year was Girls, Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire. Chop made me watch the entirety of The West Wing and I despised it. I also started watching American Horror Story over Christmas break and have been enjoying its sheer batshittery.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t.

24. What was the best book you read?

I really enjoyed “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Really loved Brandi Carlisle’s new album. Also Jake Bugg and Lorde.

26. What was your greatest culinary discovery?

Hmm. I started making this really awesome balsamic vinegar beef thing in the crock pot. Also made some killer peanutbutter cookies that will be adding to my annual Christmas cookie baking extravaganza.

27. What did you want and get?

A completed dissertation and a puppy.

28. What did you want and not get?

A stable job.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

I don’t know that I had an absolute favorite but I really enjoyed Side Effects and found Silent House pretty clever for the most part. It was a netflix-y year for me and movies.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 33. For my actual birthday I just worked and had a normal day, but the weekend after Chop took me to Galena. Galena in October is the prettiest place on Earth. I’m hoping to make October trips up there a tradition.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Stable job.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

I got really into wrap dresses. I also wear dog-hair-covered yoga pants way too much these days.

33. What kept you sane?

Swimming and gardening. I was also so pleased to have my desire to write fiction come back toward the end of the year. I spent a lot of October-December writing again, which was wonderful. I felt like I found myself again. Teaching, too, is great for keeping your mind alive. My students inspire me in a lot ways, as corny as that sounds.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Can’t really think of anyone for this.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

The government shut-down was crap. On the brighter side, we finally got gay marriage in Illinois. Embarrassingly late is better than never, I guess.

36. Who did you miss?

I miss my friends I used to talk about writing with.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

Can I say my students? I had some great students this year.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

If you just keep plugging away, things have a way of getting done.

Rec Room Plans


This will be us by Christmas, I hope, getting all melodrama-y in front of the roaring electric fireplace.

So, it’s Thanksgiving and we’ve got some big plans for the basement. The waterproofing and tuckpointing are all now done and the “fun” (meaning: all the work we can do ourselves) can now begin. In anticipation of this, we sent Busby to stay with my parents for the whole holiday weekend and have blocked out a general plan to get the whole rec room area deep-cleaned and painted. Very exciting.

Even more exciting, I got a virtual flyer from Home Depot this morning about their Black Friday sale, which started online today. One of the items on sale was the resilient vinyl plank flooring that we’d been eyeing for the basement rec room. We’ve been really happy with it after using it in our kitchen and with its basement/dampness rating and easy installation over existing flooring (it locks together and floats), it seemed like the perfect solution to put over the nasty asbestos tiles down there.

The sale price was $0.99 a square foot (half the regular price), which is super-cool. Since the budget for this project is extremely tight, we’d been looking at other flooring options in that price range (carpet, carpet tiles, sheet vinyl), but I kinda loathed them all. So we’re excited to actually get what we wanted for the price we wanted. Admittedly, the only one that was on sale at this price was the cherry-wood-look, not the oak-look I’d been favoring, but for half the price, I can live with (and even really, really like) cherry. Here’s what it looks like in the product photo:floorNot bad, eh? The customer photos look pretty similar. I think this is really going to warm up the basement and go a long way toward making it feel more cozy. Long term, I’m going for a cabin-like feel down there. Warm woods, plaid fabrics, a little rustic/camp-like. Basically, I want it to feel like Rock Hudson’s mill house in All That Heaven Allows, a movie and set I’ve been obsessed with for years. Not over-the-top theme-y, of course, but to at least have a little hint of that in the decor.

Longterm, the plan is to put up drywall, but that’s a ways a way right now. In the meantime, we’re painting the existing brick/concrete foundation walls. Had the brick never been painted, I would have totally gone natural for that nice rustic touch, but unfortunately they’re covered in layers of old paint and sanding that down is not in the cards. So paint it is. And for now it’s going to be a really bright, basic white. Eventually I think I want the walls to be something warmer, like beige or taupe, but we’re using waterproofing paint for the first go-around and your color selections with that are limited to white or pastels. So white it is.

Here’s a couple images from pinterest that show what we’re going for with this first pass. Picture with the flooring shown above. Click photos below for sources:

basement dream01 basement dream 02So, not exactly cabin-cosy and Rock Hudson-y, but clean and bright and white. Add the warm tones of a faux-cherry wood floor and I think suddenly we’re a lot closer to where I want to be. Some furniture and a rug or two (or a few) and I think we’re on the train to Cosy Town, even if it might be a really long train ride.

Also, an electric fireplace. My parents’ gift to us this Christmas is going to be a new electric fireplace to help warm up the new/old rec room. We just need to actually pick one out. I’ve yet to find one I’m in love with, though. Will keep the world updated on that front, have no fear. In the meantime, as we prepare to get down and dirty with some cleaning supplies and paint, have a little inspiration for what I hope will ultimately be the vibe of our little basement rec room:

basement dreams 03

Six Years Later

fitzgeraldSo, out of nowhere last week, I opened up the document for my old novel and wrote another ten pages over the course of about two hours. This is the novel I started writing in 2006, back when I was still secretarying. The one about the turn-of-the-century draftsman that required gobs and gobs and gobs of historical research but which made me happier than any other project I’d attempted previously. I had written about 100 pages of it (+ about 100 pages more of notes) from 2006-2007 and then set it aside to focus on applying to PhD programs.

And then I never got back to it because I was busy just trying to keep my head above water in my doctoral program. Then I was writing my dissertation. And then working on teaching and job hunting and being a grown-up. And I’d pretty much figured by this point that I was probably never going to be able to recreate the necessary headspace for it again. Which made me so sad since I still loved that project so much. But I tried not to feel too much regret. How would one even go back to the headspace of six years earlier (and about 100 major life changes back)? I even started writing notes for a new novel (a ghost story) that was designed to be a fun, much quicker project. And I stopped thinking about my little draftsman, tucked away on my hard drive.

So where this new stuff came from I’m not sure. I was just drinking my coffee one morning last week and suddenly decided that I wanted to write out a scene that I’d always been looking forward to writing but had never gotten past the notes stage. I opened my old document and just started typing and one scene led to the next and then another and another. And I was so, so excited. It felt like I’d reconnected with an old friend I’d thought was dead. Or, really, it felt like the dreams I occasionally have where it turns out that someone in my life who’s died is not actually dead at all. That same kind of delight/relief/gratitude. I just hope I don’t end up with the thing that always goes along with those dreams, where I wake up and realize this happy mistake wasn’t true at all and I feel like I’ve lost the person all over again.

Anyway, I’ve been working on it pretty steadily since then, in-between my actual obligations. I’ve continued writing a few more pages but, more importantly, I’ve looked over it with new/older eyes and been able to reconsider some of the problematic aspects that stumped me earlier and see new ways around them. Like deleting a wholly unnecessary character whose presence was dragging the second section down. It had never occurred to me that she might be what was causing me so much trouble with that section, let alone that she was actually serving no purpose whatsoever to the plot. Once I realized she could be jettisoned I felt totally liberated and was able to sketch out a whole new narrative arc for that section that is so, so much stronger than what I’d been doing with it originally. That’s just one example of many, but it’s crazy liberating and exciting. I’m so excited to have this back in my life.

It’s also interesting coming back to it having spent the last six years learning to write in a completely different style for academia. I’d actually started to believe I’d never be able to write fiction again, that my “voice” had been so corrupted by six years of taking on the colorless, formal voice of academic writing. Academic writing can be good in its own way, of course, and I aimed for that, but it’s also about as far as you can get from fiction. I honestly worried that the voice I’d spent so many years developing in my fiction would have been completely snuffed out. Happily, it’s still there, but it’s definitely evolved and become something different. And I actually don’t think this is a bad thing. If anything, my style’s become a little less indulgent, which I probably needed.

Anyway, that’s something big going on in my life at the moment and I wanted to document it. I’m going to hopefully continue working on this project from here on out and finally see it to completion.

Of course, I need to write my academic book first. The one I actually have a contract/legal obligation for. That will have to come first, as will about a dozen other time commitments. But I want to keep this for my spare minutes and maybe even start scheduling time for it in-between all the time I need to organize for those other things. I want it to be in my life again. I think I need it to be, really.

And, because I always like a little Fitzgerald whenever I blather on about writing, here’s my favorite little film of him typing the following delightful bit:

“Everyone has been predicting a bad end for the flapper. But I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”

Busby Busby


The photo above is little man in his first Halloween costume (a dinosaur, if it’s not obvious). He hated it, but we were amused. Next year I think I’ll be custom making one for him since the store-bought ones fit his little beagle body poorly and are stupidly expensive. Still, he looked cute and was surprisingly well-behaved with the trick-or-treaters.

In general, too, he’s just gotten so much more well-behaved. This is heartening since I was feeling really overwhelmed with him prior to this. The dog’s got massive amounts of energy and just behaves unlike any other dog I’ve had before. Apparently his quirks are extremely typical for a beagle, but it hasn’t been incredibly easy learning how to best deal with them. In retrospect, a beagle was probably a bad fit for our household, and since Chop was so dead-set on getting one, I’m definitely not letting him live this down. However, we love Busby like crazy and have been working hard to adapt. I think he’s gotten a little better on some aspects and we’ve gotten better too. And the fun parts of having a dog are finally starting to way outweigh the stressful parts. Yay!

He finally started puppy school this week. He was, as usual, terrible about pulling on his leash and sitting still, but I was so proud of him. He came in already knowing sit and down and was totally cool with the other stuff we did, like putting on doggy t-shirts and socializing nicely. He was just such a good, good boy. I’m sure things will be much harder as we get to the actual obedience stuff (he is a dog with his own opinions about everything), but I will take my small triumphs where I can get them.

So, concluding month four of having a dog I have to say: Puppies are hard but ultimately wonderful. I imagine having kids is like this only 8 million times more overwhelming. I will happily stick with my puppy for now and feel proud about how far we’ve come.

Update on the Mysterious Box

brownboxSo my dad come over the other day and opened up the mystery box (by taking the bolts off the top plate). What was revealed inside was a deep, dark, creepy hole that went down through our basement floor and into our sewer system. Seriously, so gross. It turns out that the mystery box is an old flood control device, which makes sense.

Basically, in the city of Chicago all the houses have connections to the main sewer system (pretty normal) but, as we’re still using the original sewer system from over 100 years ago (yes), it gets overloaded every time there’s a massive storm. It is not at all uncommon for the storm water to overwhelm the sewer system out at the street and back up into all the house drains, flooding people’s basements. Very nasty and one of the prospects that scares me most about owning a home here.

One of the ways that folks combat this is to install a flood control device which automatically shuts off access between the street sewer and a house’s individual sewer drain. My rudimentary understanding is that, at the first sign of backup, a little wall lowers and closes off the drain between a house and the street. Typically people have these installed under their front yard. Apparently at some point one was installed in our basement (the box looks about as old as the house though my dad the electrical engineer thinks the engine on top is newer, as in 1960s-ish).

In all likelihood it stopped working a long time ago. However, according to our neighbors, after the city did some work on our street in the 1970s, none of our houses have experienced a sewer backup basement flood. One of the benefits of being on a main street, since the houses on the side streets all around us still flood regularly. Just like how our street always gets plowed immediately but the side streets stay covered in snow. Living on a noisy thoroughfare for the win!

So that’s why we’ve never investigated having a flood control device installed in our front yard. Now that we’ve uncovered a fully dug trench, though, and an ancient flood control box, we’re a bit torn on what to do. We have three options:

1.) Ignore the box just like we’ve been doing unwittingly. It’s not hurting anything and we were planning to enclose that area of the basement (which also includes the gas meter and the main water shut-off) in a small closet anyway. This is obviously the cheapest option.

2.) Have the device removed and a metal plate installed over the hole. I think Chop is favoring this option, though we have no idea yet what this would cost.

3.) Look into having the device replaced with a new one. Generally, installing a flood control device is a pretty pricey procedure. Since the digging part has already been accomplished, though, I’m leaning toward finding out what it would cost to just replace the mechanical part of it. One can never be too careful and considering we had several “100 Year” rainstorms last year (thanks, global warming!), I’m nervous that it’s only a matter of time before we get a storm that overwhelms even our street’s flood-free-for-thirty-years sewers.

So, mystery mostly solved. And now we have more (potentially expensive) decisions to think about. Oh, homeownership.

Rec Room, Part II

dingdongDing Dong, the wood paneling is dead! Which wood paneling? The nasty wood paneling. Ding dong, the wood paneling is dead!

I cannot take credit for any of it, though I don’t feel too bad about that. I have a deep fear of both mold and house centipedes and was pretty sure that removing the wood paneling would reveal an abundance of both. So I took puppy-watching/lunch-fetching/doing-my-grading duty instead. And Chop and Magical Stepdad had at it.

Things actually turned out to be better than expected underneath the paneling. There was mold, but nothing too horrible. There were a handful of house centipedes here and there, but no horror-movie-style unveiling of a nest. And we have what appears to be three cracks, which is about what we expected. Happily, there don’t seem to be any surprise cracks since they’re fairly pricey to have filled.

We reclaimed two windows which the previous owners had (for some reason) paneled over. That made an amazing difference in terms of light. Not having a million miles of dark brown faux wood paneling also lightened things up significantly. It turns out the previous owners had painted the walls sky blue originally before putting up the paneling. Certainly something we can live with until we get the waterproofing done and paint the walls something fresh (I’m thinking a warm white). Good god, it’s so much brighter down there.

Here’s an after photo that looks horrible but is, trust me, so much better for a lot of non-aesthetic reasons:

basement after01

We also added on a good 14 or so square feet to the space by removing the weird gas meter closet/secret passage way that had been built out of one end of the room. That’s pretty cool. We also found two surprises here, one good one bad. The good is that behind the old, straight closet wall, it turns out the actual brick/concrete foundation wall juts out in the shape of the bay window directly above it in the living room. That adds a charming little bit of interest to the room. The bad surprise is that there was this weird thing:


We can’t figure out what the heck this is. Some kind of engine or generator? Maybe? We also can’t move it since it appears to be connected to the floor. Wtf? Also, it was plugged in when we discovered it. Plugged in to a secret outlet that was hanging inside the wall. Again, wtf? If I ever get to meet the previous owners in the great beyond, I will have so many questions to ask them.

So that’s weird. And until we figure out who to even ask what to do with this thing (and how to get rid of it), it will remain sitting there. Blah. Also, we discovered that the previous owners had insulted the walls and ceiling of the rec room. Considering the rest of the house has no insulation in its walls (they didn’t do that back in ’47), I guess this was a nice thing the previous owners did. Might as well insulate one room, right? However, since they never addressed any of the foundation cracks and instead just let the seepage happen for many, many, many years, most of that fiberglass insulation was black with mold. So gross. And health-risky. Thanks, P.O’s.

So Chop and Magical Stepdad bagged all the wall insulation asap and disposed of it. They also broke down and disposed of the paneling, the framing for the walls, and parts of the drop ceiling. We’re not planning on putting any of it back. Until the hardcore renovation down the road (when we build in the bathroom, etc.), we’re just planning to paint the brick walls and the floor joist ceiling. It’s really been a process of de-finishing our basement. So then we can re-finish it correctly down the road how we want to do it. But for the near future, a clean, water and mold-free unfinished basement is what we’re planning to live with.

basement after 03

The only thing that hasn’t been touched yet is the interior wall (just panels on 2×4 framing) which separates the rec room from the laundry/utility space. There’s no mold or seepage issue there, so we’ve just left it. We like having the spaces separated and it will work fine until the hardcore renovation. In the meantime, I’m thinking I’ll paint that remaining wall of paneling the same white as the brick walls. Get a little touch of the white plank treatment that’s so pinterest-y these days.

So, here’s where the rec room reno phase 1 stands: the demo is mostly done. We still need to remove much of the drop ceiling and the ceiling insulation. From here we need to focus on the actual waterproofing and mold remediation. The general opinion of the professional basement folks we’ve talked to is that the mold we have is not that big a deal and we can clean it ourselves with hardware store mold remover and elbow grease, so that’s good. We will need a little bit of tuckpointing where some brick was damaged from seepage, but I think that’s pretty minor. After all that is done, we’re good to prime/paint, which is just going to make an amazing difference, I think. We’re still not sure what we’re going to do about the flooring (it’s asbestos) and will most likely just be living with it as is (only much cleaner) for quite a while.

So it’s happening. And not nearly as scary as I secretly feared it would be. I’m much happier to know exactly what we’re dealing with and am looking forward to getting it to a nice, clean, usable condition before winter. Even unfinished, it’ll make for a cozy place to chill out and play with the dog. Cannot wait to get to that stage.

Rec Room, Part I


At long last, the faux wood paneling in the basement is coming down! I’m a little bit afraid of what we might find (mold, house centipedes, more 8-tracks), but am so, so excited to see that nasty stuff gone. I’m actually not a hater of wood paneling when it’s nice wood paneling. Say, a sweet, adorable knotty pine, like so (click photo for source):knottypineThere’s something cute and retro and cozy about nice knotty pine. It reminds me of the Wisconsin lodge my family and I used to vacation in when I was a kid (a total amazing, kitschy palace I need to write about soon), as well as the attic suite Chop and I honeymooned in on Prince Edward Island (I should also write about that sometime). In fact, the first house we ever fell in love with on our house-buying expedition (the one that kicked the whole thing off) had a great, sloped-ceiling knotty pine attic bedroom/sitting room/bathroom upstairs that I was madly in love with. It breaks my heart every time I see someone in blogland painting over pretty knotty pine.

What we’re dealing with in our house, though, is far from pretty knotty pine. It’s fake, nasty, moldy, warped, badly installed faux wood paneling from 1973. Basically particle board with wood-look paper on the front. There will be no love lost when this stuff comes down. And it is coming down. The last major non-cosmetic project we’re doing on the house this year is getting the basement waterproofed so we no longer have seepage and little puddles of rainwater on the floor down there every time it storms. To do that, we need to do some work on the outside of the foundation and some work on the inside of the basement. And to do the latter, the wood paneling must come down. And it ain’t going back up.

Before we take on this momentous event, here are a few “before” pictures:

basement 1basement 2

In Memoriam: Faux Wood Paneling (1973-2013).


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