Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bathroom Remodel, Part II

Here are some more pictures of our progress. What can I say other than - it is simply divine to have a tub!

Our new tile. What a change from the old icky green tile from before!

The new tub! We expanded both out and up. We expanded into a walk-in closet/nursery to give us more room, and we also got rid of the dropped ceiling (which was so low it blocked off the top level of glass in the glass block window), which makes the room seem bigger and more airy, plus exposing the top level of glass block brings in a lot more daylight. In this photo, we do not yet have the shower enclosure, sink or toilet in. But we do have a little critter enjoying his very first bath in the tub.

Pure delight. A happy baby, splashing in the tub!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bathroom Remodel, Part I

We have been remodeling our upstairs bathroom since April 2008. And actually, if you count when we had the new glass block window installed (on an extremely rare for Chicago, warm day in January), it has almost been a year. But...I see the light at the end of the tunnel! Late this afternoon, Paul (with a little help from me) installed our new claw foot tub. The shower attachment has not yet been installed, but at 5:15 PM tomorrow, once the silicone sealant that Paul applied to the drain is fully cured, we can turn on the water to the tub!

We decided that Tyler will be the first to take a bath in the new tub (although I confess I will be chomping at the bit to have a lovely bubble bath soon after). The poor darling has been having his bath in the kitchen, on the floor, in a too-small baby bathtub with his knees scrunched up! The rest of us have been showering in a deck shower in the basement-brrr! So we went to Toys 'R Us tonight to buy Tyler's Christmas presents, and we also picked up a toddler-sized Thomas the Tank Engine hooded bath towel, and Elmo faucet cover (to keep little kids from bumping their heads on the faucet, plus he adores Elmo) and some fish to play with.

I will post pictures of the new bathroom as we install the new fixtures, etc. bit by bit, but I wanted to show a couple of construction photos so you can see some of the work we did, starting with a few "Before" pictures. In a nutshell, our bathroom was cramped, dingy, falling apart, icky, old, and awful!

Paul getting ready to work in our tiny bathroom (6 1/2 feet by 7 1/2 feet, pre-expansion/construction), by taking down the shower bar. Note his little "helper". And the 1950's avocado-green bathtub. I love the 50's as an era, but a 28" wide, cramped tub with the finish worn off so that it takes a massive amount of elbow grease to get clean does not fit my view of retro-charming.

The icky ceiling with the space alien heating fixture. The weird spot in front of it was where we had removed the oldest ceiling fan in history-eeew.

The sink and toilet. And the helper.

A good chunk of the refuse that came out of the bathroom, including the non-charming green bathtub.

A view of the new ceiling joists. The cross bars were put in for extra support since this is where we expanded into the room next door, giving our tiny bathroom a little more than an extra foot of space (sounds tiny, but in a bathroom as small as ours was, even a mere foot can make the new space seem huge!)

The floor after expansion, with the old plumbing still in place.

Now the old plumbing is out and some of the new is in. You can see a bit of Paul there with his stubby craftsman-like pencil, meticulously figuring out the placement for the rest of the plumbing. Stay tuned for the transformation!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

When Life Just Seems To Be Too Much

"I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go."
Abraham Lincoln

That just about sums up my day today.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Beatrix Potter Tea!

At last I had my Beatrix tea. I had been planning to have it for months, but one delay after the other prevented it. But my tea ladies and I met in late September to enjoy a luncheon followed by a viewing of the movie Miss Potter with Renee Zellweger. It was a lovely afternoon, filled with great conversation and a totally delightful movie. Here are some highlights:

My "Tea Ladies"
(L to R: Sandra, Colleen, Alexis, Me wearing my Beatrix outfit that I sewed, Barbara, and Lisa)

The tea table with my Peter Rabbit teapot in the middle

Desserts, including tiny carrot cakes (how appropriate!) that Colleen brought

A gift from Sandra

Decorations gone awry! I had purchased these darling Beatrix character Beanie Babies from a seller in England to grace the side table during my Beatrix tea. Once my grandson saw them, my little tableau was absconded with and an hour of delighted play ensued!

Both Tyler and I love Jeremy Fisher the best. Tyler, because he loves frogs; Me, because I love his Regency costume. Jeremy had loads of fun driving the choo-choo full of Beatrix toys!

Monday, October 6, 2008


A once in a lifetime thing, that the odds of success seemed astronomical, but they pulled it off:

All of the first cousins who are the children of my sisters and me got together and went to a White Sox baseball game. We didn't think it would work because my eldest sister's son lives in Indiana and works long hours and rarely is able to visit. My middle sister's oldest son is married with two children and another almost due, and he also works long hours. My son was able to get out of football practice early for the trip down to the South side, and my two daughters and middle sister's younger son just happened to be available too.

They went to the game, had a blast together, caught up with each other and in some cases, really got to know each other for the first time as adults/near adults. Too bad the Sox lost. But the bonding of the cousins was the inportant thing. Here they are:

L to R: Lenny, Steve, Kristin, Julie, Robbie, and Dave

Monday, September 8, 2008

Baby Goes To School!

Tyler is now attending a preschool program for 2 year olds at our church. It's a wonderful program taught by a Montessori-trained teacher. The program is heavy on play and incorporates prayer as well as the Pledge of Allegience (said by the teachers of course - most of these children are only starting to use phrases, much less complete sentences!)

Tyler and Mama

Tyler and "Da" (granddaddy)


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Galena, IL

We took a rare family trip to Galena, IL. Galena is a small town near the Illinois-Iowa border, full of history and hills:

A view from above the town, looking down to Main street.

A gorgeous painted lady. I was so inspired - I now know what colors to use for my own home the next time it is due to be painted!

This is an historic garden designed by Catholic immigrants so that they could pray the Stations of the Cross. (If you look close you can see some of the numbers for the Stations where the people would kneel to pray.)

Here are Paul and the kids on the trolley tour. Paul is holding Tyler (for whom we purchased a t-shirt that reads, "Spoiled by Grandpa"!), and next to him are Kristin, Julie, and Robert. The kids enjoyed the trip much more than we anticipated. I think the thing that most pleased them was one evening when we went over the border for the Dubuque County Fair. While Paul and I took Tyler on kiddie rides (Paul and Tyler on the Scoobie Doo Bus was a sight to behold!) and toured the livestock ("Bunny!" "Cow!"), they went to hear a concert on the grounds which was, in their view, "Awesome"!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stepping Back In Time

Paul and I traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin for a reenactment with the Old Northwest Volunteers. It was our first reenactment together, and the first time where I felt I had all of my garments and accessories the way they should be. It was a lot of fun. We got to know the others in the group, played games and welcomed soldiers back from their training in preparation to head out to Pennsylvania for the war. We were just outside the Kenosha Civil War Museum.

The gardens were lovely. We took several pictures of each other among the flowers (Note: I wanted to get rid of the modern building behind Paul, so I did a really bad, first attempt photo-shop job of the background. But just look at him, not the scenery!). My day dress was completed the night before the event. Most of Paul's clothing was made by online tailors. But his vest was made by yours truly out of silk from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, IL.

Although I was up until 3:30 am the night before finishing the handworked buttonholes on the vest, I didn't mind because I am very pleased with how the vest came out.

What a lovely day we had. It was so good to travel back!

Monday, June 30, 2008


I have decided to write about some sewing projects. Most of my projects have either been on hold since my grandson was born almost two years ago, or are in that "almost done" state that if I could just get going, they'd be done. But I am finding time to work a bit here and there.

I am currently working in two eras: Civil War and Edwardian. For Civil War I am finishing a day dress, and hope to have it done for an event in twelve days. I have hooks and eyes to sew, sleeves to put on (the cuffs and handsewn buttonholes are complete), and the bodice needs to be sewn to the skirt (the skirt is also done). I would like to start a new vest for Paul. The one I made last year is really too small. But if I can't do that, he can still go to the event; he'll just need to keep his coat fastened.

Finally, my Edwardian project is a Beatrix Potter skirt. I have it cut out already, and the sewing is not difficult; I just need to get to it. The skirt is to go with the Beatrix jacket I made before. I actually had planned to have it for a Beatrix Potter Tea I will be hosting. The date for the tea has been changed twice. Once, because my sister forgot and scheduled something else for the first date (and I really want her to be here for the tea), the second delay was because Paul got sick. But now I have rescheduled it for Labor Day weekend, and I so much want to become Beatrix for the day!

I love sewing and making dresses from the past. It is one of my favorite pastimes!

On the Mend With Hope and Joy!

Paul is doing so much better. He still has some tests to have done, monitoring to be read, and doctors to meet with, but we are convinced that he is on the right track. Some changes made:
  1. We are eaing healthier meals. Less caffiene (or in Paul's case - none), less sweets, more vegetables, homemade wheat bread (which is not a difficulty because we have a sturdy Bosch mixer with a dough hook that makes bread baking almost effortless).
  2. Daily walks. Paul actually tries to get in two walks each day, and has been very good about this. He does one at work on his lunch hour and one in the evening, often with grandson and me.
  3. Saner work hours for Paul. He goes in at a certain time and leaves at a certain time. No more staying late and not getting home to eat dinner until after 7:30 PM. Thankfully his bosses are on board with this and have actually told him to take his time and take care of himself.
  4. Acupuncture. Paul was skeptical about this at first, but has found that it really does help him with his stress symptoms. Fortunately his medical doctor approves of this type of treatment.
  5. Less projects at home. This has put a stop to our bathroom remodel, but Paul's generous parents have offered to help meet the cost of hiring out someone to finish the work. This is a tremendous blessing to us. The only projects Paul has been doing are small things such as oiling the bathroom door and fixing the lock, doing a bit of gardening, and adding a piece of aluminum to a gutter! But big projects can wait for now.

This was all very scary for us, but it also had us reevaluate our life. The most wonderful part about it was that upon reevaluation, we both realized how lucky we are, in spite of the challenges we face. We love each other, our kids, and our grandson. We are privledged to all be together here at home, when in other circumstances we might have our two older children off away from us, either off to college or living on their own. Instead they are here with us, pursuing their dreams in the area, sharing their lives with us still. We are able to see our grandson grow up day by day. Our home, although not perfect (it's a very old home) has a lovely vintage feel with most of the rooms done, and is in a safe neighborhood.

We could look at our life in a different, negative light, and there were times during this event that I was - feeling that all was awful. But one evening on our walk, Paul and I talked about it and both came to the realization that while we don't match up to the mythical Jones' in material wealth and home and cars, we are just plain blessed with the gifts we do have. What a joyful feeling that was! Perhaps this was a wake up call from God - Open your eyes! See what I have given you and be glad!

I am!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When a Family Member Becomes Ill...

...the world is turned topsy-turvey.

Paul became ill at work last Friday, requiring a visit to the emergency room and a short hospitalization. This was an extremely stressful and difficult time. The good news is that he is home and safe, that this illness is not at all as serious as we originally thought, and Paul has several appointments to have certain test results explained or followed up on. He has been home and will be home all this week.

The big thing now is a change in the way we live and how we balance things. The balance in our lives was almost non-existent, in that Paul was overworked, overtired, on a treadmill, so to speak, and it finally got to him.

But the future always has a ray of hope. The trick is to see the ray of hope in the darkness. To see sane work hours, balanced, healthy meals, time for exercise and relaxation, and time for beauty. To be honest, I am quite afraid that I am not up to the task of providing this for my beloved husband. I feel and have always felt very scattered in my approach to my role as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Although I have many organizational tools at my disposal, my use of them comes in fits and starts. Never a seamless perfection of orderliness and balance. I must confess to a tremendous amount of guilt in the way our lives have been since day one of our marriage, and I am feeling that my deficiencies may have ultimately lead to this current distress in our lives.

My approach then is to put one foot in front of the other as we move through this crisis. And I just pray that God will reach me and show me the way out of this darkness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Good Earth

A long-awaited warm spring day after a cold, long winter brings out...

...a pair of feminine garden boots, received as a "freebie" Heirloom of the Month from Victorian Trading Company with the purchase of other merchandise (a hat I have admired and wanted for many months).

...soil amendments to be added to garden boxes ("Mel's Square Foot Garden Mix" - 1/3 composted manure, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss) while wearing a pair of feminine garden boots.

...a box planted with seedlings (broccoli, buttercrunch lettuce, and Romaine lettuce), and of course some pretty flowers, with the late afternoon sun making them vibrant with color!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Viva il Papa!

I have been so moved by the images of our Holy Father these past days. It was marvelous to see a stadium filled with over 45,000 people all praying and celebrating Mass together, seeing the Pope addressing 25,000 youth and seminarians, and then praying at Ground Zero. The words of Pope Benedict have moved my soul. This is so timely, as I have been in a very sad place lately - adjusting to returning to my profession as a nurse (part-time), coping with almost unrelenting illness, and trying to find my footing and place in the world. I found the following particularly inspiring:

"Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church's liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ's disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you." (Spoken by Pope Benedict XVI at a youth rally at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.)

I must remember each day the joyful instruction given by the Pope:
Have Courage!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Quiet Evening

Last night I had the house to myself, well, almost to myself; my grandson was soundly asleep in his bed, and the rest of the family were out and about - my children all out visiting friends and Paul needed to stay late at work.

After spending a lot of time in the afternoon working on household paperwork and insurance forms, I planned on an evening of doing nothing. And it did start that way. I watched the new version of Northanger Abbey, which I enjoyed very much. When it was done, I thought I'd go upstairs and surf the net. But I was oddly compelled to "tend" the house.

You see, the house had been nicely cleaned for Easter. Add to this that we had our new sitting room furniture delivered (a sofa and love seat). And although the furniture is inexpensive (with a toddler it just won't do to buy expensive stuff, plus it was on sale!), it looks very lovely. Before it was delivered, the girls and I vacuumed and mopped the sitting room thoroughly. We also picked up and sorted through all of Tyler's toys. Earlier yesterday I got motivated to sort and neaten our CD collection, which was out of order, many CD's were "homeless" with their cases strewn about on the stereo shelves, and there was quite a bit of dust on the shelves of the CD holder.

So last night, I wanted to keep this nice feeling of order. So I got the kitchen wiped down, sinks emptied, floor mopped, dishwasher started. I vacumed all the downstairs floors (with a toddler, vacuuming only once a week just will not do), tidied the table, and generally put things right. It was not a burden; it was actually quite enjoyable.

I liked the feeling of "tending".

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monkey Picked Oolong Tea

A friend recently told me about this wonderful (albeit pricey) tea. She warned me not to go into Teavana and try a sample or I would be hooked for life as she is. So, of course, I just had to go into Teavana and try it, and yes, it is delicious. But it is definitely a tea for special occasions, not for everyday use.

You may be wondering - is it really picked by monkeys?! Sadly, no. I had these fascinating visions of darling little monkeys picking my tea. There is a tale going round that Buddhist monks long ago trained monkeys to pick tea leaves, but there are differing opinions on whether or not that is true. There is, however, one company in China today that claims to have monkeys picking tea for them.

At any rate, today the name Monkey Picked Oolong means the finest variety of Oolong tea. Oolong tea is the type of tea often served in Chinese restaurants. It is lighter than black tea. The differences are in how the tea is processed (it is called fermentation, but not the same fermentation as one would find with alcohol):

  • Black tea: When tea leaves are bruised or crushed, enzymes in the leaf cells are exposed to oxygen and a chemical reaction (oxidation) takes place that causes the leaf to darken, or ferment. When tea leaves are fully fermented, the end product is black tea.

  • Oolong tea: The fermentation process is stopped prematurely, once the leaves are slightly yellowed. When steeped, Oolong tea produces golden or light brown tea with a very delicate flavor resembling neither black nor green tea.
After a very hectic week and weekend, with both of my daughters dancing in a show, I felt it was a good day to have my Monkey Picked Oolong!

Friday, February 29, 2008

On Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

...or in our case, helping out as much as possible with our grandson who, with his mother (our eldest daughter), lives with us.

Here is how it all came about:
We sent our daughter off to college. She had always been the "rebellious one" of our children, distant, almost impossible to reason with at times. We got the news in early 2006 that she was pregnant. It was one of those moments that seem to stretch an eternity, when I felt God watching and waiting - what will you do? For Paul and I, the only right, loving, and moral possibility was for her to continue the pregnancy and to keep the baby with the family. We promised her that we would do everything possible to allow her to continue with her hopes and dreams, while helping to raise the baby.

It is a very odd thing to raise a baby again after your youngest child becomes a teenager. Interestingly enough, I did have this thought in late 2005 that I would love to have a baby again, and even briefly thought about adopting. I am quite sure that this was God's way of preparing me for my new role: A grandmother helping to raise a grandchild. The adjustment has not been easy. I have been dealing with some health issues, and it was all just such a topsy-turvy change of lifestyle. I had different plans and dreams. It made for frustration and often depression, even feeling trapped. I had to remind myself long and often about the bigger picture and that I was working for a greater good.

However, in spite of the difficulties, our grandson is a complete blessing. I am so grateful that we are managing to do what we set out to do - help raise Tyler and help Julie achieve her dreams along with it. Some things that have helped are having family therapy, getting needed rest, and eating properly. Finding a new doctor that is addressing my health issues has also brightened the horizons significantly. The most wonderful change has been in Julie. The once rebellious teen is turning into a lovely young woman, a good mother, a loving daughter, a sibling who is also a friend, and a grown up. Our life has altered quite a bit. I also am needing to reassess working. As it is now, I am doing a lot of baby care while Julie works part-time. But Paul and I discussed how since I am a Registered Nurse that I could earn more in the same amount of time Julie is working, allowing her to be with her son more. We have spent time in prayer, asking for God's guidance on this issue.

The Important Thing:
It can be done. It isn't easy, but God gives us the strength. When Julie was pregnant and considering adoption, I was so dismayed. I didn't want to lose this precious family member, however lovely any adoptive family could be. Even in my most depressed times, I have never regretted our decision to keep Tyler in our family and home.

He is a blessing. Thank you God.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Without The Dark, There Is No Sunrise

Today I was in my doctor's office getting treatment. I have been down and out with a sinus infection (that finally required antibiotics), and just in general poor health. The snows in our area along with the long days of winter have also deflated me. But the doctor said that he never looks at the winter in bad terms. He feels he can't truly enjoy the spring and summer without this season of quiet and rest. He said to me, "Without the dark, there is no sunrise." This made good sense to me.

I walked home today because my daughter needed the car and dropped me off at the doctor's office. It is a somewhat long walk, but today I welcomed it. It is a comparatively warm day, with the huge snows we have had recently beginining to melt. The sun was bright. I was grateful for the sun and fresh air and exercise. My doctor had given me a hot cup of green tea to go, and I sipped it all the way home. I paused only once to look at one of my favorite home gardens along that pathway. I often walk past this neighbor's house to admire the beauty of his garden vision. Once home I soaked my feet in a hot bath.

Simple pleasures on a winter day, knowing warmth will come in its time!.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feeding Mama Blueberries

A favorite time for Julie and Tyler:

Orderly Days - Part Two

Here is my continuation of this post where I introduced my Home Management Binder from Orderly Days (Update 10/13/08: Sadly, the website seems to be down right now. I don't know why or when it might return.). As I mentioned then, I have "tweaked" my binder to make it more useful to my particular situation. Here are some of the other things I have included in the binder:

Daily Task List from Monday

(This was placed in a Day Runner plastic protector sheet to allow use of the dry-erase markers. Tasks for morning and afternoon were completed and marked off with one of my dry-erase markers.)

Chore list "Let's Clean Up!" program

(Note that I re-wrote my inspirational quote onto nice paper with a rose next to it.)

Close-up of the chore list

The chore list is placed on the refrigerator. There are boxes to check off when a task is complete. If a chore isn't done, it can be put on the next day's list (that's where you see a number "1", indicating that the chore should have been done the previous day).

Praying the Rosary - Praying the Gospels

The Rosary is an often misunderstood prayer of the Catholic faith. What many don't realize is that the Rosary is a wonderful meditation on the Gospels. Each day the Rosary is prayed has five different mysteries to reflect on, one for each of the five decades of the Rosary:

Joyful Mysteries (Mondays and Saturdays)
- Annunciation - Obedience
- Visitation - Love for Neighbor
- Nativity - Love for the Poor
- Presentation of Jesus - Humility
- Finding of Jesus - Prayer

Sorrowful Mysteries (Tuesdays and Fridays)
- Agony in the Garden - Submission to God's Will
- Scourging at the Pillar - Loathing of our Sins
- Crowning of Thorns - Christ, the King of Our Hearts
- Christ Carries the Cross - Our Daily Crosses
- Crucifixion - Sacrifice

Luminous Mysteries (Thursdays)
- Baptism by John - Renewal of the Holy Spirit
- Wedding Feast At Cana - God's Transforming Power
- Proclamation of the Kingdom - Word of God
- Transfiguration - Christ the Light
- Institution of the Eucharist - Christ in the World

Glorious Mysteries (Wednesdays and Sundays)
- Resurrection - Overcoming evil
- Ascension - New Life
- Descent of the Holy Spirit - Ourselves as Temples of the Spirit
- Assumption of Mary - Peaceful Death
- Coronation - Glory of the Kingdom of God

I don't pray the Rosary every day, but it is a very calming and beautiful way to spend time with God on those days I do pray it. And my mother made me a beautiful Rosary when I had my First Communion as a child: