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The Empty Nest

Yes, it has finally happened. We have joined the ranks of the empty-nesters. Our fledglings have fledged and we have the house to ourselves.

Son and family have taken possession of their new home and are having a great time. The house turned out beautifully, I am almost jealous of the large windows and the big empty basement, and I am happy for them. They have taken the last two kittens, too, Simon and Ash, so I have my office back, too.

The office/sewing room/guest room. It is small, but functional, and kitten-free!

I hesitated to write this post because I seem to keep misplacing the photos I took of the finished house – they are on my computer at work, or somewhere else, who knows. I promise I will show them sometime.

In the meantime, we have turned our attention back to Claymire, and assessing those little projects that got lost along the way. This weekend, I finally painted the baseboards in the living and dining rooms. They have been the wall color for about 2 years, ever since we had the Great Flood of 2010 and replaced all the flooring. They looked okay, in fact, I don’t like the look of a skinny white stripe running around the room when mouldings are little skinny clamshells we have in the bedrooms.

The dining room, with blue tape still in place. It looks a little too bright, to me, in this room.

But the ones in the main part of the house are 6 inches, and decorative. Besides that, flat paint, which I love on our less-than-smooth walls, is not easy to scrub on a baseboard.

The color is Pittsburgh Paints Manor Hall in Dogwood Blossom, paint I had left over from the old kitchen cabinets.

Next, we did some upgrades on our door mouldings. The plan is to do this through the whole main part of the house; so far, we did these two as a trial:


and after


It is made from a 4″ piece of mdf, a piece of 1/2 round, and some crown moudling.










What do you think? I found the inspiration and DIY how-tos on Pinterest. I love creative people, especially when I can borrow their ideas!

So now mr husband is looking at our fireplace, and wondering if we shouldn’t tile around it. We have wanted to for a couple of years, and just couldn’t decide what to put there, so I just painted it black and waited. On the way to the tile shop yesterday, while waiting for paint to dry, he wondered whether everyone did as much home improving as we do. As he started to tick off the things we have done to Claymire since moving in 15 years ago, I suggested that yes, people did, at least people who bought a home in such crummy condition as ours, and weren’t content to leave it that way.

The fireplace as it looks now. So many options and ideas!

Besides, I realized that fixing up the house makes me happy. I like to see a new pillow on the loveseat, or fresh curtains, or a new plant. Even rearranging furniture gives a new perspective on a space, reveals possibilities, and maybe a fresh start.

And we do have a fresh start. For 24 of the 26 years we have been married, we have not lived alone, just the two of us. It is an odd realization, that hits at different times of the day, in strange ways. I hear a noisy muffler at night, and realize it is not our kid coming home. The city truck that picks up leaves went by, and for the first time in years, I didn’t worry that his car was parked in the way. I hear an ambulance go by at 1 am, and decide it really isn’t likely that he’s been in an accident. (I know, mother-brains work in strange ways.) It is just us, now, and that is kind of exciting, and kind of sad.

Oh, and I did get an early Christmas gift…we have officially adopted Mabel cat!

Welcome home, girl.





Like I need another project…

Folks, do you ever find that, in the midst of having waaaaay to much to do, you start mentally planning more projects? I do this all the time, and I think it is a way of avoiding the need to think about the current quagmire around me.

Right now we are neck-deep in a ton of projects, and yet I find myself contemplating up-dating the door mouldings and changing the color of the living room walls. Yeah, like I need another project. If I mentioned these plans to mr husband right now, I think there would be a homicide.

It has been a pretty awful week, so I guess my brain needed a diversion from reality. Son and Daughter-in-law have bought a house, at last! It was a HUD foreclosure, and while it is a sound, good house, it needs a lot of work, and also an “occupancy inspection” from the city before they can move in. While I agree with a lot of the updates the city requires, such as proper venting of the furnace and hot water tank, etc., much of it amounts to a shake-down for more money. They charge $250 for the inspection, done by 5 different inspectors, and we will see the report tomorrow, but basically it is asking us to bring a 50 year old house up to code, which isn’t really financially feasible, and isn’t required for all residents buying homes, just those buying a home that has spent time vacant. It is stressful and expensive, to say the very least.

It’s a good house, but was badly neglected

So we are exhausted and rapidly going to the poorhouse, our own house is overdue for a good cleaning, and leaves are beginning to fall, signalling our time is short for completing any outdoor projects this year.

Then this past Tuesday, we noticed our Chippy cat wasn’t acting well. In fact, she seemed lethargic, and Wednesday morning she seemed to have trouble breathing. I high-tailed it off to the vet first thing in the morning, and after x-rays, they rushed me to an emergency vet, where she was promptly put in an oxygen-tent for animals. After a battery of tests, they determined she had very advanced hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a big word I likely misspelled that means heart disease and she was already suffering from congestive heart failure. After 24 hours of treatment, she wasn’t responding at all to the medication, in fact, it was damaging her kidneys, and she was fading fast. She was so fragile, we only had a couple of minutes with her Thursday evening, when we made the decision to let her go, as she wasn’t going to survive outside of the oxygen for long. Even the vet, who usually will never give advice, agreed that it was best, as there was no way she could improve with the amount of damage to her heart.

Our Chippy was a very unique cat

I won’t subject you to the details, but if you have been there, you know. My son and I and his wife were with her, and she seemed relieved to have us hold and pet and kiss her. My heart felt like it was broken into pieces. We will miss her so very much. It happened so quickly, without any warning signs. Monday she seemed fine; Thursday, she was gone.

Chippy was only 4 years old. I know you are not supposed to admit to having favorites, but she was my favorite pet EVER. She was very special to me from the first time I saw her as a 12 week old kitten.

our Chippy, the week we got her

As I write this, Mabel is flopped across my lap, her toes on the keyboard. She hits the space bar now and then, and squeaks at me when my hands disturb her rest. I feel bad, as  she is very sweet,  but no one can replace our Chippy.

I have been preparing myself for the passing of Rowley dog, who is old and having troubles of his own, and for our Mr. Cookie, who has advanced arthritis and is 14 years old. I was not in any way expecting to lose Chippy, not at this age. We still have Mr. Cookie, and Mabel, and three of the orphans, who have all been adopted but have not been placed yet, so our house is far from empty.

For some reason, the kittens like playing in the bathtub

I am selfish, I suppose; there is still a cat on my lap. My heart, however, has an empty spot that still hurts, and there is a little grave in the backyard where my calico friend now rests, wrapped in the kitty princess blankets I made for her.

She was always there to help, whatever you were working on







So maybe that is why, as I sit here with Mabel on a cold Sunday morning, I look around and contemplate painting the walls. Thinking about what comes next is better than thinking about today. Maybe hard work helps heal the sadness.


Why I love our smaller house, but not it’s closets!

I am fascinated by the small house movement, and while I can’t see mr husband and myself ever living in a “tiny” house under 400 square feet, I do love the ideas and inspiration from small houses and apartments. I’ve never been comfortable in large houses, or even large rooms, and I enjoy decorating a space by editing out what I don’t need, finding the perfect piece of furniture for what I do need, and not having all that extraneous “stuff” just to fill up floor.

By current (US) standards, Claymire is not a large house. At 1209 square feet, it is about average for our neighborhood, larger than a lot of the world would expect, but by no means a McMansion. Some people may argue that it’s not a small house, but considering the average US house is over 2000 square feet, I think it qualifies.

Three of us lived here for a decade quite happily, even without a good organization plan. Now the two of us find we have ample room, even without a basement, second bathroom, walk-in closets or all the other things we are frequently told are necessities. We even have an extra bedroom that is basically a catch-all space; currently home to the orphan kitties, it serves as my office, sewing room, library and guest bedroom a couple times a year. I am glad we have the room, but if we had to live without that space, which is about 10×12 feet including the closet, I think we could do it.

Claymire is the largest house we have owned. (our first was 540 sq feet) When it was built in 1949, the house was about 845 square feet, two bedrooms, 1 bath, a small eat-in kitchen and a separate utility room. It was home to a family of four, and was considered adequate for its time. They added a small work room in the 1950s (that spare bedroom), a garage in 1951, and a breezeway in 1969, which is currently our living room. About that time, they took out the utility room and made it part of the kitchen. It made a larger kitchen, in theory, but no more storage space; just more floor! I would have preferred having that separate utility room/laundry room, but its too late for that now!

This is part of the original “breezeway” that linked the kitchen to the garage. To the right is the 3rd bedroom addition.

The bedrooms aren’t that large, and the closets are small, although we do have five of them, plus a pantry. This weekend we did a little improvement to the “master” bedroom. That room is about 10.5×13 feet with 2 windows and a 42″ closet. The one wall where the bed fits best is between two doors and in front of the heating duct, so this weekend, we moved the bed in front of the window. I know, I know, it’s not supposed to be done, but, hey, it works!

I now have a bedside table, too, courtesy of my dresser.

We attached the headboard to our bedframe with some 1x4s we found in the trash last weekend! Then mr husband and I found these great wall lights at Lowe’s ($29.95 each), so we both have reading lamps, as well.

I like the linen-finish shades. They use 25watt ceiling fan bulbs, perfect for reading.

The room feels so much larger now, so I took it one step further, and decided to combine our clothes into the tiny closet. Since we moved into this bedroom, mr husband, who has MANY more shirts and pants than I do, has been using the closet in our spare bedroom. I realized, though, that I don’t have that many clothes, and most of my closet space was being used to store things like extra purses, scarves, nylons, etc. Basically, stuff I need a couple of times a year, that don’t need to be front and center on a daily basis. So I cleaned that stuff out, put his stuff in, and voila! We have a shared bedroom closet.

All it needs is a light! It is still a little messy….

There is even a space left on that shelf for more stuff! I used all slim velvet-covered hangers – pink for me, beige for him. He has just slightly more than 1/2 the hanging rod, but I have most of the top shelf, so it’s fair. You can’t see it in the photo, but there is a top part to the closet, too, where all my shoes are living!

He had an easier time getting dressed for work this morning, not having to traipse across the house to find his clothes!

It may be a small space, but that will keep me organized. The larger the space, the more I tend to fill it up with junk! The old closet now holds occasional clothes; extra jewelry boxes, formal dresses, mr husband’s tuxedo, etc. It, too, will need some serious purging, but that’s a job for another day. For now, we are enjoying the feeling of having our whole bedroom put together, and fitting us both. Somehow, that makes the whole house feel larger, but in a good way.

So I began this post intending to explain why I like our small house. I don’t enjoy always feeling the need to defend the choice to people (especially family) who just don’t get it. I think in some families, especially ones like mine where they have had to work and struggle for everything they have, there was always an attitude that if you weren’t striving for something more, you were failing somehow. There must always be the bigger house, bigger yard, better car, more vacations, etc.

My parents lived in a trailer when I was born. They currently reside in a 4,200 square foot Colonial on an acre of land. In between, they lived in a small cottage, an 1830s historic Greek Revival, a farmhouse on 17 acres, a brick colonial on 1/2 an acre, and a house on a mountaintop with amazing views. Always getting better, larger, more impressive, more rural (or suburban.)

We started out in a two-room apartment, moved to a 4-room apartment, a 540 square foot 1920’s bungalow, a 1040 sq ft1915  foursquare, to our current home, with a couple other very tiny apartments in between. Our choice has always been a smaller house in a metropolitan area. I think it’s a valid choice. The trade-off for living in the city, if Royal Oak can be considered a “city,” is a smaller house in a great area. Different choice, but still valid. Living in a large house in suburbia would be worse than death to me! My next goal, if we ever leave Claymire, is to live in an apartment over an old store in a downtown area.

Other great points?

1. Any room can be painted with only 1 gallon of paint.

2. We replaced all the flooring for a couple thousand dollars. After all, there’s only a little over 1000 square feet of it!

3. It’s easier to clean – seriously, I can vacuum the whole thing in about 10 minutes.

4. Ditto for mowing the lawn – it actually takes me longer to get the mower out, fill the gas tank and push it to the front yard than it takes to cut the grass there.

5. Our taxes are reasonable.

6. It’s cozy – but not cramped. Sure, when we have company, it can get crowded, but I can’t see maintaining that extra square footage for the few hours a year we may have guests. If we were big entertainers, we may do it differently, but we still have a 16×16 patio and a big back yard, so we will stick to summer-time shindigs!

7. I can afford to decorate, and redecorate, when I want, without breaking the bank.

Our outdoor living room adds an extra dimension to our house.

I know our current space will seem extravagant to some – after all, we have a garage, a workshop and an attic attached to our place, which gives us a lot of room for projects, tools, etc. Some days it does seem small; some times I even wish I had a basement (horror!), if just for the cat litter boxes! But then, I remember that the people we bought the house from lived here with their six children, and I realize I really have nothing to complain about!

The Old Man

Today we picked up all the tile for our backsplash, including all the supplies and a small saw for making cuts. Tomorrow we will start tiling. Today, however, we made a trip to Marine City for a special purchase for the new kitchen.

Well over a year ago, on one of our antiquing jaunts, we spotted this guy in an antique store:

He made us smile…

After we left, we kept thinking about that picture, where we might put it, and how much we loved that enigmatic smile. An old man, enjoying his whiskey and cigar, living in the moment, whatever moment that was, probably a hundred years ago. Something about it just spoke to us, made us smile.

A year later, we visited the same antique store, and there he was, hanging on an old shutter with a couple of old hats and a moth eaten marionette. A paper price tag was stuck to the wavy glass. It had a price, and the obvious words, “very old.” We made a low offer, were refused, and left, feeling that somehow, we were leaving behind a friend.

When mr husband suggested we re-do the kitchen rather than leave Claymire, we started making a list of what would go in the new space, what we wanted it to look and feel like. We chose the cabinets, the countertops, and then, out of the blue, it came to me: the photo of that man drinking whiskey – we HAD to have him in our new kitchen.

So today we picked up our tile, and drove the 40 or so miles north to Marine City, to see if he was still there. He was there, smiling like he was waiting for us to join him in a drink, which we would gladly have done. I grabbed him off that weathered shutter, casually set aside the hats and the marionette. He still bore that price tag, “very old, $78.” We didn’t quibble this time, but got 10% off, anyway.

And here he is, smiling from his spot on the wall of our new kitchen, overlooking the table where the whiskey decanter sits (usually) full.

welcome home

Countertops & The Home Stretch!

Today is the day – countertops arrive!!!

The magic of stoneworking has transformed this lovely piece of green lapis granite:

the slab-I think this is San Francisco Verde Granite

Into this:

The biggest countertop is in! It looks prettier in “person”

The sink counter, before they cut the hole

we chose a Blanco Diamond silgranite sink, a ridiculously large “super single” with an offset drain that is a perfect fit, considering we have that water meter under the right side of the sink base. While planning all along to undermount the sink, when we saw it in real life, both I and the countertop guy paused for a minute, Hmmmmm…how would this look as a drop in instead?

Is it a sink or a bathtub? You could wash six cats in this!

After a few measurements and consulting with mr husband via the wonders of text messaging and emailing photos from my snazzy new smart phone, we all concurred that, due to the clean square lines of the sink, it would look pretty great as a drop in.

This sink is huge! And look – we’ve already got junk everywhere!

Bonus to this decision-I can get it hooked up a day earlier by my amazing plumber, Paul, since we don’t need to wait for the glue or whatever to “set”, as you do with an undermount sink. I was also assured it would be stronger, which is good, since this thing is the size of a bathtub, and must weigh about a ton when filled with water!

So I picked this faucet:

It’s not bad looking – but doesn’t look good with our sink

And now we don’t like it! So tomorrow there will be an early am trip to Universal Plumbing to see what they have in stock that is more appropriate. I think we need a gooseneck faucet to complement that ginormous sink! (update – we found a new faucet!)

This Delta Trinsic is the one we settled on. It is much more in scale with the sink, and having used it for 24 hours now, I can honestly say I love it!

As for the rest of the kitchen – the crown moulding is completed on the other side, and looks amazing. We still don’t have a replacement light fixture, though, I am assured it is on its way, apparently via camel caravan.

This is what we are trying to get. It’s very similar to the original light, but flush mounted, so the cabinet doors can be opened!

UPDATE: It arrived on Friday, and is in one piece! Yaay!

We are patching and painting here and there, and quite a bit of moulding work remains to be finished. mr husband is making the shoe moulding himself out of hickory, and staining it to match the cabinetry.

We are getting quotes on having the backsplash tile installed. I like tile work, but have never done it on a vertical surface. After visiting a few friends who assured me it was “really easy”, and noticing the glaring mistakes (wavy grout lines, broken tiles…), I really don’t want to risk it. It would be just like me to come this far are ruin the whole kitchen in the end!

Crown Moulding and Progress, at Last!

I’m sure you’ve all been waited with bated breath for a progress update on this crazy kitchen remodel…today, we are getting crown moulding on the cabinet tops.

It’s a big job, since the ceiling isn’t straight, and it is a six inch drop with a 3 inch moulding. The cabinets are level, but that is about all! Luckily, I’ve got these guys from Authentic Restoration Detroit working on it, and they are amazing:

Erich and Milan, whose expert work in getting the crown moulding up. This is Milan, he’s very meticulous! You can see one part of the moulding here, the crown is not up yet.

The cabinets are level; the ceiling drops about an inch and 3/8. It took some finesse to put that moulding up so you don’t notice the angles!

They actually built a plywood-covered “box” to mount the moulding on. It was cut from a fridge panel we ordered with our cabinets, so it would be a perfect match.

You may want to check out their website. Their specialty is restoring the grand old homes of Detroit, maintaining the amazing craftsmanship of the previous two centuries while making the homes liveable, beautiful and unique. Neighborhoods like Palmer Park, Green Acres, Boston-Edison, Arden Park, are filled with gorgeous old home whose craftsmanship is difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate today. (subject for a future blog?)

Erich believes restoring the old work is almost always preferable to ripping it out and putting in new, especially in an old house that was built to withstand the centuries. Woodwork, flooring, light fixtures, door and windows, and even china sinks and tubs are carefully brought back to their original condition. I hope he isn’t too disappointed in Claymire, but seriously, we really had little character to work with here!

Thanks to my wonderful and talented husband, the wiring for undercabinet lights is complete, and he got the screen installed on the pantry wall. I think the stain is a little light (we were trying to match the floor) and maybe we should have matched the cabinets, instead. Oh well, it can age all it wants, now that it is up. It does hide the dryer vent and gasline, while still providing ventilation to the air return.

It’s made of hickory, to match the flooring. Like my collection of vintage cocktail shakers?

I haven’t spent much time outside this week, but at least I get to see the front garden as I come and go. It’s a beautiful day, although it rained this  morning. I am hopefully these peonies will bloom soon.

This is their third year, so they should have enough “energy” to truly bloom. They are covered with large buds.

The countertops were measured today, and we ordered a new sink and faucet and garbage disposal. Also began installing the remaining hardware, which finally came in. Our new ceiling light got here, but the glass was smashed, so we’re waiting on a new one, so we can center the box and install that, and be able to open the cabinet doors, too!

We should have counters by the middle of next week, then we’ll be down to choosing a backsplash tile. I’ll start collecting some samples and see how they look. Maybe I can add a poll and see what readers like.

Kitchen Update; Progress, mistakes, and waiting

Well, we are at the end of the first full week. We have all upper cabinets in place, the plumbing work is done, including the relocating of a gas valve and gasline to the clothes dryer that we forgot about, the additional cabinets are ordered, cabinet hardware is backordered, and we are sitting around waiting for things to happen.

Look, doors!

It wasn’t all that easy. To replace the water valves at the water meter required the city turning off the water, which was made really difficult by the fact that, back in 2003, the city hired a company to replace the sidewalks, and they paved over our shutoff! Our city’s DPW cut a notch in the sidewalk and put in an extension for the shutoff, but it took a while, since they are all on half-staff due to budget cuts. It actually took me four days to get an appointment to even have the water shut off in the first place!

But we got it done, got a new water meter – the old one was leaking – and everything is back in place. Now we are basically waiting on the people who will help us finish the job. mr husband and I decided to do what we do well, and leave the rest to the experts. When we had the “great flood of 2010” the flooring was replaced; we want the same guys to come back and fix it now, where the new cabinets are shorter than the old ones were:

It’s one of only two changes to the layout of the kitchen.

We also hired a craftsman to do our crown moulding. Working at a museum, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people, and one of them was Erich Wasner of Authentic Restoration Detroit, whose company specialized is restoring gorgeous old homes without destroying their character. I met him when he and his wife, Jackie, purchased an old foursquare farmhouse in the town where I work and began a sensitive restoration of the 1918 home. Even though I don’t have an historic, century-old home, Erich and Milan will be installing our crown moulding!!!

We chose these knobs, but could only get six of them so far.

So as we wait on the floor guys, we postpone templating for the countertops, which is actually okay, since I decided to return two of our 12″ bases for ones with 3 drawers, and they had to be special ordered. Also, we had to order a new ceiling light, because we didn’t take into account the fact that the new cabinets are 6″ taller than the old ones, and this happened:

That’s not parallax – you really can’t open those doors without hitting the light!!!


So now mr husband is planning to frame in the space above the pantry. There is a furnace air return up there, so he has designed an open-work mission-style screen of hickory to close in the space and give it some character. You may wonder why its open in the first place: when we built the pantry, 12 years ago now, the attic stairs extended further back, and we needed to drop the top of the wall so the stairs could open. A few years ago we replaced the pulldown attic stairs with a smaller unit, moved it forward, and now we don’t need that clearance. It is a little weird to have the attic access in the kitchen, but this was the utility room, if you recall, and we are kind of stuck with it. Just don’t look up!

Today we returned to Public Lumber in Detroit for some hickory to build the screen. While mr husband is fashioning that, I took a “break” to cut the grass and put together a new bench for the front porch.

Its acacia wood with an oil finish. I like the design. Sorry it is so dark, but the sun is quite bright today.

Rowley dog, my constant helper. Doesn’t he look better? He’ll be getting groomed tomorrow. He still smells a little like skunk…

So we are plodding along, installing under-cabinet lighting, washing dishes in a washtub, cooking in the toaster oven. Last night we had dinner at the casino with some friends, and caught this picture from the parking deck:

Detroit skyline. It was a pretty night with a storm coming up.