Adventures in Home Improvement

Jami and I just finished* our biggest home improvement project to date: remodeling our basement. The front room was changed into a lovely, liveable family space, a bathroom was added, the laundry area was improved, and the “true” basement was closed off, so that we didn’t need to stare at our gardening supplies every time we did laundry.

The transformation is pretty dramatic:

Stairs Beforestairs
(Stairs to Basement, Before and After)

Front Room Before
(Front Room Before)

front room front room
(Front Room After)

Laundry Before
(Laundry Area Before)

laundry room.
(Laundry Room After)

drying rack.
(Basement Before)

true basement
(Basement After)

Probably the biggest change though is the bathroom. Before we had a toilet behind some particleboard walls…
"Bathroom" Before

in the middle of the renovation, we had a huge hole in the ground…
the future bathroom

and now we have a beautiful full bathroom:

sink. shower.

There was a real learning curve with the project. It required a lot more hands on management then I expected (and could probably have used a little more than I gave it). It took twice as long as expected (note to self: for future projects, always double what the contractor tells you). It was very stressful – more stressful than we even realized until it was over and we found ourselves totally giddy to have our lives and our house completely back.

But there is also a real sense of accomplishment. We paid cash for an improvement on our home that is significant and lovely. I learned how to apply for permits and get inspections. We were a team who accomplished a major, stressful goal (and still liked each other when it was over). I got a lot of practice in standing up for myself, for our vision, and for our budget. Sometimes I think home ownership is one big assertiveness training course!

Now we get to relax and enjoy our new space. Someday soon we may even be able to furnish it!

*and by “finished” I mean: paid for, organized, and stressed over.  Oh, did we stress over.

Adventures in Home Improvement

Early Reviewer: Two Cents Plain

I have a backlog of Early Reviewer books from LibraryThing at my house (3 more to review after this one), which I suppose is not a bad problem to have. Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood is a graphic memoir by Martin Lemelman about (as you could probably guess from the subtitle) growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s. His parents were Holocaust survivors (his mother spent World War II hiding in the woods in Poland and his father was a soldier in the Soviet army). They met in a displaced persons camp in Germany and married. They settled eventually in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, where they owned a candy store and raised their two boys (Martin is the younger). While Martin’s childhood wasn’t idyllic, the store does have that glow of nostalgia that makes the hardships (the angry father, the poverty, the roaches) not seem that harsh. The book is illustrated by Lemelman’s drawings and by snapshots and memorabilia (ticket stubs, letters, etc) that give the book a scrapbook-y feel. A good book.

Early Reviewer: Two Cents Plain

October Round-up

I read 16 books in October, 5 Non-fiction and 11 Fiction.

Juliet by Anne Fortier. I heard about this book on NPR, and was interested in giving it a try. Juliet is a sort of Da Vinci Code-esque book, but focused on the story of Romeo and Juliet, not art. This isn’t a criticism, for all the criticism The Da Vinci code got, it was still a very engaging read. Juliet is probably a little better written, but equally engaging. If you like thrillers with a little history to them, this is a good one.

Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabus by Matthew Loux. This is the second Salt Water Taffy graphic novel that I’ve read. They are the cute adventures of two brothers on vacation. I especially enjoy the fact that they are set in Maine.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier. A great, detailed, colorful graphic novels for middle grades.

Mercury by Hope Larson. This is a interesting graphic novel that tells the parallel stories of a modern Canadian in high schooler living with relatives after her house burned down and the ancestors who first lived in that house. Great black-and-white illustrations.

Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires. I love Binky! Binky is an officially certified space cat (think feline astronaut) living a secret life as a house cat. In this second adventure, Binky must brave outer space (the back yard) to rescue his copilot (stuffed mouse, Ted) from aliens (bigs). Cute and smart and funny.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan. This book was mentioned a lot on Slog (The Stranger’s Blog), which made me curious. It is a really fascinating look at what clues evolution has left in our bodies and what they tell us about how our prehistoric ancestors lived and how we evolved.

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. A real life whodunit. If you like Ocean’s 11 and the like, you will like this book.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I read this over a matter of months on DailyLit. Classics are free on DailyLit and this is a good way for me to fill in those gaps in my literary knowledge caused by not being an English major. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t that crazy about Great Expectations, but I’m glad I read it.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. This book was really funny, which I wasn’t quite expecting. Janzen wrote the book while on sabbatical and living with her parents after an emotionally painful divorce (her husband left her for Bob from and a physically painful car accident. That doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but trust me, it was upbeat and funny and interesting.

Spark: How Old Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation by Frank Koller. This is another book I heard about on NPR. I was intrigued because it is about a company (Lincoln Electric) that is one of our clients at the firm. I didn’t know anything about them, so it was neat to learn more about a company that we represent. Lincoln Electric offers profit sharing and a guaranteed employment program which is pretty unique in the corporate world. They have a promise to employees not to lay folks off during downturns due to lack of work. Instead they cut hours (down to 30 hours/week at the lowest) and shift folks to other jobs or even to painting the factory if need be. It was need to see how that worked.

Tall Tales by Jeff Smith. A prequel to the Bone series.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. This was a reread for me. I have been slowly reading the Harry Potter series to Jami (she had never read the books!), and we just finished Book 5. I forgot how dark things get toward the end.

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler. Peter Hessler is an American journalist who lived in China for a decade. This is his third book about his experiences there and offer and really wonderful look into what life is like in China. If you are at all interested in China, I recommend reading him.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. This was our book club book this month. Prior to this the only  Atwood I had read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and this book was very different (a historical novel based on a true story instead of dystopian science fiction). It was really good though and lead to an interesting book club discussion. I think I will have to try more books by Atwood.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. Another graphic novel – this one about a boy who is inadvertently taken from the land of the living to the land of ghost and the efforts to rescue him. It’s another good one – well-drawn and exciting story.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg. This mystery reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books – probably mostly because they are Swedish, but also because of the weather and focus on domestic violence and the darker side of humans. If you like the Stieg Larsson books, I think you will enjoy this one as well.

October Round-up