Thursday, December 6, 2012

Check Out My Other Blogs!

Hello friends,
I admit I have not been writing here recently, but that is because my focus has been elsewhere. Please visit my Advent blog or Recipe blog for recent postings.

Monday, July 9, 2012

From Alley-find to Pretty Dresser: a DIY adventure

I don't often post DIY projects on my blog, but I had so much fun re-doing this dresser that I just had to share it. 
Although sideways, this is a dresser we found in the alley last summer. It's been living in the basement for a whole year. And this summer I decided to paint it!
I forgot to take a proper "before" picture, but here everything is sanded down and ready to be painted.

I got some grey paint from my friend Laura. The drawers were first. I am very fortunate to live in a building with a drive way-ish space and almost-always empty garage for storing the drying dresser.
Making a stencil for the drawers. I used a folder/sheet protector. I wanted to use both curved and straight lines, to match the wood work of the frame.
Stencil all cut out and ready to use.
Things were going pretty well at this point. And then I ran into a dilemma. When I took off the old hardware, I had every intention of buying new pulls. The screw holes were two inches apart. I thought this was normal. But then I went to both Home Depot and Devon Hardware, and every single pull was 3 inches. Realizing that I was dealing with antique hardware and or something custom made, I decided to fill in one of the holes with Wood Filler and then buy knobs instead.
Holes filled in. Ready to be sanded down and painted over.
Drying in the sun.
Applying the stencil. It was pretty hard. Even with my gentle paint stokes using a sponge brush, I had to go over again with grey to sharpen the edges.
The next step was applying this lovely polycrylic finish. I looked up a few different finishes, and this seemed to be the best. But then when I got to Home Depot, the guy in the paint department didn't think it would work. I trusted my gut and bought it anyway.

Turns out the guy in the paint department was a little right. I must not have sanded the wood enough before I began painting the grey, because the Polycrylic brought out a little brown from the original varnish. Interesting how it does that. Fortunately, it gives the dresser an antique look. I like it.
I applied one coat, using a bristle brush, making wide even strokes. After two hours I lightly sanded the larger surfaces and then applied a second coat.
I let all the pieces sit for another 12 or so hours, then sanded down the bottom edges of each drawer so they wouldn't stick.
The long-awaited knobs. It took two tries going to the hardware store, but I finally found ones I liked and could afford.
Even after sanding the edges, the top drawer was sticking a bit. With a little finagling, I discovered the culprit-- a loose beam.  So, with much stress and a sore thumb, I nailed the top aligning beam back into place (a big thanks to my roommate Becky for helping!), and then it was ready!
Ta-da! The finished dresser!
It will be living in our TV room and be the home of all our blankets and such, much needed in the wintertime.

The whole project cost less than $40!
Dresser: Free from the alley
Grey interior paint: donated by my friends the Grants
Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish: $16.00 from Home Depot

Elmer's Wood Filler: $3.00 from Devon Hardware
Six Brass Knobs: $10.00 from Devon Hardware
Sponge brush: $0.50 from Home Depot
Mini roller and tray: $4.00 from Home Depot
White interior paint, sand paper, wood glue, nails, and bristle brush: left over from previous projects.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Inspirational Quote Posters

The other day I made some inspirational quote posters to send off to my siblings at camp. Let me know what you think.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"The Penny"

The following story was inspired by a 1917 penny that we found in the register at the bookstore where I work. I did a little bit of research and learned that the first penny with Lincoln's face on it was made in 1909 in San Francisco, CA. The "wheat penny", as the penny with two stalks of wheat on the back is called, was in circulation from then until 1958 when a new penny was designed with the Lincoln Memorial on the back. The 1917 penny looked almost as good as any penny from the last decade. There was hardly any tarnish or deterioration. And it got me thinking, where had that penny been all these years to survive so? Perhaps it had lived the last twenty years within the cushions of a couch, or at the bottom of a garbage bin.

The Penny

Once there was a boy named Jacob who lived many years ago in a big city called San Francisco. The city had seen better days. Three years ago there was a big earthquake that shook the whole city. Jacob was only a little boy when it happened, but he remembered being scared as the buildings crumbled and streets cracked. Many people’s lives changed that day, but there was one building that was very strong, and it did not crumble to the ground: The United States Mint—the coin factory! That was where Jacob’s father worked.

Three years had passed and San Francisco was finally beginning to look like itself again. It was also time for the coin factory to start making coins again. In fact, it had a very special job to do. President Roosevelt wanted a new coin to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. So all the people at the coin factory got together, including Jacob’s father, and designed a new penny with a picture of Lincoln’s head on it. On the back side they put two stalks of wheat and the words “one cent.”

The day the new pennies were made, the whole town came out to celebrate. That night at home Jacob’s father handed him a little box with a ribbon on it.
“Open it,” he said.
Inside was the very first 1909 penny.
“Happy Birthday, son!” Jacob’s mother and father said.
“Whoa!” he said. “Thanks!”

Jacob loved his gift. That week, he carried his new penny with him everywhere. When he went to school, it was in his pocket. When he took a bath, he stored it in his shoe. He even slept with it under his pillow.

A few weeks after his birthday, Jacob’s mother asked, 
“How are you going to spend your penny, Jacob?” Jacob looked up at his mother with a surprised look on his face.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But it’s going to be something special.”

The very next day Jacob was walking down the sidewalk when he heard someone crying. It was Maggie, his next door neighbor.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” He asked. Maggie wiped at her eyes and hold Jacob that her kitten, Freckles, had run away. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again,” she said. “And I miss him so much.”
Jacob remembered that his parents had always told him it was good to be kind to others. Just then, he had an idea. He knew how he was going to spend his penny.
“Don’t be sad, Maggie,” he said. “Follow me.”

Jacob ran down the street, with Maggie trailing behind him. When they reached the Stationery Store, they went inside.
“How can I help you, kids?” asked the clerk behind the counter.
Jacob held up his penny. “I have a penny and would like to buy some crayons.” The clerk reached under the counter and pulled out three brightly colored crayons. “Here you go,” he said.
“Thank you!” the children said in unison as they ran out the door.

When they arrived at Jacob’s house, the two children ran inside. “Wait here,” he called to Maggie. He grabbed some paper from his mother’s desk drawer and laid it out on the kitchen table. “We are going to make signs!” he announced proudly. “So people know to look out for Freckles.” Maggie smiled and sat down to help Jacob. A quarter of an hour later, Jacob and Maggie admired stood up and admired their signs.

“Well done, children,” Jacob’s mother said, walking into the kitchen. Jacob smiled. He was glad he has used his penny for such an important cause. 

This is just the beginning of this penny's story. Where will it go from here?


Good stories energize me. I love reading engaging tales of life lived, truthful experiences and earnest quests. Maybe that's why when writer Donald Miller talks about "living a good story" I perk up. Honestly, I don't think I am living that good of a story in this season of my life. My monotonous routine leaves much to be desired, but I am still drawn to the idea of good stories.

When I was younger I used to write stories. They were mostly always for school, in those sometimes-fun joint Social Studies and English classes where it was required to write a story about a specific time in history. I loved it. In fact, I even wrote a very moving tale about the demise of Pompeii for my 7th grade science class. Much to my disappointment, I don't know where it went.

As Jo March would say, "Why, I have ten stories in my head right now!" So, I have decided to write some stories. Some of them may become larger tales, maybe even long enough to fill a book. But my goal for this summer is to just write. The first few will be things I have already started working on. I'd appreciate any feedback and criticism.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Historical Drama and it's Impact on Perception

Unlike routine bloggers, I unfortunately fall into the tendency of thinking that everything I write must be amazingly well-thought-out and brilliantly impactful. Because of this, I haven’t written in quite some time. I apologize.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably jumped headlong onto the Downton Abbey bandwagon. I began watching the British mini-series last season with some trepidation. Masterpiece Theatre puts on great period dramas, but an original storyline? How will it live up to the likes of Sense and Sensibility or Cranford? But my hesitation fell away by the end of the first season. In the final episode of Season 1, when Lord Grantham announces that the country has gone to war, chills flew up my spine. This show was going to tackle some real life, messy history! And so I readily anticipated the second season. 

Somewhere in that year long wait, the world fell in love with the epic struggles and joys of “upstairs-downstairs” life at Downton Abbey. I admit to my share of celebrity-based “research” online. But what really gets me is the history. Name-dropping the demise of the Titanic in Season 1; the entrance of Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s batman in the Boer War; the outbreak of the Spanish flu, better known as the 1918 endemic.  Or how about the undertones of the women’s suffrage movement and changing social norms? Yet the greatest historical element in this multi-character drama is World War I. 

Here in the United States, we know next to nothing about the First World War. To us, it is not the “Great War.” After all, we joined the struggle nearly four years after the war began. And the history books don’t focus on the conflict like it’s our story to tell.  But it is a fascinating era of history! 

On Sunday afternoons I am a docent at the Evanston History Center, located in the Charles Gates Dawes House. The grand chateau-esque mansion holds much of the family’s history, but also tells the story of elite American life in the early 1900s. In 1917, when the United States entered the war, Mr. Dawes went to Europe as a Brigadier General, working with the Allied supply lines. Back in Evanston, his wife and family worked tirelessly for the war effort, knitting socks and preparing packages for the soldiers far from home. Much of what I know about World War I on the home front, I know from the Dawes House.

Four and a half years. 1914-1918. That’s all. But it was enough time to change the face of the world. The war brought about great advances in technology, military and otherwise. By the end of the war, four empires and four dynasties had been destroyed. Millions of soldiers and civilians were left dead, millions more were left disabled, seriously injured and psychologically traumatized. Gender norms were questioned. It seemed like a whole generation of women either lost their husbands or would never marry. Spanning across almost every continent, the war left countless homeless and starving refugees and orphans in its wake. Illness and economic distress spread, becoming a pandemic that would kill more than the war itself. Every facet of social, cultural, and economic life was affected in some way.

In addition to Downton Abbey’s survey of the war, I’ve been reading a historical mystery series about the interwar years in England. Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs is superb! If you are at all interested in woman detectives, war history, and life in England, this series is a must read. As a literary expert on the Great War and the interwar period, Winspear has been asked to respond to the Downton Abbey trend. In a radio spot for the Southern California Public Radio, Winspear called the Great War the “end of the modern age”, a “clash between the old world and the new.” In both the radio interview and an article written for the HuffingtonPost, she counters Simon Schama’s attack of the historical drama by reminded us that Downton Abbey is in fact fiction. It is a story that gives us a lens through which to look at war (and the whole history of that time period, for that matter), acting as a “benchmark for our actions now.” She observes that we are drawn to the story because of its sense of order. We are so curious about this old lifestyle that was shaped by so much structure and protocol. It’s refreshing to have someone so immersed in the world of historical fiction to acknowledge and even encourage our enjoyment of this popular trend.

Anyways, all this talk of war and how it changes people has made me want to understand the period more. In my own family history research, I’ve turned my focus towards those who may have been involved in the war. Over Christmas, I was able to start looking into my paternal grandmother’s side of the family. As a result, I was given the beautiful gift of a six-month subscription to (Best gift ever!) So I’ve been centering my attention on the Cutts, Averys, and Butzbachs. Pretty fun stuff. (Especially because the Averys were English—records are so easy to find for the English. I found ancestors all the way back to the 1500s.) 

As for my WWI search, it has been a little slow going. I’ve found war registration cards for some great- and great-great grandfathers, but registration forms don’t necessarily mean that the enlister was sent to war. It’s possible they weren’t eligible, due to age or physical well-being. And so my search continues. On the other side of the family, however, I know my maternal great grandfather (my grandma’s birth father), Nathan Raichlin, died as a result of the 1918 influenza pandemic. They were living in Montreal, Canada at the time. I don’t know if he was ever in the war. It’s possible he simply caught the flu as the soldiers were returning home. I may never know.

So those are my thoughts on Downton Abbey and World War I. They’ve been stewing in my brain for a while. What do you think?
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