Monday, July 28, 2014

Best Mom Tip #191: Don't buy groceries??!!

My beautiful friend Clare and her family of 5 have committed to living for a year without purchasing groceries. Yes, you read that right--and if you want to see what she has to say about the experience you can read her own lovely words about what they're learning here.

I read her article and was floored. How could a family of five really just live off of local, in-season foods that they traded or grew? I mean, I guess it's a possibility, but it seems so hard. How would I get pasta? Or chocolate?! For heaven's sake, think of the chocolate. So to satisfy my curiosity... I went to go see Clare.

Clare feeding our kids lunch
I totally just contacted this woman I have not seen for 10 years and asked her if my kids and I could come stare at her beautiful house and rich garden and learn from her.  Because she is Clare, she said yes.  And (because she is Clare) I knew she would say yes when I asked, so I think that makes me doubly evil.  

When we were back at the University of Georgia, where I met Clare some 20 years ago, I was jealous of how easily she seemed to march to her own drum. While I was buying XL twin sheets at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for my dorm-tastic bed, Clare was purchasing the most beautifully crafted bed made of logs that looked as though it was growing out of a living tree. I had a room with a hot plate and some Christmas lights my roommate and I taped to the wall.  Clare had a room decorated with fairy lights and nature.

So imagine how happy I was to see Clare, still dancing to her own tune, truly living out a life that is different from those around her.

The logistics of what they're trying to do are pretty interesting.  They bought some staples in bulk back in December before they started.  The idea was to live more like the pioneers Clare's son Jack had been reading about than to totally take themselves off the grid.  Community and leaning on your neighbors is actually one of the things they like most about this experiment.  They buy toilet paper and other necessities (that's for you, Allison) when they need them.  They go get medicine from the pharmacy. And Clare said that when they all caught a stomach bug they broke down and bought some real tea because they couldn't keep anything else down.

Most of us would have a much harder time committing to this lifestyle, even for a year, than Clare's family. They already owned chickens (which she slaughters for meat in addition to using the eggs) and sheep and her husband hunts.  They already had a pretty big garden that they are looking to expand--and living in the South doesn't hurt because there's such a long growing season.  These are people who built their brick home with their own hands and have carved a life out of a pretty rural area that would not go over so well in suburbia.

Don't get me wrong, they are definitely feeling the bite of this commitment.  Clare said that not eating out was one of the hardest changes.  She said she constantly just swung by Chick-fil-A before they started this. And she's not happy with the bread she makes so she tries to buy from a sweet lady whose lemon -poppy seed bread I got to taste for lunch (and it was delicious).  I learned a lot about some different ways to approach food in my own household (even though we will still be going to the grocery store). Things like, not every meal needs to be so hardy or we don't always need meat.  I'm also seriously reconsidering what I consider to be a snack.

Mostly, though, it was just really good to see Clare.  We talked almost constantly for 4 hours while our kids ran around and played toys.  My boys thought her boys' army men were amazing.  My daughter played dress-up with her daughter.  We picked blueberries in a rain shower while little children danced and giggled and I thought, "Yep, this seems about like how an afternoon spent with Clare should go."

My Jack trying to catch chickens
I thought that I was making my little trek to learn about her food experiment, but what I really learned was about freedom.  Clare said she feels kind of like a fraud for the attention she's getting about this year.  She said that there are people who really live this without it being for fun and it was surprising how much attention she's getting.  It makes her feel uncomfortable--as though she shouldn't be the face of providing your own food.  I asked Clare if she ever doubted herself--living so differently from most people. Do you ever worry that you're not doing it right or that you're swimming too hard against the stream?

Her answer was "Really, only when I look at Facebook or something and I see how everyone else is doing it." How funny is that?  This amazing woman in the middle of her own land, baking her own bread with wheat she ground herself, with her self-made home and her kids who build their own playhouses worries that she doesn't put her son in Little League.  At the same time, she worries that she isn't hard core enough to really be considered a homesteading expert.  It was an epiphany for me.

It was like when my teeny-tiny friend couldn't fit back into her pre-pregnancy clothes after the baby and I thought "oh, even if you're really skinny it still hurts if your old stuff won't fit."

Even if you're living an interesting life outside the box, you still worry that it might not be the best for your kids.  You still worry that you're not doing enough--whatever enough might be for your life and your community.

We had a great time.  I am inspired to try to grow some food that we actually eat and so I will be creating a small garden in my back yard over the next couple of weeks (I'll let you know how it goes).  I'm going to ask my neighbor for help because her garden is awesome and I loved what Clare said about connecting with their community in such a meaningful way. But mostly, I am going to try to live with more freedom.

Our afternoon with Clare showed me that I worry about things unnecessarily (although I'm still not going to let my son Harry have access to a lighter like Clare's son Jack does.  He will burn down something and it will NOT be an accident.)  I realized that all the moms I know are probably wrestling with the same fears--is this the right path for my family and my kids? and how am I viewed by the outside world?  What could we do or be or change if we let go of these two questions?

So, thanks Clare.  Thank you for lunch (especially that goat cheese--it was the best I've ever had) and for the afternoon.  Thank you for blueberry picking and the dry clothes while ours were in the dryer (yes, she has a washer and dryer). Thank you for talking about the difficulties of smart women without careers and of working parents gone from home too long.  Thank you for the strings recital from Jack and Esme and for letting my kids roam all over your house. Thank you for reminding me that it's worth trying to swim upstream because nothing feels freer, or more beautiful, than a life you've chosen yourself. Thank you. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Best Mom Tip #190: Refurbish your stairs

Ok, honestly, I can't say that everyone should do this because it was kind of hard and inconvenient. Also, the finish will still be "rustic" because this wood was never meant to be seen. If you don't like that, this isn't for you.  However, I showed you the stairs a couple of posts ago so I thought I'd show you how I did it. Here is the finished product:

I really like the way it looks and it is definitely more interesting than it was before, but it was a lot of work.

To the right is the before picture. There was nothing wrong with it, it just had 8 year old carpet and was really beige throughout our entire foyer.

 If you're remotely interested in removing the carpet from your own stairs, I suggest the following tools and materials:

  • good work gloves                                                        
  • pliers
  • crow bar
  • hammer
  • carpet knife
  • flat head screw driver
  • miter saw
  • caulk gun
  • electric sander/sandpaper
  • heavy duty staple gun/staples
  • quarter round trim
  • wood filler
  • paint (primer, color, brushes)
  • a ridiculous amount of caulk
  • flat trim for bottom edges
  • I also needed to create a stair lip so I needed some screws and a length of wood (1x2)
  • liquid nails glue

If you don't have these things, or are unwilling to buy them (materials cost about 100 bucks), you probably shouldn't try this. You could use a miter box and sand the stairs by hand, but only if you have a lot fewer stairs. You will hate your stairs and everyone else in your household without power tools.

 Removing carpet is not that hard. I just grabbed hold of a corner and pulled. I did just a few stairs at a time and then cut the carpet with the carpet knife. That made it easier for me to carry the really heavy pieces of carpet and allowed us to still use the stairs. You know, because I have four kids and this is our only staircase.

This was actually the easiest and most satisfying part of the whole project, which is sad, because I still had a lot of work to do. Like...

Removing carpet tack strips and carpet stables. This is what the crow bar, hammer, pliers, and screwdriver are for. I hammered the crow bar under the tack strips to remove them--there were three for every stair. Then I pulled out all the carpet staples with the pliers--there were about 30 for every stair. The screw driver came in handy to slide under the head of the staple if they wouldn't come up. Taking up the carpet, tacks, and staples took an entire day (my kids watched a million hours of TV).

Once I got all of the carpet, padding, staples, and tack strips removed, I had very rough looking stairs. They needed a lot of sanding, some wood filler, and trim.  There were gaps at the bottom of each stair and along the sides of both the risers and treads. Thus, the need for trim, a miter saw, and caulk. All of these steps took me about four days, but we still lived our lives and fed the children and went swimming and stuff. The stairs were safe to use after the tacks and staples were removed, so it didn't impede our ability to go up and down the stairs. I did the wood filler at night so it could dry without kid feet getting in it and Jay and I just stepped around it.

I am not great with a miter saw and made some wrong cuts, but once I got into the groove of it again, it was not that hard to cut the trim pieces. The kids played outside while I made cuts and then laid the pieces out in place. Once I had all of my cuts made, I glued them down with liquid nails and let them dry overnight. Some of them needed to be taped into place with painter's tape until the glue dried. The next day I caulked the heck out of every seam on every stair. It took 5 tubes of caulk, my trusty caulk gun, and most of a day.

I also mentioned in the materials that I needed to make a lip for the top stair (you can see it in the picture on the left). I cut the carpet a few inches from the top landing and cut the padding out from behind it. Unfortunately for me, there was no overhang on the top stop to staple the carpet to. So I screwed a length of a 1x2 to the face of the top riser and wrapped my carpet around that. I stapled the carpet on the underside and, voila, a carpeted top step.

With all of the sanding, wood filling, trim, and caulk in place and dry (picture on the left) it was time to paint. I used floor paint, which is less slippery than regular interior paint and is made to be walked on. I painted every other stair (picture at right) so that we could still use the stairs and then painted the other half the next day.  I eventually put three coats on the white parts of the stairs.
After I got all of the white finished it was time to add some color. I went with colored risers in an ombre effect using using the same teal paint color strip from which I chose the color for our lower kitchen cabinets and the walls in our living room. I kept the bottom landing steps completely white and focused the color on the 15 regular stairs. I used 5 colors and painted 3 stairs with each color going from the darkest color on the paint strip up the stairs to the lightest.  I actually had all five of these colors in sample paint cans because I used them when trying to pick a color for the kitchen. These also got three coats of paint.
They cost about 5 dollars a piece if you want to try it and I just used the regular paint that comes in sample cans--it was the same satin finish as the floor paint.

Teal ombre stairs after carpet removal
So, here is the final product again where you can see the ombre better. Feel free to hire me to veerrrryy slowly redo your stairs. :)