Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love, Mem Fox

We've just had a very special delivery arrive from Mem Fox!

Many readers will already know this household name, but for those who don't, Mem Fox is one of the most well-known and well-loved authors of children's books in all of Australia. She's been publishing a steady stream of books since 1983 when the classic Possum Magic was released.

Now let me share the delightful story of how we were lucky enough to receive a parcel from Mem Fox herself!

Riker was recently the student of the week at his elementary school. One of his tasks was to put together a poster about himself and his interests. We devoted a section of it to his Australian heritage and included several photos of kangaroos, koalas and iconic Aussie sites.


As part of his student of the week experience I was invited to come in to read to the children. I chose Possum Magic thinking that his classmates would enjoy the Australian animal characters. The next day Riker's teacher emailed me to say he had found several Mem Fox books on his bookshelf, left there from the previous first grade teacher. Apparently Mem Fox was at the school for a workshop and assembly in the early nineties. He showed them all to Riker and let him pick one to borrow for the evening. He selected Night Noises and it just so happens that this was a signed copy! The lovely message (from 1992) said, "With lots of love from Australia and me!"


You can imagine how tickled I was to open this book for the first time and see this greeting from so long ago, reaching me here on a wintry Ohio evening!

I was so moved in fact, that I wrote to Mem Fox via email and shared the story above. I explained how we miss Australia dearly and have adored her books for years. Riker was just days old when we were gifted Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and it's worn ragged from years of love as is Where is the Green Sheep? and others. I tried to express how delighted I was by the way in which her message had reached me all these years later.

Her response indicated that she was as tickled about the whole thing as I was and she was very grateful that I took the time to write to her. A day later I received another message saying her husband had kindly suggested that she send us a couple of autographed books and could I please send an address.

Just the other day, signed copies of Possum Magic, The Goblin and the Empty Chair and Whoever You Are arrived from South Australia. We were all pretty chuffed about this extra special delivery as you can tell. 




And best of all, Possum Magic is signed with the same greeting as the one that reached out in time to find us here. "With love to Riker and Ari from Australia and me!"


What a joy it is to be able to reach out to someone on the opposite side of the world and find connections through stories and places!

A big thank you to Mem Fox for touching our lives in so many ways over the years and for all the ongoing work in literacy and bringing the joy of reading to children the world over. Without a doubt, these books will be family treasures for years to come.


Saturday, January 02, 2016

Hello 2016

I enter this year with a long to-do list. I don't make new year resolutions but I've got a whole lot of work to do ranging from my own personal and professional goals to the big picture global stuff I wrap my heart up in. I know most of it won't get done in the next few weeks so I'll try to plug away, a little bit at a time.

There's one thing we can all get started on right away though.

Let's agree to go about this year with more love and more compassion. With less hate and less fear.

What does that mean in practice? I think that can be as small as offering a smile as you hand your credit card to the grocery store cashier. It's remembering that everyone is fighting some sort of battle that the rest of us know nothing about and choosing kindness. It's choosing to think of our neighbors in other parts of the world with compassion rather than disdain and dismissal. It's remembering that our children are people to be nurtured, not problems to be fixed. It's being gentle with our ourselves when we fail to live up to our own ideals. Go about it however you like, but whenever possible, choose love over fear and all of its ugly derivatives.


How will you add more love and compassion to the world this year?


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wildlife

Lots of furry and feathered friends visit us in our new neighborhood and I love their company! In this edition of wildlife visits, a blue jay and a six point buck meander through our yard.








All the photos above were taken through window glass, the jay by me and the buck by Brian.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Through the Woods to Grammy and Grandpa's House

After living about as far away from family as possible for most of a decade, we came back to live in the same neighborhood as Brian's parents and brother. Between our houses is an awesome little patch of woods and we decided to make a designated path to Carl and Jan's house.

Can you guess what's giving it that beautiful red hue?




Our path is constructed out of the mahogany sawdust left over from processing our floors!

Isn't it awesome?


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

DIY Hardwood Mahogany Floor: A Work of Art

Early on in our musings about how to make the space our own and give it a personal flair, Brian hit upon the idea to do hardwood floors throughout our new open plan kitchen and dining room. Sure, I thought. That'll look nice.

Turns out that when Brian mentions hardwood floors however, he doesn't envision a trip to Lowe's like the rest of us. He means purchasing raw lumber, milling it himself, routing in the tongue and groove, installing, sanding and finishing it ourselves!

After some foraging around the internet, Brian scored a great deal on several pallets of mahogany boards from an eBay seller who had acquired a hardwood floor warehouse with some lumber still in it. This was fortuitous because we were able to get a stunning red mahogany floor without sending any cues to the forestry marketplace demanding additional harvest of high value but vulnerable tree species.

Here is what Jan and Carl's basement looked like after the Santos Mahogany and African Mahogany was delivered. The wood in the front is salvaged maple gymnasium floor boards because hey, surely we can do something with that too, like build the cabinets from scratch!


Below is a cross section of colors in the mahogany ranging from browns and tans to oranges and reds. The first step was to separate the heartwood (red colors) from the sapwood (the lighter colors) as we really only wanted to use the heartwood for the floor. 


Below, Brian uses the table saw in Carl's basement to straight line rip the boards on a jig he made. We found this process wasted too much wood so most of the boards were processed on the joiner and planer to get straight, flat, square boards. We then separated those into 1/4 inch width increments and planed them to the standard 3/4 inch height. It sounds simple, but moving the huge piles of wood through all of these steps took us several months as we could only ever devote a few hours at a time to the task.


Here I'm using the crosscut saw to ensure the edges are straight and the corners are a perfect 90 degree angle.


Having processed each and every individual piece of wood, we got to know it rather intimately. This was one of my very favorites with a stunning swirl pattern at the end.


While we were finishing up the wood processing, we had to start thinking about prepping the existing underfloor for its new covering. Using a laser level, I mapped the somewhat uneven floor's peaks and valleys. We might have taken a few breaks to play with the laser level.



This was an important step because hardwood flooring can be laid over a subfloor with a variance of less than one quarter inch over an eight foot area. The floor doesn't need to be perfectly level, but it does need to be flat. If left uneven, you're more likely to end up with squeaky floors where the boards flex over the sunken areas.

Here's the completed version of my measurements that allowed us to see those differences of more than a quarter inch.


Brian then input these measurements into Excel in order to create a visual guide to the peaks and valleys in the floor. This is the map of the 400 square feet of floor we were working with. If you hadn't noticed, I'm married to a software geek and data junkie.


Using this map and a long straight edge, Brian fills in some of the low spots to make the floor flat over each eight foot span.


Meanwhile I was trying to figure out paint colors for the walls...


...and anticipate how the colors might look once the floors were installed. I must have put dozens of varieties of beige and sage green on various walls. I'm so thankful to have an extended family member employed by Sherwin Williams - thanks Barbara!


Back in the workshop we put on the final touches by using the router/shaper to cut in the tongues and grooves.


Once the wood was finally all processed, it was time for it to move over to the house in order to acclimate to its climate and humidity for several days before installation.


Before the floor boards can be installed, a moisture proof barrier has to be rolled out and tacked down.


Then the process of "racking" the floor boards begins. We had boards of varying widths, from 2.25 inches to 4.5 inches so we had to compile rows of alternating widths that looked good while making sure that the color variation also worked and that seams didn't fall in stair-step or H patterns.


The kids were mildly interested in the process and helped a little bit with laying out some of the boards.


Riker tries his hand at pounding some of the boards together using a grooved block so as to not damage the tongues by hammering directly onto them.


Brian prepares his big floor nailing guns.


We'd rack several feet of flooring and then go back and nail it down before moving on and racking several more feet of floor. Here it is about 80% installed.


And this is all that was left after all the boards were laid! We were pretty worried that there wouldn't be enough and we just couldn't bring ourselves to think about heading back to the wood shop to process more boards!


Then there were a few specialty pieces that had to be made at the end of the installation. The stair nose piece to the basement, the fifteen foot long rounded piece before the step down to the living room and the transition piece to the front sitting room all took a significant amount of time to make.

Once the boards were installed, we had to figure out the process for sanding and finishing. Here I'm using a rented drum sander to even out the slight variations from board to board.


The floor boards coming out of the planer are glassy smooth and so it was disheartening to use a big drum sander to even out the floor once installed. It could never leave the boards as smooth as they were upon installation.


So, we learned how to use card scrapers to get a super smooth finish. And aren't the shavings cool?


These card/cabinet scrapers are awesome tools, but they have to be filed and burnished regularly so we bought a stack of them to rotate through. I sharpened while Brian scraped - a finger straining experience to say the least! If we were to do it again (HA!), Brian would use his newly acquired Stanley #8 joiner hand plane. (He assures me hand tool aficionados will appreciate the reference.) This would have saved us from some troubles we had using the power sanders, which were prone to leaving gouges in the wood.

Here's what the floor looked like once it was sanded and scraped and awaiting a finish.



We decided to use three coats of water based polyurethane to seal and protect the wood. The mahogany was such a stunning color that we didn't need to use any stains and just wanted a clear finish with no tint. It took us a while to get the knack of applying the product and then we had to climb out the window after the final coat so as to not mar the finish!

And here's what it looked like after the final coat....


And here are two close ups to show the grain and color variation.


Isn't it stunning? What an unbelievable amount of work we've put into the project but our floors are quite literally, a work of art.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Renovations

We're finally in our house! Okay, we've been here for several months now but I'm finally getting around to sharing the story of the somewhat grueling journey!

We purchased the house early in 2015 and while we could have moved in straight away, we decided to do some renovations to give it our own personal 
touch.

Here are a few views of the original kitchen in all its 1990's gold glory.



Just beyond that doorway beside the refrigerator was the formal dining room. It was a nice enough space with a really cool textured design on the ceiling but we're not really formal dining sort of folk and that light carpet wasn't going to fare very well with two young boys eating over it every couple of hours!


So perfectly functional, yes. But we really wanted a more family friendly dining room, a few more cabinets and some extra prep space, fresh paint and something other than gold vinyl flooring. 

BE FOREWARNED! GOLD VINYL FLOORING IS A SLIPPERY SLOPE!

If you're going to go to the trouble of removing it and have to move an island to do so, you might as well upgrade the original builder grade cabinets. If you're going to upgrade the cabinets, you might as well reconsider their layout and hey, why not take out a wall to open the floor plan!

And so it began...

Out came the cabinets, the wall and the flooring.


And suddenly the space looked like this....


Okay, not suddenly at all.

Remember when I said I thought this might turn into a gigantic DIY endeavor? As you might imagine, removing cabinetry, tearing out a wall, moving plumbing and gas lines, tearing up floor covering and patching drywall is a HUGE undertaking. Now Brian is VERY handy and it was great to be able to invest our time into the home we expect to be in for years to come. But holy @#*! it's taken AGES!

One of the many tasks that seemed simple from the outset was going from a textured to a flat ceiling. Since a wall came out, it would be very difficult to get the textures to match up and we decided we preferred the look of a flat ceiling anyway.  So Brian scraped off all of the texture across the dining, kitchen and living room and spread "mud" onto the ceiling in order to make it flat.


Skim coating and actually getting the surface flat and smooth took many coats of joint compound and paint and a lot of time and frustration.


Removing the wall has allowed lots more light to enter the whole space and all in all we're very happy with the new open plan and updated look. But all of this was just the prep work for the foundation of the space we envisioned!

In my next post I'll walk you through the process of making a hardwood floor from scratch!


Monday, December 07, 2015

Mill Creek Falls

Cuyahoga County’s tallest waterfall is hidden within Cleveland's city limits. Plunging 48 feet, Mill Creek Falls powered the region's early development and is a surprising find in the middle of an urban area!


Riker and Edward pose at at the waterfall's overlook.


The kids didn't take a second look at the falls but loved the big rocks to climb on.


The falls lie within the Garfield Metroparks and they've installed some simple but dramatic iron works.



Brian shares some of the site's history with the boys.


Is it just me or does Ari look a wee bit like a little Daniel Radcliffe in this photo?


Edward struck this pose for approximately 2.5 seconds and I'm so glad I captured his moment of reflection. Love this photo of a very sweet little boy!


Ari and Edward are such pals.


Boy noise.


Another tender moment immortalized. 


Ari enjoys tossing leaves.


A great way to spend one of autumn's last afternoons.