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Home Renovation: A Total Tear-Up

Wednesday, April 3, 2024


 Faithful blog readers have noticed that my last post before April 2nd's post went up on Jan. 24. I rarely go this long without posting, and when I do people start emailing me to ask if everything's OK. Well, in mid-December '23 I started cleaning closets, and I went into closets all over the house. Horrible job, because this is an out of sight-out of mind family. I dealt with the accumulation of decades. Nine contractor bags of clothes just from my closet. I'd already dealt with Bill's clothes, but I got another five bags out of Liam's.  By mid-January, I was finally mentally ready to tackle the books, and it was even worse than I thought it would be, because books are heavier than clothes, shoes and junk. They're heavy enough as it is!

Friends rode in to save me, helping me sort and even hauling the books away to good homes--giveaways at the Ohio Natural Diversity Conference. I am SO grateful to Dave McShaffrey and Jason Larson for spearheading the Save Zick from Being Crushed by Books effort. I gave away at least 500 books--really good books! Beautiful books! and I hope they're helping naturalists all over Ohio before long. 

I piled stuff up in the garage for ReStore--two sofas. Ceiling fan. A dozen large boxes of stuff. I was in constant motion. I never dreamt how much work it would be to purge the house (even partially!) 

The impetus for all this was a much-needed renovation. I had to get rid of that old allergen-rich carpet, and luxury vinyl flooring seemed like just the thing. I had put it down in a bathroom some years ago and love it. I needed to get the house interior painted. To do both those things at the same time, I had to get all the excess stuff out of the way. Everything had to come up off the floors, off the walls, and out of those groaning bookshelves.

If anyone had told me how much effort it would require to work ahead of the two-man painting/flooring crew, I wouldn't have believed it. I walked into the project with the reality of the work involved hitting me harder every day. To be honest, the thing that had kept me from tackling this for so long was the books. And rightly so. If ever a job deserved to be put off, this was it. But I got it done. Well, I still have a mess of non-natural history books in the basement to box up and get to the public library. There's always, always more to do for a crew of one, cleaning up after a family.

Once the crew arrived on Valentine's Day, it was OK GO. It was all I could do to stay ahead of them, moving stuff, endlessly cleaning, cleaning, finding other places for things to go. 

Thank God Phoebe didn't want her beautiful bedroom renovated. She picked the four wall colors when she was a pre-teen and we think it's lovely. So that's where a lot of the furniture and paintings and knicknacks went. It was piled solid with everything.

Having one's kitchen in this shape is a real trial. Every time I thought we had reached maximum entropy, we went deeper. Say goodbye to that green linoleum! That ucky yellow foyer! Wait 'til you see what we did there!

 When I wasn't moving and cleaning and boxing stuff, I was running to Lowe's, looking for supplies I knew not what to call or how to find. It was a special kind of hell, but I knew it would be richly worth it in the end. 

I needed a new ceiling fan that wasn't hopelessly homely. I went to Lowe's with low expectations. But fans have come a long way! This fan looks just like a windmill. I LOVE my fan. So much. To be honest, I have never before seen a ceiling fan I considered beautiful or additive. Except for this one, which I fell in love with on the spot. It's the Harbor Breeze Henderson 60" ceiling fan. The blades match my wood-like flooring. I ordered the galvanized finish (instead of black or bronze) because it looks more like a real windmill. Hero is installing the blades here.

Walt (kneeling) and Hero wiring the fan. They do it all! This picture has a Renaissance quality to it--love their poses and the light.

The crew of two is terrific. Walt and Hero were here for five weeks--warp speed for all the painting, outlet replacing, fixing and flooring they had to do. Their trucks pulled up in the driveway before daylight each day and I got up, ready to work, too. That's all I did. They're here today in fact for a sixth week, finishing up on some electrical and window trim work. I'm washing screens and cleaning stinkbugs and ladybugs by the billion out of each window as they go. Lord. There's always more.

Enough about that. Here's how the living room looks now.

And I am so, so happy. Got myself that leather sofa I've been dreaming of, with a secure furry corner cover for Curtis to snuggle into. He loves it!!

Flooring is Toasted Barnboard by Nextfloor  (luxury vinyl). It was the only flooring that looked good with both the fireplace and the honey-orange hard maple kitchen cabinets and trim. 99% of vinyl and laminate flooring is way too gray for me. I'm a warm earthtone person.

The wall color is Elk Horn by Benjamin Moore. Trim is Northwoods Brown. I worked on colors for a couple of weeks, hauling home chips and sample cans. I used Benjamin Moore's virtual visualizer on their website--such fun to "paint" rooms all kinds of colors, to see what it would look like! I also sprang for a home interior color planner from Etsy. It's a PDF with suggestions of colors for different applications, helping you decide wall and trim colors that all harmonize together. The Manchester Tan/ Earthy Bohemian collections were my jams. The designer is a woman named Ilaria. I highly recommend her.
Interestingly, Elk Horn and Northwoods Brown were not even remotely in the color group. I had to deviate to get what I needed for the living room. But though I went through a ton of second guessing and apprehension, I'm delighted with my choices, and the house looks pulled together anyway. The key is not using too many different colors. Gone, at least for me, are the old days of painting each room a wildly different color. 

The stone fireplace was the inspiration for the new color. Paint and flooring revolved around it. I wanted colors that would set off and compliment the local sandstone it was built from. It really is the centerpiece of the house.

And I finally got a handle on those bookshelves. Still a bit yet to do. I'm trying to find someone local to clean my CD carousel changer. Electronics shops laugh at me because the machine is obsolete and they can't get parts. Dammit, I have 500 CD's I still love to play (after weeding), and I hope to find someone who will at least take a look at it. Until then, the CD's stay in boxes downstairs, and there are some empty shelves. It's incredible to me that there is any space on those shelves, considering how many books there were before the purge.

I sprang for a triple-thick tufted Ruggable where I do morning yoga, and where Curtis does his Doga.  It's the Rowan Teal Blue and Copper oriental style rug. I'm giving the names of the things I chose, because I figure some people might like them and want to know. 

I've made two reading nooks in the living room and it's really changed my life. I have always read in bed because I didn't have a place to do it in the living room. As a result I would read about three pages and it's lights out. The book would fall and I'd be out. Oh, it's so delicious to sink into a recliner or oversized sofa-chair with a good light and read a book NOT in bed! 

I never got a chance to sit in the Big Chair once Phoebe and Oscar got a load of it! It's a cuddle chair for them. They read there for hours in the few days they were home on spring break. There's little that warms my heart more than seeing my beloveds enjoying the new reading nook.

That's the living room. And this is the real renovation, no foolin'!
Next: Kitchen, foyer, studio...

I Stink at April Fool's

Tuesday, April 2, 2024


I love April Fool's Day. It's a no-expectations, no-gifts holiday. It gives me a pass to be my true, awful self. But I have a problem the last couple of AFD' Facebook and Instagram posts, which I find hilarious and terrible, have sailed right by most people who read them. Too subtle? I dunno. In 2023 I announced that I'd watched a few YouTube videos, bought a bulldozer and learned to use it. I posted an outrageous video of a pro I hired skillfully obliterating a hedge of Japanese honeysuckle on my meadow edge, saying it was me operating the dozer. What did I get? "You GO, girl!" "Wow!" "You're AMAZING!"  and on and on. Virtually no one said, "Wait a minute. You did WUT?"

I posted it on April 1!! Figured I'd fool a few, but who buys a bulldozer and learns how to operate it by watching YouTube? Not me, sister.

Fast forward to April 1, 2024. I take a bunch of Before photos of my house interior, marred by black smoke from our awful gas fireplace (just another in a long line of things I have yet to see to). 32 year old carpet, and a bookcase from hell.  The bookcase is a jumbled mess, with ugly black smoke streaks on the wall above it. Granted, you have to look closely to see the smoke marks, and the carpet doesn't look 32 years old. It's livable. I lived in it for 32 years!

Wayfair curtains that turned from gray to pink when exposed to sun. A collapsing 25-year-old sofa, draped in a Guatemalan spread. Liam's studio corner, designated with pinned-up prints and drawing table. I loved having him drawing there in the living room, don't get me wrong. It is a bit busy for my tastes though.

  You can really see the smoke streaks in this shot of the east wall. And oh, the ceiling. Egad.

And the bookcase. OMG. No. NOOOO. This bookcase (and three more in my bedroom and studio) contained about half the books Bill brought home from Bird Watcher's Digest over the nearly 30 years he worked there. The rest were in the basement. I came to the relationship with my own ton of books, too. But Bill just blithely brought home a load of books every week, and I had to figure out where to put them all. I didn't do a good job of it. The bookcases at the magazine's office were overflowing and stacked on the floors, too. That's what happens to any magazine that does book reviews. Publishers start sending you everything they print. Unbelievable. And look at the smoking on the walls!

So I posted these Before photos as if I'm bursting with pride, and write a caption, trying to sound like a self-satisfied Instagram "influencer:"

"The house renovation is all but done and I promised you photos! Here's the living room. I had the painters put an aged patina on the walls, imitating the smoking marks seen in old colonial homes. For the bookshelves, photo 3, I went for an über-trendy, "Book Rich" look with a casual but studied jumble of tomes that I think nicely conveys "Intellectual Curiosity." What do you think? 

Then I posted a poll, which I never do, with two choices. "I love it!" and "That's a renovation??"

29 poll responses, and only 10% chose option 2. 90% said they loved it. Oh no!

333 likes, and 20 rah rah I love it comments. Thank goodness, 14 of the commenters indicated they got it with laugh emojis or sly comments. 

That was Instagram. Facebook was way worse. 555 likes, 89 comments. 62 commenters lauding it, trying to be nice in the face of the evidence that it looked pretty terrible. Only 10 indicated that they got the joke. 

I had the painters put an aged patina on the walls, imitating the smoking marks seen in old colonial homes.  

Who does that??

For the bookshelves, photo 3, I went for an über-trendy, "Book Rich" look with a casual but studied jumble of tomes that I think nicely conveys "Intellectual Curiosity." 

First off, have I ever used the words, "I went for an über-trendy look"? 

Second, would I actually write, "that I think nicely conveys 'Intellectual Curiosity' with capital letters and quotation marks??

I know what happened here. People are not dumb. Far from it. No, they are kind. They may have private thoughts about things they see in the photos, but I've said I'm happy with the renovation and they are happy for me. They don't want to risk offending someone who seems to be genuinely excited about her smoke-striped walls. Who knows what they're saying to their friends though? I can only guess. "What a hot mess that Zickefoose woman is! Have you seen her paint job?" 

 I have no pride. I'll do anything on April Fool's Day.

I have painted myself into a corner. Now I have to show everyone the actual After photos! And that I'm delighted to do! But there's a story in between that I think will resonate for anyone who's undertaken a home renovation. I'm still at it, in fact. Here's a sneak peek at the living room, my cozy clean new refuge. 

I have spent all day (when I wasn't reaming piles of dead stinkbugs out of window frames) on this post. It has unfolded like a Burmese python and it has gotten way too long. I reluctantly must leave the rest for another post, but I promise I'll be back soon! Until then, enjoy the new look and thank you for being so kind and encouraging on my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I really do have the nicest friends, and I don't deserve you all.

Three Practical Winter Bird Feeding Hacks I Wish I'd Thought of Years Ago

Wednesday, January 24, 2024


 TIP ONE: Don't waste the Zick Dough! (Recipe below).

I had spent part of my morning trying to foil starlings by bringing the lid of a two-part Zick Dough feeder lower and lower, trying to exclude those filthy birds who are not content to gobble all the expensive food; they also crap in my feeders AND heated birdbath.  One starling was managing to wriggle through despite the drastically lowered dome. Arrrghhhh!!

Finally I put a great big deep Plexiglas dome over the whole affair, and I was watching with amusement while the tufted titmice figured it out immediately, and everybody else just dithered. I could probably rank my feeder birds in order by intelligence, and TUTI would be the KING. Tufted titmice were the first birds to cross the field from the woods to take seed from a feeder at this house in the winter of 1992, and they are always the first to try anything new, and master it. The others just watch the titmice.

The Plexi dome proved far too daunting for anyone but the titmice, so I settled for lowering the top of my teeny Zick Dough feeder  even more until only the little birds and the birds that can cling upside down could comfortably land and get inside.

No problema for the clever Carolina wren!

Female hairy woodpecker: Well, how do I work this?

                     She figured it out! So good to see only the birds I want eating the really good stuff: Zick                           dough and dried mealworms! So: Get you a feeder with wingnuts and a top you can lower                                   way down, and feed Zick Dough and dried mealworms in that one. 


I'll share an innovation born of sheer exasperation with the starlings. I was dumping and cleaning and refilling my heated dog dish bird waterer twice a day. Here is the result of ONE DAY of starling use: 

Of course just as much goes into the water, turning it into disgusting disease-spreading fecal soup. UGH I HATE having starlings at the feeders! And cleaning birdbaths in single-digit weather is NOT among my favorite activities! Out here in the sticks, starlings are a huge problem ONLY when snow covers the ground, or the temperature dips into the 20's. As soon as the snow cover melts and the temperatures rise above freezing, starlings leave to make their living honestly, grubbing in the soil for larvae. But these last couple weeks have been tough, with starlings mobbing, gobbling, and pooping on everything.

It suddenly occurred to me as I washed the bird bath yet again that, instead of using solid rocks to protect most of the water's surface, I should use something unstable, lightweight and movable. Something the starlings couldn't stand on while they took their massive dumps into the water and onto the rocks.

I ran to the greenhouse and got a lightweight plastic plant saucer and floated it on the surface of the heated water.
C'est voila!! The saucer floats and moves around, and the starlings don't want to sit in it. They will tip it, and water runs into it, which they drink. The rest of the birds drink around the edges.

I haven't changed the water in two days and there is NO poop in it! Here, a starling and a rare winter brown-headed cowbird drink clean water, for once! It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.

And a third Most Excellent Dead of Winter Feeding Tip:  

For 30 years, I've toted a big muck bucket full of jars of different feeds from my detached garage, where they're stored, to the feeding station. I do this three times a day in hideously cold weather like what we've been enjoying the last two weeks. Let me admit: it's good for my step count, but it gets old.

Finally it occurred to me that I should store the feed out by the feeders. Duh. I mean, why didn't I think of this 30 years ago?
I took one of my stout galvanized trash cans out to the feeding station area and filled it with peanut and protein powder jars that are themselves full of the jillion different bird foods I offer. 

Like the floating saucer, it ain't pretty, but it do get the job done.
Of course, this tip does not apply anywhere there are bears, and it certainly works best when the coons are sleeping like little angels in their tree cavities.

While I'm at it:

Zick Dough, Improved

Combine dry ingredients: 

2 C chick starter, unmedicated 
2 C quick oats 
3 C flour (Start with 2, and add more if need be)
 1 ½ C yellow cornmeal 

 Melt together in microwave: 

1 C lard 
1 C peanut butter

 Slowly add liquid fats to dry mixture while stirring or mixing on low until dough forms. If it’s too gummy, add a little more flour and cornmeal until it’s soft, dry and crumbly. Serve as a treat in a small dish with a plexi dome to protect from rain. Store at room temperature in jars. Offer only below 55 degrees, as it’s too rich for summer feeding.
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