Summer Departs from The Manor

Over the last five months we've done a lot of planning at The Manor, but don't have a great deal to show for it (yet). Here's a quick recap:

After months of my complaining that the house was too big, too old, too falling-down, too overwhelming, Bill offered me a tantalizing offer: what if we alternated one "maintenance" project and one "fancified" project (aiming for one each year)? That way we would always have a fun project in the works to think about while we slog through the stuff that must be done to keep the roof from crashing down on us. 

So, what's on the list for consideration?

I did a quick tally of some of the major (e.g. >$30,000) projects that we would like to tackle at some point in the next 10-15 years and they look something like this:


Fancified Projects

  1. Renovate the kitchen 
  2. Build a carriage house/garage
  3. Put in a pool
  4. Turn attic into a 3rd floor master suite
  5. Landscape the backyard and complete the garden

Maintenance Projects

  1. Replace the pillars on the front porch
  2. Repair/replace the rotten wood on the exterior of the house
  3. Dig up the basement, waterproof it and put in sump pumps

Let's start with the not-fun project. We've started a separate savings account for the pillars replacement project -- we're hoping to have $45,000 ready to go by the spring to get this major structural issue take care of within the next year. (The pillars are load-bearing and I hope every day not to wake up and find the front of the house caved in because the rotted wood has finally given out.) Our contractor consultations have confirmed that this is, indeed, a necessary (exorbitant) expense -- largely because pillars 40+ feet tall need to be cast in a single piece and trucked up on an 18-wheeler truck from Georgia. Then they have to lift the front of the house to remove and replace the pillars and that involves a lot of equipment and manpower. Yee-haw.

But enough about that...

While the pillar fund slowly grows, I've turned my attention to the biggest (and best) project on our list -- the kitchen renovation. We hired a designer in April, who has mocked up an awesome design that manages to include every item on my wishlist. That part was pretty straightforward, but then we hit a roadblock in June because getting a contractor  in our town is apparently like pulling teeth. We're still waiting for bids to come in (hopefully in the next week or two) and then we'll decide how to proceed. 

We estimate that once the project gets started (and it could be 2-3 months until the chosen contractor has an opening), it will take about 4 months to complete the kitchen renovation. That means it's very likely that we won't get started until January, since I don't fancy the idea of hosting Christmas dinner for my extended family in a partially-renovated kitchen.

Smaller projects need love too.

Of course, smaller projects proceed in the meantime, and rather than provide a long description of each, how about a photo montage? Yeah, I like the sound of that too.

Long story short, Bill started working on a garden and we got a lot of great produce this year (but only about 25% of what we will eventually get!), we found a new kitten in the backyard and adopted her into the family (and said goodbye to another one of our cats, who had to be euthanized after major health problems), and got 7 new chicks -- none of which are pulling their weight in the egg department yet.

Next Up

In the three weeks since I started this blog post, it appears that we're inching closer to pulling the trigger on the kitchen remodel, and I've got some lovely new updates to share on the entryway. Expect that blog entry in 4-5 months, since I obviously can't be trusted to update more regularly. Mwah!

Spring Comes to The Manor

Despite a couple of freezing nights this week, I think it's safe to announce that Spring Is Here. We had the lawn mowed for the first time this year and it's amazing how much consistent grass height does for the overall appearance of the backyard.

Don't get me wrong, if you look closely there is still a bunch of winter crap we need to address. The picnic table and chairs have accelerated their rusting, and the umbrella has gotten the goats' attention and not in a good way. They've thoroughly enjoyed hopping over it, kicking it, chewing on it, and head-butting each other on it. Good times.

Bill took advantage of one of my business trips in February to have the giant tree cut down without my input. Why the stump is sticking 6 feet off the ground is a mystery to me, but I'm not in a mental place to have a rational discussion of how to deal with the remaining eyesore. 

The animals are SO HAPPY that we're getting more sunshine and longer days. They bask in the sun and follow us around making contented noises (and sometimes sneezing).

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Our chicken production is also back up, after a few weeks of getting just a couple of eggs a day. The ladies have stopped molting (it was a little gross) and we're now collecting 7-9 eggs each night.

If I had to prioritize future improvements, here is what I wish the backyard fairy would do:

  1. Install a lattice fence/guard around the guest room A/C unit, since the goats have now chewed through the sensor TWICE. 
  2. Fix the chicken coop (the metal guard on the nesting boxes has come partially undone and is hanging by a thread) and finish painting it.
  3. Install gutters on the barn to direct runoff away and prevent "swampland" problems around the building perimeter.
  4. Paint the barn to match the chicken coop, and install flower boxes.
  5. Get rid of the tree stump. (I tried lighting it on fire. It didn't work.)
  6. Spray paint the picnic table and chairs (color TBD), and find a place to set them up so that we're not sitting directly in the grass.
  7. Hire a designer to create a master plan (gazebo? pathway from backyard to stable yard?)
  8. Fix the back porch, which is now a mix of levels, wood color, and functionality.

Sadly, I don't have a backyard fairy, so we'll just have to see what Bill tackles over the next few months.

How to Hang Artwork in Your Manor in 10 Easy Steps

Step 1: Convince your husband that the art needs to be hung RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND. Stomp your foot if you need to make you point more emphatic. Sigh dramatically while husband slowly finds necessary tools.

Step 1: Convince your husband that the art needs to be hung RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND. Stomp your foot if you need to make you point more emphatic. Sigh dramatically while husband slowly finds necessary tools.

Step 2: Try not to scold as wood shavings are distributed around your newly cleaned dining room. Remember that ART is more important than tidiness. Distract yourself by looking up such search terms as "how to teach your husband to be neat" and "am i am unreasonable wife." Do not share results of second search.

Step 2: Try not to scold as wood shavings are distributed around your newly cleaned dining room. Remember that ART is more important than tidiness. Distract yourself by looking up such search terms as "how to teach your husband to be neat" and "am i am unreasonable wife." Do not share results of second search.

Step 3: Assure now-irritated husband that yes, it is imperative that you document each step of this process for posterity. FOR POSTERITY.

Step 3: Assure now-irritated husband that yes, it is imperative that you document each step of this process for posterity. FOR POSTERITY.

Step 4: Squirt a liberal amount of toothpaste in the holes to help mark the wall. Pause to engage in 20-minute conversation about why kids' toothpaste tube is so gross and how it's a miracle they haven't gotten Legionnaire's Disease yet.

Step 4: Squirt a liberal amount of toothpaste in the holes to help mark the wall. Pause to engage in 20-minute conversation about why kids' toothpaste tube is so gross and how it's a miracle they haven't gotten Legionnaire's Disease yet.

Step 5: Make husband try to find nail holes while hoisting heavy art in the air.

Step 5: Make husband try to find nail holes while hoisting heavy art in the air.

Step 6: Encourage husband to keep trying, exclaiming things like "won't you feel so great when this is done!"

Step 6: Encourage husband to keep trying, exclaiming things like "won't you feel so great when this is done!"

Step 7: Take sixty-seven photos of husband next to art, until his eyes are open in one of them.

Step 7: Take sixty-seven photos of husband next to art, until his eyes are open in one of them.

Step 8: Admire your spartan entryway. Tell children if they dump their shoes in the hall one more time you will cut off their feet.

Step 8: Admire your spartan entryway. Tell children if they dump their shoes in the hall one more time you will cut off their feet.

Step 9: Move a little closer to get the full effect. Trip over suddenly-appeared shoes in hallway that children insist magically appeared while they were off dutifully completing chores.

Step 9: Move a little closer to get the full effect. Trip over suddenly-appeared shoes in hallway that children insist magically appeared while they were off dutifully completing chores.

Step 10: Move even closer. Gaze upon art for another 15 minutes, then focus on the really important part: posting a photo of art on Facebook.

Step 10: Move even closer. Gaze upon art for another 15 minutes, then focus on the really important part: posting a photo of art on Facebook.

In Which I Realize The Manor Will Be the Death of Me

The house is killing me. At least twice a day I am convinced we made a huge mistake in taking on this behemoth that seems to be falling apart faster than we can (afford to) fix it. I'm counting on the fact that back in 1907 houses were "made to last" and thus should hold up for another couple of years at least.

I've narrowed my despair down to four main culprits:

  • I've been really busy at work lately. More work = more stress = more grumpiness. Plus, I've had less time at home to tackle small projects or do the daily organizing that keeps my family's disheveled habits in check. It's a bit of a vicious cycle -- clutter makes me anxious (which reads as "bitchy" to my family) so when I'm busy at work, the house gets messy, which makes me more stressed, which makes me more tense at work. Yada yada yada. 
Except for the randomly placed and disproportionately small picture frame on the wall, this is what happiness looks like for me. Tidy and spare, with lots of white.

Except for the randomly placed and disproportionately small picture frame on the wall, this is what happiness looks like for me. Tidy and spare, with lots of white.


  • I was sick over the holidays. I caught the flu the day after returning from a trip to Bangkok in mid-December and that flu virus turned into a cold, which lingered until it became bronchitis. In all, it was a full five weeks of misery before I turned the corner. I felt off my game for Christmas and New Years, and it drove me crazy that the time I took off (almost 4 weeks out of the office) was devoted to laying on the couch and coughing rather than tackling any of the dozens of house projects on my list.
  • Bill and I are not on the same page. We've had a string of disagreements lately about project choice, scope, design, and budget. The Manor is a hard enough project to tackle, without being on the outs with your partner in crime.
  • Several of our projects have gone wrong, or haven't been finished. The expensive paint job we did on the front porch last year has bubbled and peeled, making it an eyesore every time I have to go through the front door. The plaster ceiling repair we did on several parts of the house looks fantastic, but there are still multiple areas in other areas where the ceiling is peeling away. The chicken coop paint job isn't done, nor is the new ramp to the back door. Living "in between" is hard.

I'm hopeful that the impending spring weather (although it snowed again last night) will create a renewed sense of optimism about The Manor. Otherwise, I've noticed some very attractive downtown lofts available for a steal.

That said, there have been some nice points over the last six months. Here are a few of the highlights

Sewing Projects

Warm pajamas for the rooms where the heat is still a little iffy.

Warm pajamas for the rooms where the heat is still a little iffy.

An animal-print wrap-dress for #JungleJanuary.

An animal-print wrap-dress for #JungleJanuary.

Matching dresses for me and the spunky one.

Matching dresses for me and the spunky one.

Small Home Improvement Projects

We got rid of this hideous light (and gave it to my sister, who thinks it is awesome)...

We got rid of this hideous light (and gave it to my sister, who thinks it is awesome)...

... and replaced it with a ceiling fan. So much better!

... and replaced it with a ceiling fan. So much better!

We got a new storage unit for our bathroom, which gives us more room for everyday necessities, and about 15 extra rolls of toilet paper. #beprepared

We got a new storage unit for our bathroom, which gives us more room for everyday necessities, and about 15 extra rolls of toilet paper. #beprepared

We upgraded the dining table to a proper one with pull-out leaves that will comfortable seat twelve. Finally had our first dinner party, which was a rousing success.

We upgraded the dining table to a proper one with pull-out leaves that will comfortable seat twelve. Finally had our first dinner party, which was a rousing success.

Ultimately, I'd like to have the table repainted (professionally) but once we set it up for that night's dinner party, I came to grips with the fact that it will probably stay like this for the next decade.

Ultimately, I'd like to have the table repainted (professionally) but once we set it up for that night's dinner party, I came to grips with the fact that it will probably stay like this for the next decade.

Happy animals

My sewing room is the warmest place in the house (since I crank up the baseboard heaters) and I find a lot of animals napping there.

My sewing room is the warmest place in the house (since I crank up the baseboard heaters) and I find a lot of animals napping there.

This fall, all was bliss...

This fall, all was bliss...

And the sassy creatures paraded around with glee.

And the sassy creatures paraded around with glee.

And we ate delicious fresh eggs almost every morning.

And we ate delicious fresh eggs almost every morning.

Then one of the chickens got a hernia. There's nothing to be done, and some chickens can live for years. Sadly, about a month after it happened, her skin split and she died. Thank goodness BIll took care of the remains -- I was told it was pretty gruesome. 

Then one of the chickens got a hernia. There's nothing to be done, and some chickens can live for years. Sadly, about a month after it happened, her skin split and she died. Thank goodness BIll took care of the remains -- I was told it was pretty gruesome. 

Still, the eggs from our remaining hens are delicious, and a nap can fix almost anything.

Still, the eggs from our remaining hens are delicious, and a nap can fix almost anything.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

I would be remiss not to mention a life-changing discovery. Putting a sheet of tinfoil on your baking sheet makes chocolate chip cookies bake perfectly -- soft and chewy with no burned bottoms. Please implement this trick immediately.

I would be remiss not to mention a life-changing discovery. Putting a sheet of tinfoil on your baking sheet makes chocolate chip cookies bake perfectly -- soft and chewy with no burned bottoms. Please implement this trick immediately.

That's all for now!

Fall 2015 at The Manor

Maude, one of our remaining chickens who *mostly* has the good sense to stay away from the dogs.

Maude, one of our remaining chickens who *mostly* has the good sense to stay away from the dogs.

When I last left you, dear reader, the basement was flooded, Bill was out of town, and I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I'm happy to report that Bill is back and the basement is dry. The nervous breakdown seems to have stepped back a pace, but is ready to launch at the slightest provocation.

What's going on with the basement?

I'm so glad you asked. After pumping 800 gallons of water outside, the basement continued to flood for the rest of the weekend. A specialist came out to examine the problem and told us that because our house has a double-brick foundation, we can't do exterior waterproofing and instead need to consider digging up the concrete to put in gutters and pipes along the interior walls of the basement, which will then divert water into a (new) sump pump. Cha-ching.

Oh, and our insurance doesn't cover water damage from flooding, so we had to pay for the emergency help out of pocket. We don't have flood insurance. Remind me again how my husband's job is convincing communities to require flood insurance for just such occasions...

What's going on with the chickens?

Well, we're now down to 10 chickens. You'll recall that Doris (our firstborn!) turned out to be a rooster and was re-homed over the summer. A couple of weeks ago, the chickens started venturing over the fence from their safe and secure stable area into our backyard. Where our dogs roam. With a taste for chicken.

Sadly, one of them wasn't quick enough to make it back over the fence, and was killed by the dogs. In a matter of second, the air was full of feathers (seriously, it was like a feather pillow exploded) and the chicken was dead on the ground with a broken neck. No spurting blood (thank goodness) but it was pretty disturbing to have to pick it up off the ground and get it disposed of in the three minutes before the kids arrived home from school. 

At least the chickens have mostly decided to stay on their side of the fence. We're planning to clip their flight feathers this weekend so help minimize their explorations. Stay tuned for that horror story soon.

There doesn't seem to be much mourning for dead "Brown Chicken #6". It's business as usual in The Manor stables.

There doesn't seem to be much mourning for dead "Brown Chicken #6". It's business as usual in The Manor stables.

Fighting "The Man"

The new grass seed is coming in nicely, and the stable is looking less desperate. This comes at a good time, since it turns out that our city is doing a comprehensive review of the zoning ordinances and is proposing that a property lot under 5 acres be limited to four chickens and no animals over 50 lbs. That means that our very spacious "almost 2 acre" property would be over the limit on chickens and would not be allowed to have goats.

Heresy! Here is a photo of approximately 1/8 of our property. Does this photo look overcrowded with livestock? I think not.

This is a tiny portion of our backyard -- does it look like we have too many chickens? Absolutely not.

This is a tiny portion of our backyard -- does it look like we have too many chickens? Absolutely not.

And here is a photo of another angle of our backyard -- this is separate from the stable area where the chickens roam, and there is another 2/3 of the backyard not pictured. Does it look like the goats are being mistreated with lack of space? Or that our neighbors mind living next to these pets?

I think you can probably tell from their little pot bellies that these goats have plenty of land upon which to gorge themselves.  

I think you can probably tell from their little pot bellies that these goats have plenty of land upon which to gorge themselves.  

All of this is to say that Bill and I are moving into high gear. We're in the process of figuring out the best way to advocate for more reasonable zoning rules regarding chickens and livestock. Bill's in communication with the local extension agent and I'm going to be reaching out to members of the City Council and the planning department. Wish us luck!