See You at the Clothesline

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

Happy Earth Day!

Recycling, renovating, refurbishing, converting… all of these words remind me of DIY projects that help us find new uses for old items. Whether the idea is to save money, to be more conscious of the environment, or to be creative, I love hearing earth-friendly tips from other families.

So today in the spirit of Earth Day, I’m going to share one of my favorite earth-friendly, but very old-fashioned, DIY ideas: hanging laundry out to dry on a clothesline.

This might not sound all that exciting or revolutionary to you… but stay with me. I promise, there are many perks! I encourage you to rediscover this old technique… because it will renew your spirit.

Everything old is new again

Somewhere ingrained in me, is the old-fashioned poem about household chores that my great-grandmother used to follow:

Monday, Wash Day
Tuesday, Ironing Day
Wednesday, Sewing Day
Thursday, Market Day
Friday, Cleaning Day
Saturday, Baking Day
Sunday, Day of Rest

If your family is like mine, weekends are full of activities including sports, which means that Mondays are great candidates for laundry days. I do not like having stinky sports uniforms hanging out in the laundry room for very long. At some point over the weekend, I normally remind my kids to collect all of their laundry from the hidden recesses of their room, bring it to the laundry room and sort it out. (This also helps with the never-ending chore, “cleaning their room.”) I can’t say that I follow this old-fashioned poem’s advice on the remaining days of the week, although Fridays are definitely cleaning days at our house as well.

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Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday: A clean slate

Ok, so Monday morning rolls around and I honestly look forward to beginning my week with a “clean slate” and doing at least one, sometimes three or four, loads of laundry. Currently, I work from home, so it’s easy for me to incorporate this into my routine. But even when I worked full-time, outside the home, I looked forward to this Monday morning ritual and did a load of laundry before heading out the door.

If you don’t already have a clothesline, it’s a fairly simple DIY project to install one. I love the idea that a light breeze and sunshine can work magic on a load of laundry. It’s recycling at its best!

Benefits of “hang time”

So what are the benefits to hanging laundry outdoors?

  • Starting the day outside in the early morning sunshine
  • Time spent thinking about the day and week ahead
  • A peaceful start to the day
  • Light exercise
  • Saving money by not running the dryer
  • Freshly scented sheets and laundry
  • Time in the afternoon spent taking the laundry down is also a perfect time to “recharge” outdoors
  • Morning or afternoon–I often have a cup of coffee nearby!

A few additional tips:

  • I never hang towels outside—even if I use fabric softener, they get too stiff if hung outside.The dryer leaves them soft and fluffy and that’s the way we like them. Don’t mess with a good thing. The same goes for socks in my opinion. Besides, I don’t have the patience to hang the gazillion socks that go through our laundry every week. LOL
  • If the temperature isn’t forecasted to go above 60 degrees, then it’s too chilly, in my book, to either enjoy the time outdoors or to adequately dry the laundry.
  • How does the saying go? Don’t air your personal laundry in public? My family appreciates the fact that I do not hang any personal items on the washline. :-)

It sounds simple, I know, but my Monday mornings at the clothesline have become a cherished routine. Now that spring is here, this is one chore that I’m ready to plug back into my schedule!

How about you? What are some of your favorite earth-friendly tips? Time or money-saving tricks? Ways to renew your spirit?

Monday morning in New York City, circa 1900, public domain. How incredible is this photo?!

Monday morning in New York City, circa 1900, public domain. How incredible is this photo?!

 

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Family Favorite: Frittata

Photo Credit: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo Credit: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

By Karen Hendricks

Wishing all of our Off the Merry-Go-Round friends a blessed (early) Easter! Hope you enjoy lots of precious family time this weekend, where family meals are bound to take center stage.

And what would Easter be without traditional Easter eggs, ham, springtime salads, carrot cake, and of course chocolate from the Easter Bunny. :-)

One of my family’s favorite recipes of all time works well for Easter brunch, or really anytime of year. “Frittata” is a super-fun word to say (fruh-ta-ta), but if you’re scared by it… don’t be. A frittata is basically an Italian version of an omelet. Baked in the oven, it’s a delicious version of an egg casserole. I stumbled upon it in a recipe book at least 15 years ago, and cannot remember which one at this point. Besides being delicious, this frittata recipe is very easy to adapt and modify based upon whatever ingredients you have on hand. Not only is it perfect for a special brunch, but it’s also a wonderful substantial and healthy dinner option. My family loves to switch things up and have “breakfast for dinner” at least once a month–how about you?

Frittata: This recently-made pan featured ham, spinach, red pepper and broccoli. Cheese sprinkled on top gives it a gorgeous browned top.

Frittata: This recently-made pan featured ham, spinach, red pepper and broccoli. Cheese sprinkled on top gives it a gorgeous browned top.

Favorite Frittata:

  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 c frozen hash brown potatoes (or 2 large potatoes, diced)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 c frozen or fresh vegetables of your choice (broccoli, sugar snap peas, red/green pepper, spinach, kale, etc.)
  • 1 c shredded cheese (mozzarella, cheddar or Swiss work well – your choice)
  • 1 c ham, cubed or chopped (great way to use leftover ham)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine eggs, mayonnaise and milk in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Add hash browns, ham and all vegetables; season with salt and cracked black pepper; mix until well blended. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 35-40 minutes or until center is set and top is browned.

Note: I double this recipe and make (2) 2-qt dishes for my family of 5 if making frittata for dinner. We usually have just a few servings left-over, which are often coveted as breakfast options the next morning (the early bird gets the worm…).

Ideas for side dishes: Biscuits, Italian bread, fresh fruit salad.

Enjoy!

Outdoor Weather Calls For A Beautiful Outdoor Area

Summer is about two months away, and many of us are dreaming of warm, sunny weather after an especially long winter. Today we welcome guest blogger Naomi Shaw to bring a breath of fresh air, sunshine and outdoor design inspiration from her home in California.

By Naomi Shaw 

Sometimes all you need to revamp your home is a feature added to your  outdoor area. Whether it’s your front yard, backyard or a little art studio in the back, the following ideas can make any outside space a wonderful, enjoyableplace to spend time, especially with friends and family.

Image Courtesy of Acutech

Image Courtesy of Acutech

Cedar Bar

One of the most useful pieces for a gorgeous and fully functional outdoor area is a simple bar. You’ll need a large, flat surface where you can prepare and serve food and drinks for your outdoor guests. You’ll also need some storage space for your outdoor serving dishes, utensils, and other preparation tools.

  • You can build this DIY bar with a little craftsmanship and patience. Here’s an informative step-by-step list from Home at Home, a great resource for homeowners, on how to build a cedar bar all by yourself.

Fold-Down Picnic Table

Similar to the nostalgic murphy bed, this picnic table can be stored against an outdoor wall in your backyard.

  • Simply buy a picnic table and construct a DIY wall mount. Check out these basic picnic table designs from instructables, a site for creating just about anything on your own.
  • You can raise the table when your kids want a space to play, and lower it down quickly and easily for hosting guests or enjoying time with the fam.

Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor fireplaces, whether they’re built into your patio or set up like a bonfire, are wonderful places for people to gather. Once the sun dips below the horizon and evening settles in, guests will likely congregate around the warming flames so the conversations can continue, instead of simply leaving because it’s too chilly.

Image Courtesy of Ethanol Fireplace Pros

Image Courtesy of Ethanol Fireplace Pros

  • Use an environmentally friendly ethanol fireplace, which does not release carbon dioxide into the air as would basic wood and flames.
  • Ethanol fireplaces are easily started and shut off, unlike having to light a flame and hope that it will catch.
  • This type of fireplace does not have to be permanently mounted, if you’re looking for something you can move around the yard.

Outdoor Shower

Nothing feels more outdoorsy and refreshing than showering outside. Whether you’re home from the beach and want to wash off all the sand or you just need a breath of fresh air, having an outdoor shower is a great idea for any backyard.

Image Courtesy StoneandTurf.com

Image Courtesy StoneandTurf.com

Backyard Party Shed

Whether it’s a potting shed or a party shed, a fun place outside of the house to spend time and share stories will make any backyard a great place to be.

  • This DIY renovated shed from ReDesigning Sarah, an inspirational home and family blog, shows just one way you can revamp a lowly box into a lively party destination.
  • If a party shed is not your thing, consider renovating a small shack as a reading room or an art studio. Sometimes all you need to “get away” is a walk outside to your studio.

Even just choosing one of these fun projects will turn your backyard space into your own beautiful space you can show off to friends, family, and party guests. Hang out in a party shed, relax by the fireplace, or have delicious meal on your fold-down picnic table.

Have you added one of these features to your yard? Thinking about diving into one of these projects? Feel free to leave a comment below and share your ideas and tips!

Naomi Shaw is a writer from Southern California. She loves to write about home decor and recently has been remodeling her backyard with her husband and even getting her three boys involved. She is hoping it is all done and set for some summer BBQ’s this year. 

Grafting Onto Your Family Tree

No matter how "rooted" your family tree is in blood ties --  there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

No matter how “rooted” your family tree is in blood ties — there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

*In collaboration with Chris Little

When I think about family trees, my mind naturally drifts to how different so many families look than they did in the generations of our parents and grandparents. The “faces” of families today are much more diverse – for reasons such as interracial marriage and building a family through adoption. Nowadays, a family is often comprised of different skin colors, ethnicities and cultures.

As I think about this concept further, I also consider what – or should I say who, really makes up a family tree. Is it biological members of a family – those with only true blood ties to the family line? Or, can a family unit be more than that? I wonder too … if family is also supposed to be about love for one other, and about taking care of one other, and about respecting one other – then what if that is not happening with certain so-called “family members.” Then, are they your family? And then further … are the special people in your life who “make up for” those sour relationships – who do love, care for and respect you, are they your family?

In other words, is a family bound by blood … or love?

I will be very bold and say that I do not consider every person in my blood-related family to be my family. There are a few members in my family who do not exhibit the traits I consider to be worthy of family; and therefore I avoid them as much as I can, and certainly do not let them know much about my life nor infringe upon it. Yes, I feel they are that toxic.

Aside from this, our son is adopted. If I thought that family was only about blood ties, I could not possibly have become his mother. In my opinion, a family is less about blood ties and more about a culture. The term culture encompasses ethnicity, racial identity, family structure, economic level, language, and religious and political beliefs – all of which profoundly influence a person’s development and relationship to the world, from birth and childhood on. And, therefore, also how they integrate into a family and take part in that family unit. So in my mind – and in my world, family is built by choice. The “family tree,” therefore, is not so much about where the trunk of the tree first took seed, or how the roots took hold in the ground – rather about the many thick branches and lush leaves that grew from that initial form.

It is so very difficult for me to understand how others cannot see beyond how a child comes into a family and simply acknowledge that it is a true blessing that the child is there. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced the love of those family members in my life with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how in many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than many of my “blood” relatives. Just as some people remark that they “don’t see race” (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show) as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

The credit for my point of view on this subject really must go to my amazing mother. Unknowingly, she is the one who taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. My mother was an “only child” and since she grew up without siblings, she built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. Therefore, my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of how “Aunt So-and-So isn’t my ‘real’ aunt,” nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why “Mr. and Mrs. X” became my grandparents. I did not find this at all unusual – it just was.

My mother's dear friend who became my aunt holds my son when he was a baby.

My mother’s dear friend, who became my aunt, holds my son when he was a baby.

As an example, there were two wonderful married couples who were very good friends of both my parents, and who then became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and have both since passed away; and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful presence in my family’s life.

Two sets of other “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I can tell you that I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on in her life, astounds me even to this day. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked to me about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. You see, Mary and her husband, Bob, had become more than just my mother’s dear friends – they became her family when she had none. It is amazing to me how anyone upon hearing this story could continue to think that a blood tie alone to another person makes them family in the true meaning of the word!

A couple of years toward the end of my Aunt Mary’s life, I had the pleasure of flying to Colorado from time to time where my aunt and uncle lived. My dear Aunt Mary had been very ill for some time, and along with her physical ailments, had begun to show early signs of dementia. Although my Uncle Bob had weekly help in his home and was able to take breaks from caring for my aunt round the clock, I wanted to be present during this difficult time for them both whenever I could. I wanted to help too. I wanted to give something back – no matter how small, to the people who are forever bound to me through love. To my family.

As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies; as I helped to feed and dress her; as I looked into her eyes and smiled; I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just an infant. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were not the biological parents of either my mom or my dad – they were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work after raising us, she turned to a retired woman in the neighborhood who babysat regularly for help with our afterschool care. To our family however, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. I cannot put into words what a special part of my life they became, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes and pies tasted no less delicious; and her presence in my life was no less special, because we were not related by blood.

My "family tree" continues ... my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

My “family tree” branches out … my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So we are forming a family for him – growing and adding branches to our tree trunk. We have looked outside of our family members for those special relationships of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. In fact, my son calls them aunts, uncles and cousins; and just as I did growing up, doesn’t seem to think anything of it. For they are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

The expression, “Blood is thicker than water,” is a misrepresentation of family life. It simply is not true. Although it is sad to say, when you go through a really difficult time in your life, you may well find that those still standing by your side at the end may not be your blood relatives!

In my blog, “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life,” I share a story which illustrates further my thoughts about true family

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

Enough said!

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? Are there people in your life you consider family members just as much as your biological relatives – and whom you would add to your family tree? Our OTMGR community would be interested to hear your story about those treasured relationships!

Addicted to Technology?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

We use the word “addicted” in association with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee (caffeine) and—sometimes in a teasing way—decadent foods like chocolate. But do you think it’s possible to become addicted to technology?

More and more research is pointing in that direction, saying that we are impulsively checking our phones and other devices as soon as emails “ping” into our inboxes or texts light up our screens. What do you think? Are there times when you feel addicted? Do you ever feel as though your children or spouse are “too connected?” Do you have rules or boundaries set for phone usage in your house?

I brought up this topic over the dinner table a few nights ago. Yes, we try to have dinner together as a family every night… it’s not always possible with sports schedules and other activities, but the majority of the time, we are successful! I think it’s one of the keys to family communication and connectedness. It’s also a sacred time, meaning that devices are not allowed at the dinner table. Rarely, there are exceptions, such as when my husband gets an emergency call from his phone service… or when we’re expecting a call from our college age daughter… but face-to-face dinner conversation is more important.

So, over dinner, we talked about Sundays and how they are probably the day when we use phones and devices (iPods, Kindles, etc.) the least. Sundays have a family feel to them, with our day typically beginning at church, progressing into our Sunday noontime tradition—brunch—usually with pancakes or waffles, and always bacon. Always. Afternoons are spent getting together with friends, watching sports together on TV, catching up on homework, doing fun projects around the house, taking walks or bike rides around our neighborhood, cooking Sunday dinners or baking special treats. It’s a day to recharge our batteries, but unplug from devices.

We don’t have a strict rule about phone or device use on Sundays, but we talked about how it’s just kind of evolved that way. And for that I am grateful. I cherish Sundays for their enriching family moments and want to preserve and protect these special days. Being unplugged allows us to unwind and reconnect with each other in some of the most binding ways: talking, sharing, laughing, touching, hugging and… loving each other.

Tell me what you think… I’d love to hear about your strategies and tips for keeping phone/device use in check. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Recycle, Reuse and… Renovate!

A beautifully hand-crafted piece of furniture I had treasured for years now had to go ... What would become of such a meaningful part of my life?

A beautifully hand-crafted piece of furniture I had treasured for years now had to go …
What would become of such a meaningful part of my life?

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Well, I am officially “done” with all of this wintry weather and am ready for spring … springing forward, having an extra spring in my step, and that all-familiar pastime of spring cleaning!

My family and I have been slowly renovating the upper level of our rambler-style house for a couple of years now. It has taken a good deal of research and planning, yet we are nearly there – just the kitchen to go now!

Yes, renovating your house really CAN be this fun!

Yes, renovating your house really CAN be this fun!

In my blog, “Make Little Changes to Your Home to Create a Fab New Look!”  I took you on a tour of our dining/living room area and hallway, demonstrating how just a few small changes (yes, even inexpensive ones) can make a BIG difference in the overall appearance of your home.

As I read, research and learn more about renovating, I have also discovered that it is not only possible to make small, inexpensive changes to your house to create a whole new look, but that those changes can also involve using items and accessories you already have in your home in a completely different way to add to your home’s new “image” and décor.

In the past, when thinking about recycling, I pictured putting paper and cardboard, and plastics and aluminum, into containers to be reused and redistributed in another form. I thought about composting and conservation. What I didn’t consider is that when you take one item that you might otherwise sell, donate, or throw away – and find another use for it – that is recycling as well!

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STOP! Don't throw those leftover pieces of wood away just yet!

STOP! Don’t throw those leftover pieces of wood away just yet!

In the early 2000’s, a couple of years before I met my husband, I was living in Clearwater, Florida. My beloved grandmother (who was actually our neighbor a few houses down the street before we brought her so closely into our lives) had recently passed away from a stroke and I wanted to raise funds for the American Stroke Association in her memory. So I signed up, and trained, for my first half marathon which would be in Negril, Jamaica.

When I returned from a successful run, I found that my boyfriend had moved a large, beautifully hand-crafted (by him!) home entertainment center into my apartment’s living room. It was absolutely beautiful, made from red oak and mahogany wood with adjustable shelving, and I treasured it for many years. Over time, I found that this storage unit was also quite versatile and could suit most any home storage need – as a home entertainment center (it’s original purpose and for which it was designed); a display and/or book case; a buffet table; or all of these!

When I got married, my husband even had a piece of glass cut for the top to protect it, and so that piece of furniture followed us around until we landed at our current home in Maryland in 2006.

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Yes, the entertainment center was really THIS close when you opened our front door!

Yes, that “chunky” entertainment center was really THIS close when you opened our front door!

Our house is just 1,184 square feet – very small compared to what most people would consider livable square footage. None of the wall space in the living room, or my husband’s office space in our master suite, would “support” the 59 ½” l x 25” w x 32” h center once our other furniture was moved in. All of the bedrooms were too small as well. So, we put it along the wall just as you walk in our front door – in the small space we called our “foyer.” I put quotes around foyer because it was more like a few feet of floor space that you squeezed into from the front door before making your way to the living room; or around the corner to the dining room and then on to the kitchen.

In that space, the center appeared even larger than it already was – taking up a good portion of the entryway space. It was so big that one might even bump right into it when entering the house!

Although I had an emotional attachment to this piece and considered it a treasure, when it was time to renovate our foyer we knew it simply could not remain in this space. It was a tough decision, but in the end I decided to let it go. At first, we thought we might find someone special who would cherish the center. When we could not find a good home for it, we decided to sell it and use the money toward our renovations. We put an ad in local newspapers and other advertisement venues; as well as on Craig’s List and eBay – all to no avail.

My former entertainment center ... How could it possibly ever look as polished and lovely as it once did?

My former entertainment center … How could it possibly ever look as polished and lovely as it once did?

This piece simply could not stay, and my husband was about to chop it up for firewood, when our contractor took a second look. “You know…this comes apart.” That was my “ah-ha” moment, and then I knew just what I would do. Besides, if anyone could help me with my idea, it would be our contractor. He goes by “Dr. Dan,” and on his own completes his work intentionally and deliberately. The good doctor seems to be able to custom make just about anything. In my previous renovation blog, I also shared how he had “gutted” a really weird-looking closet in our hallway and created a gorgeous display shelving unit. Truly amazing!

So Dr. Dan dismantled the entire entertainment center – right there in the foyer area, piece by piece. The pieces were then stored so that he could add new tile flooring which we had chosen.

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We decided to purchase more expensive tiles to make our entrance appear a little more “grand,” even though the style of the floor was actually quite simple. This was the only part of our renovation where we did not “recycle;” rather took on the expense to achieve a goal that may not have been workable otherwise. Besides, we knew that since we had purchased a high- quality flooring, it would last us many years – possibly even the remainder of our time in our house.

We spared no expense on our new tile flooring - the only part of our renovation where we did not "recycle."

We spared no expense on our new tile flooring – the only part of our renovation where we did not “recycle.”

By adding new flooring, this area was quickly transformed in three ways – functionally and aesthetically:

  • The entrance space was given an illusion of being bigger by extending the tile flooring toward the living and dining areas
  • A simple and neutral design kept the area from looking too pretentious for our quaint rambler-style home; and hid much of the dirt and mud that gets tracked into our house from the wooded acreage on which we live
  • The type of flooring we chose – color scheme and texture, made the area much easier to keep clean

Previously, there was a “strip” of plastic laminate flooring which was so cheaply made and sloppily installed that it looked very out of place with the genuine hardwood floors throughout the house. The illusion we hoped to create in this way was successful; and our completed entryway/foyer now has a “sweeping” effect as you enter our house.

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OMG! What a mess! Is there any way this tiny foyer closet can be transformed inexpensively into something more...aesthetically pleasing???

OMG! What a mess! Is there any way this tiny foyer closet can be transformed inexpensively into something more…aesthetically pleasing???

Dan then set to work on our entryway coat closet. Prior to our renovation, the closet had been small, dark and, admittedly, smelly (once dirty old work boots began rotting away inside!). Soon, however, the old, plain, cheaply constructed outer door was removed and a lovely, dark wooden retro-style “accordion” door was installed in its place – eliminating a door that swings so far open that it takes up half the entryway when opened.

Simply changing the style of door on the front of the closet instantly served three renovation purposes – practical and decorative:

  • Added a dramatic, eye-catching detail to the space
  • Created more space with a trimmer door
  • Accented the overall style throughout the house ~ contemporary, with retro designs and accents that “give a nod” to the 1960’s

A beautiful new closet door!

A beautiful new closet door!

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Next, Dan pulled out the makeshift wooden shelf up top and lined the entire inside of the closet with cedar wood (goodbye moth holes in jacket pockets!). The matching makeshift wooden “bar” on which to hang coats was kept in place, however. We figured why buy a new one when all our contractor needed to do to improve its appearance and make it match the rest of the closet is stain it? Plus, this was yet another “nod” – this time to all of the do-it-yourself owners who came before us! Though we have had to replace nearly everything you sloppily installed throughout the house, we do applaud your attempt at saving a few bucks.

Now, finally, here’s the part where I recycle! Once the entertainment center had been taken apart, our contractor worked hard to keep as much of the shelving and beveled wood intact. He then cut and smoothed all the separate pieces to create partitioned shelving in the closet, matching the design sketched by my husband.

Now, we had added pockets of storage in a wonderfully smelling closet – and one that even magically somehow looked larger inside than before! Just like our display shelves in the hallway, our closet had a custom-designed, unique look that when seen one would have a hard time believing it had once been an entertainment center that held a television set and stereo!

Ta-da! Our "new" closet!

Ta-da! Our “new” closet!

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So if you are looking to change-up an area of your home such as an entryway; closet; or other space in your house, before you troll through Home Depot or Lowe’s, or search online for renovation ideas – simply take a walk around your own home. You just never know what you may find that can be turned into something else and recycled to meet your current renovation needs!

A beautiful, warm, and inviting (not to mention larger in appearance) entrance way awaits us when we arrive back home. And...I no longer need to use quotation marks around the word Foyer ~ I truly have one now!

A beautiful, warm, and inviting (not to mention larger in appearance) entryway awaits us when we arrive back home. And…I no longer need to use quotation marks around the word Foyer ~ I truly have one now!

Happy recycling! Have you found anything in your home that you have turned into something else? Have you embarked on any recent projects you would like to share, along with any interesting renovation techniques or discoveries you found along the way? We would love to hear your recycling and renovation ideas!

Bad apples and sad stories: When your family research uncovers dark secrets, tragic tales, or shady characters

Bad apples

By Chris Little

When I began researching my great-grandmother’s life, I kept running into a wall when it came to her father. She scarcely mentioned him in her journals, and the newspaper column announcing her wedding in 1908 noted that he was too ill to attend the ceremony. And then in 1909, when his wife and unmarried daughters moved from the Boston suburbs to live near his son in Seattle, he did not join them. For a long time I thought he had died that year, but I recently uncovered records indicating that he had been committed to a state mental hospital in 1909, and that he had lived there until his death in 1919. There is much I still don’t know about that situation, but I’ve applied to receive his medical records and they should be arriving shortly—I look forward to learning more about those last ten years of his life …. sort of. It’s bound to be a sad story, one I’ll have to read between the lines of an attending physician’s report.

Mine is a rather tame example, but it raises the question: We may love to think of our ancestors as paragons of fortitude, resilience, and unimpeachable character, but what do we do when our family research uncovers a tragic story, or a deep family secret, even an criminal character?

Most of the time it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s too bad that my great-great-grandfather died in a mental institution, it really is, but to be honest his tale feels pretty remote to me—I don’t expect the story I piece together from his medical records to knock me off balance too much. I think it’ll be kind of interesting, actually.

But sometimes these old stories can unexpectedly uncover darker stories—tales of shady characters who may lurk in our family tree. These stories can be a bit unsettling. “Experts say reactions can range from detached bemusement to identity confusion and soul-searching as the researcher tries to understand—and rethink—his or her lineage,” writes Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal. Our ability to accept the bad apples in our family tree depends in part on how bad they were—and how far from us they hang among the branches. It’s important to maintain some perspective—they are not us, after all, and their deeds are not ours.

Still, in some cases our history can shed light on our present, and knowing even the darkest sides of our family histories can be healing. “Becoming aware of patterns of alcoholism, divorce, abuse or other misbehavior can make it easier for people living today to understand and change them,” writes Shellenbarger.

While sometimes we may stumble across these uncomfortable family stories without intentionally seeking them out, some researchers go looking for the black sheep in their family, their curiosity piqued, say, by a raised eyebrow or a loaded silence at last summer’s family reunion. Maybe you’ve picked up on some reticence on the part of your older relatives when someone mentions your wild distant uncle, for example, or maybe it’s always hush-hush when the topic of your great-grandfather comes up. In my own case, the marked lack of information about my great-great-grandfather, especially in a family so dedicated to preserving its history, is what initially made me suspect that something had happened to him that the others didn’t want to discuss. Suffice it to say that most families harbor some kind of secret, and sometimes those secrets beckon intriguingly to the intrepid researcher.

But be prepared: “Before you go digging for the truth, know what you’re getting into,” writes Lisa A. Alzo in Family Tree Magazine. “We’re tempted to look at our family histories through rose-colored glasses, but that’s not realistic.” Alzo provides helpful strategies for fleshing out your research, but she includes a proviso from Ohio genealogist Chris Staats: “As genealogists, we are most interested in the truth. Sometimes the truth is not what we would like it to be and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable.”

What’s more, learning the truth behind an uncomfortable family secret brings with it a moral—and in some cases, legal—responsibility toward those involved and their descendants, especially if you intend to share your story publicly. You’ll want to think through the consequences of sharing your knowledge, whether with your family or the public at large, and resolve that if you choose to go public with the skeletons in your family closet, you do so with sensitivity and respect.

So, once you’re ready, here are a couple interesting resources for tracking down those ne’er-do-wells in your family tree:

Kimberly Powell describes tactics for searching prison inmate databases in this About.com article. She writes here about tracking down infamous ancestors.

And in addition to her article quoted above, genealogist Lisa Alzo provides suggestions for tracking down your ancestors through the tragedies in their lives in this article for Archives.com.

Image: Some rights reserved by Public Domain Photos.