Happy Birthday Carole Lombard! Thanks for Introducing Us to Mustard Soaks

Today – October 6th – is Carole Lombard’s birthday. We have a little tradition in our house. When a celebrity birthday pops up – especially if that celebrity is a beautiful actress of yesteryear (bonus points if she met a tragic end!) – we watch a film or two to celebrate. Today, to honor Ms. Lombard, we watched her 1932 film No More Orchids. And that’s how we learned about mustard soaks.

“Did she say mustard?” I asked The Mister as the grandmother in the film mixed a foot soak for Carole Lombard’s character.

“That can’t be right,” he replied.

But, yes, mustard soak! A quick Google search confirmed that a mustard soak is indeed a thing. An old-timey English thing, to be exact. Mostly used for heading off colds and flu. In the film, the grandmother made her own mustard soak – likely using ingredients similar to this recipe on Joy the Baker – but here in the 21st century you can also buy Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, premixed mustard seed powder, eucalyptus, rosemary, wintergreen and thyme, on Amazon.

With temperatures dropping and cold and flu season just ahead, we’re certain to try a mustard soak sometime soon. You better believe we’ll be picking up the ingredients for the DIY mix on our next trip to the grocery store! Follow us on Instagram for a blow by blow on the mustard soak.

Speaking of Carole Lombard, take a little peek at the house in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she spent her early years.

Image Credit: IMDB

Get the Garden Growing: Memorial Day 2019

gardening at an American System-Built

It has become somewhat of a tradition that we plant our garden over Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day the unofficial kickoff to summer and the first long weekend of the year, it’s also when it’s finally warm enough here in the upper Midwest to put plants in the ground without fear of a final frost.

We had never really intended to garden. While we both love food and frequently shop farmers markets for fresh, local produce, we’ve always seen our thumbs as more black than green. Judging by our record with houseplants, we’d be sentenced to life in prison for the neglectful death and overwatering of many a poor, unsuspecting little life. Still, former owners had a garden already plotted out and that first spring we put in a few plants as an experiment. By midsummer we were feasting on lettuces and green beans and vine ripened tomatoes. And let me tell you: after you’ve eaten a tomato fresh from the vine, you’ll never touch a mealy, tasteless tomato from the grocery store again. We’ve been putting out gardens ever since.

There seems to be something magical in this Iowa soil that makes our gardens successful. No matter what we’ve planted in the garden, it matures and produces fruits or vegetables. The only thing we’ve had difficulty growing is green beans. That failure has nothing to do with the soil, mind you. We did get a healthy harvest of green beans during our first summer of gardening. Every summer since then, however, the green bean plants are attacked by rabbits before they ever get a chance to grow. As soon as the bean seeds sprout and break ground, the rabbits come along and eat the leaves. The poor little plants never have a chance to produce a single bean.

There are some other plants that we’ve learned not to repeat. Brussels sprouts are easy, but it takes too long between planting and harvest and the plants take up too much space in the meantime. The same goes for broccoli. We’ll just stick to getting those vegetables from the grocery store.

Last year was the first garden that had a singular purpose: salsa. We planted more tomato and pepper plants that we thought necessary and ended up with crop upon crop of salsa ingredients. We froze dozens of containers of salsa and canned dozens more in jars. We’re still eating last year’s canned salsa!

And so we’re repeating that plan this year. We got the tomatoes and onions in the ground this weekend but forgot to pick up pepper plants when we were at the greenhouse. We also got a few kale plants in the ground because you gotta love those leafy greens!

Our garden definitely won’t win any prizes. We tend to take a rather haphazard approach to the task. And since we can be away for weeklong stretches, the weeds tend to get away from us, making it difficult to discern between invasive plants and something that will actually produce edibles. We’re trying to keep things as simple and organic as possible so we’re not spraying the garden with weed treatment. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, we’ll always have a healthy harvest of dandelions!

Beautiful or not, gardening has become a seasonal treat that we both savor. After a week in the city sitting behind desks or countless hours stuck in traffic, there’s no better treat than crouching in the garden with the moos of cows carrying across the distance as we pull weeds or clip kale leaves for lunch.

What are you planning for your garden this year?

 

 

Stripping Living Room Windows & Trim: Progress!

This is how the conversation usually goes…

The Mister, with a glint of excitement: We should definitely strip all the woodwork in the house.

Me, flashing back to childhood weekends helping my dad strip paint from woodwork in our house: I don’t know. The white does make it feel a little more modern. Maybe we should just repaint it.

The Mister, downcast by resigned: Yeah, you’re probably right.

Me, leaving that window of opportunity slightly ajar: Although the trim really would be beautiful if it was stripped!

We’ve probably had this conversation a hundred times over the past five years of owning the house. That’s why we’ve left the trim untouched all the time. Until now, that is.

stripping wood trim in American System-Built Home

As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to take the leap and strip the wood in the living room. And you know what? It’s not so bad! Stripping paint is messy – there’s no way around that – but the work has been fairly quick. Well, some of the work has been quick. Stripping the windows is definitely more time consuming than stripping the picture rail and baseboard. All those little corners and crevices!

Stripping paint in an old home

But oh how good it looks!

I should clarify – when I say that I’m stripping the windows, I’m really talking about the frames. In the photos here, I’ve removed the interior storm windows so that I can strip the frame. I will not be stripping the exterior windows. The exterior windows will get a fresh coat of paint and the interior windows … well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

stripping woodwork in an old house

By stripping the trim, we’ve discovered that some woods don’t match. Well, not exactly discovered. We’ve known this for a while – from our own strip test when we were pondering our options and as informed by former owners when they came to visit. Most of the wood that’s been replaced is around the windows, likely due to water damage.

The wood that is original has a very dark stain on it. While most of that stain comes up with the stripper, a dark hue remains on the wood. It doesn’t appear that the wood that has been replaced was ever stained at all. By the time the previous owner was replacing wood trim around the windows, all the other trim had already been painted. So of course they just painted the replacement trim instead of staining it. When everything is stripped we’ll face the task of using stain to try to make all the wood match.

restoring wood trim in an old house

There’s just something about 100-year-old woodwork! At the risk of sounding like the old man that I am, they just don’t make it like they used to! When the trim was painted white it looked flat and lifeless. By removing the paint from the trim, we’ve exposed the beautiful grain that gives the wood visual interest.

So many paper towels and garbage bags! Have I mentioned how incredibly messy stripping paint can be?!

rehabbing wood trim in an old American System-Built home

But just look at the difference!

Now, back to those windows. As I said, we’re not going to strip the exterior windows. The window sash that faces inward will get a fresh coat of paint. We’ve decided to use the same color that we used on the outside trim and windows – black fox. We will, however, be stripping and staining the inner (or storm) windows. These windows were not original and, like the replacement trim, were never stained. Stripping paint from untreated wood is not easy! Fortunately, the house had a little surprise for us.

I was poking around in the garage looking for some scrap wood when I spied a few old window screens in a dark corner. While most of the screens were painted, two of them had not been. And, like a gift from the renovation gods, one of those unpainted screens fits the living room windows that were just stripped! See that dark screen in the middle window? That’s the one! This old screen even has the original hardware attached to it!

Since this screen has never been painted and hence never stripped, we can finally see that this is how dark the wood trim was stained. This truly is a gift from the rehab gods because now we have a goal: stain all the woodwork to match the color of this screen.

I also started stripping one of the old screens that had been painted and installed it in the right window. You can really see the difference between the stained screen and the screen that’s been stripped. We’re still planning to go back and strip the storm windows but for now we’re just going to install the screen. Since we’re in the warm months, the screens will suffice. (Plus, we’ve never had screen in these windows so it will be nice to be able to open them for fresh air!) Come fall, though, we will definitely need to re-install the storm windows. They really do make a difference in keeping the house warm.

For now, let’s step back and admire the progress…

So beautiful, right? We have a long way to go but it’s heartening to see all of this progress. When it comes to DIY renovations, one must celebrate the small victories in order to forge ahead with the other projects.

Adventures in Stripping: Tackling the Trim

Stripping Wood Trim in Our American System Built Home

We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past five years, paralyzed by the question of whether to strip the interior trim in our house or repaint it. In the early days of ownership, when we were full of the exuberance that’s common to new homeownership, we stripped some small test sections of the trim and discovered that wood had been replaced in some areas. That discovery provided the excuse to put off the decision until a later date. And now here we are five years on and we’ve made a decision … sort of.

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Original Elements: The Carriage House & the Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper growing over the slate roof of an old garageWith all the changes that have been made to the Meier House in its 100+ year history, we cherish the features that are original to its construction. We do our best to restore and maintain the entire house, but we give special attention to extant original elements. One of those original features is also the largest: the carriage house. Well, that’s what we call it. It’s actually the garage that was built when the house was constructed in 1917. It was built for an automobile so it never really housed a carriage per se. Still, this vine covered little structure begs to be called carriage house, doesn’t it? Continue reading