Friday, July 30, 2010

Reflections on 13 months as a housewife

Tuesday evening I patched my first drywall hole. 

Our master bedroom used to have a shelf on the wall for a TV. 

We didn't want this shelf.  And it was just at the perfect height for us to hit our heads.  (Yeah, we're not always the most graceful or attentive people.)

In the name of safety--well, actually in the name of destroying nemeses--one of the first things P did when we bought the house was to take the shelf down.  Like, a month before we actually moved in.

The shelf had cable and electrical outlets built right in.  When we took it down, we discovered a surprisingly large hole had been cut into the wall to feed these cables.  For four months now, we've been looking at this lovely hole over our TV each evening.

I decided that enough was enough, and if I wanted this situation changed, I had better take care of it myself.  P's to-do list was far too long already. 

For context, I had done one spackle job before this, repairing a hole about the size of a 50-cent piece.  P had taken over halfway through, after I had gotten myself in over my head and made a number of mistakes he labeled "amateur."

P found me out right at the beginning of this process, but exercised remarkable restraint and did not take the job over.  He went out to the garage and busied himself building a ramp to get the coal stove (and whatever large items we dispose of in the future) out of the house.  I had the house to myself to blunder along and make whatever mistakes I needed to in order to get the job done.
Digression: Irony of the Day: We used to have a ramp on our house, to allow easier access for elderly residents.  It covered the stairs you see in the picture--coming out toward the photographer.  I loved the ramp, especially when we were moving in our fridge and when the washing machine delivery men arrived.  P hated the ramp with a passion.  I went away one weekend to attend a friend's wedding, and while P was left unsupervised, he demolished the ramp.  But he saved the components, and here they are a month later--built into an entirely new ramp. 

Sidenote to the digression: I have to admit, that this ramp is a significant improvement on the old one.  P can come out the kitchen door and push the handtruck straight down the ramp.  With the old ramp, the handtruck had to come out the door, execute a 90 degree turn to the right on our relatively small landing, and then continue down.  With a large, heavy item on the handtruck, this was a particularly delicate steering maneuver.  The new ramp location is significantly safer.

Back to the main story: Before P bowed out of involvement with the project, he convinced me that I should enlarge the hold just an inch to the right to include one more stud, so I could anchor the patch more firmly.  I got out a razor blade and started cutting.  And then started prying, and wondering why I was so inept and couldn't just get a small piece of drywall out?

Turns out the drywall was glued to the stud.  WTF?  Not standard construction practice in any book we've read.  Knowing that there was a good reason I was having a hard time here, I pulled P out of the garage to ponder the glue with me, and get the offending bit of drywall out for me.

Then I cut my new piece of drywall, grabbed some drywall screws, the drill, and P's magic drill bit that prevents me from drilling the screws too deeply into the drywall, and went at it.
Not too shabby, right?  (Well, other than the embarrassing empty screw holes where I confused the marks I had made for myself denoting the stud locations with the marks that the shelf installer had made many years ago signifying the center of the hole.  This was one of those moments where I was glad P was in the garage.)

I grabbed my mesh tape and spackle tools, and two coats of spackle later, I had this:
In total, it took me four coats of spackle to get things reasonably covered and smooth.  (Standard recommendation is for three coats.)  It would certainly look better if P had done it.  But if P had done it, it would still be a hole in the wall right now.  And I think this looks a lot better than that.

Later that evening, while the first coat of spackle was drying, I headed into the kitchen to do some baking.  Pioneer Woman Ree had posted a blueberry crumb cake recipe that morning, just as I was fretting about the blueberries in my fridge that needed to be used before they spoiled (as I had let the blackberries do just a week earlier).  (Spoiler alert: The cake turned out well, but rather too sweet for my taste.  I should know better than to deviate from the blueberry crumb cake recipe that my mother bequeathed to me, the one that calibrated my palate.)

I got well into the cake baking process when I discovered that there was no baking powder in the house.  No disaster.  We did have baking soda, and I had been planning to add some lemon zest to the cake, because I believe almost every blueberry recipe will be improved by the addition of lemon.  I just squeezed in half the lemon juice as well so there would be enough acidity to activate the baking soda, and all was well.

But the whole incident got me thinking.  We have no baking powder in the kitchen not because we ran out, but because I threw away all but the most valuable kitchen ingredients when we moved in February.  Spices, balsamic vinegar, good wine and chocolate made the cut; nearly everything else was trashed.  No baking powder in the kitchen signified that I hadn't baked a cake from scratch in over six months.

I've been unemployed since getting married last June.  Certainly the terrible economy has had something to do with this, but it's been more about a whole host of personal reasons and choices: taking some time to catch my breath after finishing school, a long and unsuccessful job search in one field, the choice to change careers, the choice to move for P's career and wait until we were settled to commence my own job search, taking some time to get the house set up rather than jumping right into the job market, etc etc.

I never pictured myself as a housewife.  I've adjusted to the situation much better than I expected.  It's been nice to have some time to work on other things.  If you had asked me a few years back to speculate on my life as a housewife, I would have imagined myself bored and isolated and bitter (which I almost never am).  I'm sure I also would have imagined all of the extraordinary culinary concoctions I could make with the new-found time on my hands. 

The events of Tuesday night provided an interesting opportunity to reflect on how unexpected my current life is, and how surprised I am to find myself largely content in it.  There's no baking soda in the kitchen, and not only am I failing to create lovely desserts, but I generally panic at 5:30 most days because I have no clue what we're going to eat for dinner, and there are few ingredients in the fridge or pantry to work with.  But I am managing to patch large, unsightly holes in the wall.  I never imagined myself taking on that, or any of the host of other things I've been working on lately. 

I'm good with this life.  I'll take it.

That said, this is actually my last week of "full-time" unemployment.  I've registered as a temp worker with P's employer, and will be eligible for assignments beginning Monday.  I'm not sure what this will bring--how often I'll be working, or on what projects.  I tend to like structure and predictability in my daily life, so exercising this kind of flexibility will be an interesting growing experience.  We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Here's a hint of what I've been working on lately.  I'm hoping I'll have it ready for a full reveal in a week or two.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Yesterday evening, I left to run a few errands, and was gone approximately an hour and fifteen minutes.  When I left, P was happily spackling the bathroom ceiling.  (More on that another time....)  And the dining room looked something like this:
(Except I painted the shelves a few months back, but you get the idea.)

I got back to find P in the driveway, looking like the cat who had eaten the canary.  And the dining room looked like this:

P followed me into the house, asking, "Are you mad?"  "Are you kidding?"  I replied.  "I've been begging you to take that stove out for months!"

Okay, the stove isn't quite out.  It's now stalled in the kitchen, as P designs and builds a ramp to get it out the door, because it is cast iron and heavy.  Sometimes I think he does jobs just so he can build all the associated equipment--rather than building the equipment to get the job done.  He does love this sort of work. 

But I digress.  Back to that fireplace.  P did take the cover off so we could take a look around in there for the first time.  We do indeed have a fireplace back there!  There's a stove pipe inserted into the chimney, which is every bit as full of ash and creosote as I had feared.  It's truly amazing that the house didn't burn down the last time the stove was lit.  It's technically a coal-burning stove, but the previous owners had been using it to burn wood--perhaps part of the problem.  We won't be lighting any fires until the stovepipe is removed and we've called out a chimney sweep.  He's the first person we'll be hiring to work on the house--quite a milestone!

That ugly cover will be staying over the fireplace for the foreseeable future.  There's no damper in the chimney, so leaving the fireplace uncovered would be akin to leaving a window open day and night, year-round.  We're going to look into installing a damper, but that's quite far down on the to-do list.  But in the meantime, I'm quite glad that stove is gone--one more item off the list, and several square feet of space freed up.

Maybe I should go to the store more often.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Organizing electronics

I've been on a bit of a housecleaning binge lately.  Cleaning takes me longer than it should, because we're still pretty new in our house (and I haven't even unpacked some boxes yet).  So I'm still at step one of the old adage, "A place for everything, and everything in its place"--that is, we need to designate some places for our things.

We have this odd built-in in our dining room:
It was clearly created for a TV--if you look just to the right of the printer, through the jumble of electronics, you can see a cable outlet, and there's also an electrical outlet back there.  We're not sure what we're going to do with this space long-term--modern flat-screens have rendered it obsolete, and we don't want a TV in this room anyway.  For now, it serves as a convenient home-base for most of our electronics.  We've got our printer, cable modem, and wireless router here.  P generally uses his laptop at the dining room table, so it's also a convenient place for the laptop to dock and charge when not in use.

But the cords were getting out of control.  In fact, I'm pretty sure there were various cords up there that didn't connect to anything at all.  We had to replace both our cable modem and wireless systems shortly after moving, and I never really tidied up after trouble-shooting.

I had plans for elaborate setups and cable-routing, but then I realized that there was just enough space behind the printer to jam everything in there.  And I'm fine with being an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of girl.  So here's our new and improved set-up:

That one cord still sticking out is the USB cable to plug the printer into the computer--I wanted to keep that accessible.  Yes, the printer has wireless capabilities, but it was such a nightmare to set-up the first time--it seriously took 4 different Dell technicians two routers and over 6 hours to finally get it working--that I tremble at the thought of trying to set that up again now that we have a new wireless system and a new laptop.  So I'm procrastinating on that one....

Since organizing this area went so much faster than I had expected, I decided to move on to our growing collection of electronic accessories.  In addition to a few useless cables I rounded up from the printer area, we had two bins full of various cables and AC/DC power adapters.  Did you notice those in the before picture?
Honestly, I don't even know what most of those power adapters power.  A few may belong to items that we're still using but haven't set up since the move, but I'm pretty sure most of them are for obsolete pieces.  We may have a hoarding problem here.  But we discovered last year that, when one of these puppies die (which is not infrequently), they're neither simple nor cheap to replace.  But quite often we're lucky, and find that we can substitute another adapter we happen to have for the broken/lost one.  So we're loath to part with one we're not currently using--what if it turns out to be the next magic bullet?

Anyway, P loves organizing things with cords into Ziplock bags, and I'm starting to admit that he's onto something here.  So I got out my Ziplocks and a sharpie (for those rare instances when I actually knew what something was), and started bagging.
And by the end, I had this:

Ahh.  Much better.  We'll deal with potential hoarding issues another year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shoot Along

I follow along with the blog Giver's Log (which provides lots of cute, and often easy, ideas of small, crafty gifts).  Today I found this invitation there:

And I thought, well, why not?  As you've seen, my camera skills could definitely use improving, and maybe some structured practice would help. 

The theme for this week is "summer moments you wish would last forever."  I have to admit, I'm not feeling the summer thing right now, so this is a good reminder to me to appreciate the world around me. 

On that note, I'll leave you with a photo of the rainbow that just appeared across the street on the tail-end of a thunderstorm.  And P rather skeptically posing for me.  Now, if I could just make electric lines magically disappear at my will....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Curb appeal

Our front steps are in desperate need of a new paint job.
I figure as long as I'm out there, I should paint the porch foundation as well.  See that white splotch above right?  How about here?

Not sure why the last person to paint this decided to change colors there.  But it is symmetrical on both sides of the porch!  You just can't see that in the picture because of the overgrown azalea bush in too small a space.

I was in a pruning war with the azalea--cutting it back bit by bit, encouraging it to fill out from the base, be smaller, and not totally take over the stairs.  I was winning the war, but the fact is, it was never going to look good there. 

Painting presented the perfect excuse to just get rid of the bush--I couldn't possibly paint the porch with the azalea still there--it touching the cement in far too many places, and too close to just tie it back.

This was on the "oh, I'll get around to it one of these days.  Maybe when it's cooler.  Maybe October," list, until I found some great cheap dwarf sunflowers at Home Depot, that I knew would look much better in that spot than that azalea.  I bought the sunflowers, and moved the azalea extraction to the top of the to-do list.

The real stroke of genius was when I recruited P to help.  Here's my idea of how an azalea should be removed:
After all, it's what I made my father do on his last visit.

Here's P's idea of how to "git 'er done."  Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Step 4: Repeat x2.  Turns out that azalea was three separate bushes.  No wonder it was bursting at the seams and taking over the stairs.

Step 5:
(Yup, he's airborne.)

I think this root ball P pulled out perfectly illustrates how thoroughly the azaleas were wedged into this space, and why trying to paint around them just wasn't an option:

Where, might you ask, is the wife?  Happily sitting on the stairs, offering pointers.  "Oh, here's another root!"  This arrangement turned out to be surprisingly agreeable to both of us--P was surprised that I wasn't bored, and I was surprised that he wasn't annoyed that I wasn't pulling my weight.  Or doing anything at all.  (I did take a brief break from the sitting to dig up the sage plant located to the right side of the stairs, and move it to a different spot.)

Instead of planting the dwarf sunflowers in the ground, we put them into some large pots.  I've had these for years--P gave them to me for my birthday one year, back when I was living in an apartment that was begging for a balcony garden.  Putting the sunflowers in here gives them a bit of loft and a bit more presence in the landscape, plus will make it much easier for me to paint. That is, whenever the magic combination of cooler temperatures, dry weather, free time and inclination arise.

So that's where we currently are.  I think much more needs to happen for us to have a nice, welcoming entryway, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

$7 Thrift Store Chair

The short story:



The longer version:

I've been looking for some furniture at the local thrift stores.  It's been difficult--people around here are really good thrifters, and not too proud to buy used.  Good for the planet and society, but bad for me.  It's hard to find a good item, and prices tend to be pretty high.

So when I found this baby for $7, I was pretty excited.  The simple lines were the perfect opportunity to try out my first reupholstering project, without getting in over my head.

(I'm sure some of you are doubtful that this even needed reupholstering.  I can see how the lovely orange stripes of the original would look lovely in someone's home--but not mine.  Plus, the fabric was really itchy, and I don't do itchy.  Finally, the fabric was starting to wear through on the corners, so I didn't ruin an item in perfect condition.)

The chair unscrewed from the base easily.  I got such a good deal on the chair because the joints had come loose.  With just a bit of wood glue, things were as good as new, and the chair was no longer rickety.
Bar clamps: one perk of marriage to a woodworker.

I could have restained the arms of the chair where the finish had worn smooth, but I decided that I actually like the lived-in look the chair has now.  The contrast between light and dark areas makes the nice wood joints much easier to see and appreciate.

Next, I pulled out my Bissell carpet cleaner, and gave the upholstery a good scrubbing.  I'll spare you a picture of the pounds of dirt that came out.  Cleaning it well spared me the trouble of removing the old upholstery--less work, plus I suspect it's all that's holding the old foam together.  Didn't want to open that can of worms....

I traced a rough form of the chair upholstery onto butcher paper, added seam allowances, and used that as a pattern to cut the fabric.  (It's the fabric I decided not to use for curtains, and promised you would see again.  This is the first of many projects--I've got a few yards left to go.)

To get a nice tight fit, I pinned the pieces to the chair, then gently pulled them off, and sewed the pinned seams:

Skipping ahead several iterations of fitting, sewing, refitting, sewing the next seam....  P helped out with the staple gun, and here's the finished chair!  I'm going to use it at my sewing machine in my office for the time being--once we get the living room set up, we'll probably move it in there.  Happily, though the fabric is really bright and energetic, it works well in multiple rooms of our house.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

For your viewing pleasure

I neglected to give you a "before" pic of the office.

The carpet must have been at least 40 years old (we're basing this on the rate at which the foam carpet padding under it had decayed).  The walls, trim, and ceiling were all painted in almond--like all the other rooms in this part of the house.  The paint was rather worn, and ready to be freshened up, so we replaced it with a crisp white for ceiling and trim.  Brightening up the whites really helped the room feel newer, fresher, and cleaner.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Front bedroom

When I last left you, we were agonizing over what color we should paint our front bedroom.  It's a fairly large room, with excellent light.  There are three windows--two south, and one west.  We were planning to use this as our bedroom for the next year, until we completed the renovations on the master bedroom. 

Then we had a crisis of confidence.  Which room should we sleep in?  Front bedroom pros: 1. it was nearly completed, and 2. it's crazy bright, and I like to wake up to morning light.  Front bedroom cons: those lovely south windows face the street, so 1. we'd have to keep them covered, thus reducing the light pro, and 2. there would be some traffic noise.  Master bedroom pros: 1. the bathroom is right there, 2. the walk-in closet is right there, 3. it's really quiet, and 4. it's an ugly dark cavern, and P will wake up with daybreak if given much light at all.  Master bedroom cons: 1. there's no floor right now or for the foreseeable future, and OSB subfloor is pretty impossible to keep clean, 2. when it's time to put in the floor, we'll have to move everything out, and 3. did I mention it's an ugly dark cavern?  It's a really large room, with only two windows--one north and one east.

Ultimately, it came down to the fact that P is a finicky sleeper, and he will sleep better in the master.  And I sleep better if he's also asleep.  And sleep seems like the most important part of a bedroom.  So we set up our furniture in the master, and will move it when it's finally time to put in flooring.

This meant that the front bedroom was open.  Being the gracious hostess I am, I declared that it would be a waste to use it as a guest bedroom.  It's the nicest bedroom in the house, and it would be a real shame if it were used only once a month, at best.  So it was decided that I would have a crazy nice office/craft room.

But we still needed to find a wall color.  I wanted something energetic; P wanted something that wouldn't make him crazy.  And I had to admit it seemed like a good idea for there to be some general cohesion in the house's color scheme. 

I had mentioned a plan to use this fabric to make curtains, and to draw the room's color scheme from it.
But then it arrived, and I panicked about the idea of using such a dramatic print on something so large as curtains, and whether I really wanted these colors, and would the curtain fabric be too dark on the windows I wanted to keep nice and bright....  So, there will be no curtains--but I still have several yards of fabric, so you will be seeing this pattern appear elsewhere in the house in future posts.

Yes, some of these are duplicates--I put samples up at different spots in the room to test them in a variety of lighting conditions.  The conclusion, after all of these samples, is that as much as I like the look of vibrant paint colors in magazine photos, I'm not so sure about them on my wall.  Maybe it's a commitment phobia, but I think it's taste: I like the idea of lighter paint colors paired with brighter accessories.

So we finally settled on Benjamin Moore's Patriotic White.  (As always, matched in Behr's paint and primer in one--in this case, in a flat finish, to minimize the unevenness in the walls caused by 60 years of paint vs. the smooth spots of newly repaired spackle.)  It's really a nice cool light blue--not white at all.

The final step after painting was to install the baseboard and quarter-round.  We used the cheap pre-primed MDF, rather than solid wood, since it was cheaper and we were just going to paint it anyway.  Once we got it home, we realized another surprising benefit--it's pretty flexible.  This turned out to be really helpful in maneuvering 12-foot lengths of board through the house--we could just bend it around corners and through doorways--and made installing it into tight corners easier.

P surprised me by installing the baseboard and quarter-round by himself while I was away for a weekend, attending a friend's wedding.  What a lovely surprise to come home and find that he had put the finishing touches on two rooms.  The office and guest bedroom were completed, and ready to have furniture moved in!

Friday, July 9, 2010

No longer an embarrassment to the neighborhood

Our lawnmower has been broken for 5 weeks now.  We're lucky that it hasn't rained much in those five weeks, so the lawn isn't as long as we might have expected.  Still, I come home from grocery shopping to find business cards on the door from people offering to mow it for us.  Apparently our failure to maintain a proper suburban lawn has been noticed.

Our mower is a very used commercial mower.  Replacement parts for a 20 year-old mower an not easy to find, and they're surprisingly expensive.  I'll spare you the blow by blow view, but to summarize, P has been diligently trying to locate the part we need, so far to no avail.  The search is also getting increasingly expensive, as we end up paying substantial, nonrefundable shipping fees on parts that turn out to be close but not quite right, and then restocking fees when we have to send them back.

Finally we stepped back and realized that, for less money than we were going to spend on the replacement part, we could just get a new push mower.  P had been window-shopping online, and was thrilled to learn that the mower he was drooling over turned out to also be a model that Consumer Reports recommended.

Our new Husqvarna 6120 arrived yesterday.  P was really excited to have his new toy, and immediately set it up and started mowing--despite the fact that it was a scorching hot day, and the forecasts said today would be much cooler. 

This is one of the many reasons why P is in charge of mowing the lawn, and I am not.  If it were up to me, the lawn would probably go unmowed June-August, and not because the mower was broken.  Hey, we'd be providing native meadowland habitat, right?

Anyway, P was so delighted with his new mower, that he skipped dinner to mow the entire lawn.  (He had originally planned to do just the small portion in front.)  So far, we have nothing but good things to say about the mower.  There was virtually no assembly required, and it even came with its own bottle of motor oil--so the true mower enthusiast can get straight out to the lawn without having to run by the store first.  Starts right up when you pull the cord.  And my favorite part is that the mulching feature works really well.  We thought we'd have to rake the grass clippings this time, since we'd let it get so long.  But the mower properly pulverized them, and no work for us!  (Plus it makes the lawn virtually self-fertilizing.)

P hasn't entirely given up on getting the big mower fixed.  With it, he can mow the lawn in less than a third of the time it takes him with this little guy.  The push mower is cheaper than a gym membership, and a good way for him to work off the stresses of the day, but sometimes it's nice to just get the lawn done fast.  So we'll see how things develop on that front....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

With a little help from our friends (part III)

A final update on what we accomplished with my parents' help in May.  It's a long time coming, but at least you get really good "after" pics.

If you don't already think that we're abusing our guests, you will after hearing this next one.

It wasn't enough for my parents to completely transform two rooms with paint in the two and a half days they were here.  I decided we also needed to do a complete makeover of the exterior, as well.

I don't have any good "before" pictures here, since I was busy trying to disguise the sad state of our landscaping.  Our house has the standard long, narrow foundation beds extending along the entire front of the house.  The weeds there were getting out of control--one particularly notable one was taller than me!  The previous owners had planted azaleas in these beds.  For some reason, most of the azaleas in the west bed were doing well, but the ones in the east bed were on their last legs.

You can get a hint of what we were dealing with in the background of this cute picture of my nephew.  He's enjoying that moving day means furniture is on the lawn--who needs playground equipment when you have bookcases!  But back to what we were supposed to be focusing on: the azaleas have more dead sticks than leaves, and the weeds are taking over.

While my mother and I painted, my father went out and dug up the dead and dying azaleas (and the massive weeds, while he was at it).  Then Mom and I came in, and planted some herbs she'd been kind enough to pick up for me, plus some other herbs and cosmos I had started from seed.  And three pepper plants for good measure.  I'm totally a function over form person, plus I think a pepper plant, with nice ripening fruit, looks lovely in its own right.

Here's the bed about a week after planting:

And here it is today:

Our landscaping is a little lopsided right now--to the east of the front door, there are all these nice small annuals and herbs, and to the west, a few monstrous azaleas.  I'm okay with that for this summer.  I think I'll wait until fall to even it out, when the weather is better for both gardeners and for young plants.  Maybe remove a few shrubs from the west, and add a few to the east.  Or maybe just get rid of the azaleas altogether.

We also have a long, narrow bed bordering our driveway (no before pics here).  The last 10' or so of the bed was completely full of weeds--no plants at all.  It also gets as much sun as anywhere else in the yard, so I decided this was the perfect place for our tomatoes and the rest of our pepper plants.  Again, Dad pulled all the weeds and tilled the impenetrable soil, and then Mom and I swooped in and took all the glory by planting the plants.

Here they are a week after installation:

And again today:

Between the poor soil and the mushroom compost we mulched with (and the great prep work Dad did), I hardly have to do any weeding back here.  Except where the weeds trail through the fence from the neighbor's yard.  My father removed some old, crumbling pieces of plastic border fencing from the property line--I'm thinking I might need to put something like that back in.

I'm not quite sure why the pepper plants are so short.  I think it's some combination of: 1. late planting and too long spent in cells may have stunted their growth, 2. the soil is not very good, and 3. our neighborhood deer came by a few weeks back, and had to taste each plant to realize he didn't like them, and clipped off all the leaders.  Perhaps this pruning explains why they're so full!  They're starting to bloom now (the plants in the front have peppers that are coming along nicely), and our summers are nice and long here, so they should have plenty of time to recover and have nice full yields.

Back in action (sort of)

To make a long story short, Lenovo decided that since they weren't sure when they were going to be able to repair my laptop, they'd just send me a new one.  While the process has been pretty frustrating, I'm definitely happy with the outcome--I get to replace my increasingly buggy 3.25 year old laptop with a brand new one at no cost to me.  It will have several upgrades I'm excited about, including Windows 7, which P uses at work and says is a vast improvement on Vista.

So I'm eagerly awaiting the laptop's arrival--but first the factory has to make it.  In the meantime, Lenovo sent my old unit back to me so I could transfer the files off of it.  I was a little shocked to open the box and discover why they thought it was necessary to replace the LCD screen:
Seems the screen was broken in transit.  Luckily, we have an extra monitor, so I'm able to use that for now.  (Sorry I tried to convince you to get rid of this when we moved, P.)

Anyway, there's much interesting stuff to fill you in on.  Just to give you a taste: we have finished work on two rooms, and actually moved some furniture into them and unpacked some boxes!  Pictures to come...