We can rebuild it

You guys, it turns out I can't restore that barn after all. I was all full of piss and vinegar yesterday so I called a local contractor to get a quote for my building restoration project. The guy came out and he was really friendly, but he repeated the same thing that our dads and everyone else has told us: tear it down. And here's the thing: I kind of already knew that was what we had to do. I guess I just needed to hear it from an expert to accept that answer.

The building has simply been neglected for so long that there's not enough left to save. It's a damned shame. The best we can do is start fresh and try to preserve the bricks for re-use on the new exterior. And we WILL rebuild it--some day--but my pygmy goat dreams have been deferred by several years.

Not to be stymied, I planted our modest kitchen garden this morning. The bushy plants and lone iris were already there and we left them alone when we pulled all the weeds. I put in Home Depot-brand tomato and bell pepper seedlings and the strawberries we kept from the old house. Then I spread seeds for cucumbers, pumpkins, and carrots. Yum... I'm already getting hungry!

Just do one thing

Western Decay, originally uploaded by kodama (home)

I had a sort of epiphany while delving dungeons in Torchlight (which is awesome) last night. I realized that I can spend my precious free minutes goofing around on the computer--and the result is that I will have wasted a hours upon hours playing video games--or I can invest my time in projects, with the outcome of actually achieving an amazing life.

It's one of those head-slappingly obvious concepts that, nevertheless, we sometimes need to be reminded of. This talk by Gary Vaynerchuk was good motivation too. Need more time? "Stop watching fucking LOST!"

I can build a chicken coop; I can organize our home; I can restore that barn. But nothing will happen until I put down the remote control and get to work. So I'm resolving to complete at least one task on my to-do list every day. As long as I keep plugging away, the projects will eventually be finished, one step at a time.

Get to Work

Leitz Leica hand tools, originally uploaded by XOques

My parents visited this weekend to help around the house. We discovered an overgrown garden plot full of good black soil which my mom spent the day weeding. I helped my dad hang a door on our master bathroom.

Work is slow. We're getting things done, though, and progress is victory. My parents have moved many times so they are experts at this kind of thing. They recommend allowing yourself three years to really start to feel comfortable at home, but to view the list of projects as never-ending.

It can be frustrating to walk around the house and see so many unfinished tasks. I'll look at something and think, "that would only take a minute to do." Then I remember we have hundreds of jobs that will take "just a minute," plus all the big projects, which we have to balance with limited free time and one--sometimes two--toddlers running around the house. I'd say we're doing pretty well.

Careers in science

Natalie's cousin Anika with our Pug Lola

As you know, I started in a new position in April. On the same day that my promotion was announced, Jenna was laid off from her job. We've known this was coming--it was obvious that the company was not doing well--so we had been waiting several years for the axe to fall.

It always sucks to lose a job, but the timing is actually fortuitous. For one thing, since we knew it would happen sooner or later, Jenna was relieved to finally be done with it. Plus she didn't have to worry about moving her home office utilities to the new house. They let her keep all the stuff, though; a desk, computer with dual-screen monitors, and super nice printer!

The best part is that our new house is only 10 minutes away from her sister Holly, who just returned to her job, and needed someone to look after her kids. Jenna started our "family daycare" service this week. Natalie gets to spend more time with her cousins, and Lola gets all the attention she could ever want!

Harvest Moon: Dad Edition

I define my existence by comparison to videogames. So, as we go through this new phase of life, I can't help but think of Harvest Moon. Besides the fact that I'm already married (which is typically the ultimate goal of the game), I'm following the plot line exactly.

Let's look at the anatomy of a Harvest Moon game:

  1. Move into a quaint old farmhouse: check
  2. Desperately in need of yard work: have you seen our deck?
  3. Near a cute little village: it's an easy one mile walk to downtown Carver
  4. With convenient access to a wilderness area: there's a trail into a National Wildlife Refuge literally across the street from our house
  5. Then clear fields, plant seeds, harvest crops, raise animals, and live happily ever after: in progress...

Of course, the downside is that now I have no motivation to finish Rune Factory 2. Why pretend to farm when there's so much work to do in real life?

The Epic Moving Post

Thursday: Wake up with crippling stomach flu. Assign power of attorney to Jenna so she can go to the closing without me. Jenna's dad shows up with a rental truck. Family and three hired movers start loading it up. Jenna leaves to buy our house, rain starts coming down hard, we discover the moving truck has holes in the roof.

Somehow the closing is completed, almost everything is loaded into the truck, and we form a caravan down to Carver. I drive my Saturn which is also packed full of stuff, except the trunk which is full of empty boxes(!?). I begin to feel a lot better. Domino's pizza dude is waiting at the door when I arrive.

I'm well enough to carry some small boxes and direct traffic during the unloading after our helpers arrive with the truck. Jenna's parents drive the truck back to our old house (which at that moment is technically our "second house") for a second load and come back with the rest of our stuff. By the end of the day, everything is unloaded, everybody goes home, and we're left alone in our new home. I take Natalie to bed and we both fall asleep instantly while Jenna and her dad return the truck.

Friday: Birds are singing when I wake up. It's a beautiful, dry, sunny day. I look around the room--our new bedroom!--and smile. "Everything will be good from now on," I think.

Everything is good. The flu leaves me weak and hungry and tired, but it has definitely left. After a stop at the scratch & dent appliance store, we race to St. Paul for a final walkthrough (we almost left behind two full rolls of toilet paper!), and lunch at Subway. We close on the old place and we're down to a single mortgage again.

We do about a hundred minor house repairs. My father-in-law brings his riding mower and moves the entire lawn. I dig up vines. My arm is covered in bloody welts from biting gnats but that's okay because I'm outside and working and it feels great. I also find a frog, some toads, and a baby snake.

Saturday: I start eating some real food again and keep it all down. Success! We continue unpacking and reassembling and the house begins to take some semblance of order. I clear out the garage enough that we can actually park one of our cars inside.

My mother-in-law comes to help with some yard work and brings our dog back. Lola had been staying with them during the move and is very excited to see us again. The rest of the day is checking more items off the to-do list and adding new projects at about the same rate.

Holly makes us a vegetable egg casserole and we bake it for our first real meal in the new house (and in several days). I install a shower head so that we can shower again. I haven't bathed or shaved since Wednesday. I walk outside to look at stars after my family goes to sleep.

Sunday: Finally get that shower, although I decide to keep the beard. Lola startles a rabbit during our morning constitutional. I hear church bells ringing (so that's one thing I don't need to miss about living in St. Paul).

Our great friends Matt & Jenny bring their little ones for a too-short visit. We give them the grand tour and play outside with the kids. Matt tells the story of how he witnessed a cougar attack at our local zoo.

Natalie gets fussy so after dinner I talk her on a long walk around the neighborhood. We find a park and a trail where we'll be taking many hikes in the future. I feel like we're on a vacation, and tomorrow morning I need to go back to the "real world" and leave all of this behind. My life is full of magic. I am truly living the dream.

Happy Moving Day!

MOVING.jpg, originally uploaded by www.akacorleone.com

I woke up yesterday morning with a tummy ache, which I chalked up to nerves. When it turned into a bout of diarrhea I began to suspect that I may have contracted Natalie's stomach flu. Any doubt was removed, after I spent the afternoon violently regurgitating most of a bowl of Cinnamon Toasters, and peeing out the rest through my butthole.

My energy level through the rest of the day was at zero. I spent all evening and all night taking mini-naps with sips of water in between. Finally at 4:00 AM the sharp pain in my chest wouldn't allow me to sleep any more, and thus begins my moving day!

The title company delayed the paperwork for so long that we're closing on the new house one day before the old house, which means that we absolutely have to move everything before tomorrow morning. We hired movers and a few family members volunteered to help out, so God willing, it should all work out in the end. For my part, I'm just trying to keep down a few Saltine crackers, and stay out of the way.

St. Paul, je t'aime

cathedral of st. paul, originally uploaded by Dan Anderson

Overall I'm glad to be moving out of St. Paul. I just couldn't get used to people screaming ten feet away from my window, youth in revolt standing in intersections to block traffic, cars blasting music so loud that it rattles our dishes, or the other daily realities of city life. But I will miss some things about living in this neighborhood.

The best thing about living here was the convenience of an urban location. Just step out to the sidewalk and you're only a few minutes' stroll from a number of nice parks, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. There's a co-op grocery two blocks away, I can buy flowers and cupcakes for Jenna down Selby, and all the shopping of Grand Avenue is just a few blocks south. The city plows the streets in the winter so we don't have to worry about it. And we were centrally located in the greater Twin Cities metro area, which meant easy access to anything cool going on around town.

Then there are the little things I'll miss. Like our cute little urban garden, especially the peonies and irises (we dug up some strawberry and raspberry plants to transplant, since they grow abundantly, so not everything will be left behind). Having a fenced yard was nice for our dog and our toddler. And I love to hear the bells of our neighborhood church, especially late at night or on a cold, lonely, snowy morning.

The Beauty of Nature

Bald Eagle gets his Prey, originally uploaded by Nikographer [Jon]

We were planning to move into our new house today. Since the closing hasn't happened yet, that plan had to be modified. Instead, we decided to tackle some projects that needed to get done.

While we were there, I communed with the animals. A bald eagle flew over our house! Also a blue jay and goldfinches, which we don't get much in the city. We discovered some mole trails in the yard. Then we found giant, disgusting caterpillar nests in our apple tree and my father in law taught me how to kill them with fire.

There was hail falling for a minute while we lopped a branch off a tree. It had to go because it was scraping shingles from our roof. Jenna's mom and sister helped clean the house. Overall the house looks much more habitable now, and we're one day closer to moving in.


Natalie loves to talk. Not only is she learning new words at a rapid-fire pace, she just can't wait to try them out in conversation. This is probably normal, I guess; who doesn't want to communicate? But it's a joy to watch the entire process unfold.

It is really fun to listen to her talking. She jabbers off a contant stream of nonsense syllables and occassionally sprinkles in words that she knows at random. She will march right up to strangers in the park and start babbling happily in this pseudo-language for as long as they'll listen. When she has something important to say, she puts her hand on my shoulder and looks me straight in the eye while she talks.

Her latest trick is to "read along" during story time, chattering while we read and stopping when we reach the end of a page. She sings the same way. And she has even memorized parts of her favorite books and songs so that she can chime in with the actual words (or at least one that rhymes).

Our Acreage: virtual tour part 3

For the tour's final segment, we're heading to the "back forty" of our 1.25 acre lot. A previous owner really loved rocks and built major retaining walls with these huge boulders behind the house. I like them.

After scaling the walls, you arrive in the back yard, or "Andy's project zone." The grass in the front yard is nice and easy to access, so I'm happy to leave it alone for now. Natalie and Lola can run and play and Jenna can have her perfect lawn. Back here is where my hobby farm dreams can happen. I can see my summer weekends booked up for years in the future. Just the way I like it.

In the past this may have been a majestic wood deck with a working stone oven. Now it is a bit sad. The mortar is crumbling and the wood is splitting and rotten. It all needs to be torn down. Maybe someday we will rebuild this whole area. It's a good place for an outdoor hangout spot, and I know my family would get good use from a wood-fired pizza oven!

Last of all we have this building: not merely a shed, but much smaller than a barn. My dad suspects this may have even been the original home, before the larger structure was built down the slope. It is made with the same type of brick as the house. At some point I'll pull the property records and try to learn more about it.

Myseterious origins aside, it's currently in a state of disrepair. The middle of one wall has completely collapsed and the roof is partially caved in above it. The doors are off their hinges and the windows are empty. The floor is covered in garbage.

Everyone says we should tear it down, but I want to restore and use it. What a perfect place to keep my chickens and goats! All those plans will have to wait a while, though. We have a lot of work to do in and around the house before I can start on these "fun" projects... and first we still have do the closing and move in already! I thought these posts would help scratch the itch to move but they have only made me more impatient. Closing day can't come soon enough.

360-Degree View: virtual tour part 2

Are you ready for the amazing, immersive, online adventure to continue? This post is a photo walk-around that shows our new house from all sides. We open with the view as you come up the driveway: original brick house to the south, new addition built on to the north.

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house.

> go north

Continuing around the house, you can see the doors to the master bedroom on this side, and our view all the way to the horizon. Nothing but trees and sky. I don't think I mentioned that the property is on bluffs. On the other side of the road is a little stream that branches off the Minnesota River.

Over here is some cedar siding that was left unpainted. This corner is sort of hidden, so I'm inclined to leave it that way. By the way, this upper part of the yard is where I would like our garden to be, assuming it gets enough sunlight.

The three doors here from left to right lead to the old stairs with the arched stone doorways, then the kitchen, then the garage.

Some kind of flowering tree is planted in front. Crabapple, maybe? We hope to plant a couple of fruit trees. In my dreams I would like to build the forested part of our lot into a Japanese garden filled with cherry trees, mossy walking paths, and a koi pond.

And that brings us all the way back to the front again! Compare and contrast this photo with this one from the MLS during winter. In part three I'll take you back up the slope for a look at a historical outbuilding and collapsed deck, along with plenty of wishful thinking.

Our New House: virtual tour part 1

Oh, hello! Welcome to our new home. Due to a minor title problem, we haven't been able to close yet (the closing was scheduled for yesterday), but that should be sorted out soon. Thanks to these MLS photos, both you and I can pretend that we're actually there! Come on in, won't you?

The front door opens into the new addition with the original 1900 brick house to your right. Straight ahead is the kitchen, which is easily the most gorgeous room in the entire house. I hope those stainless steel appliances are still there when we move in!

Looking back from the kitchen you can see the main entry and the big, wide, new staircase. Given the way everything is wired, this wall is probably where our TV will have to go for now. Hardwood floors throughout this level. Also, more recessed lighting.

That brick section was originally part of an exterior wall on the old house. I LOVE how the renovation left this exposed. They really preserved the history of the building while updating the style of the space into something modern.

Come on upstairs and you can see how they built the new portions of the house. Nothing fancy, just practical, usable space. The bank put in new carpet up here. Every wall was painted this same color. We have five bedrooms and two bathrooms all on the upper level, including a master bed and bath suite.

The guest bath sits in the "old wing" of the second storey and preserves the feel of that era. The clawfoot tub is much smaller (and dirtier) in person than it looks! Washer and dryer hookups are situated along the right wall.

The cavernous master bedroom comes with a walk-in closet that could almost fit our current bedroom by itself. Not for real, but still. It's gigantic. French doors walk out to the backyard. The master bath was inexplicably not pictured in the MLS listing. Maybe I'll share photos of that room some other time.

On the opposite side of the house are the original stairs and an arched stone doorway which I'm guessing was in another exterior wall. The floor looks like all original hardwood on this side of the ground level.

A view from inside the doorway. The left door goes to what will probably become our dining room. The other door leads outside. The doorknob is just one of many pieces of hardware that were removed when the previous owner moved out.

Finally, here's a shot of two more rooms in the first floor's old wing. Well, that concludes our tour for now. I hope you enjoyed looking at our new house! Next I'll post some photos of the exterior and the rest of the property. Hopefully, in a little while, I can show you what it looks like when we're all unpacked and moved in!

Craftstravaganza Complete


The Craftstravaganza is over! We had over 3,000 people through the doors including our family and many good friends who came to help and shop. My brother Kevin brought his girlfriend Annie, and they were our super-volunteers who stayed the whole day. It was the first year for her and for others, like my new coworker Amanda, and new sister-in-law's-husband Jared.

You can see the loot we acquired above. There's a honeypot, yarn, dish towels, baby dress, dog collar, necklace, and mushroom lawn ornaments. On top of all that, Abigail gave me a bag of fresh-picked morels from Door County. I used them in some delicious omelettes on the morning after the show.

Photo of me lounging in my Junk Drawers*

But what's most exciting are the underwears. Cricket Syndicate first sold me on the idea of handmade briefs and I have built up quite a collection over the past five years. I bought four pairs from our new vendor Junk Drawers and I think they might be my new favorite! I rate them ten out of ten fluffly clouds on the comfort scale and a triple RAWR on the sexiness chart (this is dangerously close to the level of hotness that results in actual pants on fire). Anyway, I'm wearing a pair right now with a tiger on it, thanks for reading!

*OK, no, not really