The Oldest Thing in My House #2 – Books

Probably the oldest stuff in the house are my books. Steve has some old crap in the basement, like a 100-year old tiger skin from China, but we’ll get to that later. Let me show you some of my oldest books.

About twenty five years ago, I was visiting a friend who lived in a small town outside of Boston. One day, we roamed through an antique shop, and I rummaged through a basket of old books under a table. I picked up this old copy of Little Women, which is one of my favorite books, and bought it for 25 cents. I promptly put it away in a box and forgot about it.

I found it last year and put it on my Etsy shop. After doing a little research, I found out that it was a I believe it was a second edition from 1870. I sold it in couple of months for $700.

I’ve got a Robert’s Rule of Order from 1876.

I’ve got “The Red Cross” by Clara Barton from 1899, but I haven’t listed it yet.

I love this illustrated history of the Civil War from 1895. I honestly don’t want to part with this one. (Click on the link for all the beautiful and horrifically racist images inside.)

I lost today to parenting chores. Ian was home from school for the Jewish holidays, and he needed a lot of help with an engineering project. For the rest of the week, I’m continuing my break from real writing and will the time listing a huge allotment of vintage textbooks that I bought a couple of months ago for $3. Engineering textbooks from the 1930s are surprisingly collectable.

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The Oldest Thing in My House #1

Picking up a comment thread in the last post, I thought I would find the oldest things in my house. (I’m waiting around for edits on a draft and don’t feel like starting anything new until next week. It’s the Gig Worker’s prerogative.) We’ll do our own Antique Roadshow here at Apt. 11D for a couple of days.

A couple of weeks ago, I unpacked my grandmother’s old sewing machine from its box in the basement and decided to display it somewhere in the house. It’s kinda cool. Check out the beautiful scroll work.

I actually had no idea how old it was until a few minutes ago. It’s from the 1940s, which means it’s probably not the oldest thing in my house, but it’s still cool.

My grandmother used it, until she died about fifteen years ago. In fact, I used it ten years ago for some project or another. It still works great.

More to come.

Chill Out

On this lovely Saturday afternoon, I sent Steve off by his lonesome to watch Ian bang on his bass drum at the football game. I need to put in a couple of hours on a big article that I’ve been working on since the end of August. I’m about ten hours of work away from submitting the piece to the editor. Maybe twenty hours. Who the hell knows?

And then I’m going to chill out for a couple of weeks. I’m going to exercise every morning and sell some books on the Internet for the fun. (Somebody just bought $75 for an old set of encyclopedias that were heading for the dumpster. Who knew?)

I need the time to regroup and reassess plans. I’ve been freelancing education articles, on and off, for seven years now. A seven-year anniversary seems like a good time to look at my ROI. I’ve paid a lot of dues (writing for free). Is all that effort paying off?

I basically like what I do and would be content to keep doing it forever, but at some point, one should question that plan when one could make more money working part time shelving books at Barnes and Noble.

This current article was paying well enough, until I kept digging and realized that I had a bigger article than I anticipated. I’ve put in so many hours into it, that at this point, I’m working for free. I suppose it’s my own fault. I’ve gone way beyond the original plan for the article. But I just couldn’t stop myself.

Between stressing myself out over this article and doing too much at home, my insomnia flared up again. It’s really hard to function on three hours of sleep.

So, chilling out is happening. We’re not over scheduling our weekends with socializing. I’m not signing on to write anything except for essays or editorials for a little while. I’m reading long blog posts from Martha Stewart; I find her very soothing.

And inspired by Martha, we’re getting caught up with home chores. We have some driveway work happening this weekend. Steve’s laying down a PVC pipe underneath the driveway with tubes that will operate a future sprinkler system. We have a mason repairing the front stairs. And then the driveway guys will come back next week and pore out the asphalt.

Enjoy the weekend, folks!

The Burden of Beautiful

Last Saturday, I couldn’t take it anymore. My manicure was three weeks old. My nails were cracked, and the old nail polish was chipped down to a small semi circles on each nail. On a super busy weekend, I ran to the nail place for a mani-pedi.

Getting a regular manicure is a new thing for me. I never had the time or the money for lots of self-maintenance in the past. And I kinda hate it. Sitting under the nail blower for fifteen minutes waiting for the polish to dry is torture. I’m way too ADD to just chill out and enjoy the whole process. Half the time, I bolt out of the place with tacky nails that inevitably gets dinged, when I get to the car and fish around for a seatbelt.

But now I’m hooked. I’ve gotten used to having nicely filed nails. When I let them go, I feel positively itchy. Likewise with other maintenance chores that have now become part of my routine. I have to get my eyebrows threaded and shaped every two weeks. Every two months, Lauren the hairdresser spends 2-1/2 hours making my red hair a uniform color and then cutting and blow drying straight. At the moment, my natural color is auburn on the side and back, white at the temples, and blond on top; red hair ages oddly.

I have never spent so much time or money on my personal appearance before. And I’m uncomfortable with the whole business. Every hour in the salon is time that I could be doing something more productive.

And I do a whole lot less on my appearance than other professional women. Whenever a group of young women journalists and other professional commentators appears on CNN talking super important stuff about impeachment or corruption in the government, I’m forever distracted by checking out the perfection of their hair and makeup.

They must spend hours in a chair getting beautiful before sitting in front of the camera. There’s not a hair out of place. No natural curls there. They have glued on fake eyelashes and an inch of make up. And before that, there were probably tons of visits to dermatologists and spas to keep that chin from sagging and to close up that dent between the eyebrows.

Looking beautiful means less time reading, researching, reading, interviewing, and just getting smarter. It gives the dudes who just need a haircut and a suit such a huge edge. And I feel like the standards keep getting higher and higher.

Looking pretty is fine. Like I said, I like that my nails are trimmed and my hair is tamed, but there’s a point when it interferes with work. And life! I would like a bit of a return of old school 70s feminism that understood that trade-off.

Work Decor: Plans For the Office

We live in a pretty standard suburban home. It’s a tri-level — a close cousin of the bi-level, the ranch, the raised ranch, and other forgettable late 50s-70s designed homes. I read somewhere that a tri-level was designed, based on the 50s notion of the family — kids were upstairs, wife was in the middle with the kitchen and the living room, and the husband had the lower level and the garage. I guess nobody wanted to hangout together in the 1950s.

Most people don’t like their square footage divided up that way anymore, so houses like ours fetch a lower price than other designed home. If we had more of a choice when we were shopping for home, we probably wouldn’t have picked this house. But we were buying a slice of the community, and not the house, when we went house hunting.

We’ve had to put some money into the home over the years, because it was built in 1959 and the previous owners stopped renovating it back in the 1980s. We’ve gotten a new roof, new boiler, new kitchen. There’s a new driveway going in right now. At this point, I’m not that interesting in dumping money into the house, when there are college payments to make, but basic maintenance has to happen.

One of the mandatory, but boring expenses on our horizon, is new siding. The previous siding is original to the house. It’s old. There are bees boring into the cedar shingles. It’s not energy efficient. It’s time for a change.

When one redoes the exterior of a house, it’s the perfect time to make other changes. We might swap out the original bay window in the living room with a modern casement window, put in a new front door, and enlarge the windows over the garage; they look like squinty eyes. We’re also thinking about fixing the office.

My office/guest room is a bonus room off the ground floor family room. It’s very brown and dark. We haven’t touched it, since we moved in about eight years ago. But this red-headed stepchild of a room is where I spend most of time. I need a change. (Including a new standing desk, but more later on that.)

If we’re putting in new windows elsewhere, maybe we’ll do it here, too. It needs more than a good coat of paint. It needs help.

Here are some pictures of Office Pit.

I have to get a contractor over here to find out how much it will cost to gut the room and start over. It would be nice to put in some French doors to the side yard and get more natural light in the room. We need some overhead lights and a coat of paint on everything brown, at the very least.

When I’m in the thick of a writing project, my body and brain aren’t really here. For example, my brain in a school in Arizona at the moment. But my back is demanding better treatment. I have to be more present in my surroundings, while I’m working. So, a better room to work is moving from the wish-list expense column to a mandatory expense column.

OPINION: Out of necessity, I taught my son to choose a college for its value, not its prestige or vibe — My latest in The Hechinger Report

Without photoshopping his face onto the body of a water polo athlete, like some of the parents caught up in the recent U.S. college cheating scandal, I could have prepped my older son, Jonah, for college like a prize pumpkin at the county fair.

Starting when he was in middle school, I could have taken a stronger role in overseeing his schoolwork by editing his papers, re-teaching certain subjects and hiring tutors in others. I could have checked his online gradebooks daily. I could have supervised homework and nudged him to schmooze with teachers. In high school, we could have hired one-on-one tutors to prepare him for standardized tests. I could have pushed him to take on leadership positions in clubs he didn’t care about. I could have written his essay and filled out the Common Application for him.

Lots of parents do these tasks; most aren’t even considered cheating. It’s just how things are done these days among many upper- and middle-class families.

With our backgrounds in higher education, my husband and I have more relevant skills than many other families in our community. We likely could have micromanaged our kid into Harvard. But we didn’t. Between our son’s stubborn resistance to our help, and our own ethics and laziness, we did very little to turn our kid into a tidy package for colleges. Instead, I taught my son how to be a good education consumer.

More here.

Geographic Inequality

Steve’s folks called with good news over the weekend. His mom’s brother and wife are going to retire just 20 minutes away from them in North Carolina. Steve’s folks retired to the area from Cleveland about ten years ago, and we’ve always been worried about their distance from extended family. Now, they have people to spend holidays with, when they can’t make the trip up to us.

They sent me a link on Zillow to their new house, so I spent a little time checking out the other homes in the area. Those homes — perfectly nice places with a couple of bathrooms and three bedrooms — are a quarter of the price of homes in my neck of the woods. This is why people are leaving the metropolitan regions, like Chicago and New York.

Not really a big deal, I suppose. If North Carolina can offer people a better quality of life than the older cities, then good for them. Families, like mine, that need alternative schooling options for disabled children and have work tied to the big cities can never go there, but there are many families who are more flexible. So, good for them, right?

However, if some areas of the country are homes of the rich and others are homes of the middle class, working class, and retirees, then it does open up some political problems.

Imagine if the representatives from some states become advocates not for the interests of the particular local industries, ie Iowa farmers, West Virginia coal miners, but for entire economic classes, ie New York Rich People and North Carolina Retirees. Then political debates would be less about opposing commercial interests and directly about class. I suppose it is that way now, but those economic tensions could be more obvious and competitive than they are already.

Any discussion about changing the electoral college or representation in Senate would also become strongly charged with these economic tension.

Sidenote — If we limit the voice of small population states in the electoral college and the Senate, it might make affairs more democratic, but it would also mean a massive disinvestment in the entire center of the country. There would be no federal projects for highway construction in Nebraska, say or farm subsidies in Iowa. There might be really cheap homes out there, but there would be no way to drive to those houses.

The growing affluence of big cities is going to have long term political implications.