Post-Move Project Update, 4/11/2020

Since we moved, projects have had to compete with unpacking and sorting (still more to do as we pare down), so only the more important projects have been done. Courtney painted the kids’ room within the first week or so, from a bright peach to a blue/gray color. Since that room also has our only real east-facing wall, it also is the prayer room, and I hung the icons and put in the small table that holds our candles and incense burner.

The bathroom also required some immediate attention. I replaced all the toilet guts due to sticking and running, I also removed all the old and deteriorated caulking around the tub, and re-caulked it. Finally, I had to replace the pop-up drain assembly and S-trap on the bathroom sink due to both leaking.

Most of the outlets in the house are non-grounded, so I have been going along replacing them with GFCI outlets to so that we can plug in 3-prong appliances and have some ground protection. Also, at Courtney’s request, I installed a floating shelf above the kitchen sink. Since we have extremely limited cupboard space right now, this shelf holds our most used dishes–everyday plates, bowls, and cups, as well as coffee cups.

Outside the house, I started a worm bin in the garage for compost, and ordered 2,000 compost worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm to get it going. I bought 8 Rhode Island Red chicks at Tractor Supply, along with a pre-built coop. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with the pre-built coop long term, but I have too much else to do at the moment to build my own again. My parents gave me the steel frame for a picnic table 2 Christmases ago, and I finally bought lumber and assembled it. This allows us to eat outside when the weather is nice, a good thing when you live in a small house. Finally, I dug out my sidewalk leading to the front door, allowing me to see what needs replacing and what doesn’t.

Holy Week at Home Booklet

My Godmother, encouraging me to persevere in the rather unique (and for me, difficult) Lenten struggle that God has seen fit to allow us to undergo this year with the Great Corona Panic of 2020, provided me with a helpful little booklet. With the Churches temporarily closed (at least to laity like myself), having this simple guide to celebrating Holy Week and Pascha at home has greatly eased my mind. This booklet is published by the American Capatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, and can be accessed here. I hope you find it helpful as you prepare for the struggle of this particularly holy time at home.

A Big Move

We moved.

We sold our 3-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom, 1900 square foot house and bought a 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom, 970 square foot house with not a level floor in the house. This cut our monthly mortgage payments essentially in half, and provided us with the cash to buy a 22 year old Astro van with less that 90,000 miles to replace our 15 year old Impala with 370,000 miles. The van is AWD, and unlike the Impala, can continue to accommodate our family if we have another child–in fact, it can accommodate 2 more children!

The move new place has its drawbacks and benefits. I’m working on remedying the worst of the drawbacks as I can. One benefit is that we now have roughly 3x the land as the old place–1.2 acres as opposed to 0.4 acres. This means more room for gardens, and we’re still trying to determine where to locate them. Another benefit is that we now have river frontage on a small river, which opens up opportunities to catch fish in our own backyard. An additional benefit is that I am now less than 30 minutes from one of the properties where I deer hunt.

The main benefit, of course, is the lower payments. At our previous place, our minimum payments were about half my monthly income. While were able to keep up with it for quite a while, with each child it got harder, and after Helen was born we began to accumulate credit card debit (which is now gone). This is the opposite of what we want. We want to live inexpensively, save a little, and have money available for charitable giving.

We also found that having such a large house allowed us to accumulate a lot of stuff that we didn’t need or use. It wasn’t that long ago that I moved myself and all of my possessions from Virginia to Florida in a Ford Ranger, but this move required a 26 foot long U-Haul truck. We are continuing to work on paring down the number of things we own, while also working to replace low quality things with high quality ones, and single function items with multi-function items where reasonable.

Its a work in progress, and the past few months have been incredibly busy. But hopefully this move will create more time (in that I won’t feel the need to work as much overtime), and I’ll try to post project and purchase updates as we continue to settle in.

Recent Project Update: 10/1/19

New sink

Most of my recent project energy has gone into the kitchen. First, I found a stainless steel sink on the side of the road, and replaced the existing stained-up porcelain sink. Courtney did not like the porcelain sink because it sat so high above the counter top that you could not put a drainboard next to the sink. The new-to-us stainless sink sits much more flush, and allows the use of a drainboard. I also installed an under-sink filter to replace the on-faucet filter we previously had. 

Much more sturdy of a cook surface

The next big project was to replace the stove. Some friends that were moving gave us a gas stove, which Courtney greatly prefers to the electric stove that we had. The trivets that hold up the burners on the electric stove were prone to bending under the weight of Courtney’s pressure canner, and she found that gas much more evenly heats the cast iron pans her prefers than electric burners do. Unfortunately, there was no gas line run to the kitchen, so I had to install new gas line from the water heater in the basement up to the kitchen. I brought it up through a cabinet, and forgot to factor in the length of the valvecock, so now the stove sits a few inches away from the counter and a few inches off of the back wall. Courtney is so happy to have the gas stove that she doesn’t mind this, and I may build in some kind of a spacer eventually.

After the stove, the next project was to begin painting the cabinets. We started with the bottom cabinets, and then did the top cabinets above the sink, which we just recently finished. We have decided to hold off on painting the rest of the top cabinets until after we paint the walls. The poop-brown wall behind the stove particularly has to be painted to a more appealing color.

Other than the kitchen, the only recent project I can think of is moving the chicken and duck pen. They had worn the grass down pretty bad, so I pulled out all the t-posts and fenced off a new area of the back yard. Eventually, I hope to have two separate areas fenced off, where I can rotate between the paddocks weekly to allow the grass a chance to grow back. Maybe next year.

As you can see, it was getting pretty worn down.

Frugal Friday: Laundry Soap

I found this picture on the internet

I made my own laundry soap once or twice before I got married using this recipe. After we got married, Courtney began using this recipe as well, and has been making her own laundry soap ever since. After she taught herself to make her own bar soap using lard, lye, and water, she stopped buying Fels-Naphta and began using her own bar soap. This results in a totally unscented laundry soap, while the Fels-Naphta gives a nice subtle piney scent.

Here’s the recipe:

1 box of Borax
1 box Super Washing Soda
1 box Baking Soda
3 bars of Fels-Napha soap, shredded on a cheese grater, OR 1 lb grated homemade soap

Mix well in a large bowl or tub, then portion into smaller containers (Mason Jars work well). Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. Mason Jars of laundry soap that sit for a long time before use may have the soap shreds settle to the bottom, in this case shake or mix well before use.

Some blogs say that homemade laundry soaps don’t clean well, destroy laundry machines, or leave a soap residue in clothes. None of these are necessarily true, however, there are a few tips that you should use with this recipe.

First, fill the fabric softener compartment with white vinegar. Second, always use the warmest water and longest cycle suitable for the fabric. Third, always use the extra rinse cycle. Here’s why you want to do these things:

Why should you add vinegar to the fabric softener compartment? Because your clothes likely have a lot of bacteria on them. These bacteria create smells, which are masked by the artificial fragrances in your commercial laundry soap. Without the masking of artificial fragrances, you can get a musty smell in your clothes from this bacteria. The vinegar will kill these bacteria and fight the odor at the source, rather than just masking it.

Why should you use the warmest water and longest cycle suitable for the fabric? Because the soap shreds need to be completely dissolved in order to get maximum cleaning. Also the Borax cleans by soaking, so the longer the clothes soak in the Borax, the better. Hotter water dissolves the soap faster, meaning that it is dissolved for more of the cycle.

Finally, why use the extra rinse? This is to ensure that the soap is fully rinsed out. If the soap doesn’t dissolve fully until partway through the cycle, it may not rinse out fully with the normal rinse cycle. The extra rinse makes sure that all soap residue is rinsed out. we haven’t used a commercial laundry soap in over three years, and are still happy with our economical and effective laundry soap.

Learning to be Thankful: Or Why I Missed Church this Morning

All the kids were dressed and buckled in. Courtney was ready. I got in the car and turned the key.


I tried again.

Still nothing.

I turned on the lights.

Plenty bright.

Oh great, the starter’s out. Just what I need.

I told Courtney. She suggested I take Elgin and go to church in my pick-up, which has only 2 normal seats and a tiny jump seat in the back. I thought about it. I wanted to go.

“If I don’t fix this now, you won’t be able to go to Vespers tonight, and we won’t be able to go to church tomorrow morning.”

I got on my moped and headed to O’Reilly’s.

$130? For a re-manufactured one? Ooof. Just what I needed. Guess I’ll have to throw it on the credit card like everything else.

I put it in the basket on the back of my moped and started home.

An hour later, I was done. I turned the key, and the engine started up.

Thank God!

I should have been thanking Him much earlier.

I started thinking of all the reasons I had to thank God in this situation.

Thank God that the flywheel teeth were sharp and intact–I didn’t have to replace it.
Thank God my Dad taught me how to use tools and fix things–a mechanic would have charged me at least $350.
Thank God the starter went out at home, and not last night when Courtney was at church with the kids and I was at work–or yesterday morning when she was picking apples with the kids an hour north of here.
Thank God O’Reilly’s had a re-manufactured starter motor in stock.
Thank God I had the time to fix it before going to work–and even had time left over to spend some time with the kids.

All in all, I was blessed this morning, and I’m learning to be more thankful for my blessings.

Excerpt on the So-Called “Rights of Man”

[W]hen one pauses to think about it even for a moment, it becomes rather uncomfortably clear that the Lord at no time encouraged His followers to go about demanding various and sundry rights to such things as whatever form of government happens to be currently in vogue.

The Declaration of Independence asserted “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, [evincing] a design to reduce [the Colonies] under absolute despotism.” Regardless of the veracity of such a claim (regarding which there exists some cause for doubt), there can be no question that throughout the history recorded in Sacred Scripture, the Israel of God was often to be found in such straits — whether under the Egyptians, the Babylonians, or the Romans. Nevertheless, at no time did God urge His people to sedition and rebellion — and even when Pharaoh betrayed them and sent an army to return them to slavery, Moses said only: “The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” When the occupying forces of pagan Rome habitually subjected the people of Israel to “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” the Lord, far from urging His followers to stand up for their rights, famously counseled them rather to meekly accept even violent mistreatment, and to freely give to their enemies twice as much as was being stolen. And in the Sermon on the Mount, He commanded not only to allow all men to mistreat us as much as they like, but even to rejoice in this — since it is actually much better for us than the alternative — and above all else, to love even our enemies and repay them only with good for the evil they have done us.

All of this sounds remarkably dissimilar to Jeffersonian democracy and the Rights of Man.

“But wait!” someone cries. “Yes, it is true that the Lord did not command us to demand rights for ourselves. But surely the Lord desires us to protect the rights of others, and especially those of the downtrodden and the oppressed!”

This is so near to the truth that it is exceptionally easy to be seduced by such an idea — and many are they who have been thus seduced. But read the Gospels carefully: the Lord commanded us to treat all men with love. But He did not command us to take it upon ourselves to ensure that all men are treated with love. The modern proclivity to fight evil primarily on the battlefield of society, rather than on the battleground of our own heart, is one of the most pernicious traps into which it is possible for us to fall: it breeds self-righteousness and alienates us from a spirit of repentance, which is the only method by which authentic goodness, virtue, and love can possibly be brought into the world.

If you doubt me, consider this: when Christ came, even His disciples expected Him to bring about an end to the heavy injustices and profound sufferings of His people. But that is not what He came to bring.

He came to bring us the Cross.


Monastery Visit

The chapel when empty

Today, Elgin and I went on our first trip to a monastery. We went with Elgin’s Godfather and another friend from church to St. John Chrysostomos monastery, which is a women’s monastery in the Greek Archdiocese. Because today is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Metropolitan Nathaniel was there presiding, and the service was in the chapel, where is an Icon of the Theotokos Quick-to-Hear, rather than in the big church. The chapel is about the size of our home church, and was packed so full that there was no room left to stand in the Nave, and the Narthex and an adjacent hallway were also filled. The service was entirely in Greek, so my ability to follow along was limited. The singing and chanting of the nuns was extremely beautiful.

Our book selections

Elgin especially enjoyed watching the nuns light the candles on the chandeliers and the set the chandeliers spinning. He did really well during the service, despite having far less freedom to move around and play than he typically does at our church. After the service, we were served a meal of Greek pasta salad, some type of flaky pastry with a spinach center, cold fried fish, and very garlicky mashed potatoes, which we ate outside. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. If you had told me that I would eat cold fried fish and enjoy it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but this was some of the best fish I’ve had in my life. After lunch, we went to the bookstore, where Elgin and I each bought a book.

Three-High Bunk Bed for Crib Mattresses

I built this three-high bunk bed for crib mattresses for my kids at a total cost of $7 for a box of screws. The majority of the wood is old deck boards from when I resurfaced my deck last year, and the bolts were scavenged from another old bed. The 2x4s were given to me by a friend when he moved. It’s rustic and imperfect, but solid. The bolts are in various locations from board to board as I placed them to avoid knots and existing cracks. As you can see, there is currently no mattress on the middle bunk–Edna isn’t sure about climbing up into bed yet, and so is on the bottom. When Helen moves out of the crib, Helen will go on the bottom and Edna will move up to the middle. That gives us a few months to get her used to the idea. Previously, Elgin and Edna each had a toddler bed, so there is significantly more floor space in the room now, even though it can now accommodate another child.