Ten. Basement Office Update

Basement bookshelves are starting to take shape, but now it’s on hold

Two weekends ago we attacked half of our basement with white paint, gusto, and fervor.  We organized our workout and sporting gear in one corner of the basement, and we moved our office bookcases downstairs.  We had originally set ourselves a November goal of moving our office into the basement.  We were moving!  We were going to smash that goal and be in by the end of September!

But then we thought, well, you know that radon test that we bought years ago?  Maybe we should, you know, use it.  Since there is “a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and incidence of lung cancer,” we figured that, if we’re going to be in the basement for hours a day, every day, maybe we should be sure that there isn’t radon down there.  Because this was Chris’ grandmother’s house, there was no home inspection when ownership was passed on to him.  This seemed like the right time to do a radon test.

It’s simple, really.  You open two vials, let them sit in the basement for 48 hours without moving them or opening any windows or doors.  Then, 48 hours later, you put the caps back on and mail it in.  It was about a week later that I got the results in my email, and low and behold, we do have radon.  Not much, but still, we have it.

On Friday, after getting our results, we called a radon abatement service, and, after hearing about our house size and layout, they gave us a price, sent us a contract, and scheduled the work to be done Monday afternoon.  No big detour! We thought.  It’s money we didn’t want to spend, but we have to do it, and at least it will be done quickly!

Orrrrr not.

When Zach, the nice service technician, came Monday afternoon, he immediately recognized that it wasn’t going to be a simple solution after all.  Because there is a load-bearing wall in the middle of our basement, one ventilation stack wasn’t going to work.  We’d need two.  Then, he realized that we have a crawl space with a dirt floor.  Make that three ventilation stacks, plus a plastic barrier to cover the dirt.  Since radon comes from the earth, an open dirt floor is a biiiig suspect for radon.

Zach couldn’t do all that work Monday afternoon, and anyway, we needed a new quote….that was double the price.

Well, we thought, that sucks, but we still have to do it.  Chris called to schedule the appointment for this Thursday instead.

“Make sure your crawl space is cleared out so that they can seal it off!” the lady of the phone told him at the end of the call.

Cue the screeching brake noises.

I mean, it makes sense that we have to clean out the crawl space.  BUT. Ours is filled with 60+ years of stuff.  It looks like possibly, maybe when they built the house, the crawl space became the dumping ground for unused construction materials, and this has been added to over the years: old beer bottles, extra masonry bricks, rusty (heavy-as-&$^!) metal pipes, deteriorating what-we-think-was-cardboard, old lumber.

The crawl space is full but is not tall.  Chris is rather tall.  And the things we have pulled out of it thus far are, frankly, disgusting.

And so.

We’ve had to put a damper on our excitement and on our projected office move date so that we can pull Old Stuff out of the crawl space so that we can get rid of radon.  Womp.  We’ve pushed back our radon abatement for two weeks to give us time to move everything out of the crawl space, and we’re hoping we can get it cleared out by working just for 30 minutes each day (because, EW). It’s certainly a disappointment, but we’re still hoping to be working away down there before our November target!  It just won’t be quite as soon as we were first anticipating.


Nine. Linen, An Ode.

Dish towels and bath towels on a linen duvet cover

We’re talking about linen, here.  As in, the fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. But we’re also talking about linens here, because I happen to like my linens to be linen.

My love of linen grew from my early adolescence and came from my mother.  Her love of linen, I believe, started (or was cemented, perhaps) when my grandmother (my mother’s, mother-in-law) passed away, and we were cleaning out her house.  Low and behold, we discovered a treasure trove of linen linens in the form of a chest of unused linen dishtowels that my grandmother had received for her wedding.

Naturally, we promptly set about using them.  (There were so many, and they last for so long, that when Chris and I moved in together 20-some-odd years later, I got some towels that still were unused.)


It turns out that linen dishtowels are amazing.  Seriously.  They dry dishes like nobody’s business.  In fact, in addition to being lightweight and cool to wear, linen is known for being incredibly absorbent, and, while it is normally a durable fiber anyway, it’s even stronger when it’s wet.

I’m not kidding.  If you have cotton dishtowels, get thee to a store (or open a new internet browser) and invest in one, just one, linen dishtowel. (I’ve got a couple of these that I really like.)  Trust me.  Linen is more expensive than cotton, but the towel should last you a really, really long time.  Over time and washing, it will become softer, but it will still dry like a boss. It will last you longer, too, if you avoid bleaching and avoid drying it in the dryer (as will all of your textiles, but that’s another post for another day).  Also, if cost is a factor and you have even an inkling of craftiness, you can sew your own pretty easily and at a fraction of the cost.  (An even lower cost would be a linen/cotton blend, but I say go all in with 100% linen and never look back.)

Linen dish towels from Snowe, from Italy, from my mother’s sewing machine, and from my grandmother’s stash.

Also, yes, linen wrinkles easily, but, frankly, I don’t mind the rumply look one bit.  I never iron my linen kitchen towels, bath towels, duvet covers, pants, or shirts (and yes, I have all of these).  I don’t iron in part because I’m lazy a busy mom but also because it’s not really good for the fabric, as “constant creasing in the same place in sharp folds will tend to break the linen threads.”

So there it is, my ode to linen.  I’m itching to get my mitts on some linen sheets like these – swoon! – but I haven’t clicked the buy button yet.  You know, king-sized bed and all….

Mother-made linen bath towels

(Also, did you ever decide that a word sounded funny?  About three sentences into this post, I decided that linen is a funny word. Linen linen linen…)


Six. Labor Day Laboring

Last week, Erin wrote about having a work space of one’s own, and it made me chuckle, because Chris and I have been having that same conversation lately.

We live in a ranch-style house, and the room that you enter into from the garage is, we think, supposed to be a dining room, as it connects to both the kitchen and the living room.  This is the room that we have been using as an office ever since we moved in, but it has never really worked very well as an office, especially since we now have (very mobile, very loud) kids.  If we are on the phone, Jacob and Libby can often be heard on the other end, even when they are in the living room or the kitchen.  The door to the backyard is also in our office, so any time they go outside, they come through the office.  Add to that a dog that barks at every plastic bag and phantom menace, and it’s easy to see how it’s not always the calmest, quietest work environment.

Then, there is the issue of layout.  It needs to serve as both a entryway/mudroom and an office.  The room has seen approximately 9625801 different desk/bookshelf/cabinet/wall hook combinations.  Its current iteration includes a 12-foot conference table that is pushed against one wall (so we effectively lose half of its surface space), and Chris and I sit side by side at it.  This means that my side is directly next to the entrance from the garage, which also means that my desk becomes a repository for junk mail, old newspapers, the dog leash, and toys brought out for walks.  Add to this the fact that neither Chris nor I keeps the neatest, most organized desk (apparently we’re creative!), and it’s easy to see how this space isn’t just noisy, but it’s also often a mess.  Frankly, we’re starting to feel like it sets the tone for the rest of the house.  If the first room we walk into is a mess, why not let the rest of the house be messy, too?

Our house has a large, unfinished basement that has been a repository for, well, Old Stuff We Might Use One Day.  We have been talking about making a playroom down there, but then, we thought, what if we moved the office, instead?  We move ourselves downstairs, giving us more room and more quiet, and opening up the upstairs for a more functional entryway layout plus an upstairs playroom.  YES, please!

The first task, of course, is organizing and clearing out the Old Stuff We Might Use One Day as well as painting the basement.  I’m not sure when it was last painted, but I’d guess something like 40 years ago.  And while I like green, I could not not NOT look at these walls all day, every day for years while I work.

And so, that is the long story of how we spent three days over Labor Day weekend laboring away, painting half of our basement white.  We still have a ways to go (new lighting is needed, as well as more organizing) before we can officially move the office downstairs.  But the change is immediate and impressive!