Flower Power: Bringing Spring Indoors

Flower Power: Bringing Spring Indoors

After a long, cold and snowy winter, the first spring flowers feel like a gift from Mother Nature. It’s as if she’s saying, “Congratulations! You survived another upper Midwest winter!” And even when those flowers pop up where they’re not supposed to, it’s exciting to see their colorful little buds sprouting up from the ground.

When we pulled up the flower beds that the previous owners had planted around This American House, we relocated many of the plants and flowers. We also pulled up a bunch of bulbs that I threw in a bag with the intention of replanting later. We spread grass seed in the former flower beds and called it a season.

It looks like we missed a few bulbs … and I have to say that I’m not mad at that. When I saw these little yellow and purple flowers standing tall(ish) among the not-quite-green grass, I actually uttered the words, “Well hey there little guys! What are you doing here?” Although I was surprised that we had missed a few bulbs, the sight of the colorful flowers in the grass was delightful nonetheless.

Spring Flowers

Before I left the house to return to the city on Sunday, I pulled the flowers, bulbs and all, from the ground and dropped them into a little vase. They may not survive, I thought, but at least I’ll be able to enjoy the flowers on the drive back to the city.

Much to my surprise, the flowers not only survived the drive, they’re still thriving three days later. I’m not a botanist so I have no idea what these flowers are*. All I know is that I’m gladly accepting this gift from Mother Nature. And now I know that I need to find that bag of bulbs and find a place to plant them so that I can enjoy a little spring treat again next year.

*Thanks to my Instagram followers, I’ve learned that these are crocuses. According to Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Small bulbs like crocus not only provide winter garden color, but they naturalize, meaning that they spread and come back year after year—with minimum care—for an ever-larger display. As a bonus, deer, squirrels, and rabbits rarely bother early little bulbs.” Now I really do need to find a place to replace the bulbs I pulled up last year!

Images: This American House

12 Mattress Brands That Are Made in America

Mattresses Made in the United States of American

In our attempt to furnish the house with only secondhand or American made products, I found myself researching mattresses that are manufactured in the United States. As it turns out, there are quite a few mattresses companies with manufacturing facilities in the US. From traditional inner spring to the newer latex and memory foam mattresses, from budget to luxury brands, check out this list of American made beds.

  • Casper is the new kid on the mattress block. Covers and panels are sewn in Illinois and South Carolina and the foam for the mattresses is poured in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
  • Tuft and Needle mattresses are designed, sourced and manufactured in the States. The foam is poured and cut in the states, the fabric is sourced from a mill in the Carolinas and the mattresses are finished at a factory in California.
  • Kingsdown mattresses has been based in North Carolina for more than 100 years. They still produce some mattresses there, but they also have factories in California, Oklahoma, Virginia, as well as global manufacturing facilities.
  • The Original Mattress Factory has factory store locations in nine states, as well as available nationwide online. They offer both foam and pillow top mattresses.
  • Sealy mattresses are manufactured in three factories in the United States. The brand makes traditional innerspring mattresses, as well as hybrid, gel memory foam and latex foam mattresses.
  • Saatva Mattresses are produced in factories in twelve US states and are distributed through 35 fulfillment centers. The inner spring mattresses feature organic cotton covers and bio-based foam.
  • Englander has seven factories throughout the United States. They do not sell direct to the public so check mattress stores for the label.
  • Cozy Pure’s organic latex mattresses are manufactured in Norfolk, Virginia. The company also produces bedding and mattress pads.
  • Stearns and Foster mattresses are made in the USA, although I couldn’t find out exactly where.
  • Sealy operates 25 bedding plants in the U.S., producing both innerspring and foam mattresses.
  • EasyRest adjustable beds and mattresses are made in factories in Louisville and Georgetown, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Thomasville Bedding Company has been manufacturing their mattress in Thomasville, Georgia since 1969. They make both innerspring and latex mattresses, as well as custom mattress and box springs.

Image: This American House

Brick by Brick: Slowly Stripping the Fireplace
Adventures in Stripping

Refinishing the Fireplace Brick in Our American System Built HomeThe last time I talked about the fireplace was just after the winter holidays. I learned a very important lesson in that first big attempt at removing paint from brick. DON’T BE A HERO.

You may think it’s a good idea to slather Citri-Strip across the entire surface of the fireplace but it’s not. You’re going to have to scrape and scratch and rub and wash every last inch of that fireplace to get the paint and stripper off. It’s going to be messy. And it’s going to work muscles in your body you didn’t even know you have. And you may even end up half-assing a big section of it because you’re too damned tired to muster the elbow grease that it takes to really make a piece of steel wool work.

Stripping Brick Fireplace

For the record, I had every intention of stripping the fireplace in small sections. I had done my Pinteresting and read quite a few blog posts about the trials and travails of stripping brick. I had indeed been working in small patches when The Mister announced that he was going to help. I left the room for a little while and when I came back I found that he had spread stripper across half of the fireplace.

Now, folks, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my sixteen years as a couple, it’s to appreciate the help you’re getting. So while my first reaction was to stop The Mister I decided to just go with the flow. Um, yeah, I should’ve said something. Many, many, many hours later, we were knee deep in paint goo, my back was about to give out and The Mister was declaring the whole thing a disaster.

OK lesson learned.

Adventures in Stripping: Refinishing the Fireplace in Our American System Built HomeThe new approach to stripping the fireplace is much more methodical. First, I tape a garbage bag to the area of the fireplace that’s below where I’ll be working. I don’t want any of the stripper, paint chips or goo to drip down on the bricks that are already finished. I also tape plastic garbage bags to the floor to catch the mess. Then, I apply the stripper to the bricks and let it work its magic over a twenty four hour period. I’ve been using steel wool and old toothbrushes to apply the stripper.

After twenty four hours, the arduous task of scraping the paint off the bricks begins. The most effective tools for removing the stripper and paint are wire brushes of varying sizes and toothbrushes. And even with wire brushes, a lot of pressure must be applied to really remove the paint from the bricks. I’ve also been using steel wool and good old fashioned elbow grease.

Close Up for Stripped Fireplace Brick

By taking it a little slower and working in small sections, we’re getting much better results. Not only do the bricks get cleaner, but we’re actually even getting the paint off the mortar as well. This is actually a delightful surprise. I wasn’t expecting that we’d actually be able to strip the paint from the mortar at all.

As I mentioned in the previous post about stripping the fireplace, we were surprised to discover that the bricks are not red. When we stripped the dark gray top layer down to the white layer and then down to dark gray brick, we had an “oh shit” moment. I mean, why are we going through all this trouble just to go from dark gray to, well, dark gray? But then when you see the lintel stripped of paint and you stand back and see how the bricks have more depth and character when they’re stripped of paint, well, that makes it all worthwhile.

Images: This American House

A Return to Home: Homemade Lefse Recipe

Lefse Recipe on This American House

In many ways, buying this house in northeast Iowa has felt like returning home for us. This despite the fact that neither of us are from Iowa. For me it’s a return to the small town life that I knew growing up. And for The Mister we’re once again in a region of the country that proudly celebrates its (and his) Norwegian heritage. And just like in his native Fargo, North Dakota, that Norwegian heritage means that there’s lefse in grocery stores.

Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread that I, a small town boy with southern roots, had never encountered until I met The Mister. It’s kind of like a tortilla but it’s made out of potatoes. And whereas a tortilla is stuffed with meat and cheese and other fixings, lefse is simply smeared with butter, rolled up and eaten as is.

Enjoying Homemade Lefse at This American HouseI was introduced to lefse on our our first visit to The Mister’s parents’ house in Fargo. It was one of the first things we were presented by The Mister’s adoring and adorable mother, Louise. We were kids then, The Mister and I, and so of course we had made the entire twelve hour drive in the dark. After The Mister picked me up from work on a dark February Friday, we set out on our first road trip together. We had only met the month before but we were already quite smitten and this trip was one of those “take him home to meet mother” deals. To say that I was nervous is an understatement. Fortunately Louise made me feel right at home, even as she had to explain lefse to me.

Over the years I’ve found ways to bring this Norwegian treat into our lives. One Christmas I ordered a box of Freddy’s Lefse, The Mister’s preferred brand made in his hometown, as a surprise treat. And on every visit to Fargo we’ve picked up a package or two to take back to the city with us. While it has yet to become my favorite food, I appreciate the heritage and, more importantly, the memories associated with lefse.

It was during our first weekend in This American House that I spied packaged lefse for sale in the local grocery store. I purchased a couple packages and excitedly brought them back to the house. “You’re home!” I said to The Mister, and held up the packaged lefse to illustrate the point.

Like anything, packaged lefse is only half as good as homemade. The Mister has often told me how delicious his grandmother’s homemade lefse was. There was always a sense of wistful longing in his voice when he would say this. I’ve heard stories about how his dad had taken a class to learn how to make it and how his lefse was almost as good as his grandmother’s. Stumped for a birthday gift this year, and now that we have a house with the space to store it, I bought The Mister an 8 Piece Lefse Starter Kit  . And now I understand what he was raving about all those years. Homemade lefse is delicious!

We set up shop in the dining room for our inaugural lefse experiment. As an experienced baker, I was pretty confident that I’d be able to follow the lefse recipe that came with the kit. And except for a few oopses along the way, our first batch of lefse turned out quite nicely. Here’s how it’s done:

Making Homemade Lefse at This American House

HOW TO MAKE LEFSE

1. Make mashed potatoes. (Or, if you’re pressed for time, make a batch of instant mashed potatoes.) Let cool.

2. Add equal amounts of flour as potatoes. For instance, if you have 2 cups of mashed potatoes, add 2 cups of flour.

Lefse Dough

3. Form the potato mixture into balls that are roughly the size of tennis balls.

4. Chill the potato dough balls overnight.

Rolling Lefse on a Floured Surface

5. The next day, place the chilled ball of dough on a well floured surface. (This handy board and cover were included in The Mister’s lefse kit.  You can also roll your dough on a counter top or large cutting board.) Smoosh the dough to flatten it a little.

Making Homemade Lefse at This American House5. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a very thin disk. As The Mister’s high school friend and fellow lefse lover advised, you want the rolled dough to be the consistency of a paper towel. That is, you want it to be super thin and almost transparent.

Making Lefse at This American House

6. Our lefse kit came with a turning stick, which is an invaluable tool when you’re dealing with such a thin dough. The turning stick is used to lift the dough off the pastry board and place it on the grill.

Lefse Cooks on a Grill at This American House

7. Once on the grill, let the lefse cook for about one minute. Then, use the turning stick to flip the lefse over on the grill. Let it cook for an additional thirty seconds.

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8. To keep your finished lefse from getting crispy as it cools, store it sandwiched between towels. The condensation created by the hot lefse will keep them soft.

The Mister and His First Homemade Lefse

9. Try not to eat all the lefse as it comes off this grill. This will be harder than you think it might be. Once you slather butter on a hot lefse and gobble it down it’s hard to stop yourself from having another. And then another. If you do end up with any leftover lefse, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

While The Mister has always enjoyed his lefse simply buttered, according to a post on the Lefse Facebook page others have been known to eat it with butter and sugar, cream cheese and lingonberries and even lutefisk.

*By the way, I hope the photo at the top of this post says “You’re going to love this lefse.” Google provided the translation to Norwegian. If it turns out that I’m wrong about that, let me know!

Images: This American House

Prairie Sale: A 1915 John S. Van Bergen House
741 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois

John S. Van Bergen House at 741 Sheridan Road Evanston Illinois

I’ve been in the city a lot lately due to a new day job. While I usually make the trek out to the house on Friday nights, I decided to stay in the city this weekend. I had errands to run and I needed a break from the commute out the house. We were lucky enough to get a quick taste of spring this weekend, with temperatures in the 60’s and sunny skies above. So on Sunday afternoon I pumped up the tires on my bike and took myself out to soak up some springtime sunshine.

It was on my ride that I discovered this gorgeous Prairie style home in Evanston, Illinois. The house at 741 Sheridan Road was designed by John S. Van Bergen and, judging by the photos in the real estate listing, it’s everything that I want our house to be.

John S. Van Bergen Home at 741 Sheridan Road

If you think that this house looks a lot like Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs – and indeed our own American System Built Home – you’re right. John S. Van Bergen worked for Wright in his studio in Oak Park. As part of his work for Wright, Van Bergen supervised the Robie House and the Mrs. Thomas Gale House. Hailing from Oak Park originally, Van Bergen was undoubtedly influenced by Wright’s Prairie style early in his life. In fact, according to the Wikipedia page about Van Bergen, his “mother was friends with Wright’s mother, Anna, and Van Bergen’s third grade teacher was Wright’s sister, Maginel.”

I stopped in my tracks when I came upon the house at 741 Sheridan Road. Not only am I interested in Prairie style architecture, but this particular house is for sale! I stopped, snapped a photo and then pedaled my way back home, where I immediately searched for details on the house.

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The house was built in 1915, just two years before our ASB home. I can see some similarities between this house and the ASB homes that Wright designed. The wood trim and corner windows are hallmarks of the Prairie style, as are the stucco exterior and low roofline.

With a price of $1.75 million, this house is way, way, way out of our league. It is, however, a great reminder of what we want to do in rehabbing our own more modest house. We want to get the wood trim in our house stripped and refinished. And we want to have the exterior trim and windows repainted. (Speaking of, I love the green trim used on this house in Evanston, but I think we’ll probably go with a red or brown paint for our trim.)

For more information on the house at 741 Sheridan Road, check out the real estate listing at Sotheby’s.

Images: 1. This American House, 2. and 3. Sotheby’s