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Bedroom Renovation Part 2 | Our Prairie Nest
Bedroom Renovations: Part 2

With the first two bedrooms gutted, we started the process of renovating them. First, we installed new wiring and recessed lighting cans. After the county inspector gave the electrical work the green light (which is easy to get when you do it right), we added modern insulation for both the ceiling and walls. Finally, we hung the plastic that holds the ceiling insulation in place. One thing I forgot to mention in part 1 is that my husband also goes through the process of strengthening all the ceiling joists. It’s a lot of work, but lifts and reinforces a previously sagging ceiling.

Ceiling drywall goes up next! That’s exciting, because it signals the next phase of the renovation – turning what looks like a construction site into an actual room.

Covering the insulation is one of my favorite moments of this entire process. It takes a few days to get all the drywall up on the ceiling and wall studs. Once it’s on there, we get into the process of taping, mudding and sanding. This is where the excitement fades, because drywall dust is insidious stuff. It gets everywhere and it never seems to end!

When that messy part was done, we installed new doors on each bedroom. The old layout had the doors facing each other. Those doors were as thin as the walls. You could easily put a fist through them.

We replaced the hollow core doors with solid core oak doors and stained them dark. Hanging the doors was a frustrating process, but once it was done, we were ready to paint! Our room got a pale green color called “Lime Taffy.” Paired with the door and dark brown curtains, it looks like a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Our daughter’s room got a sky blue called “Windsor Way” at her request. The original picture makes it look a little more Robin’s egg, but it’s much softer and less green than the lighting appears to show.

Bedroom Renovation Part 2 | Our Prairie Nest

Once the rooms were painted, it was time for flooring. This was an adventure. The flooring we chose for our living room – “Smokey Topaz” made by Great Lakes Wood Floors – was discontinued. Our local Menards didn’t have any and they don’t place orders to for inventory from other stores. We looked at our options and decided to buy out all 26 boxes available at the nearest store… in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

This took into consideration the leftover flooring we had in our home from doing our living room, the need for 20 boxes to do both bedrooms and the hall, plus the eventual need for more flooring to do the third bedroom.

Neither of us was excited about the idea of a 7-hour round trip to haul a truck full of flooring, but that’s what we did. It turned out to be the best decision for a number of reasons, both practical and personal. After a triumphant road trip, we let the flooring sit in the house for a few days to acclimate and then it was time to install it.

Once we completed the hall and first two bedrooms, and went into the third bedroom, we found we had enough to complete that one, as well. We aren’t doing the third bedroom yet, but it’s good to know we have enough flooring to finish the house.

The discontinued flooring led to the question of what we would do with the dining room floors. That was easy to determine. The dining room will get the same flooring as the kitchen, whatever we choose. That flooring will also go into the addition, since it will function as a partial mudroom and laundry room.

With the flooring in place, we had paint touch-ups, trim, outlet and switchplate covers, and other random bits to do! We also replaced the in-floor heating/cooling vents with the ones that go against the wall, instead. First of all, it looks nicer. Second, it’s more practical. We’re less likely to drop small things, like tiny Legos, down an angled vent than a floor one! The finishing bits should be done by the end of May and we are so glad this part of the renovation is nearly complete.

Besides final photos to come, what’s next? We have to wait about 3 years for the next phase in our renovation process, because it’s the addition. We need to save money. We don’t want to start the addition and do it in pieces. Leaving it uncovered (no roof, no housewrap, etc.) and open to the elements is an awful idea.

The addition will replace the back deck. It will include a storm cellar, since we don’t have a basement. The room will function as my office, as well as have a separate laundry room and mudroom/entry. I’m excited about this, because we will also update the exterior of the house in this phase.

Our house only has studs, a layer of old siding, and a layer of new siding on top. No plywood and no housewrap between the studs and siding! Fixing that and replacing the grungy white siding with the wheat color used on the workshop is going to be fun. I love installing siding. It’s like putting together a puzzle. Modernizing the exterior with plywood and housewrap will also make the house that much more energy efficient.

The workshop siding – looking forward to the house exterior matching it!

After that, we’re left with the most expensive parts to tackle: the bathroom and third bedroom at the same time, which includes the water heater and furnace, and then the kitchen and dining room. Moving the washer and dryer from the bathroom into their own dedicated laundry space will allow us to enlarge the bathroom, while the kitchen will get a complete overhaul with added cabinets, an island, and a breakfast bar.

With the cost of doing the other half of the house, we should be done… oh, in another 20 years or so. >.< But at least we’ll have a house we like and it will be much more attractive and modern, and easier to sell someday!

Bedroom Renovation - Part 1 | Our Prairie Nest
Bedroom Renovations: Part 1

It’s almost done! O frabjous day! With so much awful front-page news – which is how it should be, and I hope all of you are well – it feels good to find happiness in one’s own nest.

As always, here’s a summary of how we got from there to here: my husband’s Air Force enlistment ended in 2013. We moved back to the United States and purchased a super cheap house with the intention of taking it from musty to modern. The first task was to build a workshop to house tools and provide a space to work. The second task was to renovate our living room. Both the workshop and the living room are here.

The front two bedrooms and hallway came next. We’d already ripped out the carpeting in the hall and first bedroom, which left us with only subfloor for a few years. Needless to say, we’ve all suffered our share of foot splinters. Last week, however, the hardwood floors went in and we’re enjoying the fresh, new, splinter-free texture beneath our feet!

So let’s dial it back to the beginning. With the living room complete as of Spring of 2019, we started on the bedrooms in the fall. WHY do we always gut a room right before it gets cold, and then have to block the uninsulated portion of our house off with heavy-duty plastic? I don’t know, but apparently that’s just how we roll.

Here are the “before” pictures. The first bedroom was already partially done (we’d already hung drywall on one wall of it) and partially destroyed (carpeting gone, subfloor visible) at the same time. This picture was taken through where the wall used to be.

The other bedroom is the master bedroom and this is what we started out with.

Fancy, aren’t they? Why would we want to renovate any of this? This is after my husband removed the edges of the so-called closet. Let the gutting begin!

We rented a dumpster, and started by ripping out the wall separating the rooms. Then we ripped out the ceilings. Check out our vintage insulation! It goes back to 1977. So does this piece of a 45 we found inside one of the walls.

“Undercover Angel” by Alan O’Day, 1977.

Once we pulled out the insulation and the old wiring, we were in business. My husband added new framing between the bedrooms. In doing so, he also changed the layout. Originally, there was an alcove for a dryer that jutted into the first bedroom, and then the bedroom doors faced each other. We purchased a stackable washer/dryer set, with the intention of making this change. The new layout places both bedrooms’ doors in the hall proper, adding more square footage to each bedroom.

The drywall you see here was added when we put drywall in our living room, a few years prior.

He then installed new wiring and recessed lighting cans. The first bedroom had a single ceiling fixture. The master bedroom had two. Both were pretty darn outdated, as you can see from the photo of the master bedroom before we gutted it. Then, we added modern insulation for both the ceiling (unfaced R30) and walls (faced R13). It’s amazing what a difference bringing the insulation up to today’s standards makes.

Many people ask just how far we go when renovating a room. We go all the way – gutting it from the ceiling joists to the studs to the subfloor. Each step takes varying amounts of time depending on the money we have available to move forward and how time-intensive a particular aspect is.

Once all of that work is done, the fun can really begin… in part 2!

Life With Birds or Our Feathered Family | Our Prairie Nes
Our Feathered Family

“I want a bird,” you might say. Or think. Or you might go out and get one. And, for the most part, people imagine a pet bird as a tiny yellow canary, sitting in a cage, chirping quietly or not at all. Or maybe a parakeet that’s just cute and sweet, and the perfect accessory. However, the reality of owning a bird is very different than the imagined dream.

First of all, there’s a lot of information out there about which birds are “best for beginners” or most affectionate or least noisy or less likely to make a huge mess. The truth is, these ideas aren’t applicable in every situation. In fact, the most you can generalize about owning a bird is as follows:

  • They are messy.
  • They are noisy.
  • They aren’t cuddly.
  • They are also expensive.
  • They’re probably going to outlive you, especially if they’re a larger parrot.
  • Their care takes more research and education than a dog or cat ever will, so you’re better off with a dog or cat. Really.

And these generalizations are going to vary from bird to bird and person to person. If I’m starting off sounding negative, it’s because the cold, hard truth about birds is that they aren’t easy to have in your home. It’s like having a 3 to 7-year-old that never grows up, never leaves, never goes off to start their own life without relying on you (and even some humans don’t do that!). However, if you want one, here’s a glimpse into our feathered family and how we got here.

“Hold birb gentle like hamburger.”

Our First Bird

We started off with bird ownership because they’re, like, soooo cute! Okay, that wasn’t the only reason my husband practically begged me to go to a bird breeder when we lived in England. But what were the reasons for bird ownership, really, and were we ready? My husband knew more about birds than me. Just as some people are dog lovers or cat lovers or horse lovers or snake lovers, or whatever, he was a bird lover. I wasn’t sure about having a bird in a house with cats… or at all. So I did the same thing I did when I was expecting my first child: I researched the heck out of having a parrot. Especially because our first bird was going to be one that was considered not a beginner’s bird – a black-headed caique.

Here’s what I learned from countless books, websites, and forums – as with children, nothing will be the way you expect. This bird is going to come to you with pretty high-level intelligence, and the ability to both melt your heart and surprise you every single day.

We picked up Avery in a small English town right before Daniel had to go TDY at the time. That meant I was left all alone to care for a new bird with only recently-acquired knowledge, while the bird-lover who’d been into the idea of owning a parrot for at least several years was gone!

Avery and I became the absolute best of friends. He melted my heart from the moment he first fell asleep on me. Black-headed caiques are, as we would say back home in Massachusetts, wicked smaht, and he caught on fast with potty training. He was also a snugglebug (something I didn’t expect), talked to me while I showered if I let him come in the bathroom with me, and basically turned me into the bird mom I’ve become today.

Caique love.

He is now 9 years old, a sweetheart some days, a holy terror other days. If his hormones are surging, he thinks I’m his girlfriend and my husband is the enemy. If he’s feeling content, he’ll fall asleep nestled down on my chest or in the crook of my neck. He says his own name and “Step up.” He growls if he spots danger… or if he thinks you’re coming too close while he’s nibbling on a walnut. He’s smart enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong, but just as his intelligence is on par with a 3-year-old toddler’s, so is his self-control!

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. For me, birds are superior to dogs (though I’m still a cat person, as my head-butting, scritch-demanding, terrified-of-the-parrots felines can attest). I don’t have to go outside to clean up the birds’ poop. In fact, we don’t have to set foot outside on cold days for any of their needs. Warm days are another matter, in which case they get to spend the majority of the day outside, soaking up the sun!

Also, unlike dogs, birds don’t smell bad. Avery smells like wet cardboard, which is the telltale sign of a healthy caique who eats a good diet. They fly around the house freely, but trust me – there’s no pooping on your head mid-flight. Or at all if you’ve potty-trained your parrots.

A case of the zoomies…

Our Second Bird

In the summer of 2019, a friend reached out and let us know she was looking to downsize her flock. This is how Apollo, an approximately 12-year-old Congo African Grey came to us. I had no intention of buying another bird in the near future, but maybe to foster or adopt one after we finished renovating our home. I also had no intention if that bird being larger than Avery. Daniel said time and again that he wanted an African Grey, but I thought they were immense, like larger Macaw breeds.

However, just as Avery turned me into a bird mom, Apollo has me saying, “Hey, how about a Macaw in a few years?” Because this new addition to our family has also brought many lovely surprises.

Here’s another thing: if you aren’t ready to stand still and be calm when you hear the sound of flapping wings, you aren’t ready for a bird. Avery’s flight is more of a rapid flutter and he can almost hover like a hummingbird, but Apollo sounds like a helicopter! His body size is roughly equivalent to some of the smaller hawks out there.

When Apollo first came to us, he was an uncertain flyer. Now, he gets the zoomies on a regular basis. And when you have an almost 1-pound feathered missile darting around your home, you might want to duck for cover! But that’s something you absolutely cannot do, because a parrot is smart enough to look for the safest perch. That just might be you, so this is your second reminder that being able to stay calm when something is flying around or at you is important. If the very idea of a bird flying toward you terrifies you, you are probably better off with four-legged family members.

Parrots pick up many of their emotional cues from their environment. A calm, stable environment, with a steady routine of feeding, play time, flying time, and alone time (yes, even parrots need quiet and time to themselves) is important.

As with human toddlers, a bored parrot is often a loud and/or destructive parrot. An unsocialized parrot can become a sad or even spiteful one. And while you might think flighting a parrot (clipping their wings) is going to help them “behave,” it’s no more humane than declawing a cat. I’m going to put this bluntly: If you have to physically alter an animal to fit your personal preferences, you shouldn’t own an animal.

Having parrots is a lot like having children. They’re unique. They’re individuals. They have distinct personalities, likes and dislikes. They need to have some control or they’re going to give you a hard time. They need choices and options, and also the ability and freedom to refuse you. If they don’t want to be with you, they should be able to fly away from you. If they won’t eat their broccoli, you need to be open to trying different greens with them, because a well-balanced diet includes fruits, veggies, and pellets, with fatty treats like nuts and seeds kept to a minimum, and used for training or as special rewards.

Keep in mind these birds have cognitive ability ranging from that of a human toddler (a parakeet or caique, or other small parrot) to that of a kindergartner or first grader (an African Grey). Yes, a first grader. And that’s only based on what little we know about bird and parrot behavior.

You’ll clean up after me, won’t you, human?

Oh, and let’s not forget about those long life spans. When we get a dog or a cat, we figure on about twelve to twenty years with them. Even now, I joke that my eldest cat is an “old man” because he’s thirteen. But Apollo is also roughly thirteen or so… and this is barely a quarter of his life. Since I’m forty-five and he’s thirteen or maybe fourteen, a calculation of “possible years left” basically shows that either of us could outlive the other. And that’s not taking into consideration something happening to me or my husband sooner. Who gets the bird(s) if you die?

That isn’t a fun question to answer, but it’s something to have in mind before you commit to a parrot. Even worse is the fact that social media will be happy to remind you of that. “We welcomed an African Grey to our family!” I shared one day on Twitter. Someone decided it was then their duty to scold me about the fact that said African Grey will probably live to be sixty, and that I needed to think about that. My response was that my parrots are written into my Will and there is a home waiting for them, should something happen to me in the foreseeable future. I will also change my Will accordingly, as necessary (i.e. if my daughter still expresses a desire to have our birds when she reaches adulthood).

More Birds?

So after being a bird mom for nearly ten years (which isn’t a lot, but sometimes it feels like we’ve been a family forever), what’s in my future? More birds. My daughter wants a bird. We’ve told her that we know they look like a lot of fun to her and we realize she’s had birds in her home her entire life, since she just turned seven. However, we want her to be absolutely sure. If she still wants a bird when she’s twelve, we’ve agreed on a cockatiel (not to be confused with a cockatoo).

She is also taking an active part in training our caique. She works with him on step up, step down, and his continued potty training, as well as treating him for good behavior.

I also want to add a medium to large macaw to the mix but, again, not just yet. Our home renovation needs to be completed first and then we would like to build an outdoor aviary. But I might be about fifty-years-old by then, and I’m not sure I feel comfortable committing to a bird at that point in my life. It won’t be fair to a bird, unless we go for a much older rescue, which we’re open to. Knowing what I know about parrots, I wouldn’t get a baby again, simply on principle. But I’m glad we had Avery from his early days and wouldn’t change a thing!

Having parrots is a lot like getting a tattoo. The first one is exciting and you feel a little rebellious for doing it. It’s like a gateway into getting more and more. But, it’s more like a cross between getting a tattoo and having children, because it’s a living creature with needs and feelings. It’s something you have to really think about, because meeting their needs is so important. Give yourself time to consider what it would be like, because your life will change once you enter parronthood.

Canning Pickles | Our Prairie Nest
Pickles & Breadcrumbs

No, pickles and bread crumbs don’t go together… unless you’re making them!

Last week, we did our first canning of the season. Year after year, we enjoy a bountiful cucumber harvest. The right ones go into pickles. Which cucumbers are best for pickles? You want the smaller cukes, the ones with smaller seeds. They should be just ripe. An overripe cucumber doesn’t make as nice a pickle.

Making Pickles

There are several ways to make pickles. The first couple of years, we went with the heat canning and boiling the jars, but last year we discovered an easier and tastier way to make pickles – no heat, no boiling, and the result are even more flavorful, crunchy pickles.

If this sounds intriguing to you, you want to go with cold process. There are several recipes available with different ways of spicing the pickles, but most come down to the same technique: you clean the cucumbers and jars, mix your spices, boil your brine, slice your cucumbers, add garlic, and then the brine and spices. Let them sit for a few days and then give them a try.

Making Breadcrumbs

The other thing we did last week was make homemade breadcrumbs for the first time. With all the grilling we do during the summer, the top of the refrigerator becomes a sort of catch-all for hamburger and hot dog buns. I don’t like throwing away the leftovers and I also don’t want to feed leftover pieces to the birds and ducks. It’s just not good for them or the environment. So I finally put the leftovers to good use.

Breadcrumbs are easy to make. I tore the buns into small pieces and put them on a foil-lined baking tray. Then, I placed them in the oven at 350 degrees. I checked on them every 10 minutes, mixing the bread until it’d all gone nice and dry.

If you aren’t sure you can remember to check in consistently, because you don’t want the bread to burn, you can dry it at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time. When a few pieces still felt a little soft, I turned the oven off and just let the tray sit for another 10 minutes.

Most recipes call for a food processor for the next step, which we don’t have (that and a mixer are both on my wishlist. Someday!), but a blender works just fine. I filled the blender about halfway with dried pieces of bread and used the ice crushing setting to break them down into breadcrumbs.

Then I experimented with my next batch by throwing in a combination of kosher salt, oregano, basil, and parsley. I kept the spices to a minimum, but probably could have been more generous with the amounts. This batch of breadcrumbs came out smelling delicious and I plan to make them in the future with slightly stronger seasoning.

That is, if cooking with them turns out well. I’ll try to remember to report on that!

*Edited to add: Cooking with them was amazing! Just as good, if not better than, store-bought breadcrumbs.

Bread Crumbs | Our Prairie Nest