Sunday, November 26, 2017

The House that Jack Built

The story of the house that Jack built                             Written by Marcia Balonis, November 2017

About 1975, Jack had a dream.  He wanted to build our home up on a hill.  We were living in an apartment in the farm house and did a lot for the owner.  She agreed to sell us the land to build the house.  The whole of what is now considered Skyfields area in Groton, MA was once her farm.  That purchase was completed about 1979. 

During the late 70’s Jack also teamed up with a close friend who owned a lumber mill.  Jack and Bob dropped pine trees all over the area to clear lots for others for the pine which was then hauled to the mill.  One weekend a month for about 5 years, Jacks' logs were cut into desired boards.  The other three weekends, he worked for Bob on other paying wood jobs.

Yes, a long time.  To cut the logs into boards, he needed to have his design to include the detail of what was going to be used where.  He did the plans and calculated the board feet needed for floor, walls, inside and outside, posts and, well every board that went into the house.  Much of the design was based on “Your Engineered House” by Rex Roberts of Groton.  There are notes in the book which I made to discuss points or questions from my read of the book.  There are significant variations in Jack’s version of the house.  Most significant is the whole basement.

Finally, the wood is ready, it was sent to another mill to plane most of the boards to be used.  We were also clearing the lot and stacking up the hard wood for burning later.  That took many months.  The area was ready to start.   Foundation went in.  The dream started to shape up.

There was no contractor per se.  Jack did that himself.  We obtained multiple estimates on the various components to include carpentry, electrical, masonry, plumbing and anything else required.  The carpenters name was Barry.  There are a lot of unique features of the woodwork which Jack and Barry worked out.  We walked from the apartment to the house daily to see what had been done.  More than once, when Jack saw Barry the next time, he would have an idea of something else to be done.  The built in wine rack and glass holder is but one example of the special touches created.

The house that Jack built is nearing completion with some very unique elements.  The mantle in the living room is a beam from the first parish church steeple of Groton.  The steeple was removed, and the beams sold for new work at the church.  Some nails from the church are remaining on the mantle.  The cobblestone fireplace in the master bedroom is made with authentic stones from the old rail yard in Plymouth, MA.  Jack grew up in Plymouth and a friend was able to get those stones when the rail yard was demolished there.  The fireplace itself is a heat-a-lator model.  If there are still little bricks in the base openings of the fireplace, they were put there to prevent the kittens from running from one room to another.  Kittens were in the house in 1990 or so.  The fireplace is another of the many energy efficient elements of the house.  The front light is an authentic old street lamp from Groton which Jack was able to obtain from the town when they were removed.

At the base of the driveway are some granite posts.  Sorry to say, I don’t recall where he obtained those.  The granite back steps were from the foundation of the Haney property from an old barn long gone.

The living room stove is a wood or coal stove from an old general store in Brighton, Maine.  He bought it after hunting one winter.  The little one in the basement will also burn wood or coal.  The big basement wood stove was all set up to add heat to the house, shop, and greenhouse for the plants with piping.    

The windows are fixed.  Most of the walls do not go to the ceiling.  This is for air flow.  There are vents all along the back of the house designed to be opened in summer along with the vents up high on the front of the house.  This air flow worked to cool the house.   Drapes pulled at night to retain heat, opened to capture solar heat during the day.  The overhang is specifically designed to block sun in summer and welcome it in the winter.

The greenhouse or spa area was mine.  I spent hours with my plants in that room.  There is a powerful fan, sealed for winter, in the greenhouse.  And there is a 4th heat zone out there.  

The stained-glass piece inserted over the door in the master bath was something I designed and was made by a local artist.  The antique black glass doorknobs throughout the inside were collected from a local old colonial.

The porch over the garage was also my space.  I love bright open rooms.  From this room, the view is spectacular and I so enjoyed many stunning sunrises.

The back office or corner bedroom, has little cabinets at the base of the closet.  They were built to keep ammo and originally guns out of sight. The pantry includes the step shelving so that you can really see everything in the pantry not have to move things all around to find a desired can of something.  The little corner alcove in the pantry for brooms.  Near the back door a special place for coats and hats not kept in the closet. 

The rounded wall, circular stairs, and diamond artistic wall were all design elements which Jack and Barry discussed.  I came to love the circular stairs and wall.  Walking up and down that set of stairs is easier for an older person.  Like the rest of the house, it is solid.  For me, I was able to just lean a bit on the rail to stay stable.

We moved into the house in fall of 1982.  I left when Fort Devens closed for work in 1993.  In the early years we travelled back and forth every few months.  For a time, Jack looked for work in Colorado but then decided he wanted to stay in Groton in HIS house.  I continued to pay the mortgage, worked hard, changing jobs may times, and dreamed of returning.  Over time that changed.  But I was always able to come home to our dream for our visits and to do special projects. 

Jack loved watching the birds each winter and feed them faithfully.  I have watched many come by to check for food this fall only to find nothing but a few bread crumbs.  The hangers off the front on the pullies and other stakes were for the many feeders.  In the summer, he hung plants.

Jack was blessed to have good friends who helped him as his health declined to do the many chores.  I am thankful for those who made it possible for him to stay here, in his house.  Many friends and family have helped me with the massive clean out as well.  A big part of me would love to return to wrap myself back in our dream, but that is my past, and I move on to a future with a big hole in my heart.

Jack with his nieces, 2017.

There are fixtures that need changing to be pretty and things to upgrade.  But even today, 35 years later, this house still has the warmth of the beautiful native wood, the work of a master carpenter, and the love of the owner.  It is the house that Jack built. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Fall over the cliff

Warning, this is going to be a sad blog.  I like to try to keep things happy in my life but sometimes it is just not possible.  This is one of those times.

My husband of 46 years, Jack E. Balonis, passed on October 10, 2017.  It was quite sudden and a total shock.  He was all set to come to Florida in just a few more days.  A close friend found him in our driveway in Massachusetts.  I pray his passing was quick for him. 

We had a unique arrangement over our last years, which, for the most part, suited us.  We talked an average of 3 times a day, two of the calls at an appointed time of the day and the third rather random.  Sometimes we spoke many more times in the day, on rare occasions, not at all.  Sometimes we would talk a long time.  He had a way of making a short story into a long novel.  We visited back and forth between our two homes.  It wasn't perfect, but for a number of reasons, it worked for us.

The void in my heart and in each day is real.  I know it will get better.  Each milestone to be crossed will be a reminder of the change in my life without him.  Each day the phone calls are missed.  We talked about all kinds of things every day, some rather silly, but I miss the constant connection we shared.  I've always had my good morning and good night calls and the other random chats with Jack making me whole.    We had our many visits where each of us did some chore to help with maintaining two houses.

The house we built together will be gone before I know it.  He cleared the trees off of lots for other people by dropping the pine trees to build the house.  He worked the lumber yard for years to cut the trees into boards of all the different kinds needed for the design.  We were there for construction every day as we walked up to see what was done from our apartment just down the hill.  It was our shared dream home.  It is quite spectacular.  Environmentally sound, engineered for efficiency, passive solar, and unique.  I will miss it.  Part of me would love to wrap myself back into that house and a cocoon of love and memories but it is quite impossible.  I could not cope with the long steep hill in winter, the New England cold, the dreary days of winter so common up there and finally, most of my family and friends are not there....only memories.  I will miss the spectacular sunrises from our hill and well, the house that Jack built.

So now I am starting to carry on alone without him.  I am a solitary person, content to do many things alone.  I go for my walks alone, I ride my bicycle alone, I bead alone, usually shop alone and eat alone.  I'm used to that, it is normal for me.  This, however, is not a normal time in my life.  I am quite sad and feel quite empty.  My family and friends are supportive and it does help.  As in most life changing events we cope differently.  I will find my way as I strive to go forward without the man who has been with me for over 46 years.  It will not be easy.  I will be different, but I will go on.

To all who have been there to support me and continue to support me, thank you.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer of Dreams

I am enjoying a relaxing summer filled with lots of different chores and beady projects.  After the relief of turning in my book to the publisher at Bead and Button, I have found a lot of time.  I am no longer chained to my computer diagraming and checking patterns.  The book took a lot out of me yet I am so excited to talk about it.  When I know something more about the time line, name, cover and other bits of information on the pending BOOK, you will know!  Right now I'm enjoying a dreamy summer.

One of the areas of my life that I knew needed to be restored was a better balance of my time.  And that is what is happening this summer.  Doing some things other than so many bead related tasks is a good thing.  Lots of neglected chores and daily living tasks are getting done. 

I am getting out in the morning for my walk.  I enjoy seeing the birds and water around me.

With some help, I am also spending some time and energy getting my yard in better shape.  I'm doing more cleaning of neglected areas.  Little by little the house and yard is taking shape.

Speaking of cleaning, that also included kitty baths.  They do not particularly enjoy this task. An early morning bath followed by sunbathing on the porch to dry.

Of course I've been beading.  Some UFO's have been done.    Projects started months ago have taken shape.  I have actually made some pieces for me with no intended purpose.  Not for a class or for a kit but just because.  That is a wonderful thing.
New kit projects and color combinations are in progress for the sales table at BeadFest Philly and Tacoma.

And of course Bead and Button 2018 class proposals are almost finished.

I also gave in to the little voice in me telling me to re-join my local gym.  I just don't seem to be able to walk as long each morning in the heat as I would like to get in my steps.  So late after noon or early evening, depending on my mood, I go to the gym to walk some more.  To kill the boredom on a tread mill I listen to books on tape.  It is more entertaining for me than TV.  Maybe I'll progress to use a machine other than the tread mill, but at this point, I'm quite happy with just walking.  Getting my 10,000 daily steps on my Fitbit is a great thing.  And I feel even better when it is over 15,000 steps.  My next little goal during this summer of dreams, is to dust off the bicycle and get out to do some peddling.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ready set GO!

I'm off to the annual Bead and Button show in Milwaukee, WI.  My bags are packed.  Many items already shipped to help lighten the load.  I always feel a little better when I get to my hotel with my luggage and boxes all arrived safe and sound.  But not every being is happy with my pending departure.  All three of my cats have taken turns sitting on my suitcase.

I have some special kits in limited quantity which will be released first on Friday Night at Meet the Teachers.  I also will have some one of a kind finished earrings, all unique, and all bead embroidery available. I wanted to do something special to bring customers to me at that event.  I'm excited about offering these special items at that event first.  I expect some may sell out there.  The coupon in your show registration goodie bag will only be honored at MTT.  She's a Suburban Girl is limited to 7 kits!  I wanted more but this is it!  And I won't be asking the artist to do more for me as it is time to move on.  This little collage is just a sample of what is to be offered first at MTT.

I am also selling at Moonlight Madness and in the Show room all weekend.  Loads more kits including newly released Tila or Tile Mosaic.

In addition to the show items, I am also hand carrying the pieces to go in my book.  I meet my editor with Kalmbach books on Wednesday.  We do have a little video clip planned.  I'm a little nervous about that!  I have practiced a few times.  I even got a special manicure for the taping.  Mostly they will be looking at my old hands.  I have not been video taped for production for DECADES. 

The book is expected to be published late spring.  I hope before Bead and Button 2018.  To say this has been an experience is an understatement.  Many times I said that I will never do this again.  And I believe that, but you never know do you?  I will miss wearing some of these pieces for almost a year!  And I am very grateful to several ladies who made extra samples knowing they would also have to wait a year before getting their pieces back.

I look forward to life after B&B&B.  Bead and Button and Book.  This past month has been crazy busy with those two big things happening at the same time.  I suppose I could have pushed to have one or the other done a couple months ago.  Right!  Seriously, who can do that?

I hope to see some of you in Milwaukee!  Say HI!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lions and Tigers and Bears!

Oh My!  Or in my case it is more like Needles, and Thread, and Beads!  Oh My!  (You can't imagine how difficult it was to type Bears not Beads in the title.)

My life is pretty much consumed by beads and related items right now.  I am frankly more than a little out of balance.  Beads have pushed several things out of my world for the time being and some of it is not good.  I look forward to getting back into balance after the Bead and Button in June.

There is no hope before June, as that is my book deadline, as well as the various Bead and Button requirements deadline.  So right now, I work on kits for B&B, I work on a book pattern, I advertise some other bead event or prepare a proposal to each elsewhere.  I work on some special material for my Meet the Teachers Table at B&B, then I edit some more, and simultaneously try to create a couple new things for the book, for Trendsetters, and for my local stores.  In the back of my mind, I keep thinking, what am I going to have ready to submit for B&B 2018??  So much of my new work is going into the book.  Then I pack up and travel somewhere to teach or bead.  I'm not complaining really.  I love my beady life.  I really do enjoy all the travelling.  I just miss a few parts of my other life.

What is missing?  My exercise routine is a disaster.  My house cleaning is a disaster.  My continuous de-clutter process is mostly on hold.  My gardening just isn't happening.  Any visiting with family or friends happens only in conjunction with beads.

I miss my bicycle.  My only peddling is on my stationary, under the desk, bicycle.  I've gotten pretty good at peddling and typing but it is pretty hopeless to draw a line on a diagram and peddle.  I've tried.  I want to get back on my road bicycle, that will be a part of restoring some balance.  I used to go to a gym too, carving out enough time to get my exercise back in balance is a priority.

My daily morning walks are more like weekly.  I missed the spring chick season entirely.  I look at photo's and remember how really cool it is to watch them grow.  I love early morning walks.  It cleans out my mind.  It is also when I am the most creative and able to do my most productive work.  Yes indeed, work.

Cleaning happens a little, with 3 cats and allergies, it has to.  I can tell when it gets too bad, my asthma kicks up.  I'm not complaining, asthma hasn't bothered me in almost 50 years.  I am very thankful that it took this long to come back.  Somehow in the last few months it has re-surfaced.  Could that protective layer of dust on things combined with dust curls and cat hair be part of the cause?  I long to spend days cleaning, tossing out, and de-cluttering.  Don't worry, I find good homes for most things, particularly the beads.  I have hit critical mass on the need to clean, simplify, and organize.  I've lived here about as long as anywhere, almost 12 years.  You know, moving is a great motivator to de-clutter and clean.  It has been too long, two of my three cats have never moved.  Of course they would hate it.  I'm not ready to move yet, but I need to do an imitation of the process to really clean out.

One way I de-clutter is to follow a principle learned decades ago while working for the Army reserve as a civilian.  In short, I try to follow the NUMS-IT principle.  Things must meet that criterion to be saved.  I must truly N = Need it; U = Use it; M = Maintain it; and S = Store it.  I can be pretty ruthless to dispose or donate items.  I'm trying to tackle that a little bit, a teeny weeny bit, each day.  I look forward to some major clean out this summer!  Clutter, as it grows,  really starts to pile in on me and depresses my creative spirit.  Out Out damn spot (clutter).

Organizing is in sore need of a major overhaul.  My desk top is a pile.  Some major sorting and putting things away must happen soon.  I long to find the top of my work space.  Good thing right now it is quite nice on my porch, I gather things and work out there during the day.....that is when I'm not in front of this keyboard working on patterns.  Yes, working, yet, I'm retired?
Needless to say the diet part of my life is another disaster.  It also needs a major overhaul.  Good eating habits gone to fast food is not a good thing.  Where is my afternoon fruit and green mix smoothie?

As the book and show deadlines approach, the stress increases.  I don't know whether this book will be a one shot wonder or something I may do again.  Time will tell.  For now, with only weeks to go, I think I must have been totally crazy.  When I pass off the manuscript, projects, and other material to the publisher at B&B, I will breathe a big sigh of relief.  But of course, I know, at that time, it won't be over......edits will commence won't they?   Right now it is time to work on a project for the book again.  Yet, I'm supposed to be sort of retired.  This is all a bit much, I think I'll go for a walk.  Don't expect to see another Blog until mid June. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Prong

I love being a Starman Trendsetter.  I love seeing the new beads before they come out, designing with them, and dreaming up fun new things.  It is a great thing for me for inspiration and to boost my creativity.  The new Starman beads being released in conjunction with the BIG Tucson show includes two that I am totally enamored with, the CzechMate 2 hole Cabochon and the Prong.  I love them.

Having said that, I do get it with the new beads.  They are coming out like dandelions popping up on a summer lawn.  A couple are ok but a whole field of them?  Not so much.  As much as I love new beads, I do hear the comments from students and customers......enough already.  And the poor store owners!!  The internet stores have it easy compared to a physical store front business.  If money were not the issue, space certainly will be!  Which of the many new beads will be a one night stand vs. a keeper that will continue to be requested by customers?

And another thing, the new beads seem to be published in the magazines with designs using them nearly filling some issues.  They are fun, but these new 'beads de jour' releases are a bit overwhelming.  I have heard more than once that people want to see designs with what they have, not have to go on a hunt for yet another new bead.  So I get it, I really do.

Now the Prong...  Sometimes I am a tad lazy.  I want to quickly get beyond the cabochon focal of a bead embroidery piece to actually get really creative.  Working with peyote using seed beads slows down that process.  There is nothing wrong with it.  I admire those that love doing it.  It just isn't me.  Enter the Prong.  This little tooth like bead, which is sort of like a half a Crescent, is perfection.  

Gone are the days for me to just stare at my stash of cabochons and think that I should do SOMETHING with them.  I can quickly capture the cab and move on.  I'm sure that there will be abundant uses in bead weaving for this little gem as well.  But on my bead table it will be frequently used for a cab capture.

What I have learned in the process is to back stitch with the prong and a seed bead alternating.  I have used both size 11 and size 8 seed beads with equal success.  After the first back stitch row I have found the second row around works best with another seed bead sewn down on the foundation between the butts of the Prong bead  all around.  The seed bead will fill the little space between the Prong beads from butt to butt.

From there you can do anything your heart desires for your bead embroidery piece.  Consider using the other newly released CzechMate bead, the Cabochon by Starman.  Like other beads in the CzechMate system of beading, the holes are aligned to other beads, brick, tile, crescent etc. facilitating bead weaving.  They are a great little add on for your bead embroidery as well.  Yes, there are similar beads out there that are 2 hole cabs but the color scheme used by Starman will be best when using beads from the same manufacturer.  And the little dome of this bead does add some great texture.  It is a CzechMate bead and for that desired texture I am sure you will see bead weaving designs popping up soon as well.

When you have a chance give the Prong a try.  This piece is called the Lazy Lacy Cabochon and the project sheet is available free.  It will not include step by step instructions for stitches like back stitch, edging or the bail but it talks about what I did with a couple drawings and pictures.  It is very simple just to inspire you to give these little gems a try.  It is available on my web site to print.