Hatton House Diaries

One day, we decided to buy a 125 year old Victorian House in Des Moines, Iowa…….

#FlashDineDSM, the Local Take on Diner en Blanc September 3, 2013

Filed under: Keep It Local,Things We Love About Des Moines — hattonhousedsm @ 12:37 pm
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flashdineA few weeks ago, I got a Facebook invite to Des Moines FlashDine III, and was intrigued. The instructions were to wear white, have white table linens, and come dine, BYO everything, at a location to be announced the day before the event. The event photo was from a previous event at the downtown sculpture park, and it looked like people were having fun.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even look further into the tagline “A local take on Diner en Blanc,” but you could get lost in the beautiful photos on the international website for that event. People in white, dining at beautiful sites around the world, holding white sparklers to the night sky afterward. The whole effect is so lovely, it would have made my decision to go so much easier.

We’d spent most of the day Sunday cleaning house, as the Hatton House bedrooms have never really been put right, and with a Labor Day paint sale going on, I wanted to purge n’ paint my weekend away. We’d pretty much abandoned the idea to go FlashDining when I got a Facebook message from one of our friends that they were going, and they were bringing their boys our son’s age. Now it seemed silly NOT to go. We should take a break, go do something cool, not spend the weekend slaving away in 6 year old debris.

Now, what to bring. A quick search of Twitter showed a few ideas of food that would serve well at room temperature, so I thought about what we had in abundance: eggs and tomatoes, and dug into the fridge to find swiss cheese, goat cheese, Balsamic vinegar, and required items to make Gruyere Cheese Ring (or as Doug calls it with plain Swiss “Cheese Ring for the Proletariat” and tomatoes with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. Not too bad for 40 minutes notice!

The event was gorgeous. People brought out beautiful meals and table decorations, creating linked bubbles of intimate dinner parties. The heat wave we’ve suffered lately broke, leaving an almost cool night along the river. We ran into friends we haven’t seen lately and listened to music and had conversations while the kids chased each other around the terraced landscaping. It was perfection, lovely and unexpected.

I did a little more digging and found the original importer of Diner en Blanc to Des Moines was Larry Cleverly of Cleverly Farms. Larry has a great following in the local food culture of Des Moines, and he told me he read about Diner en Blanc in Paris and thought, “Let’s do this in DSM.” It was that simple, he said, “I picked a date, put it on my farm page & tweeted about it. The first two years we had it in the Sculpture Park and about 125 people attended.” This year, thanks to some publicity help from a few friends, he was able to get it more widely publicized, but hopes the event will continue to grow organically. He pointed out that, to his knowledge, the 2011 FlashdineDSM was the first such event outside of Paris, because, y’know…that’s how things tend to spread…Paris–> Des Moines. Oh, how I love this city!

You can follow FlashDineDSM on Twitter, and try to catch the FlashDineDSM IV. We’ve been kicking around the idea to do a monthly dinner club of some sort here at the Hatton House. An event to keep pushing us to complete projects to show off, and to share our home with Des Moines. We had so much fun flashdining, we may have to push ourselves to get the dinner club off the ground here at the Hatton House, only with maybe a little more than 40 minutes to cook next time! If nothing else, look for FlashDineDSM IV sometime next Summer!


River Bend, It’s Not Funny Anymore October 2, 2012

When I first moved to River Bend, I thought it was funny, the reaction some people had when I told them where I was moving. “Oh, you’re moving THERE? Do you think it’s safe?” I gave them the same eye roll I give people when they talk about “rush hour traffic” in Des Moines. Oh, you charming people, who have to strive so hard to find something wrong with our idyllic world in Central Iowa. Granted, I grew up in the part of the northeast that is also pretty utopian (at least until you check the price tag). Montclair, New Jersey had racial and economic diversity, but it had a wonderful community spirit in the 70s and 80s that taught me that there is great strength in a diverse community that works together.

It was that diversity that I found lacking in other places I’ve lived in Central Iowa. When I first moved to Ames, and then spent 15 years in Des Moines North Side suburbs, it was “nice” in the anti-septic way I suppose works for some people. People would pull into their attached garages after work and rarely even say hello to each other. In 15 months of living in River Bend, I’ve made more neighborhood friends than I made in 15 years on the north side. I love that about River Bend: it’s real. People talk to each other, care about each other, care about making the neighborhood a better place. On the north side, my daughter was told she couldn’t play with one neighborhood girl because we support the gay marriage of one of her aunts. In River Bend, my children will grow up knowing that regardless of race, economics, or marital preference or status, they will have plenty of children to make friends with.

When I learned from a friend that Big Tomato Pizza refused to deliver to her just a few blocks from my house, it wasn’t funny anymore. I never thought River Bend was unsafe, even before I moved my family here. But now that we’ve lived here for 16 months, I’m offended. I’m a night owl, and I’m often up way past midnight. This summer, I would run after dark several times a week, by myself, with headphones. That’s how safe I feel in my neighborhood. I could go to the gym, but I’d rather wait for it to cool down after sunset, and run on the often totally deserted streets of River Bend, on our well lit streets, looking at the beautiful hundred year old homes in various degrees of revitalization.

Do I believe my neighborhood was different in the past? I know the very house I live in used to be home to drug users and dealers, just the same as a Civil War hero used to live here and host parties where Louis Armstrong played. I also know that since Officer Yanira Scarlett started working as out neighborhood liaison about 4 years ago, crime is down 30%, to the point that we are now statistically safer than many suburban neighborhood to the west of us. Neighborhoods change, and while I find the history of this place to be fascinating, it shouldn’t be used to discriminate against the people who are here today. Yes, we are a diverse community, racially, economically, spiritually, and in almost any –ly you can think of, and it is that diversity that makes us stronger. To continue to not deliver to River Bend is to disgrace the hard work that has taken place here over the past decade by residents, community activists, and the Des Moines Police Department. I’m not claiming to live in a perfect world, but if it’s a neighborhood where I have been safe running at night, isn’t it safe enough for a pizza delivery guy?

Thank you to ABC5 for reporting on this story tonight, 10/2/12, at 10 PM. I hope we can turn this slight on our neighborhood into a chance for Big Tomato Pizza and the rest of Des Moines to take another look at River Bend. We think you’ll like what you see.

Update: Here’s the link to the channel 5 story: http://www.myabc5.com/story/19711436/denied-pizza-delivery#.UGuhBBYawjA.twitter


Peach Season! July 3, 2012

Filed under: In the Garden,Keep It Local,Urban Farming — hattonhousedsm @ 7:00 pm
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imagePeach season has arrived at the Hatton House! From our single peach tree, we harvested almost 10 gallons of peaches before we ran out of buckets. We’ve already frozen some, given some to neighbors, and made a peach cobbler. Still not at all sick of them. Peaches grown organically and eaten 100 degree hot right off the tree is an intensely delicious experience!


Local Business Find: Bygone Era Consulting May 2, 2012

Filed under: Keep It Local,Remodeling and Design Projects — hattonhousedsm @ 5:11 am

imageRiver Bend is full of people who are super smart about home renovation done properly. No one better exemplifies that than David Sweet of Bygone Era Consulting. I found out about him because he’s one of very few people who work on steam heat in Des Moines, and he’s about the only one with expertise in our single pipe system. He also restores antique gas and electric lighting, old plumbing, and does pre-purchase evaluations of older homes. But we became friends over woodwork.

As I was working on refinishing the trim for our bathroom addition, people kept mentioning that I should talk to David, because he’s so knowledgeable about refinishing trim with historic accuracy. He doesn’t just strip wood down and slap a coat of poly on it. He restores the original finish using old world chemicals and techniques. I finally called him and made an appointment to have him come check out our projects.

As luck would have it, our appointment was for April 16, 2012, Greek Easter Monday. When David arrived, he touched our mezuzah, so I asked if he was Jewish. He said no, but he was active in the Greek Orthodox church, which led me to share that while I was Jewish, my non-Jewish grandmother was Greek, and I was thinking of her and the Greek Easter traditions she had taught me. Suddenly, David was singing (beautifully) Easter hymns in my kitchen, and I was ready to hang out and absorb knowledge as long as he wanted to stay.

In addition to being well versed in various traditional religions, he’s a genius with wood trim. He lifts decades of wax and grime off gently, respecting the history and soul of the wood, and then rebuilds the finish to it’s original glory. It’s mesmerizing to watch him do it, as he tells stories of lazy house maids who would go for years without properly stripping the wax of the house trim. I thought the trim would be the biggest chore (OK, it still might be by the time I finish the miles of it in this house!) but it was a pleasure taking lessons in wood finishing from David Sweet.

Bygone Era Consulting is too old school for a website or Facebook page, but you can reach David at 515-729-4169 or davdsweet@aol.com.


The Chicks: One Week Later April 29, 2012

Filed under: Keep It Local,Urban Farming — hattonhousedsm @ 4:29 am
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imageMiraculously, the chicks have survived their first week with us! And they are growing like crazy. Sometimes, I will walk by them an hour later and I swear they’re bigger. They’re super cute, and pretty funny interacting with the kids and trying to hide from the cats. Luckily, the chicken coop is moving here soon, and we will no longer have predators and prey living together!

PS I suppose I should say, we got all Buff Orpingtons, for you chicken geeks out there!


Chicks Have Arrived! April 22, 2012

Filed under: Keep It Local,Urban Farming — hattonhousedsm @ 4:19 am
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ImageSomewhere along the way, I decided that raising chickens would be fun. We get our eggs from local farms, and they taste so much better, so why not get them right out of the backyard? I have a few chicken raising friends, and I found the Iowa Urban Chicken Farmers Facebook Page, so what could go wrong?

I decided to get 6 chickens, but then we got to the farm supply store and they were so cute, I thought “8 would be good.” I said 8, and my 4 year old son exclaimed “No! TEN!” So now we have 10 chickens, in a little box, and I feel like I-just-brought-my-first-kid-home awkward. What the heck am I doing? I’m a city dweller from New Jersey. How the heck did I end up raising chickens in Iowa? Too late now…the adventure begins!


Local Business Find: Southpaw Furniture Refinishing and Restoration April 20, 2012

imageThe good news is the Hatton House came with it’s own architectural salvage in the attic: a huge pile of historic trim, bullseyes, plinth blocks and more. The bad news is that most of our salvage was in very rough shape. I started out pulling pieces that I could scrub down and clean up myself, but I quickly ran out of “quality” pieces and wasn’t too excited about stripping paint out of the detailed carving of the trim we needed to add three new doors as part of adding the first floor bathroom. Fortunately, I found Southpaw Furniture Refinishing in Valley Junction. For $1 per foot, Kevin will soak boards in a stripping bath that pulls most of the paint off even the boards that are paint on bare wood.