Monday, December 22, 2008

What's the best kind of Christmas tree?

Are you partial to Douglas or Fraser?

I'm partial to free, myself.

About 5 or 6 years ago we found that Lowe's always overstocks their trees and if we wait until the final days of Christmas, we get a beautiful, full, perfectly shaped beauty for $5-$15. This has worked for us, every year since, without fail. This year, we went to Lowe's on Saturday to find 6 scraggly FULL PRICE trees-- short trees that lacked a discernable top or bottom. We prepared ourselves for 2 outcomes: a very expensive tree or a the first fake one of my life. Wait, I take that back. There was one year where I had a 2 foot fiber optic rotating tabletop tree that changed color. I bought it at the grocery store.

Anyway, We found a lovely Fraser fir at Home Depot. It ran about $45-- the signs were stacked up on the ground, so we were hoping it was on sale, but we weren't holding our breath.

We looked around the store at a few other things, and when we got back to pay for it, the tree was freshly cut, stray branches were removed, the whole thing was bagged and ready to load...and then they sent us on our way, with pocketbooks none the lighter. They told us that employees get these trees for free, and sometimes they like to just give one away. We must have looked very pitiful, indeed. It was quite a Christmas miracle.

And it is a lovely, old-fashioned tree.

We completed the decorating this weekend and tried out a new pecan glaze recipe that I will absolutely share this week. The kiddo and I (mostly the kiddo) painted some salt dough ornaments we made several years ago-- I'll post pics of those as well. We found some holiday-themed cookie presses at an antique shop 2 years ago and made a bunch of the ornaments. Then my father was in the hospital, and last year was my family's first year without Dad, not to mention the fact that we were in a mad race to get moved into the house...Life got in the way. But they are ready for distribution this year.

Lots more to do-- we are hosting Christmas Eve dinner, as Thanksgiving was such a success, thanks to the dishwasher! This means a ham and all the trimmings to prepare. The blog may just go into recipe-only mode before this week is over!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Crooner"

This is my grandmother's response every time I say Bing Crosby's name. Boy was he one hell of a whistler.

This is my favorite holiday movie. A Christmas Story is great, It's a Wonderful Life is a Classic, but this one has been so overshadowed by that showy Danny Kaye nightmare White Christmas. It always comes on in the middle of the night on a weekday when I can't watch. It's out on a special edition 3 disc DVD set now-- I've had it in my basket 3 times at the store this season, and yet I put it back on the shelf every time. It seems like such a frivolous waste of money. But I had a tooth pulled yesterday, so I'm going to make this a little Get Well present to myself, I think.

Not that I'll have much time to watch it over the break if we get everything done that we hope to. Which we won't. The To-Do list is always longer than what can be reasonably achieved. But it would be super nice to get the kitchen countertop trim installed and the kitchen window and door painted white to eliminate all traces of that awful green. Caulk the trim in there. We also need to fill in that ghost door. I would LOVE to have the hole in our ceiling patched. We'd also really like to build some basic bookshelves in the dining room below the buffet window sill. We have TEN boxes of books. 10. TEN. Ten boxes of homeless books.

And I still have holiday baking and ornament making left. And the Christmas tree! We've yet to buy a Christmas tree. So much left to do.

On a good note, I did get that red ribbon for the gas light while wandering around Walgreens filling my heavy duty painkiller prescription post-tooth-pull yesterday This makes the outdoor decorations complete.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holly Dayz

Well, we finally got a little bit of the holiday spirit going on in the house. Gingerbread...

And lights:

That last shot is with a high shutter speed. I just thought it was kinda sweet. I also think that gas light in the front is just screaming for a big red bow. Maybe I'll get to it yet this year. The previous owners had nails all along the eaves, so we can't claim this one for ourselves completely, but it has made me disproportionately happy. My dad only did lights about twice the whole time I was growing up. This is a long time coming.

Adam got a ton of raking done over the weekend and the kiddo and I got the patio cleaned up ahead of a winter storm they're predicting may come through here. Great timing, considering I really need to get to my dentist tomorrow-- an hour away. I had a crown fall off over Thanksgiving, and we decided I should just get a bridge. apparently the crown's been loose for a while. But I decided to wait until the first of the year so I can use flex health savings account dollars. Then the crown fell off again this weekend and won't stay on at all. Sigh.

Good news is 2 weeks off of work coming right up. I may be half toothless for the holidays, but I will be watching daytime TV. Last year I was refinishing the floors and drywalling the kitchen. this year? Oprah. Tyra. Days of Our Lives.

This is gonna be the Best Christmas Ever.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Best doors ever.

Or, you know...Best Garage Doors This Sad Little Shack Has Ever Seen.

The kiddo and I scraped, sanded and primed the new barn-style garage doors. Actually, I wet scraped and then quickly sanded with my super duper respirator on, just in case the paint was lead-based. Then the kiddo helped me prime. Next weekend? Real paint.

When we were through, I was a little disappointed that they didn't look brand-spanking new. But the more I looked at the doors, the more I decided that this was a good thing; they look like they've always been there, and at least half of them always have. I would much rather save much of the wood and a little money than spend more and waste material on doors that would look a suspiciously good for their location.

They are sturdy and functional and not an eyesore. And really, that's all that matters.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I give thanks for new garage doors

Yay! Here is the before, as it looked after the hail storm:

So you can see that this is one of the old fashioned sliding doors. You can probably also see that the rod/track is bent and rusty. I've been unable to move the door by myself for a while now. For one, the door dips down in that bent part and starts to drag on the ground; it's too heavy for me to lift up and move along. Also, there are places where the bolts holding the track up have rusted and/or rotted out of the building. The wheels on the door then snag on the loosened brackets. If I got a running start, sometimes I could get past these two hiccups, but usually one of the wheels fell off the track altogether and caused a whole other host of problems.

Recently, the track gave way completely and the door was pretty precariously leaning on the frame. The final straw was a windstorm that blew the door down and onto the car parked in front of it.

The hailstorm insurance settlement included money to repair this door-- reset the track and replace most of the wood. We decided a new door system was a better use of the money. The end result:

Tada! Obviously still needs to be painted, hence the candy stripe effect. It just seemed such a waste to buy all new wood when at least a portion of what was there was perfectly good. We broke down the big sliding door and salvaged about a dozen of the most intact of the 1X5 tounge and groove boards. Then we ran them through the table saw to take off the tongue and chopped off the ends. Then we alternated them with 1X4s on a frame of 2X4s. Added a few 2X4 bracings for the hinges and slapped those puppies up.

It took many, many trips to the hardware store, which officially makes it a project in my opinion. We still need to add diagonal support cables to the inside to reduce the inevitable sagging, and some scraping and painting will top it off. But it made me seriously so happy.

We also had the heater looked at on Wednesday...the guy who came couldn't find the smell, but suggested that the hallway where the return vent is located might be creating a negative pressure situation and sucking air up through the patched floor furnace hole. The vapor barrier under there is pretty ragged and not really working well anymore. Add that to the list.

And then we cooked and cleaned for Thanksgiving. It was a great excuse to get the house cleaned up and usable and a really great excuse to have a whole lotta leftovers for a very long time.

All in all, a great use of 5 days off in a row.

(I should add a disclaimer here that, while the kiddo and I did most of the cooking and cleaning, Adam did most of the work on the doors. I did a lot of holding, going to the hardware store, replacing spent batteries with charged ones, catching boards on the other side of the table saw, and helpfully pointing out when we were screwing things into the wrong end. Adam deserves most of the credit on this one.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Something to watch

One Project Closer posted some great info on HELOCs and what to do if yours is frozen. We bought our place at well below its appraised value, so I was pretty OK with getting one when we figured out all of the renovations we wanted to do to the house. I've been keeping an eye on it since we started hearing stories about freezing and canceling as the housing market crumbled and so far so good. I also watch Zillow and our bank's Home Value Estimator in the home equity section of their website. I've noticed a few things that I thought others out there might want to know about. Here's our situation.

The bank's estimator is the higher of the two, but our HELOC didn't bring our debt against the house anywhere near that amount, even if we maxed out all the available credit. Zillow seemed pretty consistently reasonable, if a little on the low side-- again, though, maxing out the HELOC wouldn't ever put us upsidedown. Lately, both these values have been going steadily up and this reflects the market in our town and in our specific zip code. Several houses on our street and directly behind us have recently sold for much more than I thought they would, the neighborhood became an Historic District, and the town as a whole never experienced a housing boom, so there's been very little to slump; it simply steadily, but in very small increments, showed increases in home values.

Last night, I took a look at Zillow, just for shits and giggles. We're in this house for 5-10 years and so my monitoring of the value has been mostly academic. Zillow shows a relatively healthy increase over the last month or two. Well if that's what Zillow shows, I thought, what must the bank's estimator show!?! So I checked. says our house has decreased by an unrealistic sum of money (interestingly, to a sum that makes our debt suspiciously close to 80%). It's now similar to the Zillow estimate, but that's beside the point-- the bank is showing what I think is a false decrease in home value; in other words, whether the new number is correct or not is irrelevant. What matters is that the bank is looking at the house and saying that it's decreasing rapidly. The same estimator shows other decreases in our neighborhood of 30k, 8k... It's all over the place, over a very short time and in a neighborhood I know to be going up in value as evidenced by numerous recent sales. Hopefully, the estimator simply recalibrated and the bank is looking at it as such, and not as an actual decrease in value. It also doesn't take into account any improvements that we've made.

So then I decided to check our HELOC-- to see what the new rate would be if we locked it. Our bank has a feature with their HELOC that allows the consumer to lock a portion of his or her debt into a fixed rate. It's higher than the revolving rate, but it's fixed. The website also used to allow you to do the whole thing online; get a quote, lock the rate and transfer the money without dealing with their operators. This feature has disappeared within the last couple of weeks.

This may mean absolutely nothing-- or it may mean that the bank is about to do another mass reappraisal of its HELOCs like it did earlier this year. Now may be the time to think about anything you want to do in the near future and pull the cash for it. Most of our remaining repairs are from the storm, and therefore covered by insurance, or we've bought the supplies already and now need to simply install the items. But it's been nice to know the money is there and I do find the sequence of events very peculiar indeed...

Good News Monday

I called the HVAC installers and they told me that the warranty started when they did the initial "start up" on the unit. This means we are squeaking in just under the warranty wire.

They come Wednesday to see what's up!

Sunday, November 23, 2008's back.

Sigh. Now I have to call the HVAC guys-- 2 months, almost to the day, since the unit went out of warranty on labor. Still under on parts, but I'm always a little afraid they'll find some way to pin the blame on the consumer. I worked in retail. I remember how it goes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Update on the stink

Adam ran the emergency heat for a while early in the day on Monday, and I ran it for 30 minutes or so that same night, and we got one bag of insulation that was tucked in a corner out of the attic (fyi-- it smelled like nothing, though that doesn't really mean anything). Neither of us smelled it at all yesterday, and I think Adam was home pretty much all day.

So far so good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stinky coils?

As per usual...I need help.

We started noticing a musty smell in the house, and we think it's coming from the heat registers. It's a musty, mildewy, damp crawlspace kind of smell (but our inside coil and ductwork are in the attic)-- not bad, just stale like hose water.

Anyway, the first thing I did was change the filter-- it was in very, very bad need of changing. We thought that did the trick, but I think it was just warm enough outside for the rest of the day that the heat wasn't really kicking in.

This morning I was doing my yoga stretches for my back and could smell it again-- and trust e, this made it very hard to relax-- "what could that be?" "is it dangerous?" "will it be expensive?" Shut up, brain-- you're supposed to be concentrating on breathing!

So now I've resorted to Google. It appears that there are several possibilities here. One is mildew and mold on the inside coils and drip pan-- something called dirty sock syndrome. I guess heat pumps don't get hot enough to kill the bacteria, and that's all we have. It doesn't generally get so cold that a heat pump can't do the job for the most part, so there's no gas furnace in addition-- just the pump. But, anyway, I'm not sure this really smells like dirty socks-- it's not all that offensive. It did occur to me that we might have left a bag of wet insulation up there from after the storm; I know Adam got it all bagged up, but we need to make sure we didn't leave one up there. Still, that shouldn't necessarily affect the air inside the sealed ducts, and anyway, most ducts are in crawlspaces with much more moisture than any poorly ventilated attic would have; plus, it's been super cold lately.

The other possibility seems to be that it might be summer "build-up" on one of the coils which, again, never gets hot enough to totally burn off. I saw one suggestion to turn on the emergency heat for 20 minutes and crank it up so it gets hotter and burns off whatever's there.

We all know it's never fun to have someone come work on the house. I'd like to try anything I can do myself first. I'll start with the emergency heat plan...but I'm wondering if any of you have had this problem and any suggestions that don't involve calling the HVAC guys...


Other than pondering our stinky air, we got more unpacking done; Adam went on a tear with that and it's looking so much better. We had friends in town this weekend, so we got some cleaning done and other various maintenance projects worked on. One of these friends is moving back to town, so I took her one of the neighborhood houses that I know is going on the market soon. Every time Adam tried to router the countertop edging, it started to rain, so that's still on the books. I'm afraid it's officially too cold to plant my hosta bulbs-- hopefully it'll warm up enough that I can get them into the ground. And my back is slowly, slowly mending.

In other words, life has been pretty low-key-- Sam's Club restocked the variety pack cases of Leinenkugel, so really, I couldn't ask for much more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A perfect fit

Whoa. Are these pipes from a 1982 Playboy?

I couldn't figure out why everything was in soft focus this morning, until I considered that the camera had been in my car all night, sitting at about 35ยบ. The lens and viewfinder were both all foggy.

Anywho, that right there is the trap and the purple lid of doom that was clogging said trap. Then there is the pipe that shattered in Adam's hand:

I swear to god I don't have man hands like that in real life, stupid perspective. So yeah-- it was a dirty job, but in the end,

And so far, it works.

The End.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pipe Fittin'

What I really should title this post is, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." I just called home to see if I needed to pick up anything for dinner, and was greeted with a rousing tale about our bathroom sink. A while back, we took the little plug out to clean all the gunk off of it; it didn't get put back in immediately. Then we started noticing a very slow drain. We tried 2 rounds of gel drain cleaner, and it was no better. We assumed something fell in the trap and was clogging things up-- nothing else was backing up. Easy fix, right? Just take the trap off, empty it out, put it back. That's what traps are for!

Apparently, the pipe behind it shattered when the trap was disconnected. Great. These are old, old pipes and I'm a little concerned that we won't be able to find any that fit, and even if we do, we'll end up shattering something else or causing a leak behind the wall, IN WHICH CASE, my pink tile is at risk. Homegirl is not happy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Incidentally, I'm told, the culprit was a purple lid to something.

I see that's it's been almost 2 weeks since I last posted. Not much has happened housewise, hence the absence. I ended up spending all morning on the Saturday after Halloween in a walk-in clinic for a sinus infection-- by that point I had completely lost my voice. I'm pretty sure you don't know hell until you've been in that particular place on that particular day. It was full of ENTIRE FAMILIES to take care of one sick person. Multiple adults, one of whom probably could have stayed at home with the kids eating their Halloween candy at 9 in the morning, crowded the waiting room. All for literally 2 minutes with the doc.

I have also been continuously dealing with the back pain and discomfort for several weeks now. It's taking a while, but I am in full assault mode-- new office chair, new shoes, exercise balls (for home and office), daily yoga, heated vibrating chair pad, body pillow, lumbar cushion for the car. The works. I want this shit done with. The problem is that I had let my health and fitness go for so long, that the exercise almost makes it worse before it makes it better. Muscles are being asked to keep me sitting up straight that haven't been used this regularly in years. They're not taking it lying down, though, I can tell you that. I was taking muscle relaxers, but I started weaning myself off of them. Though some ibuprofen will be mighty welcome by day's end.

Adam's been trying to work on the house during the week, but the rain keeps making it difficult. And now I suppose I'm going to have to hire out the ceiling drywall work-- I don't think hoisting sheetrock and standing on a ladder staring up all day is a very condusive to my full scale back attack.

Someday, there will be news to report. And hopefully, it will be good news.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Pumpkin designs by the kiddo. Pumpkins picked out by me. Carving done by Adam. :-)

This is the first Halloween, not living with my parents, where I've been in a popular Trick or Treat spot. The neighborhood I grew up in was so poor and rundown that nobody ever came. Then we moved to a new house when I was 10 or 11 that was in one of those areas where people bus the kids in. The street is only 3 blocks long, so it's perfect. Then after college I went back to the too poor and rundown to have many visitors kinds of places.

And now, I'm going to have to go out on my lunch hour today to buy a small fortune's worth of candy so that we can keep up with the deluge I anticipate. And if I'm wrong, well...there's nothing wrong with a little extra candy.

My back is kind of on the mend, meaning, if I don't sit down all day, it's ok. I spent half of my birthday in the doctor's office, and part of it fetching tapeworm pills for that damn cat. Speaking of b-days, how sweet is this?

If my mom says I get to be 29 forever, then who am I to argue? You can see, we'd already started picking at it before we took the picture...And today is my grandmother's 90th birthday! I have lunch with her every Sunday and she is the best.

At any rate, with the whole back things, I'm actually looking into old lady cars now-- the lists of top ten cars for seniors have been very helpful. Anyone got experience with the Ford Five Hundred? I never thought I'd give up my manual transmission. Sigh. Anyway... Then I got the cold of my life. I've been afraid to take any cold medicine with the Robaxin, so I've been suffering through snot and cough and sneezes. It's currently migrating to my chest.

So that's about it. I have hopes of getting things done this weekend (don't I say that EVERY Friday?), things like countertop trim so we can officially get the city off our backs and get the house weatherized.

One small consolation? The leaves are finally changing and so an uncomfortable drive is at least a lovely commute.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running to stand still

I wish I could say that all the efforts of the last 2 weeks had been house improvements; I really wish we'd been hunkering down and getting ready for winter hibernation. We need to caulk and weather strip and insulate. This morning was the first truly cold morning-- in the 30s and wet. The pup even slept in the bedroom with us until it stopped raining and he couldn't take being cooped up anymore. He's got his winter coat and is loving the change in weather; a doggie with an undercoat is no summer doggie indeed.

As for our little Bella who had the accidental second spay and the upset tummy? Talk about cooped up. She's been living in the laundry room while recovering. I started cooking her plain chicken and white rice to ease her digestive system, but it just wasn't working. We finally took her to the vet. Turns out she had an overgrowth of bad bacteria in her stomach. She's been on a round of an antibiotics, anti-protozoans and pro-biotic powder. Today she was deemed healthy enough to return to the outside world.

My sister is finally understanding what REAL cold is, preparing for her first New England winter and had a tough weekend to boot...Remember my story about the stolen purse and its ultimate recovery? She had a similar incident this weekend with a similar outcome. Not all the contents made it back, but the majority of them did. Boston really is full of some remarkably honest people. Still, the whole event was stressful.

Between cooking for a damn stray cat, visits to the vet, consoling my sister, and finally throwing out my back, the last 2 weeks have been quite limited in their productiveness. The city had its fall cleanup with dumpsters located in each city ward, which we took advantage of. Cleared out old mattresses, boxes and other trash, and sorted through our building materials and the casualties of the move to decide what goes to Habitat's ReStore and what goes to the Salvation Army. We have a lot of ceiling fans, and a lot of clothes and canned goods. I like to wait until Sundays when the Salvation Army thrift store is closed and then leave the donations on their doorstep; it gives the people who really need it the chance to get at it and saves me the hassle of dealing with the 8,000 other people who decided to clean out their closets this weekend. It's only a few blocks away, so I should manage to get it done this weekend.

So now that the sickly cat is better and everything else is shaping up, I thought we'd get a lot done...Instead, I may be laid up with my muscle relaxers. Of course I decided to take Monday off for my birthday and so it figures that I might be stuck nursing my stupid spine-- granted, I hadn't planned on doing much more than watch daytime TV, but still. I like to know I have options!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The time of the half project

Seems like I got a lot of things halfway done this weekend.

I got the lawn half-mowed before running out of gas...

I got the halfway done on the crown-- got it sanded and about 6 feet of it painted...

Our little front porch kitty's been recovering form a spay surgery; it turned out that she had already been spayed, but it was not a certainty before they put her under. She was a little drunk Friday night, but she's purring and loving and rubbing her sweet little face on everything in sight now.

We also went to Oktoberfest. It's a small affair here, a charity event for a children's treatment facility. Some extra yummy brats and sauerkraut, and some good German potato salad, but not as good as my mother and grandmother's recipe. My mother grew up very, very German Lutheran and let me tell you there is nothing better than good, authentic German potato salad. I'll have to make that my next recipe post-- I'm long overdue for one anyway.

And lets not forget the beer. Pitchers of Sam Adams Oktoberfest were $10 to start with and $6 for refills and we keep the pitcher. Not bad over all. A girlfriend of mine split a few pitchers with me while our kids ran wild and the men stayed sober to drive us all home. Then she and another friend and I went to play bunco with her mother.


I'm not sure how I've missed this game. It was the first time I played and I think it's fantastic. They eat a lot of food, drink some booze and play this bizarro combination of bridge and craps. And there's prizes! I won some sweet little harvest-themed scarecrow decorative statues.

I might be hooked.

Oh! Speaking of hooked-- I've taken up crocheting again. I haven't really done that in a good 15 years, so I had to spend Sunday practicing and boning up on my stitches. I'll be back in the swing in no time, and making some new throw pillows for the living room.

Frankly, this was all to distract me from the news. I'm a politics junky and I watch news from the time I get home, to the time I go to bed. I listen to news podcasts on my drive home, I listen to Morning Edition on the drive to work. I just read the John Adams biography and I'm about to wrap up reading a book about the 1787 writing of the Constitution. I really should have moved to DC.

I never wanted to get too bogged down in it here on this blog, though. DIY knows no politics.

I will just say, however, that I'm concerend about the level of misinformation in the world and the amount of negativity that's been spewed forth in the last few weeks. The world is in a precarious place at the moment, and race, gender and religion shouldn't factor negatively into the way we move forward. It's become almost hard for me to watch.

Let's talk issues, solutions and plans and then let's get ourselves out of this mess.

Monday, October 6, 2008

All trimmed out

Another moderately productive weekend, I'd say. And a few lessons learned, of course. I can already see this is going to be a long post, but hey-- at least there's pictures!

I know I mentioned our newly purchased and primed crown for the kitchen-- "crown" is really stretching it; it's a large cove molding. Anyway, Adam and I spent Saturday cutting and installing it.

I don't know if you've ever done crown, but it's a little insane. We knew that the bottom of the molding had to be against the fence of the miter saw if we were going to get consistent corners. But somehow we missed the fact that cove has a top and bottom-- one side's thicker than the other-- and we were trying to flip the pieces over rather than move the to the other side of the saw or just move the saw. We were being lazy and stupid. But Adam finally got in a groove, and things moved right along.

Once we realized that there had to be a better, easier, less stress-inducing way to do this, we ended up using DeWalt's tutorial for cutting crown, and I found this one pretty helpful, too.

To install, we used our handy-dandy Harbor Freight stapler/brad-nailer twofer that we got for $18 with One Project Closer's coupon. It's been a GREAT addition to the tool arsenal; we have a larger Porter-Cable finish nailer, but it's 15ga, it's so heavy and cumbersome and provides such a kick. For these little projects, the 18ga brad nailer is lightweight and easy to handle when you have to hold your arms up and crick your neck to see, and the tiny brads don't tend to split the wood. It is awesome.

Anyway, we got it up there and I spent yesterday caulking and putty-ing the nail holes.

It looks like it has the pox. This (the caulking, not the pox!) brings me the newest addition to the tool box-- a new caulk gun. The one we had was the 99¢ blue one that everyone has in their kitchen tool/junk drawer. In fact, ours either came from Adam's dad or my dad, making it probably a minimum of 15 years old and a maximum of 30. When I used it on the porch, caulk was constantly oozing out and I didn't feel like I had a lot of control over the bead. Ok, ok. I suppose this might have something to do with the fact that I had no clue what I was doing.

But caulk guns are inexpensive even at the top end, and if there's one thing I've learned from this house, it's that the right hands can make cheap tool work; but a cheap tool in the wrong hands is a fucking disaster. So I splashed out on a $5 model that advertises "no-drip technology."

I couldn't see any difference; I stood in Lowe's for a while with a cheapo model and this one in each hand, pulling the triggers and watching them work and...I don't know. But whatever the difference, it's a good one. It absolutely did the trick. My beads were smaller and smoother and the tip stayed pretty mess-free. (I'd like to also point out that caulking is just about the most important part of finish work-- I cannot BELIEVE the difference it makes between looking halfway legitimate and looking like a monkey did the work.)

One bit of a disaster, however, is the space above the broom closet. This closet was a modular afterthought.

As you see, the gaps are too big for the crown to attch to anything on one side, and there's a gaping hole below it on the other side. The side in the first pic is also severely bowed. My solution? Liquid Nail, baby. The bowed side will be more difficult, but I started by gluing a scrap piece of poplar in the other side's gap:
I'll wait for the glue to cure and then glue these two piece of crown together and then to the ceiling and closet. Then I'm sure there will be creative caulking and puttying. We'll see.

Another little kitchen miracle...drum roll...Baseboards!
Not having ragged bottoms and ragged tops has made a world of difference. For this project, we did have to bust out the big finish nailer. These baords were just too much for the little guy.

We also tested some countertop trim profiles on a scrap piece of oak (no decision yet), and I primed the laundry room. Or well, I started to prime the laundry room.

That paneling is a bitch! Or, again, wrong tool wrong hands...I was using a regular roller with a regular nap, and this left nothing in the grooves between "panels." So the whole room turned into one giant "cutting in." I gave up at this point and will buy a thicker napped roller and see where that takes me.

And we changed the battery in my mom's car...OH! One other weird thing. The kiddo was at camp all weekend. But when I woke up this morning, the stuffed teddy bear that she won at the fair last week was laying splayed out in the middle of the bathroom floor. I'm sure the most likely answer is that one of the cats dragged it in there; it's as big as they are, but lightweight. Still, there was no evidence of claws or teeth on it...I like to believe that our little girl ghost who goes from the kitchen to the bathroom at night has taken a shine to it :-)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Success...I think

As foggy as I am with these allergies, I'm not sure I would know the difference between success and failure. I'm reduced to staring at small shiny objects and snuffling all the snot in my head.

So I won't do a lot of talky wordy business this morning. I will, however, show some pictures.

The main thing that got done this weekend was the porch ceiling. I stuffed the cracks with backer rod and caulked and painted, and we installed the new ceiling fan. It had some god-awful ugly "weathered oak" faux-wood faux-grained blades, so I also spray-painted those black. And we bought the crown for the kitchen and primed it, and bought oak to trim out the countertops.

We're on a roll. Here's some pictures of the finished porch ceiling. Some before shots can be found here and here. Now we just need to screen...

That business on the left isn't as bad as it looks here-- the wide-angle lens is distorting, and a fresh coat of paint behind it will do wonders. It's one of the many things we simply couldn't fix without tearing out a huge portion of ceiling, all for something cosmetic.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I need help

No really.

I didn't take any pictures of the problem, so I will describe for you, as best I can, the nature of this beast.

Umm...Some tape peeled the paint off my trim.

I think that sums it up pretty well.

What's happened is, during the course of taping off our kitchen to work on drywall, floor, etc, the masking tape-- and even blue painters' tape-- has peeled bits of paint off of the doorway trim. I blame part of this on a certain someone's reckless ripping off of the tape. But mostly, I think this might mean that some PO painted latex over oil without proper prep. Or that the oil is so old that its doing its whole crumble and FAIL routine.

It's not terrible, and it's only on a few pieces, but I'm trying to decide how best to alleviate this crap. I want to paint this trim soon. I will be using a low-VOC alkyd. It seems to last much longer than latex; I know that latex has come a long way, but I was sitting in my mother's house the other day when I realized that we painted her trim almost 20 years ago. A good scrub with a magic eraser, and it'll be like new. That shit's like a candy shell.

Anyway, I cannot take the trim off of the walls for a variety of reasons, namely due to the fact that the house was drywalled around the trim. I fear I would be opening the most giganticest can of worms ever.

I also considered priming with a serious business primer and succumbing to latex, but we've already painted the yet to be installed base shoe with oil.

So, I'm not sure how to proceed here. The trim is a variety of shades of white throughout the house-- so I think some is oil and some is latex (and the bathroom's is, whatever the base, FLAT FINISH. grrrr. That irritates me so much. It looks sooooo dirty. It IS so dirty). Considering the age of the house, and the many colors that we have see on the trim, I know that whatever's under the possibly-latex layer is oil.

My questions are these: If I prime with something like Kilz2 and paint with oil, am I, somewhere down the line, going to see a problem wherein the maybe-latex layer and surrounding oil/primer lose adhesion? Or will the oil, with its hard candy shell, be ok once it's cured?

Also, how should I handle the pieces with peeling paint-- should I use a stripper (heh.) to get the top layer or two off? Since we're not taking these pieces off the wall, they'll have to be stripped in situ, so I'd probably want to use something like a citrus or soy based remover. I'd prefer to sand as little as possible, due to the lead content.

Should I just wet scrape and prime-- then paint? I'm using a semi-gloss finish, so I don't want too much bumpiness...Scrape, "fill," sand, prime, paint?


I guess I'm leaning toward first trying to scrape. If that's bad, then chemically (or citrus-ally or soy-ally) stripping the face of the trim, then doing some serious priming and painting; and then simply priming and painting the un-peeled trim.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A mighty, mighty breakthrough

So this is what I saw when I woke up this morning:

Pardon the blurs-- it was still dark out and he was sleeping soundly when I started taking this picture...Anyway, that right there is a dog sleeping on his Coolaroo raised outdoor bed. When he sleeps inside, he lays on a store-bought bed. He likes it. So then I bought him this bed that's raised off the ground for hot days, it's washable, it's sturdy, it's low to the ground for easy climbing in. It got great reviews. But outside, well...he likes the flowerbed. He'd jump on the coolaroo and sit when we went outside-- so he could get a treat, of course. He'd lie down on it-- while I was petting him. But never have I seen him, OF HIS OWN ACCORD, go to it and sleep. Without my presence. Without treats. I even brought it inside for a while, and still, never did I wander to the back room to find him curled up on it. Luckily, it wasn't, like, major award expensive, and the Sneaky kitty likes it, so I didn't exactly consider it a wasted purchase-- just not really being used for its intended purchase.

But last night, that all changed. It made me so happy. I just laid in bed and watched out the window for a while.

And then, what a lovely drive to work, eh?

Monday, September 22, 2008

And then there's the projects we started...

But we were foiled.

I wanted to take care of this over the weekend:

Ok, yeah, that's how we iron around here. Anyway, that's an old door into the kitchen. It's located behind the stove and cabinets along that wall. Judging by this:

we think perhaps the ghost door once led to a butler's pantry or thereabouts. The doorway on the left of the photo still goes to the kitchen; we wondered if that crazy ceiling beam once belonged to a wall separating the pantry form the entryway for the backdoor. Who knows.

That's beside the point, though. We reframed it in when we sheetrocked the kitchen-- a little more solidly than our POs had done before. So now we have to deal with this side. Since we don't want to deal with sheetrocking this entire room yet, we're just going to put the trim back up, as it was when we moved in, and put the piece of paneling back over the hole, again, as it was when we moved in.

Problem now is that we framed it in so that the door jambs aren't going to just slide in. It's going to take some sawing and shimming and rigging. But that's ok. I still sort of like the idea of a ghost door there. It's a nice nod whatever originally went on in that space.

Anywho, we discovered that the panel was too warped to work with right now. It's going to sit like this for the week until it's flat enough to deal with.

And then, I get to paint. Look what I found on the $5 mistint shelf at Lowe's!
If it suxks, I'm only out five dollars and little labor. Can't go wrong!

Slowly, slowly

Slowly, but surely, things are getting done around here. It's not major steps-- the weather's been too beautiful; on the other hand, we bitch and moan when it's bad and CAN'T work, so...there you have it.

Anyway, the porch ceiling got a little attention. Remember, it looked like this:

I primed the ceiling and we got the crown installed:

You can see I misjudged how far the primer needed to go along the edge, and there's a lot of caulking that needs doing before we finally paint. And boy is it dirty up there!

Still, it's a step closer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Breaking our promise

I think we have a good excuse. We really had planned to get a ton of stuff done. We promised. We were committed. We were motivated.

And then we were hurt.

Actually, Adam was hurt. He threw his back out at work on Friday. And then we were wet. On that front we were very lucky. I think Ike hit Arkansas as a tropical storm and quickly became a tropical depression. The winds were 50 mph or so, but no trees or limbs lost and no other damage that we could see. Our outside kitties ducked out Saturday morning. Sneaky was in hiding by 10am, and our new recruit, little Bella, ran off after her early morning visit with the vet. (Clean bill of health, btw. She's about 3 and has some scars and broken teeth from life on the streets, but otherwise ok, it seems.) They both came out yesterday evening when the coast was clear.

At any rate, I dedicated Saturday morning to bathing the dog, filling in all the backyard holes and tying down anything that might fly away.

The rain didn't come until later in the afternoon, and it was gone by Sunday morning. I got all the supplies to paint the porch ceiling and install the crown, but we decided to wait until everything was totally dry. So I focused my efforts elsewhere.

Sunday's beautiful, breezy, fresh and clean air meant we could turn off the a/c and open the windows. I mopped and finally unpacked boxes of pictures and trinkets.

I was hesitant to put holes in the walls, but I got over it. Yes, we have lived here 6 months and only just now are we getting around to hanging things on the walls. I also bought a new runner for the kitchen.

Doesn't it look lived in now?
My mother just bought the same rug, so she let us give it a test run before I bought it. And my favorite poster-- a watercolor that my mother did when I was little-- finally got a frame. Oh yeah; the sad little laundry room also got a burst of, er, neutral with some curtains.
That little tragedy of a room is going to have to get painted very, very soon. One day, it will have slate floor tiles. At the moment, though, our washing machine dances out into the middle of the room whenever it has a slightly less than full load. I know part of this will be fixed with better leveling, but I'm pretty sure the washer is on its way out. I'm shopping the scratch and dent stores. Until then, the room will remain the tragic mutant of this house. No love.

Sisyphus and the Bunny: A Revelation

I spent a large portion of the weekend cleaning, as I always do, but my area of special focus this week was the floors. And that's where I had my epiphany.

As I swept all the little dust bunnies (read: "clumps of cat hair covered in dust"), I knew, with a tiny hint of exasperation, that the little kitty hair tumbleweeds would be there in the morning-- no! by evening, even! And it occurred to me that the great analogy of home ownership is Sisyphus and his rock. However, in my house it's the bunnies. We roll that stone all the way to the top, only to have it roll right back over us on its way back down.

In fact, there's not much in this house-- or in life, for that matter-- that's done once and finished. Everything begets other projects, problems and perturbations.

I suppose it makes me feel better that I am at least able to anticipate the repetition. Can you imagine how much more disappointing it would be if we were shocked every single time the rock rolled back downhill?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Our other visitor...or perhaps a PO?

So. Back to the beyond thing...

Well. I was pretty sleepy, so this is a far from definitive sighting. Not sure how much of a believer or non-believer I am. I did have what I decided was a ghost in another house I lived in. That one rummaged through our kitchen drawers at night. This one still freaked me out, though.

I've had some tooth pain lately and been generally a bit under the weather. I woke up a few nights ago at about 1:30 for no reason. Perhaps my tooth was throbbing, but I certainly didn't wake up thinking I was in pain.

After sitting there awake for a few minutes, I thought I heard knocking at the front door. I decided to wait a few more minutes, just in case someone was there, then go check on the front of the house-- I'd left the living room light on and wasn't sure if the porch light was off, that sort of thing. When I got to the front door, I could see out of the corner of my eye a flash of a little girl looking in the front door window, cupping her hands over her eyes to see inside, like she was on tiptoes. But she wasn't there. Of course I jumped and double-checked the chain, and ran back to bed.

Every time I put my head on the pillow, my tooth throbbed. When I finally started drifting off to sleep, laughter woke me up.

And here's where it gets really silly. For a while now, when I sit in bed working on my laptop, I think I see out of the corner of my eye a child-sized figure walking from kitchen to bathroom. Of course nothing's there when I look and the kiddo is usually gone or in bed when that happens. When I was working on the house by myself before we moved in, I also often thought I saw someone at the front door, but of course nothing was there. I've blamed all of these things on lighting, reflections, and my own bad eyesight.

But after this week, I'm reevaluating. After the laughter woke me up, I needed to pee. But I was afraid that the ghost I'd just made extra sure was locked out was the same ghost that walks from kitchen to bathroom! What if she couldn't get back in? She was bound to be pissed!

Luckily Adam woke up and went to the bathroom, so I sheepishly got up then.

As I said, I've been in some pain (though no pain killers that night!) and was terrifically sleepy. I also have a wild imagination and worrisome mind.

But things definitely got a little unreal around the house this week.

Some strangers came a-callin'

One from the neighborhood, and one from Beyond, perhaps. Yeah. That's THE Beyond to you.

Our neighborhood visitor is this gal:

I think cats choose their owners, and they seem to just keep choosing me and my mother. Mom ended up with the last stray...Guess it was my turn. She's ultra sweet, we've named her Bella for the time being. Adam doesn't seem too keen on letting me live out my dream of having an orange and white cat named Fluffer-Nutter. She's not much of a marshmallow personality anyway, so I suppose it's ok. I'll take her to the vet tomorrow, hopefully, to see how unhealthy she really is. Skin and bones and starving all the time. Worms, probably. Don't know if we'll keep her, and I'm going to keep checking around the neighborhood to make sure we don't start medicating and fixing a cat that isn't ours...

Anyway. I know you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah, so what. A cat. Great. What about the ghost?"

Next post. ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

18 Million Cracks

in my bathroom. Trust me-- I'm not making light of those more important 18 million cracks*; I'm just getting a little concerned about the stability of the joints in my bathroom.

I was a taking a shower a few days ago (I've taken them since!), and I noticed what looked like mildew in the grout lines. Admittedly, I'd noticed them before, and bought some extra heavy duty tub and tile cleaner. But this time I stuck a fingernail in the grout line...

I think these are actually places where the grout is beginning to fail. Morelike, has already failed. There's quite a few of them. My other guess was that perhaps there was a darker grout to begin with and someone decided to regrout in white. The floor looks like maybe it was a darker grout, not just stained. (We're clean people-- I swear!).

So I'm thinking-- and correct me if I'm going about this all wrong-- I'm going to clean the grout in the tub/shower and walls well with a soft brush and regrout. The sticking point is that it's the whole bathroom's wainscoting, but I think that if I just pay special attention to the areas of failure and do the entire thing with the same batch using a good float, then I should be good, right?

Then I noticed this:

That's the hot water knob in the tub. And that black thing you see is a hole. Bondo and some chrome paint? I know I should just replace them, but I LOVE these knobs. The hole is on the backside and they're perfectly vintage for the rest of the bathroom...Or can you buy those sleeve things separately?

Then, there's the crack between shower and window:

Trust-- the first thing I want to do in this joint is paint the trim. The most recent paint job was done with FLAT paint. Sigh. Dirty fingers galore. However, you'll see that the first thing I ought to do, is address the "why you shouldn't just grout your tile to wood" issue. Clean it out and caulk it, I assume.

An finally, the real crack in the ceiling that haunts me daily:

The AC guys did this and offered to knock a few hundred dollars off the total if I let it go. I was fresh off the kitchen drywalling, so I thought this was the bargain of the century and a good opportunity to practice my texturing. I'm not so worried about the texture as I am about the sheetrock falling down. I think my plan is to perhaps put a couple of drywall screws into the portions that are sagging-- there's plaster with lathe underneath, so it's something for the screws to go into, and they don't have to hold the weight of the whole sheet; just the little saggy bits. Then tape and mud and patch as otherwise.

It's a little daunting, but should be a good trial run for repairing and successfully cammoflaging the, ahem, canyon in our other ceiling:

This weekend was a bit of a dud, so we've promised ourselves greater progress next weekend. We want that final inspection and we want it now. Or at least before the permit is a year old. Yikes.

*After the last 10 days, politically speaking, I feel I need humor more than ever. I'm getting a little worried.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hub of the Universe, Part II

Photo by my sister...I haven't asked her permission for this, so hopefully she won't make me take it down when she finds out! And the pic is of Cambridge...but it's from Boston...

Well, I made it home. I didn't talk about this second Boston trip in my last post-- partly because my laptop was indeed dying, and partly because I didn't want to jinx the final steps of the travel homeward. And largely because I needed a little distance.

Let me begin by saying that I'm finding myself fonder of the city now with that little bit of distance. And I should also say that it is quite easily the prettiest city in the US-- it's also very English, and it makes me nostalgic; I lived in London for a year and a half, and it is my favorite. The people of Boston are the nicest I've been around in a large city and the most helpful. I just finished the McCullough John Adams biography, and have been working my way through a book about the 1787 congress, so the place was definitely of special interest.

And I have not given up on having a good experience there-- I'll be back! This one, unfortunately starting badly before we even left.

My sister was beginning BU last week, so my mother and I went to help her move in. But the only flight she could find for us that was affordable was out of Little Rock, with 2 connections: 4 hours in Atlanta and 40 minutes in Detroit. We would arrive late at night, so we Pricelined the hotel at the airport. Unfortunately, Mom and I had a failure to communicate, as they say. I managed to get the date wrong for the hotel. So since the Pricelined room was already paid for, we had to just buy an extraneous night and rearrange the car rental.

Long story short, the Little Rock airport's skycaps were awful; the TSA people said out loud that they weren't going to talk to us; and we were put on another airline without being told. There were multiple delays and we barely made it. The hotel restaurant was closed and we had to get room service ($$$$$$). We went to pick up the car the next morning and it was soooo far away.

A GOOD note: driving in the Boston city center, mostly throughout Back Bay, the Government Center area, around the Commons, and throughout the Fens, was positively enjoyable. Once I settled into the one-way streets and the 3 lane roads, I was loving it. And meters-- METERS! You can just PARK at a METER!

Back to the frustrating. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get to Dedham that night, where we were staying. A friend of ours has a house there-- an 1880's Victorian with some amazing details. I'll talk about those in a minute...
Several reasons for the long drive. Mapquest's directions were baaaad. But mainly, things just aren't well-labeled in Boston. You'll be driving down the street for miles without any kind of indication of what street you are actually on. Grr.

Ok. So after that, we decided to take the train in from then on. Mapquest directions to the train station were wrong again. Asked for directions. They sent us to West Roxbury. At the station, we see that the parking thingy only took cash. Back to a grocery store to get cash. Back to train. Stuff the parking slot. Check the schedule. NO TRAINS TODAY. Find a police station for directions to another station. Get there-- NO TRAIN for TWO HOURS. So this time, it took us 4 hours to get to Boston, door to door.

More poorly labeled things throughout the city, short T trains that didn't wait for anyone to get from one end of the platform to the other.

The trip back: Many more delays and tight connections. Assurances that our luggage would make it. It didn't. Then we realized the car keys were in the luggage. Stayed at a friend's house that night. Got to the airport to pick up luggage-- that flight was late.


However. As I mentioned, an amazing house. Jet doorknobs and 5 panel doors throughout. Wide plank floors. The kitchen cabinets that I think Adam and I are going to get. A cool tile floor in the bathroom that's just like ours, but updated:
And one of my favorite effects involved the doors in the kitchen. You saw that the wood was simply finished and in gorgeous shape. I was standing in one of the kitchen doorways and noticed that the doors and trim had been painted. They'd color matched either an opaque stain or thinned paint to the other doors in the house and sort of haphazardly brushed it on. When I shot it with the flash on, it was really obvious. But this pic shows it in all its cammoflaged glory.

If you really look for it, you can tell...But it's a damn good effect. It's something I may experiment with in the future. Lucky for our friend, though, it's only the one room. If you had this through a whole house it might be really obvious. I remember seeing on another blog (I don't remember which one, but if you're reading this, let me know and I'll post a link!!) who did a similar thing with shellac and it looked like a fumed oak, if I remember correctly. So if anyone's interested in doing this and wants more info, I'll ask her if she did this and any tips she has...

So. The long and short is-- this trip was also a bit of a dud. But we were moving my sister in and were successful, so it met its goal. We saw the MFA's Winslow Homer exhibit and had a beer at Cheers (shut up.) and ate some PHENOMENAL food. Next time, I know what to expect a bit more. Detailed driving maps will be purchased, and since we were able to priceline a 4* place for $80, it looks like it's almost as cheap to stay at the hotel. Having a kitchen was certainly nice, but $20 a day in train fees and $40 or $50 on a rental car to get to the train station (no taxis there), and you might as well stay in the city or at the airport.

I haven't given up. Just a lesson learned. And I will say, yet again, it is the most beautiful city in this country.