Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This is a picture of my parents' cabin. My dad designed it himself, as well as the house I grew up in (by the way, both are painted the same colors). Note the one-and-a-half story construction, the exposed sofits and beams, the prominant front porch, and the steep roof pitch.

We think he was heavily influenced by Arts and Crafts bungalows. What do you think?

Reading a little Gustav Stickley there, weren't you dad?

House Colors

So at the risk of sounding obsessive, I am having major exterior paint issues. The paint on the majority of the trim on the house is flaking off. Literally. A scrape and repaint is in the plans for next summer. Also, our house is covered in the infamous asbestos shingling. See it here in all its wavy ugliness? That's actually the garage, but you get the idea. In a weak moment last fall, I gave into Kevin's pleading to peak under the shingling to see if the original clapboard was there. It is. In an even weaker moment (he's a persistent one) I agreed to the removal of the shingles as we paint the trim. To my credit, at the rate we finished things last summer, we won't go broke doing this project because it will take us so long. See, I think these things through.

What, you ask, does this have to do with now? It's the middle of winter. Why are you even thinking of painting? Don't you have better things to do, like strip paint?

You may recall, I mentioned the storm door having issues. It's getting worse. We have it's replacement, and have had it for some time, (we dumpster dove for it from a foreclosure a few blocks down), but I haven't wanted to put it in. Why? Because our current storm windows are this color:
That would be bright cherry red. The color we are painting them is this color: Dark grey-blue. Which is what color I would have also painted the storm door, except bright cherry red plus dark grey blue (it can look VERY blue when the light hits it) plus white house equals red white and blue house. Which I just couldn't do. So here we sit, storm door falling off. Did I mentioned that my mom invited like fifteen people to our house this Sunday? Which, by the way I am thrilled about, becuase they are some of my favorite relatives, and I am excited for them to see the house. However, I don't want the front door to fall off in anyone's hands, and although I know there is absolutely nothing we can do in three days to make this place look fit to live in, I still what the house to make a good first impression. So back to the paint.

If I am going to paint the storm door a different color, then I need to have it match the color that is currently there (or at least not look horrible) and still match the new, because once I paint the door, I am not doing it again. So really, I need to be making some decisions here about paint color for the whole house. My artillary includes Sherwinn Williams Arts and Crafts Collection swatches, the book Bungalow Colors: Exterior by Robert Schweitzer and my own crazy ideas. By the way, yes, I know blue isn't a traditional bungallow color, but look how pretty it looks from the inside: Besides that, when I picked that color, I hadn't yet researched bungalow colors. The white trim is staying too, because there is evidence which leads me to believe it was original. Now our roof is gray, so our colors so far are:

Roof: grey
Storm: blue
Trim: White
Body one (for the lower part): ?
Body two (for the upper part): ?
Storm door: ?

Ackkk! I just can't deal with this decision. I have trouble deciding what to have out of a vending machine.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our First Christmas

Every year since we've been married, Kevin and I have bought our tree from the University of Minnesota's Forestry Club. For those of you city dwellers, they are located just North of the St. Paul campus. They have a nice little trailer where they hang out, and usually they give the tree a fresh cut and carry it out to the car for us and everything. This year, when I was trying to find their hours online, I discovered they've been selling trees since 1905. That means that the very first owners of this house could have purchased their tree there. Hopefully, we've unknowingly continued a house tradition.

This year, we may have gone overboard. See the star? See how it's about an inch away from the ceiling? The tree is over 9 feet tall.

The ornaments on the tree have been slowly accumulated by each of us, from grandparents and parents, church and school, siblings and friends. The first year we were married, our two small boxes of ornaments merged. New ornaments have been collected, and the tree now represents our two lives merged. What makes this even more special is that one of the ornaments we collect is hand-carved by Kevin, symbolizing a major event of the past year. This year I'm hoping for a double hung window. Or maybe some knob and tube wiring.

By the way, the new glazing on the storm is curing, the storm door is still broken, the porch did not sink into the ground, and I have regained my Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bah Humbug

I am writing this quickly because if all goes according to plan (which it won't) the automatic timer will turn the lights on outside and I won't be mad anymore because it will be all pretty. Right now, though, I'm quite peeved. It took three extension cords (only one of them that green color that hides well, the other two are red and orange) to hook up the lights outside. Which means we no longer have extension cords to use inside. Bah.

When I got home from the store an hour ago one of the porch storms had fallen off, and there was shards of glass all over my native flowers. Plus, our porch door is broken. I am fully expecting to find the porch sunken into a giant hole in the ground tomorrow. Humbug.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Those of you who have received our annual Halloween cards might have wondered where it was this year. Student teaching, helping to elect Barack Obama, and house projects ate it. We took the pictures, but never actually got around to sending them. Better late then never? Here it is:
The caption was going to be: "Isn't there laws against dog child labor?"

Is it weird...

That I really enjoy stripping paint? I mean, don't get me wrong, the dangerous lead issue is no fun. However, watching the paint bubble up, and then scrapping it off in ugly, lead infested ribbons makes up for the hassle. It's a little like Christmas: what is the grain going to look like under here? Oh! I think there's a knot coming up! Look at that tight, old-growth grain! Wow!

Kevin and I have been taking the lead thing seriously lately. Me, because I would like us to be able to reproduce someday (not any time soon, mom), and Kevin, though he wouldn't admit it, probably has the same thought. Also, the other things lead paint does to you aren't pretty.

For this project, as prep, I laid down cardboard, brought up the saw horses, the shop-vac (it's like our second pet, it goes everywhere with us), respirators, all of the tools I could think I would possibly need, and a fresh set of work clothes. This is a big part of lead prep. Once I seal myself in, I don't like to leave. This is what I did for this room:
I used duct tape (none of the door frame wood work has been stripped, so I don't care about wrecking anything) to seal the door way on the top and right side. Then I used tape rolls on the left to make an opening. The plastic also overlaps the doorway. On the floor, I tape about half-way, then use a cardboard box to weight it down. It's not a perfect seal, but after working, when I leave the room, I can't smell burning paint fumes, so it must work.

We keep our work clothes in the room for the duration of the project. We take off whatever we're wearing and leave it outside the door, then go in and put on work clothes. And of course, like all the cool people, we both always wear our nifty respirators. The other thing we do is use the shop vac periodically as we're working to get all the chips we can up as we go, so there's less chance of stepping on them and crushing them.

This is the heat gun we use. It is on loan from Kevin's uncle, Jim. Thanks again, Jim! It has variable heat settings that are really useful. It tells you the temperature it's set at. Which is especially good if you know that lead fumes vaporize at 1100 degrees. It also blows at high and low speeds. It's a Wagner, but we haven't seen one like it at any of the hardware stores we frequent, though we forgot to check Seven Corners last weekend (I just looked in the catalog, and they have similar models). We love it, and it's been put to good use.

Basically, our process is this: I strip a section with the heat gun. Kevin comes behind me and uses 0000 steel wool and denatured alcohol to get up any bits the heat gun missed and to take the old shellac off. This is what it looks like after I run over it with the heat gun: That is the closet door, and no, I'm not leaving the panel like that, I was just doing the easy flat surfaces first. Anyway, see the bits of paint? Now Kevin comes along this is what the wood looks like after he is finished:
Pretty, huh? It's pine, really nice old growth. This is a shot of the profile of the two pieces of molding, yet to be stripped. There's also quarter round. You can see how they fit together if you look at the shot above. There's about three layers of paint, and one swipe with the heat gun (if you're as good as me) usually takes it right off. It helps the wood has shellac on it underneath the paint.
We are kind of trying two methods with this room. Half of the molding was taken off for the electrical project, so some of it we are stripping in place and the other half we're using the horses for. Believe it or not, I think it is more comfortable to work on the molding in place. We pry it slightly away from the wall so we can get the edge really clean, but we don't risk cracking the molding.
Also, when it's on the wall, I don't bump my head on the slanted walls as much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Have I mentioned we're cheap?

I came home from work one day, and lifted the lid of our mailbox to get the mail. It snapped off in my hand. Now, lets be clear. I know that's how a lot of things happen around here. Like the faucet or on the first night we owned the house, when the front doorknob came off in my hand when the pizza guy came? Or the walls in the office? Okay, I admit, I picked at those. Anyway, I digress.

The mailbox we had was from the seventies, you know, the generic one that looks something like this?

Picture it older and uglier and you get the idea. Anyway, we had always wanted a more period appropriate mailbox, so we viewed this as the perfect opportunity to get one like this:
Last weekend, we went salvage shopping. At one place, as we were walking out the door, the owner asked us what we were looking for. He happened to have a mailbox in the back that just came back from the sandblaster. While there, a very important piece came off: the bracket that holds the lid on. It was lost, and now he had this beautiful, but useless, mailbox. We (see title of post) asked how much he wanted for it. He said, "As is: $25.00." Now, we had been looking on Ebay, and these normally go for $90-100. We saw this as an opportunity (again, see title of post). So we left for a quick stroll around Home Depot to think of how we could fix it. Enter FastSteel, a moldable, metal epoxy. Jackpot! We dashed back to get the mailbox. I think the owner was sad to see it go, he took forever to ring up our bill. After a failed attempt at using just plain FastSteel (not strong enough for moving cast iron) Kevin created this:It is a bracket made of a copper coupling. He screwed it on the back.
Then he made a mold from the bracket on the other side. In this picture you can see the bracket in the top right corner, and his mold out of FastSteel in the middle.

Then he carefully used his mold to make a new "bracket" over the copper coupling.

Our finished product:

And the detail shot:
Now, in the pictures of the repair, you might notice the surface he is working on. Wow, you might think, that looks like a really nice work bench. And then I would tell you, no, no, no, that is not a workbench. That is our coffee table. Oh, you would say. Oh. And then you might wonder, with trepidation, did he clean up the coffee table when he was done? And I would have to answer


We're alive!

Student teaching is over, my life has returned to normal. Well, except for the fact that I am now waiting around for my teaching license which shouldn't show up until the beginning to middle of January. So aside from finishing up some paperwork, I am unemployed. Which is good news for the house, because that is what I will be spending my time doing. That, and working on Kevin's super secret special Christmas present. A quick house update:

THE WINDOWS ARE DONE!!!!!!! The Curtain rod has to be hung on the foyer window, but other than that they are done and looking beautiful. Kevin is in charge of hanging the rod. I have done four compared to his one, and every time I do it, I ruin a drill bit. We have walls made out of concrete. Either that or the horse hair in the plaster has surprising strength.

I broke the mailbox, which gave us the perfect opportunity to buy a new one. More on that in another post.

One day, while I was at work, my dad came over and he and Kevin blew "an obsessive amount" of insulation into the attic accesses and knee walls. He had worked for a week on sealing holes and such, and installing baffling, which led to endless jokes about being baffled.... Really, we laughed so hard Arlo was giving us baffled looks. Um...yeah. The best thing about this project was that when I came in the door, dad was using up the last bag. I imagine that must be what it is like to hire someone to work on your house. It was wonderful!

We also discovered a new architectural salvage place, Architectural Antiques, which, if you live in the Twin Cities Area, is definitely worth checking out. It is our "if we can't find it anywhere else and we really want it" place. It has two whole wood paneled rooms! And two whole entryways, complete with doorbells! And a crucified Jesus!

As part of our attempt to cut our heating bill, I put plastic wrap on the upstairs windows. They haven't been refinished yet. In the process, I did this:Yup, that's my cellphone and the double-sided tape encased in plastic. Smart, huh?
Arlo did this:
He thought laying on the plastic would give it that lived-in look, like everything else we own. You know, wrinkled and full of dog hair.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Arlo

Arlo is three, sometime during this month. We got him at the Golden Valley Humane Society, and he was found as a stray. So we don't know his real birthday.

Glad you're our pup, buddy and sorry about the occasional mess....

Window After Pictures

We had a bit of a camera dilemma so pictures were sparse for awhile, but I went back to the last two posts and added some pictures, so if you read them already, go back to see pictures of our yard and the window in progress.

Here's where we're at on the project that was supposed to take a few weeks back in May.

Living room:

Foyer still needs:
Spring Bronze
Sash cord
Parting Bead
Hardware installed on sashes

Dining Room still needs:
Sashes painted
Glazing to cure
And everything still needed on the foyer

To make us feel better, I am ending this post with after pictures of the living room window.

This is the screen that we bought at Bauer Bros. The paint was chipping and its mortise and tenon joint was pulling apart. I spent a lot of time fixing it up: stripping paint, gluing, etc. We bought new screen and I tacked it in with galvanized nails, which I think looks pretty sweet. You can see them in the detail shot below. You can also see the house is in great need of a paint job.
These are of the actual window. This is the same window, one picture had flash, the other didn't. I would say the brighter one is a little more realistic in color. Like I said, we used stain and spar varnish on the sashes. On the interior trim, we used garnet shellac. I think it turned out beautifully, but we both agreed that for the other windows, we're going to cheat and stain first, rather than try to use shellac to match the finish. It took a ton of coats, and shellac dries so quickly it's a pain to work with. I like the wood, white trim and blue screen. It looks very nautical to me.Finally, this is the hardware. I have a confession to make. I followed the advice of many online and boiled off the old paint on my hardware. We were confronted with pretty dull hardware that had a copper color to it, when it still had the finish on. Otherwise it was just raw steel. They are pitted, and are in need of a replating that is not in the realm of What-Sarah-and-Kevin-can-afford. So...I used Rub n' Buff. I coated it in clear spray on shellac. The other options: to try and find matching replacements at a salvage shop or to buy new at Home Depot were not appealing. First off, my tube of Rub n' Buff (in Autumn Gold, you can find it at your local arts and crafts store, come on, you know you want to...) was a couple of bucks. New hardware, or new-old hardware, would have been way more than that. Also, The new stuff looked so cheap, and even the quality at the salvage places didn't seem to match what we had. I think I chose right, do you?
I would like to find the oil-rubbed bronze Rub N' Buff color and put it over the coppery color I have on now, because it seems like that was the original finish on most stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2008

As promised, a yard post

Our yard, like the rest of the house, hasn't really been taken care of in...oh...TEN YEARS. There are giant weeds, who believe it is their right to inhabit our yard. There was a patch of daylilies that had decided it should own most of the vegetable garden, and three overgrown evergreens in the front. There was also a strange patch that had cement chunks and more weeds, daylilies, and vines.

There are a lot of good features of the yard too. Our PO grew a giant rhubarb patch on the side of the yard, which makes a great conversation piece. There is a currant bush that I used when making some pretty good scones. The trees in front, recently planted, are just what I wuld have planted. One is a gorgeous maple that I can't wait to see change in the fall. The other is a cute little flowering tree that looks a lot like an apple but hasn't produced any fruit. Just pretty little white fragrant flowers in the spring. The next door neighbors have a tree that flowered at the same time, so I plan to ask them what it is. Also, I have yet to be without cutting flowers in bloom. We have had fresh bouquets all summer. We have had Lily of the Valley, Peonies, Lilacs (the neighbors), Daylilies, Snap Dragons and Asters (I planted these). I had a bridal shower for my sister and was able to create some pretty stunning bouquets for it.

We've done some things this summer as well. There were a few areas that were terrible to mow, like by the neighbor's fence. So I planted some hostas and took advantage of the city's free wood chip piles. Which, as you will see is a common theme to my gardening. I also transplanted some daylilies from our massive bunch on the side of the house over to the side of our garage were there was a patch of hard-to-mow grass. I built a little brick retaining wall from some random bricks around the house. Yes, we have random bricks.

Finally, I planted two native gardens in the front. This is a picture of one. They are both mirror images of eachother. So far they seem to be thriving.

We're back!

Summer has been pretty busy, and due to both lack of free weekends and lack of funds, posting has been pretty scarce. Hopefully we'll be better now. We've been working on the windows when we can, and we actually have the living room one almost done. It just needs a final coat of shellac around the frame.

The foyer window is taken apart right now, and the glazing is curing on the bottom sash. Here's the second half of how to restore an old wood window.

When we last left off, we were still debating what to put on the inside sash (varnish or paint) and I was working on the screen.
1. Put finish on the inside of the sash. We decided to go with spar varnish for the inside of the sash and Behr Exterior latex in white for the outside of the sash. We put the finish on before glazing so we don't have to work around the glass. We also prime the exterior side of the sash. I use latex because I've heard it's better for the wood.

2. Buy more glass because you broke it trying to get it out of the frame.
3. Glaze the window
a) I use glazing putty to put a small cushion for the glass to rest in. I try to get a uniform thickness for this, maybe 1/8 in.
b) Put glazing points in. I have tried both the triangle ones and the fancy newer ones. The triangle ones can go further into the wood, but I couldn't comfortably get them in without feeling like I was going to break the glass. They take a lot of force to get in. So I prefer the newer style.
c) After all the points are in, I turn the glass over to see if there is any of the bead of putty showing through. If there is I clean it up.
d) I roll out the glazing putty on the window pane to get an even thickness. Then I use a putty knife or 5 in 1 to pull it up at an angle. I use my finger very gently to smooth it out as a final step.
e) Let glazing putty cure for two weeks
4. Paint the window
5. Realize the latex paint cracks when put over oily glazing.
6. Repeat step 3
7. Prime putty with oil-based primer.
8. Paint window.
9. Meanwhile, spouse has been working on the frame. He has stripped it and put shellac on the parts that we plan to leave natural wood. He has also dripped shellac all over the primer I put on the sill.
10. Sand off shellac spots, and reprime the sill.
11. Strip all of the frame because it just looks silly now with all the rest of it looking so pretty.

12. Shellac the stops and the new parting bead.
13. Work on the screen some more because spouse is hogging the heat gun.
14. Attach hardware to the sashes
15. VERY CAREFULLY replace the old sash cord. For a good how-to video, check out This Old House
16. Put spring bronze weather stripping on while watching Micheal Phelps win his eighth gold medal.
17. Get frustrated with the spring bronze, but feel the Olympic spirit and persist.

18. Hang the top sash
19. Put the parting bead in place.
20. Hang the bottom sash
21. Nail the stop in place.
22. Stare at the window in wonder and amazement.
23. Get over fear of touching it and play with it for an hour.

Somewhere in all of that we put the screen in too. I painted it Rainstorm, a deep blue. This is the color I will eventually paint all of the storms on the house. It is a Sherwinn Williams color, Duration exterior, and I have to say, I wasn't very impressed. I am kind of picky about my paint, and I have yet to find an exterior I like.

Hopefully we will get all of this going on the next window, and get these done before winter. Otherwise, I see a dining room darkened by a peice of rigid foam in our future.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


We still exist, we're just working rather slowly. I started a new job, and haven't had much sitting around time lately. One window sash is glazed and sitting in the basement curing. Kevin has the stain on another and a third sanded. So it's going, just slowly. I have been doing a lot to the yard, so I will post about that in a bit, with pictures of the stuff I've done and the areas yet to be covered.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lovin' the hood.

Last night at the park near our house, there was a movie playing outside. We live in a very kid-friendly neighborhood, so I thought it would be a cartoon, and I just wasn't in the mood. On our way back from HD, though, we decided to take a look. The SANDLOT!!!!!! So we dropped off our goods, grabbed a blanket and the dog (he was super intrigued by The Beast on the big screen) and caught the last half. How perfect is that?!

And, my peonies are blooming! I think that is one of the best things about buying in the winter. Every week brings new garden surprises. I have been waiting to see what color these are for months. I'm not usually a pink fan, but they are gorgeous and I am totally smitten.

Windows: Step-by-Step

Okay, so I am actually writing this not for anyone's entertainment, but for my own sanity. Ever since our $100 a-week house budget went into effect, buying things for projects has become a test of our strategic abilities. For instance, when do we NEED the glass for the windows? When do we NEED to buy the primer or the paint or the sash cords? We spent a good hour in HD playing this game last night. It might get old soon. Who knows.

Quick side note: Last night we made an accidental discovery I feel is worthy of sharing with all of my cheap... er, I mean frugal, house restoring pals. We walked to HD to get some window stuff. One of the things we were going to get was a gallon of primer. After walking around the store with it for a while, we put it back. Too heavy. Purchase averted! Except that we kind of do need it soon to proceed with the window project. Hmmm.

Back to the original purpose of this post. I am going to write a quick step-by-step of our window project to organize my thoughts. Note to people tackling this project. This is not always the most logical order, so you know, rearrange as necessary. And of course, if you want real advice, read Working Windows by Terry Meany.


1. Remove bottom sash.
a) break paint seal all around with razor blade and putty knife. Remove caulk (who caulks a window shut?!) I found grabbing at a chunk of it with a needle-nose pliers is a pretty quick way to get it out in one piece.
b) remove stops gently with a five-in-one painter's tool. I usually put a cloth or piece of
leather under it to protect the wood.
c) gently wiggle the sash back and forth until it comes out.
2. Remove old glazing on outside of sash.
3. Become impatient, try to remove glass too early, break glass.
4. Spend more time removing glazing. (This is actually really important. The whole track needs to be very clean before trying to get the glass out. We've found that heat reflective tape and our trusty borrowed heat gun make things much easier.)
5. Begin stripping paint off with heat gun in garage/basement. Be careful of lead paint! (See your state guidelines for proper removal). Our heat gun has variable heat control. We use it at a relatively low heat, not hot enough to vaporize the lead. We clean up with water and mop afterwards.
6. While spouse is taking FOREVER to strip the windows, get bored and remove all the bottom sashes.
7. Realize it was stupid to have three windows in progress at once. Hit yourself on the head while saying. "Stupid, stupid" repeatedly.
8. Spend at least a week asking your wife, "Should we paint the inside? Should we varnish it? What color should we paint it?" (add your own variations for variety.)
9. Treat wood. We're using boiled linseed oil, but I've read other wood conditioners are also recommended and maybe even better.
10. Remove top sash. Again, same idea as the bottom sash, but instead of the stop, you remove the parting bead. And break it. Is there no way to remove it without breaking it? We found it easiest to take off the storm and work from both the outside and the inside.
11. Gaze adoringly at the hole in your house that used to be a window.
12. Buy screens at salvage place. Begin stripping those to add more to the to-do list.
13. Walk to store to buy primer, realize it's too heavy to carry home, buy screen material instead.
14. Sand and prime screens because you have the week off and you're bored. (Okay, so I haven't done that yet because it's rainy and icky and I have to wear my respirator and I don't like to wear my respirator. It bruises me nose.

Okay see, here's where I have to stop. What do we do next? Prime first and then install the glass? Do we prime the track where the glazing goes? Or leave it bare wood? Anyway, T.B.C.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Windows the Second

Yesterday, we took out our first top sash. It was a little harder than the bottom because the parting beads (the long skinny board that keeps the top sash in place) are really hard to get out. I broke them both, but they are pretty easy to replace from what we've heard. The living room window, the one we're working on, is the only one I have seen so far with any rot issue. It's not too bad, both sashes have very minimal damage. It really just got the parting bead. We're planning on painting the sashes white, inside and out. The rest of the interior woodwork, though painted now, will eventually be stripped to natural wood. We went with paint because of durability issues and because the windows, though painstakingly stripped by Kevin, didn't look that great once he was through because of the rot and just general water exposure. Kevin is going to post about this once I talk him into it. The exterior trim will be painted white next summer when we paint the house, so that's why we went white all around. I think it will look really sharp.

In other window news, we got our first pane of glass out without breaking it! Kevin used the heat gun and put heat reflective tape on the glass to get the glazing putty out. I have a week off (with a little work to do from home) so I plan to strip the paint on the window frame, strip the screens, and paint them "Rainstorm" blue.

The house did not come with screens, which shouldn't have surprised us, since the windows were caulked shut. We found some replacements at Bauer Bros. Salvage last weekend. This place, located a dangerously close three or four miles from our house, is huge. There is an entire floor of windows. That picture is all storms and screens! Do you even see the end of it? We eventually found exactly what we needed for a great price. By the way, when I said we had giant windows, I wasn't kidding. We only found two that would work. They are literally as tall as me (5'1"). Which made it a lot easier for me than for Kevin to look at a window and see right away if it would work or not. It became a game, Kevin getting his hopes dashed every time I would stand next to one. That tall white one on the right might be one of ours. See how big it is compared to the others?

In other non-window related news, we found out the two giant concrete slabs in our backyard do not cover up anything scary. Our neighbor's parents used to own his house, so he has lived there his entire life. He was also good friends with our PO's son. He is a great asset to our curiosity. I mentioned something about the bricks we used to make a border around the vegetable garden, and he said the bricks and concrete slabs were from some street work they did a long time ago. The bricks were the original street, and the concrete was sidewalk. When the city began tearing up the road, all the residents grabbed what they could. All of the houses on the block have some of these bricks in their landscaping. It's kind of a cool connection to the neighborhood. And also good to know there is not a body buried in our backyard.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Warning: I am about to complain.

I am sick of our money going into this house. We're pretty frugal with our finances, which is why two mid-twenty somethings could afford to buy a house in the city. When we aren't going through major job transitions, we usually have money in the bank to spare. Ever since the house came into the picture, however, our bank account can't seem to grow. Part of it may be the huge electrical project we took on without realizing the magnitude of it. Part of it may be we just got done paying monthly installments of my grad school. Actually, those two things just might be the culprits, now that I think about it. Of course then there's the Beast in the Basement...No, not that beast, though he's not cheap. And no, we do not keep him in the basement; he followed me down and then looked at me like I was crazy for taking pictures of the Real Beast in the Basement:

Anyway, this beast caused quite a jump in our utilities. Then, last but not least there's Ronald, the deceased PO of our house. He is the cause of things like this and this and these. He is also the resident scapegoat. Storm window stuck? Ronald. Refrigerator making weird noises? Ronald. Now, to be fair, he is the cause of many problems in the house: the basement staircase being held up by one lonely 2x4, installing cement asbestos siding over the original clapboard, and the fugly Kitchen and Bathroom remodels. All of which, I might add will eventually cost a lot of time and money for us. Some days, (did you guess yet that today is one of them?) I really miss our clean, modest little duplex. I miss the shiny hardwood floors, the convenience of calling our landlord when something didn't work, being able to clean the whole house in two hours, and the ability to sit around on weekends under a blanket on the couch together and not have projects hanging over our heads. Of course, our landlord didn't really fix things very well and our bedroom had a significant mold problem. But still, we had money. A nice little nest egg. Which has now become a house with crappy floors, no windows and holes everywhere (from the electrical project). All day today, I kept wondering when we were ever going to have money again. How long will it be before our bank account starts growing? Seriously, how do people do it? Does everyone else just have massive credit card debt?

I just want new clothes.

Oh, Cursed House

I was only trying to turn off the water.... However, in case you were wondering, Vice Grips make excellent replacement knobs.

Friday, May 30, 2008


As part of our rewiring project, the basement lights got all screwed up. They used to be operated by pull switches and used the old wiring. We cut a lot of the wiring during the rewiring, and have plans to wire the lights so they all turn on with one switch. We haven't gotten there yet, though, and as a result, our basement is pretty dark.

Anyway, the point of all this being that when I grabbed clothes out of the dryer this morning to wear to work, I grabbed my gardening jeans rather than the nice pair in the same load. I didn't notice until confronted with my image in the mirror at work.

Oh well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I know everyone and their mom posts about restoring their windows, but I think our situations are all different, and so it would be worth writing ours up as well.

First off, we have giant windows. There are actually only three that we will worry about for the time being. One in the dining room (2'8"x 5'5"), one in the foyer and one in the living room (both 2 1/2' x 5 1/2') What makes our situation interesting is that the PO decided to caulk the windows shut. Yes, you read that right: caulk. On both the top and the bottom of the bottom sash. Supposedly this was a way to keep out drafts. Personally, I would have tried fixing the windows, but hey, at least they didn't replace them, right? Anyway, the bottom sashes were successfully removed from all three. Unfortunately, the glass on all three broke while I was trying to remove it. Which I guess is fitting to the title of this blog. Especially since, after breaking the first one, we didn't change our methods. Cause doing something the same way that didn't work the first time (or the second) always works, right?

I want to make it clear we did research before jumping into this. We actually do an extensive amount of research before jumping into projects. We knew how to remove the glass. What we didn't factor in was the hundred year old glazing putty, coupled with the two or three patching jobs from various decades over the hundred year old stuff. What worked for one chunk didn't work for another. Now we're going to try stripper or the heat gun with heat reflective tape. Anyway, as far as the window frames that I broke go, Kevin has one window almost stripped, and I have two more frames lined up for him to do.

Note From Kevin who is dipping his feet in this blog thing: The big question: should we paint the interiors on the windows or not? The opposing sides of this argument are that they look neat as natural wood versus they will be better protected from UV light if they are painted.

Anyway, here is a picture of one of the windows. I know that's not the best picture, but it gives you an idea of the size.

Quick Note: This picture, for some reason makes me proud. It was taken the day we closed on the house. The carpet? Gone. The vinyl roll shade? Gone. The ugly plastic like curtain and ugly metal rod? Gone. Gone. Oh yeah, and the ceiling fan? You guessed it. Gone. We put in a 1930's? glass bowl light fixture.

The dog?

He stepped out for a moment.


I know I said hardware store break in that last post, but over the week it kind of evolved to Home Depot break. So we tried out a new hardware store in the neighboring suburb. It was a nice change. It smelled like a hardware store. People were friendly, and helped us find things. Which poses a dilemma for us: when possible, Kevin and I try to live responsibly. We try to shop locally, walk or bike places, and buy used when possible. We haven't purchased meat in almost two years
(with a few rare exceptions). We own one, small compact car, and Kevin commutes by bike. Anyway, the dilemma: walk to Home Depot six blocks away, or drive to the suburb to shop local?

Really, though, we totally cheated and bought house stuff.

Monday, May 19, 2008

House Philosophy and Crappy Rooms

Kevin and I are taking a hardware store break. This doesn't mean we are not working on the house, but rather we are not spending any money on the house. Ideally, this serves two purposes. The first being we won't spend any money (the $200 weekends were getting old) and second, it forces us to finish tasks that require no money but are just as important. For instance, Kevin rehung the garage door so it now closes and locks. It is important to us that we don't go into a huge amount of debt on the house. Therefore, we plan to only do projects as the funds become available. Unfortunately, it means that things stay crappy for longer.

Those pictures are of our bathroom and kitchen. The shower curtain has been removed, but the gold fleck still remains. On everything. The kitchen might just win an ugly kitchen prize. That flowery stuff acting as a back-splash is contact paper. The countertops have a metal edge that most certainly has collected food for thirty years. There is wood paneling covering the other walls. I have dreams of this kitchen gutted. The more we live with it, the more satisfying its demise will be.

This weekend was beautiful. We spent most of our time outside working in the yard. Kevin's parents came up and I put his mom to work in the front yard with me. We planted MN native wildflower gardens where the overgrown bush used to be. Once the rain stops I will go out and take pictures. It's not much now, but I think it will look great in a month or two.

Kevin and his dad finished mudding the drywall we put up in the hall ceiling. Then we all cleaned up and went out to eat to celebrate his cousin's college graduation. Congrats, Sam!

I always love when our family and friends come over and seem impressed by the work we've done. It's hard to put the house into perspective when we're living in it.


After a beautiful weekend, I got home today to find the house at a chilly sixty degrees. I grabbed a blanket, the dog and the laptop and settled in, determined to not turn on the furnace again (we had turned it off last week). When the dog/blanket combination seemed to do nothing, I spent about a half an hour working up the courage to turn on the heat. Why, you ask did it take courage to turn on the heat? Because we have an old gravity furnace that scares the living bejeebees out of me. The thought of turning on the gas and sticking my hand in to light it took some serious contemplation.

Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I went down to the basement. The furnace and I stared at each other awhile, trying to decide whether or not to trust one another. It took me a few minutes (fine, twenty minutes) to figure out how the pilot light mechanism worked, and then, in one glorious whoosh! we had heat. The dog and I ran upstairs and warmed our toes in front of the vents, listening for explosions.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Moral of the story: before cutting down a tree, check for nests.

We had a giant overgrown bush (an ewe, I think) in front of our house. It blocked the view, probably dug into the foundation, and just looked weird. It was taller than the house. Plus, it was dying. I say had, because on Sunday, Kevin's uncle, Jim, came over and chopped it down with his chainsaw. Very exciting. Until... Kevin spotted four baby robins laying on the ground. We stopped everything. Jim put the birds back into their nest, and moved it to a nearby tree. I went in and called a wildlife center. They said to leave them alone, and if the parents didn't come back to bring them in on Monday. We went inside and watched as both mom and dad robin tried to make sense of the missing tree. Finally they found their babies, but wouldn't go and feed them. We thought they were just making sure it was safe. Mom and Dad hung around in the yard all day, so we figured they must have eventually started to feed them again. Kevin checked on the birds today. All four were dead.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

We have light!

When I would tell people we were rewiring our house, they would almost always have the same reaction: something relating to blowing ourselves up, starting on fire, or electrocuting ourselves. Which, when my dad and Kevin were first talking about rewiring the house, was my reaction as well. I mean, it does sound like a scary project. Especially for someone whose electrical understanding consisted of teaching fifth graders how to make a flashlight out of pop cans and duct tape.

What I realized, as the project went on, however, was that it's actually pretty simple, and pretty benign. Kevin says it's like paint-by-numbers. As far as danger goes, it's hard to mess up rewiring to the extent of starting your house on fire. And the house is much safer now than it was before. The smoke detectors are hardwired together so if one goes off, they all will. We put in arc-fault circuit breakers for all three bedrooms. Also, the whole thing was checked by an inspector.

The only scary part was when Kevin installed the circuit breakers. The main power to the house is shut off, but there is still live power coming into the box. It is considered safe to work on, as the power would be pretty hard to accidentally touch, but it still made him nervous. I sat on a five-gallon pail beside him for moral support, though I was armed with a wooden broom handle and a cell phone. We flipped on each circuit breaker together.

I think the whole project came in a little under a thousand dollars. Most of that cost was in the circuit breakers and wire. The boxes, outlets, switches and cover plates were all pretty cheap, but we installed over fifty.

Light fixtures were one of the least expensive aspects, actually. I rewired the originals from the upstairs, and (gasp!) spray painted them antique bronze. Before anyone freaks out, they are metal, not worth a whole lot, and pretty darn ugly. Now, I think they look quite nice. I would say they were each about ten dollars to restore. I also rewired the cool porcelain fixture that used to hang in the foyer. It's going in the downstairs hall. The new foyer light is the one at the top of this post. It was cheap at the Depot. Don't mind the bad plaster job in the photo, just hasn't been fixed yet.

Anyway, point being, electrical work is not so scary. Especially once you're already in over your head financially and your moral has been strangled by extension cords. We've decided to take a project break and build up funds and energy. One can only go so long peeing by camp light before the ripped-up house thing gets old.