Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

I am beginning to think that I might really be crazy. After weeks of ripping shingles off the house and hearing, "You're crazy" from every third or fourth person who comes along, I'm starting to think they might be on to something. (Not that being crazy is altogether a bad thing; a certain amount of it is necessary to own an old house.) But at least I'm not alone in my craziness. After all, I share my house with Marie Antoinette, the meanest little cat who ever lived, and Christopher Columbus, the most destructive big cat who ever lived. And then there's my little Pomeranian, Audie Murphy....

This afternoon as the shingle-ripping continued I heard terrible howling coming from inside the house. My little dog was shrieking over and over and over. It was blood-curdling. It made my hair stand on end. Oh no, I thought, the cats have finally tried to kill him! I scrambled down from the top of the ladder, ran to the front of the house, and flung the door open. There, in the entryway, sat Audie. Little Pommie head thrown back, howling at the top of his lungs. In perfect health. No cats in sight. Shame on you, Audie!! At the sound of my voice he stood up and wagged his big fluffy tail. I guess he just missed me and wanted me to come back inside the house.

Apparently crazy, like misery, loves company.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I must have been dreaming, to think even for a moment that I might've been done tearing off shingles by now. Last week I confidently, crazily, told a friend, "I'll have the last shingle off by dark Saturday night." I was dreaming. Dreaming of a week with perfect weather and no interruptions. But that's not my life. I lost much of Wednesday to sleep; Thursday was spent at a funeral and a structure fire; Friday's plans were sidelined by the a/c going out in my car, which required five hours at the dealership to repair; and the heat index on Saturday was 102. Not to mention that my son "forgot" to come over and help, I forbid my mom to because of the heat, and sometime on Friday I realized I need a taller ladder. Aaaaack!!

Nevertheless, this is the week's progress on the east wall of the house:

Facing north:

Facing south:

So maybe next week the shingles will be gone. After I borrow my neighbor Floyd's ladder (Floyd to the rescue again!), overcome my fear of heights, brave the heat, and get crack-a-lackin.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Verdict

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we will show that the defendants willfully, carelessly and without regard for the historic character of their home did deliberately place thousands and thousands of cedar shake shingles on the exterior of that home, thereby destroying its appeal as a Folk Victorian and causing it to be known around town as 'the ugly little brown house' for some three decades....."

If I ran the world, that would be part of the opening argument of the trial for the sucky previous owners who did this to my house. The bags of shingles would be carted in and stacked around the courtroom as evidence, the jurors would take a field trip to the scene of the crime and stand in my yard weeping at the senselessness of it, there'd be a dramatic courtroom moment where the prosecution would nail one shingle to the wall with 15 nails. The defendants would take the stand and try to garner sympathy by saying they just didn't know any better. Their attorney would have entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental defect. But the jury wouldn't buy it. They'd deliberate for ten minutes or so before returning a verdict of guilty.

And the punishment? Having to yank those shingles off my house with their bare hands in the heat of a Missouri summer. With no bug spray to protect them. On the sunny side of the house. With only warm water from the garden hose to drink.

If I ran the world.....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ladder 49

Today has been a very long day. A very long, non-productive, depressing day. I began the day by going to a funeral for a woman I'd grown up with who died suddenly Saturday of a heart attack. At 41. The bright spot in the day was going to an early supper with my mom at the pub afterwards, where we played along while watching "Jeopardy" and talked politics with Katherine and Shirley, the owners. (We also ate watermelon cheesecake, but the jury's still out on that flavor experience.)

When I got home, I dragged myself outside to clean up the yard and pull shingles. I smelled smoke. When I walked out into the front yard I saw smoke all over the neighborhood. Then I heard sirens. I grabbed my camera and jogged in the direction of the heaviest smoke. A residential structure fire three blocks from my house. Fire companies from three towns on scene--Lexington (my hometown), Wellington-Napoleon, and Richmond. (Technically, that's four towns, but Wellington and Napoleon are so small they've combined their fire departments.)

Doesn't look so bad from the front, but look what's going on at the side of the house and in the back yard.

Sometimes people will call 911 again after they've reported a structure fire to tell us, panicked, that the fire trucks have driven past the house. We explain that they do that on purpose, to park near the closest hydrant and to get a three-sided view of the house so they can plan how to attack the fire.

Every fire department's mission is to protect and save property and lives. The resident of the house, an elderly woman, was taken to the hospital with burns on her feet, and a Lexington firefighter was also transported for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. They're both expected to be okay. Sometimes the lives the fire department tries to save aren't human lives. Here they're trying to revive the resident's little dog after it was overcome by smoke.

Lt. Harrison (the guy kneeling in bunker gear) came out of the house, dog in his arms, pumping its little chest and calling for oxygen. Despite their best efforts, the dog didn't make it. (I told you it was a depressing day.)

Here they've cut a hole in the wall so they can better access that fire coming out of the roof. The house is an older home, frame construction with vinyl siding. (At the left of the photos you can see where the siding's melting off the house.) This house has a double roof--a new roof, plywood sheathing and all, built over the top of the existing roof--which creates a gap, sometimes sizeable, between the two roofs. A double roof makes fighting fire that much harder, and for some reason double roofs are common around here. You might've heard, in movies, firefighters talk about fire as if it's an animal. That's not just movie talk; they really say those things. A Wellington firefighter on scene today said, "The fire crawled along the ceiling looking for a place to go, and then it got up in that double roof and ran."

A couple of hours later Command finally called fire out, and the guys backed out of the house to take a breather and drink some water. Firefighting is hot, dirty, exhausting work. Just take a look at those faces.

(Mandy and the girl I don't know from another department, if you're reading this, YOU ROCK! But I can't see you ladies in this pic, so I'm calling 'em "the guys".)

Quoting another woman who rocks, this time Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day." Hope it's better than this one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

City Hall

It's official. I can pull the shingles off my house. The Historic Preservation Commission said so. My neighbor Bob H, who's the Commission's president, explained, "It's a bit of a post-mortem approval, because she's been working on this for awhile." I knew I was in like Flynn when another Commission member responded to that with, "I know! I cheer every time I drive by her house!" Some discussion followed, more out of their curiosity than necessity.

Are the clapboards in good condition? And how much do I have left to uncover? Yes, I said, mostly excellent. Less than half a dozen so far which need repair or replacement. Mr. Maib, the City Codes Officer, chimed in on that one, "They're in great shape!" Bob H explained that indeed they are, and even the paint is mostly intact. I have just the east wall left to do, I said, leaving out that I don't plan to strip the rear wall of the house this year. Hey, they didn't ask and I didn't offer any additional information.

What are you doing with all the debris? I had to cringingly admit that I have 20-some bags of shingles piled up between my carport and Martha's garage, another 15 or so on the front porch, and 5 or 6 in the side yard. For now. But soon my friend Mike and I are taking them to the Lee's Summit dump. One of the Commission members pointed out that the city's trash contract states that the trash company's required to pick up any bags of trash next to the bin which have city trash stickers affixed. This was news to me. The stickers are $1 apiece, and there's apparently no limit to the number of trash bags you can set out. Bob H excitedly said, "There you are, just buy 40 of them tomorrow at City Hall and set the whole mess out by the trash bin!" Sounds like a plan. For 40 bucks I can have 'em all hauled away, and Mike and I don't have to load up his truck and trailer, drive all the way up to the dump, and pay $30 to leave them there. And just like that, one of my biggest issues was solved.

What color will you paint it? Well....I sorta changed my mind about that, and the paint chips I stapled to the application aren't even close to the colors I've decided on. So I produced my little Valspar paint card and showed them. Carolina Inn Brass for the main part of the house, Baked Scone for the soffit boards and the trim pieces on the corners of the house, and Churchill Hotel Ivory for the rest of the trim. (Reluctantly, I'm giving up on the Aubergine for the windows, because they have storms over them and I think it might look odd.) Bob H was impressed. "Two of the paint colors have the National Trust for Historic Preservation seal on them," he said. "You can't beat that."

Don't you work nights? And when do you work on the house? I do work nights, and my days off are Wednesday, Thursday and most Fridays, so that's when the house mostly gets worked on. On other days, I pull shingles for a couple of hours in the morning after I get home from work, sleep a few hours, and pull some more shingles in the late afternoon before going to work again. Then the next day, the whole thing starts all over again. Just like it will tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The House of Mirth

Remember Two-Face? The enemy of Batman? Maybe you folks aren't Batman freaks like I am....Two-Face was the former District Attorney of Gotham City, a real law-and-order type and a personal friend of Batman. But then some evildoer threw acid in his face and disfigured him, and he turned to evil himself. So why am I telling you about Two-Face, some comic book villain? Because I think at the moment my house looks like Two-Face. See the resemblance?

Hee hee. Okay, so maybe my house doesn't look that bad....but the difference in the house without the shingles is pretty striking. And it'll look that way for awhile, because the shingles on the porch will be some of the last to go. There's only plywood underneath, so when the shingles go that part of the house will need new siding. If you look at some of the other photos of the house, there's a wide board under the eaves and I'm thinking of putting one along the top of the porch so it looks more like the rest of the house. I'd like to replace the ugly wrought iron porch supports with turned posts, but there's a scant 4 inches between the porch and the edge of the concrete now. Don't know if that'll work. And I'd like to figure out a way to put some porch spindles on there, too, so it looks more like the original porch. (Nate, are you listening? Do you have some brilliant architectural advice for me?) Of course, what I'd really like to do is tear off the existing porch and replicate the original. Oh, and I'd like to win the lottery, too, please.

Back to reality. This is what I got done on Thursday, which for various annoying reasons was the only day this week I could work on the house:

So yesterday my friend Larry came over and I asked him, "Larry, will I die if I pull off the shingles around the electrical box for the air conditioner?" After some discussion about calling the utility company to shut off the power and making fun of the Dig-Rite commercial, Larry said, "I've had a nice long life, kid." (Larry's 67.) "I'll tear 'em off." So he crouched down between the wall and the a/c unit and started pulling. I dialed a 9 and a 1 on my cell phone, just in case. Suddenly, the air conditioner kicked on, Larry jumped out of his skin and fell backwards, and I yelped. After a few heart-pounding seconds I realized that Larry was still very much alive and laying in the grass laughing. Just another day at my house.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Postcards from the Edge

What follows is a random collection of things I've been meaning to blog about, but due to being shingle-obsessed, they've been overlooked.

Big Cat escaped the front porch again. I found him in the middle of the front yard happily eating grass. (I won't describe what happened later.) In defense of the PetScreen, it didn't tear. Christopher pulled it loose from the spline at the bottom of the door. I plan to put a piece of Plexiglass over the bottom third of the door to prevent future break-outs.

No response to the Craigslist ad I placed offering bags of shingles free to a good home. Or any home. I can't imagine why people didn't arrive in droves to snap up bags of broken shingles, tar paper, and aluminum corner pieces. So, unfortunately, into the landfill they go on the 26th when a friend comes to haul them away. Hope he has a really big trailer. About thirty bags so far.

After realizing that the remaining cable wire ran out to the pole, I called the cable company and asked them to come get it. I wish I'd been home to see them pull it out of the gutters. It's gone, but they left behind the other 50 feet of it I'd pulled off and looped up. Apparently they didn't see the note on it that read, "Cable Guy, take this too, please and thank you." It's in the trash now.

Travis's theory that the giant board bolted to the wall was a leftover from some never-finished project was borne out when I tore off the shingles and found ghosts of a similar sized board on the wall and the dining room soffit. Still no idea what was originally there.

In a moment of supreme forehead smacking, Bob said in response to my complaining about the doorbell wire being wrapped around the house, "Well, get a wireless doorbell, darlin." Oh. Yeah. Good idea.

And saving the best for last....a few nights ago we heard the police department dispatch this call about 2 a.m.: "Respond on a noise complaint. Calling party states her neighbor has put up floodlights and is roofing." Bet those folks work the night shift, too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

While You Were Sleeping

Well while I was sleeping, anyway.... Look what my mom got done! A big shingle-free zone on the back half of the west wall. She's a sneaky little lady, coming over while I was asleep so I wouldn't follow her around with the camera. When I woke up this afternoon, I pulled some shingles off, too, but my mom has me beat today.

I found this thing in the shed and I have no idea what it is. It's about the same size as a set of pliers and the curved ends have texture on the inside edges of them as if they're used to grip something. Poll of the neighbors has them shaking their heads, too. Anybody know what it is?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em

I injured myself today. It hurt. It stung. I even cried. It's completely my own darn fault, and it's not like this very same thing hasn't happened before. There I was, cranking on a really stubborn shingle with my prybar, when the shingle broke loose, the prybar kicked back, and hit me square in the face. The pointed end. I tasted blood. I cried. (Oh, I said that already.) So I went into the house, put some ice on it, drank some Gatorade, and went back to work on the house. Without looking at it. Later I called my neighbor Bob for some help and when he saw me he seemed startled and blurted out, "What the heck happened to your face?!!" So I looked at it. A bruise above my lip. A little tiny cut. No big deal. Wait...what's that? Ewww....a big bloody place on the inside of my upper lip. And a cut on my gum. A little Listerine and I'll be fine. Ouch. Three hours later at my paying job, it really hurt, so I asked one of the medics to take a look. And that little tiny cut is actually a little tiny hole in my lip that goes all the way through. He recommended an ice pack and caution in the future. Duly noted.

I didn't get much done on the house this week. It rained, I had to work on Friday, my son got called in on overtime and couldn't help, and my mom was working her part-time job on my days off. That's a nice list of excuses, isn't it? I still have about half of the wall left to do, so here's a before pic to motivate me this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday:

On all of the windows is a tiny piece of quarter-round running vertically on each side of the window, which I'm guessing was put there to make the windows seem a little less like they're buried in cedar shingles. I did manage to pull all that off the windows. After that I moved on to the area just behind the dining room bay and encountered a board bolted to the wall. (Hence my call to Bob.) He came over and expressed his opinion, deadpan, that "That's the board that holds the front porch on." Shurrrre it is. Here's where it was:

(I didn't manage to get a before pic.) Oh, and take a look at that gutter. Is that big piece of aluminum really necessary? All the sticks and pine cones and other debris get caught in it, and I'm forever cleaning it out. I'm open to any better ideas.

Anyway, here's what the board was held on with:

Three bolts and 9 or 10 nails. No idea why the board was there. My neighbor Travis had his own opinion. "Maybe they were gonna add something there that needed a lot of support and never finished it." That sounds reasonable. But if my front porch falls off in the middle of the night, I'll know Bob was correct.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Hatful of Rain

I second the sentiment of nv at This D*mn House: I hate rain! And because we live on opposite sides of the state, the same rain got us both. NOAA radar showed a big blob of rain stretching across Missouri and I thought, Yep, I'm not workin on my shingles today and she's not workin on her porch. Darnit. But today was not a total loss. The scraping of painted-over wallpaper in the living room continues on. (That wallpaper border up top is three layers thick, by the way, but at least it hasn't been painted.) And I found something interesting. See that horizontal stripe across the plaster? Every so often along it are patched nail holes. So I'm wondering....was there a picture rail up there at one time? And while I was pondering that, I noticed something else. I don't know how well it shows up in the photo, but about four inches above that stripe is the shadow of a long-ago border that's since been removed. Shining a bright light on it, I can see a geometric pattern of alternating light and dark rectangles along the bottom edge but I can't quite make out what the main part of it looked like. Possibly floral or leaves. I think it's the pattern of vintage wallpaper that bled onto the plaster. There don't seem to be any traces of paint there, and the rest of the wall doesn't seem to have been painted. What do you guys think? Picture rail and wallpaper border? Two wallpaper borders? Decorative paint that's been lost forever? Or do you have another theory?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Dream Team

On the way home from work this morning, I called my mom and told her about my vinyl siding dream. "Oh, I don't think so...." she said. "But I'm coming over about eight and we can look." So we looked. We scraped off a bit of paint, and pulled a few nails, and looked again. And they're wood clapboards. Whew! They're newer than the front of the house--although Mrs. Kenney remembers the long, narrow bathroom at the back of the house, so they've been there since at least 1946--and they seem to be a different type of wood. But they're wood. So we left that part of the house for now, and went back to work along the west wall. Mom does the low part, as high as she can reach without stretching, and I do the high part. We make a good team. (Maybe I should say Mom does the low part and I do the medium part. I still can't bring myself to climb way up there and pull the shingles under the peaks of the roof.) I tried to get a photo of her, but she still has those Mom Eyes in the back of her head and told me to leave her alone. "Besides," she said, "I don't look very good today." She was wearing red bermudas and a yellow shirt. Cute. Very cute.

Speaking of cute, don't you just love how I decoratively swirled the CATV wire along the house? My objective was to get it up out of the grass in case Greg the Yard Guy comes over tomorrow to mow. Oh, and how 'bout that drainpipe leaning against the wall? Mom inadvertently loosened the strap holding the drainpipe to the wall while she was prying shingles, and the whole thing crashed down. Next to her, luckily, not on her.

Looking at the photo of our progress, I see that I left a big strip of shingles orphaned next to the dining room bay. That just irritates me that I left them there. First thing to go tomorrow.

What Dreams May Come

I had a bad dream. A terrible, frightening dream. Tuesday afternoon I dreamed that the back of the house has vinyl siding under the cedar shingles. And no clapboards under the vinyl. Eeeek!! (I should explain that the back of the house was originally an open porch that was subsequently closed in, so that part of the house is newer than the rest.) Probably this dream was brought on by three visitors in a row on Monday asking me if I was going to put up vinyl siding after I get all the shingles off. Or maybe eating cold pizza right before bedtime did it. Anyway, I woke up terrified that this was some sort of psychic vision.

So I went out in the rain and pried a few shingles off that part of the house. I saw clapboards, but they don't look like the other ones. They're smoother and the paint is really chalky. I'm pretty sure they're wood, but rain and having to go to work Tuesday night prevented me from making the positive ID. As soon as I get home, five hours from now, I'll do further research. In the meantime, I'll fret.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Sandy gave me an award. Aw, shucks. And not just any old award, either. She gave me this one:

Is that not the cutest little award you've ever seen?! And it made my day--heck, my whole week!--to know that one of my most faithful readers thinks my blog is fun to read. Thanks, Sandy.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

West Side Story

Behold, the weekend's work! There's more done on the other side of the dining room bay, but I couldn't get a photo of the whole wall at one time. My neighbor's house gets in the way. My house doesn't look so big from the front, does it? Looking down the length of this wall is daunting. The theme from "Mission Impossible" sometimes runs through my mind. The clapboards on this side of the house are in really good shape, almost as good as on the front porch. So far, I've found only three clapboards that are cracked, and all of those are on the front of the house. The paint on this side of the house looks great too. It's hardly alligatored and in places still has a sheen to it. That makes me wonder the same thing Jan was pondering a couple weeks ago: The clapboards seem to be in good shape, why did they cover them? I thought back to John's wise words: "Maybe they were stupid, or maybe they just didn't wanna paint no more..." And I think it's a little of both. Maybe not stupidity, but just ignorance. Not knowing any better. Mostly, though, I think they did it because they thought they were putting on a maintenance-free exterior. The shingles have never been stained or painted, and based on how dry and curled they are on the less-protected parts of the house, it doesn't look as if there's ever been any preservative put on them, either. If the town's memory is correct (and it probably is) the people who did it live a block or so south of me now. I've seen them drive by several times to see what I'm doing, and I wish they'd stop so I could ask them why the Sam Hill they shingled such a pretty little Victorian. While I'm at it, I'd ask them if they're the ones who put that stupid Dutch door on the bathroom and sawed the original interior doors in half lengthwise. But then they'd probably admit to it, and I'd be standing there with a prybar in my hand, and things might get ugly after that.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

The shingle-pulling continues. The front of the house is almost, but not quite, completely shingle-less. On to the west side of the house. The very long, daunting side of the house. My mom came over and helped out today, in spite of her oft-voiced opinion that I am somewhat crazy for taking on this project. (She'll be 81 in two weeks, but don't tell her I told you that.) I desperately wanted photos of her tearing the shingles off the ginormous dining room bay in her cute little pink t-shirt and white shorts, but she said absolutely not. I might be all grown up, but I still mind my mama.

We got an awful lot done, and made a huge mess in the side yard--four trash bags full--and Little Dog supervised the whole thing. Mom helped me clean up the yard and then went home to soak in her tub. I thought that was a mighty fine idea, and since my son's moved out I can reclaim the master bathroom with its tub. A nice, long soak in the tub. Maybe with a glass of wine. Just the ticket.

Uhhhh....evidently my son's been using the tub as a storage unit. That big round black object with the writing on it is a land mine. A real one. With no insides to explode, though. If you had a soldier son who's trained to disarm those things, you'd probably already know what it is. But I told you just in case you don't.
So, no bath. I wandered back outside dejectedly and climbed way up on the ladder again to tear off a few more shingles. Then I heard someone shout in a very thick (fake) Southern accent, "Wow, you sure got yourself a lotta work ta do!" My neighbor Bob, with his wife Sherrie in tow. "Why don't you come down off that ladder and walk up to Enigma with us? I'll buy you a coffee. You kinda look like you could use the caffeine." I protested. A little. I'm filthy and covered with mosquito bites. I have splinters and paint pieces in my hair. "Get off the ladder," he said. I did.
Neighbors who observe from three houses away that I am seriously in need of a good cuppa. Neighbors who order me to stop working on the house and have a little fun. Talk about your Independence Day.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Inside Job

Wednesday it rained. All day long. That's good sleeping weather for us night-shift people, so I stayed snuggled in with the cats and the dog until mid-afternoon. When we finally crawled out of bed, I sat in the living room with my big bowl of cereal (because there's nobody to tell me not to) and watched CNN until the little patches of plaster showing here and there on the paint-over-wallpaper walls really started to get on my nerves. I should do something about that, I thought, but chipping off postage stamp sized pieces of painted wallpaper is incredibly frustrating. So I munched on some more cereal, and watched some more CNN, and then it hit me:
Why in the Sam Hill am I using wallpaper remover stuff to take off paint?!

So I gave the remains of my cereal to Little Cat and then glommed a bunch of CitriStrip all over two of the living room walls. While it was percolating, this:

Became this:

(Don't worry, Little Dog didn't disappear. He just refused to be in the after photo. I'm not quite done with the chair, but you get the idea. The fabric's actually a tablecloth I got at Bed Bath & Beyond and I bought the throw pillow at Home Depot.)

Then I took my beautiful new pull scraper, the favorite of all my new toys, and--wonder of wonders!--the paint just peeled right off, down to the backing on the wallpaper, and the walls looked like this:

That took about 45 minutes. (Not including the percolating time.)

And the soles of my $3 Target flip flops looked like this:

Then I wiped down the walls with warm water and used a dull 4" putty knife to peel off long shards of the backing. And then the walls looked like this:

And I did my Snoopy dance all around the living room because I see an end to sucky pale blue walls with brown wallpaper leaves showing through.

After all, it's not all about the shingles.