Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bad News Bears

Today's been a rather depressing day. I mean, I'm still in widow's weeds over the insulation guy and all, so maybe I'm not in the best frame of mind to begin with. On the way to work I got a phone call from the #2 guy on my list. He asked me a lot of questions about my house, its age, its construction, its size and any existing insulation. He said, "I don't believe in drilling holes in a house and I hate those plastic caps. I'll just take one piece of the clapboard off, blow in the insulation and then put back the clapboard." I almost swooned.

Then I asked the terrible but necessary question: How much will it cost? And he said, "About $2 a square foot, not including the attic." Two dollars a square foot. Not including the attic. My heart turned into a rock and rose up in my throat. That's more than twice as much as I thought the whole job would cost. Damn. Tears welled up in my eyes. And as I was trying to work the lump out of my throat so I could talk without sounding so much like a pathetic little girl, he said, "I can't get to it until the end of September at least." That just put me over the edge. I'm hoping my sniffling sounded like static on the line. I said I would call him tomorrow. And I will. After I stop crying.

Meet Joe Black

Around the Houseblogs community, I've noticed it's fairly commonplace for contractors to not return calls. They seem to have all kinds of excuses for their bad behavior. So when one of the guys I called about bidding on my insulation didn't call me back after almost a week, I thought it was more of the same. And I was disappointed. This guy came very highly recommended by everyone I talked to. He's honest, they said, and reasonably priced and an all-around decent guy. Well....as it turns out he has an excellent reason for not calling back.

The poor man has passed away.

I was reading the obits in my small-town newspaper and came across his. I sat there for a couple minutes turning his name over in my mind and trying to recall why it sounded so familiar when it occurred to me. Oh. Oh, my.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Invisible

Sunday afternoon while I was caulking away on the house I had an idea for this post. I thought I'd post a pic of the front of the house on the day we took off the last of the shingles, and next to it I'd post a pic of the front of the house today. Then I'd ask everyone to play a game of Spot the Differences. So I put the two pics side by side and....couldn't see any differences. It was a little depressing.

Invisible progress.

Here's a photo of the west side of the house so you can not see my progress for yourselves. Can you tell which half of the wall is finished? Hint: it's not the side with the ladder leaning against it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Mosquito Coast

Wanna know how the past two days have been spent at my house?

Scrape loose paint. Caulk gaps between clapboards and corner pieces and everywhere else. Fill nail holes and cracks.

Scrape. Caulk. Fill.

Repeat ad infinitum. After applying Off bug repellent to legs and arms. Don't miss even a tiny spot, because that's where the mosquitoes and the flies will bite. (I have the marks on the backs of my knees to prove it.)

About a quarter of the west wall is completely prepped for primer, from the front of the house to about halfway to the dining room bay window. Half of the front wall is prepped as well. Yeah, that's all. After about 22 hours.

But here's what I mean by "prepped": all the loose paint's been scraped off, the finishing nails that held the quarter round on the window frames have been pulled out, the tar paper scraps have been shaved off (literally), all the staples that used to hold the tar paper on have been pulled, the old caulk (and pieces of paper and blobs of insulation) have been picked out, and the nails I missed first time around have been yanked; and then I caulked the gaps between clapboards and corner pieces, the frames around the windows, the nailheads, the junction between clapboards and foundation, and the junction between eaves and frieze boards (just opened the third tube of caulk); and then I used wood filler to fill gazillions of nail holes and small cracks in the clapboards.

The phrase "all the loose paint" could use a little defining too: most of the paint on the house is completely intact with just a little crazing and since it's only about four layers thick I'm leaving it on the house. Paint that's alligatored all the way to the wood gets scraped off. The rest stays where it is, tight to the house. Controversial, I know. A couple of folks in the neighborhood have been openly skeptical. But I'm relying on the advice of the National Park Service. In one of their Preservation Briefs they state, "Practically speaking as well, paint can adhere just as effectively to existing paint as to bare wood, providing the previous coats of paint are also adhering uniformly and tightly to the wood and the surface is properly prepared for repainting-- cleaned of dirt and chalk and dulled by sanding. But, if painted exterior wood surfaces display continuous patterns of deep cracks or if they are extensively blistering and peeling so that bare wood is visible, then the old paint should be completely removed before repainting." You can read the whole thing if you'd like. It's chock-full of information.

By the end of the day today, I was covered with an icky glaze of caulk, sweat, Off, and bits of paint. My right shoulder was really sore. My hands were callused. I spent a lot of time in the shower, and then a lot of time at Wal-Mart picking out just the right flavor of ice cream. (Tonight that's Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.) I ate almost half the container and drank a big cranberry limeade from Sonic.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I prime.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Weather Man

NOAA, you're still my friend. I apologize for the snarky attitude this morning, but when I saw three or four different synonyms for "rain" in your forecast, I got a little upset. But you were spot-on, NOAA. Just before 1 pm the skies cleared up and it stopped raining or drizzling or showering or whatever it was doing in the morning.

I borrowed my mom's power washer and rinsed the house clean. Well....most of the house. Turns out the spigot on the east side of the house doesn't work--how was I supposed to know, with no garden out there, me being a charter member of the Black Thumb Society and all--and even nearly 100 feet of hose couldn't stretch all the way around from the west side. I did manage to get the front and back of the east wall clean, just not the middle where the side porch is. A few scraps of tar paper and even a couple of slivers of shingles fell off, too. After that, caulking. And filling of nail holes. And scraping loose paint. And more filling of nail holes. But if all goes well, I just might possibly get some primer on the house tomorrow. Maybe even some paint on sashes and muntins. Very exciting.

The Rain People

This not-so-happy news came to me through my friend NOAA:

"Today: Areas of drizzle before 10am, then a slight chance of showers between 10am and 1pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 1pm. Cloudy, with a high near 76. South southeast wind around 7 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms."

It's drizzling now. Still. Has been since 3 a.m. when I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. So...I could take a nap now, and get up at 10 a.m. when it might be showering. Or, I could work in the drizzle from now until it starts showering and then take a nap. But I'd better get some work done before 1 p.m. when the thunderstorms come, right? I think power-washing and caulking are not in the plans any longer for today. Sigh. Painting muntins and washing windows is a definite no-go. Sigh.

At least I have "I Can Has Cheezburger" to cheer me up.

(Thanks, Sandy, for telling me about this website!)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's Always Fair Weather

My confession: I have a crush on Gene Kelly. Yeah, that Gene Kelly. In case there was any lingering doubt in your minds that I am, in fact, a geek, well, that should erase it. What does Gene Kelly have to do with home restoration? Not a thing. Except that I was thinking about how I hope it doesn't rain on my days off, and looking for a title for this post, which made me think of that other famous Gene Kelly movie, and so I Googled ol' Gene and....you get it.

Nothing done on the exterior of the house since last Wednesday, due to weather and my work schedule. Grrrr. Progress must be made these next four days. Lots of progress. My plan is to power-wash the house to take off some of the dirt and grime (and maybe some loose paint as well), scrape and wire-brush more loose paint off, fill thousands of nail holes, shave off the tar paper scraps, and do some serious caulking. Sometime before Sunday, I'm hoping to get bids on the wall and attic insulation, too.

Then there's the windows. I need to make a decision about the paint color for the muntins (Blue Coal? Chocolate Raspberry? Lincoln Cottage Black?) so I can start taking the storm windows off, clean the windows, paint the muntins and sashes, repair the storms, put them back on, and paint the storms. One window at a time. I only have 17 windows. I think. But only four of them have those little lights around the top pane. The rest are just one-over-one, much easier. I'm buying a couple of containers of paint in the tester size on the way home today.

And the weather forecast? Thirty percent chance of rain today, 60% on Thursday, partly cloudy on Friday, and a 30% chance of showers again on Saturday. That makes my chances of progress kinda iffy. Next post will either be titled "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" or "Singing in the Rain", depending...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Paint Job

Thursday night I was tired, dirty and cranky from tearing out the yucky living room carpet and being cooped up inside all day because of the rain. After I ripped up the carpet and stuffed it into garbage bags (I'd burn it if I could) I spread out my paint chips on the floor (all eleven of them) and arranged and re-arranged them trying to decide what colors to paint my house. After a couple of hours, I had the main color narrowed down to two. It was the corner pieces and frieze boards, the windows and the trim that were giving me fits. I needed some help. And a cold beer.

So I walked down to the pub and consulted Shirley and Katherine, who are the pub's owners and two of my dearest friends. They're also my neighbors three houses down, and Katherine is on the Historic Preservation Commission, so I knew they wouldn't steer me wrong.

Allow me to digress for just a moment to share some really cool local history: Katherine's great-grandfather, William B. Waddell, was one of the partners in the firm that operated the famed Pony Express. Katherine and Shirley live in the house Mr. Waddell built, which has always been owned by the Waddell family. Locally it's known as--what else?--The Pony Express House. Katherine is a joy to know. If asked, she'll tell you her family's story in her faintly Southern accent, and intertwine all sorts of other historical tidbits. Occasionally she serves as a guide for the Lexington Trolley Company, and when she does the riders are enthralled by her stories.

Anyway....I spread out the paint chips on the table where we always sit and asked Shirley's opinion. She studied them, and within five minutes picked out three colors that work perfectly together. Or at least I think they do. What do you think?
The color at the top of the photo (Redstone Dining Room Gold) would be the main color of the house; the color below that (LaFonda Wild West Green) would be the corner pieces and the frieze boards; the cream color (Filoli Gold Ecru) would be the trim around windows, roof and porch; and the bottom color (Buckskin Pony) would be a second trim color, if needed. All the paint chips are Valspar Ultra Premium from Lowe's; the first three we chose are National Trust for Historic Preservation colors. Those two dark paint chips--Chocolate Raspberry on the left and Blue Coal on the right--I'm considering for the window muntins and sashes, but now I don't think they're dark enough. Incidentally, the Historic Preservation Commission approved a single paint chip (the one with Redstone) without asking me which of the three colors I intended to use as the main one and without asking what color I meant to paint everything else. I think as long as I don't go too far afield of that color family I won't have to file another application.

Not so incidentally, the Redstone Dining Room Gold almost exactly matches the original color of the house, and the corner pieces and frieze boards were originally dark green. (About the color of that darkest green you can just see at the edge of the photo--but I'm not crazy about that color.) The muntins and sashes were painted black at some point, but I haven't taken enough of the paint down to know if that was their original color. Black seems a little stark to me, but I think Valspar's Lincoln Cottage Black might look okay. (And it's a NTHP color, too.)

I asked Katherine for her thoughts on the colors and she burst out laughing. "Oh that's funny!" she chuckled. "You let a color-blind woman choose your paint shades!" Shirley hastened to tell me she's not completely color-blind. Me, I'm just color-impaired. Help, please.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'll Be Seeing You

This new feature of Google Maps, Street View, has people all a-twitter. Some folks believe it's an invasion of privacy at the least, a tool for burglars to case our houses on-line at worst. Others are saying they like it because it allows them to view a whole neighborhood before relocating there. What do you think? Me, I'm thinkin' that guy in the orange suit is just plain creepy.

I Love Trouble

It rained all day Thursday. Because of that, I was stuck inside the house. Bored with my old toys...no one to play with...I felt like a five-year-old. And you know what happens when a five-year-old is left unsupervised. She gets into trouble. Oh, don't worry, my closets are still intact.

But the living room carpet is gone.

It was the same horribly ugly 1970s industrial-looking carpet that's glued and stapled to the floor of almost every room in the house. It existed primarily not as decoration, but as dropcloth for the painted wallpaper I've been stripping in the living room. Once a week or so I run the sweeper on it and throw away the giant furball that accumulates in the canister. Thursday I was about three minutes into that chore when the sweeper sucked up a thread from the rotten carpet and started smoking. On a day when my patience was thin and my mood was bad because of the rain, that just infuriated me. That's it! I said to the cats, that ugly carpet is gone! And about three hours later, it was. Later today I'll pile it outside with the bags of shingles. The trash man probably hates me. You know the poor guy's driving down the alley every Tuesday morning wondering what in the Sam Hill I've heaped out there for him to throw away. When I put the final bags of shingles out there next week, I think I'll tape a gift card to the carport for him.

Anyway, I think the living room looks better already without the carpet, even though the hardwood floor has the same black glue/carpet pad residue as the floors in the dining room and the entryway. Oh well, at least now they match.

Oh, and in totally unrelated breaking news: I am a blue ribbon winner at the Missouri State Fair! I entered a fairy picture that I did in counted cross-stitch for my niece, and it won first place in its division. Ten whole dollars in prize money and blue ribbon bragging rights. It makes the end of summer just a little bit easier to bear.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Ten Commandments

A couple of weeks ago I bought a book called The Old-House Journal Compendium and I've been reading it (and re-reading it) ever since. It's sort of an owner's manual for old houses. I have sections of the Painting chapter almost committed to memory. But it wasn't until tonight that I found this quote at the beginning of the book:

"Old buildings are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us. The dead still have their right to them: That which they labored for...we have no right to obliterate.

"What we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what other men gave their strength, and wealth and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death."

--John Ruskin

Isn't that a great quote? Could we please have it made into federal law?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Right Temptation

I had visions of knocking a little hole--just a little teeny hole--in the upper wall of one of my closets to see if possibly, maybe, by some freak chance, there was still a transom window behind it, and maybe even a door jamb. With uncharacteristic optimism, I thought it might be a little like when Howard Carter poked that hole in the plaster wall of King Tut's tomb. "I see," he said, "wonderful things." But my hole-poking idea was borne of devastating boredom at work last night. (The comm center was as silent as Tut's tomb last night--no 911 calls at all.) Today, reality set in.

As I told nv earlier, unless the transoms and the doors are completely intact and simply encased in the newer construction waiting to be set free--and what are the chances of that?!--there's nothing I can do about it this year anyhow. Budgetary concerns. I still have to get bids on wall and attic insulation, something I've been saving money for after vowing that last winter was, indeed, the last winter I'd be so uncomfortably cold in my house. And I still have to buy materials for the front porch renovation, though I haven't decided quite what to do with that yet. (My fault, Nathan!) Then there's a round of tester colors to go through before I plunk down the money for paint.

So for now, finding out if there are doors and transoms under there is pretty far down on the house wish list. Way, way below finishing the exterior. Far below the projects I've already started on the inside of the house. And I'm definitely ripping out my polka-dotted kitchen countertops first.

Nancy Drew

When I was doing battle with the wasps on the side porch, I didn't really take the time to look at the porch too carefully. Larry and I had stood in the side yard one afternoon before the shingles were completely gone and had a friendly debate about whether or not there'd been a doorway in one of the side walls. Specifically, this one:
At the time, I was so creeped out by the mud dauber nests that I didn't really want to look at the wall. But Larry, not so easily creeped out, noticed the big piece of wood between floor and wall and thought it looked like a threshold. He also thought that the somewhat odd construction of the outside corner suggested a door facing, and thought that a small rectangular area on the trim might be the "ghost" of hinges. (If you click on the photo to make it larger, you can pretty clearly see what he's talking about.) Single-mindedly focused on getting those darn shingles off, I mostly ignored what he had to say. And then, while I was pulling those narrow pieces of lumber off, I noticed that the clapboards were new, even newer than the ones on the (probably 1930s) addition to the west side of the house. Later, when I unburied the other side of the porch from its heap of shingles I found an identical threshold on the opposite wall. The clapboards there were new as well.
I saw little tiny hinge ghosts right away (to the left of the railing ghost) and later, when I pulled all the shingles off, I found the marks left by much larger hinges. A few days later I was yanking on a really stubborn piece of lumber and accidentally popped out the whole clapboard. Serendipitous. Underneath was bright clean lumber printed with the word "Weyerhauser" and, behind that, paper-backed insulation. Hey, those clapboards are new--really new. When Bob came over later that afternoon, I dragged the poor man onto the side porch and exclaimed, "Look, look! I think there were doors here! On both sides!" He put his glasses on and looked carefully. He took his glasses off and looked more carefully. He measured each side with a scrap piece of lumber. He tapped on the walls. (You know how you take your car in to the mechanic and you wait anxiously to see what he has to say? Yeah, it was kinda like that.) Finally he asked me, "What's on the other side of these walls?" I thought for a minute. Closets. On both sides. Added to the corners of the bedrooms long after the house was built. Bob grinned, "Yep, you had doors there. Probably with transoms for airflow through the house." (Every original door in my house, except for the one between dining room and kitchen, has a transom above it.) I am sorely tempted to take a knife to the sheetrock in those closets, cut a little exploratory hole, and see what's underneath. Sorely tempted.

Monday, August 11, 2008


No more shingles on the house! No. More. Shingles. Whoo-hoo!! Now that the shingles are all off, I feel as if a giant weight's been lifted from me. As Mike (that's him in the blue shirt towards the end of the video) and I were picking up shingles in the yard on Saturday, my friend Harriet drove by and stopped her car to applaud. Later that evening, I was almost teary-eyed when I returned the Stanley Wonder Bar to Bob. Coming back home with a Robo-Grip and being taken out for bread pudding and coffee by Bob and his wife cheered me right up, though.

Oh, I know I still have a long way to go: a billion or so nail holes to fill, windows to caulk, about 40 bags of trash still to get rid of, loose paint to scrape, wall and attic insulation bids to get, the porch to somehow make right. Oh yeah, and then I have to prime and paint the house.

I should be tired just thinking about all that, right? But I'm not! I feel....I feel....well, Karen Anne said it exactly in her comment on my previous post: "I can hear the house breathe and stretch its arms out like it hasn't been able to in how long :-) Thank you! Thank you! it says."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happy Days

Okay, folks, here it is. The Really Big News. Grab your popcorn and your Big Gulp and settle in. Two months of work distilled into three and a half minutes of video. Hope you like it.


Broadcast News

I have news. Really big news. News I've been waiting two months to tell you. But Blogger has issues, or my laptop has issues, so I can't broadcast the news the way I want to. Grrrrr. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 8, 2008


It doesn't look like I worked on my house for five hours Thursday, does it? But I did, I really did. It took slightly over five hours to stuff two giant trash bags with the shingles thrown all over the yard, do battle with mud dawbers--Christine is right, they don't sting, even when you destroy their homes--pry quarter-round off the windows, tie back a rose bush to get to the wall behind it, drag bags of trash out to the alley, tear off some more shingles, and drink two bottles of Gatorade. And after all of that, the house really doesn't look that much different from the last photo.... Sigh....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Primary Colors

Please remember to vote today.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm afraid of heights. Or maybe it's falling from heights that I'm afraid of. Either way, I'm afraid. Funny thing, though, I've noticed as I've been climbing up and down the ladder that I'm less and less afraid. I said in my last post that I managed to conquer my own Everest. See for yourself: I did it! I climbed up that ladder and pulled off those shingles all by myself. I didn't want to. It was really hot, and my arms hurt, and I could've found lots of excuses not to. But then I thought of Nicole toiling away on her brick walkway in the same heat and I didn't want to be thought a slacker. Not that I can keep up with her--by now she's probably finished that walk and the fence as well, bought and installed a cupola ('cause that girl's not afraid to climb on the roof) healed the rift between Israel and Palestine, and is relaxing on the porch with some ice cream. So I kept going.

But I have another phobia that's far, far worse than my fear of heights: my fear of shiny bugs. Shiny bugs like grasshoppers and crickets, June bugs, any sort of beetle, and wasps. Wasps are the worst, because they can hurt me. Wasps freak me out, terrify me, cause me to scream like a little girl. Which is what I did when I found this:

Mud dawber nests! [Imagine girly screaming here.] Lots and lots of mud dawber nests! Ewwwww!! Amongst all the junk on the floor is even more nests. Big clods of what I thought was dirt kept tumbling out from under the shingles. Not until I exposed a big section of the wall did I realize what they were. Horror movie stuff. Disgusting, creepy-crawly, shiny wasps. Wasps which are dead now. Amazing what half a can of wasp spray can do. There's a lot of other scary stuff in this photo, too: the ghost of what was probably a beautiful porch railing that's now gone forever, the crumbling clapboards just to the right of the railing ghost, the boards that need to be pried off the wall, and the stovepipe hole in the bedroom wall. Scary.

I was sitting on the porch steps (which I bought last year at an antique shop for $50) trying to recover from the horror of it all when one of the B&B guests from across the street came over and said, "You are a very determined girl." I grinned. She continued, "I told Carl, surely that girl does not intend to take all of those shingles off all by herself, but Carl said, 'Oh, I think she surely does'." Yes, ma'am, I surely do!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Paint Your Wagon

"It's hotter than the hubs of Hell!" That's my friend Randy's favorite thing to say on days like today. I worked a little on the house this morning, and then escaped in my air-conditioned car to Liberty to take some photos of houses there. Lexington, my hometown, is known for our four National Register Historic Districts (I live in the Old Neighborhood District) and our abundance of pre-Civil War houses. But we don't have so many Victorians, and the ones we have are mostly remuddled. Liberty has lots and lots of Vics, in various stages of restoration and potential, and these are a few of my favorites. You can click on the photos to make them larger, so you can better see the details.

I love, love, love the row of windows on the second story of this house, and how the owners really brought them out with paint. At first look, the house doesn't seem to be a Painted Lady. And it's true, she's not gaudy. But I count four--no, five--different colors on this house. Look at the brackets and frieze board under the second story and the porch railing.

Corner lot, curving porch, clean white paint sparkling against the green roof and darker green trim paint. Though I tend to think the red-and-green trim combo is too often done, this one works because the colors have the same intensity and don't look too Christmas-y. I really like the dark muntins on the windows, too.

This is a sedate pair. But on a day when the sidewalk almost sizzled, the calm colors seemed refreshing to me. The stucco on the left is the color of vanilla ice cream, after all. It makes me want to sit in their porch swing with a big lemonade. The house on the right has colors very similar to the ones I picked out for my own house. It has dark muntins, too. Look closer at that second-story window. Diamond shaped pane in the center with smaller lights all around it. Oh, and this house is for sale.

What?! There's no paint at all on this house. But it's such a unique house that I had to show it to you, too. With its blue tile roof and heraldic-looking emblems everywhere, this house really is a castle. Wonder if it has secret passageways?

I really like the colors of this house, especially that orangesicle window trim .

But it was this house that made me yell, "Wow!!" How many hours did these folks spend picking colors?! Or maybe they hired someone to pick the colors. Either way, it's gorgeous. The house itself is beautiful, and the owners really let it strut its stuff with these paint colors.

That house made me doubt my own paint choices. I need to reconsider. I should file another application with the Historic Preservation Commission. My colors are blah. Boring.

But then I saw this house. Architecturally, it's closer to mine than the others. My house has the wide frieze boards just like this one does, and my proposed paint colors are monochromatic like this house. (Although my colors are warm yellow-tans and this house is cool blue-grays.) I don't know how well the colors come through, but the trim on this house is pale gray, not white. Very pretty. Restful.

Notice how I keep going back to words like calm, sedate and restful? That probably says a lot about me, about how I see a house as a haven; a place to rest and rejuvenate. I did just that when I got back home from Liberty, for a while anyway. And then I conquered my own Everest, but that's a story for another post.