Around the House


I haven't written much about the ongoing work at our little house. Most of the tasks are so mundane, individually. But when I sit down and think about it, a lot has been accomplished. I don't have photos of most of these projects, so I'll share a photo of some bread Robb baked.

We have not yet installed the vintage siding that Robb found on craigslist. I wanted to scrape off the old paint before we commenced. I'd much rather do the paint-scraping on sawhorses, instead of crawling around in the dirt. We're interested in using an infrared paint stripper for this job. The advantage of this tool is that it only brings the paint up to about 400°. Heat guns get much hotter, reaching temperatures that vaporize lead paint, and create hazardous fumes. We're trying to remove the paint as safely as possible. Unfortunately, these tools cost about five hundred dollars. Robb found a tool rental service, so we'll be starting as soon as the stripper arrives in the mail. I really hope it works!

Robb did some much-needed repairs to our kitchen cabinets. Our kitchen is a huge mess, but I'm unwilling to face this project at the moment. All of the paint needs to be stripped out of this room, because it's actually peeling away from the walls and cabinet. It can't be painted over. I'm really thankful that most of the paint in the house was in pretty good condition. I'm dreading repairing the paint in the kitchen and bathroom.

Robb has been building shelves in our tiny closets. He found towel bars that match the vintage ones in our bathroom. Robb gave the bathroom floor a serious deep cleaning. It turns out that we had never seen the true color of this floor until last weekend. That's bad.

Robb stripped the paint off of the vintage lamp in our hallway. When he took it apart, he discovered it was wired with decades-old speaker wire. The lamp is now re-wired it with proper electrical wire.

Robb has been working on the pocket doors, between the living room and the dining room. He's learned a lot, and this is still a work in progress.

When we first moved in, our neighbors told us some pretty scary stories about an underground stream that originated beneath our house. At the time, we figured they were all insane, and stuck our fingers in our ears, and hummed "la-la-la-la-la, I can't hear you." I mean, really? An underground river....that only flowed in the winter? What kind of madness was that? Well, it turns out that there was some truth to this story. Robb bought a post hole digger, and crawled under our house, and dug down into the perpetual damp spot. Sure enough, he hit water at two feet. Having recently spent more money than we care to think about having our foundation shored up, we weren't about to let our house drift around atop an underground spring. Robb excavated a hole, lined it with a couple of bottomless five-gallon buckets, and installed a sump pump. This pump is humorously powerful. It's attached to a hose that spews water all over our front yard, a couple of times a day.

And speaking of spewing hoses, after quite a bit of tinkering, we have a working grey water system. We bought a lovely oak wine barrel off of craigslist a few months back. Robb cut an opening in the barrel's top and installed a submerged pump. We are now able to capture the used water from our washing machine, and use it to water our garden. For those curious, we use a laundry soap designed for grey water systems. It breaks down into plant nutrients, and doesn't contain any chemicals (like borax) that would harm insect life. It is designed to be safe for the soil, and for plants and streams. Up until now, we'd been diverting the water from our washing machine out the window of the laundry room, and catching it in buckets. Of course, once in a while, we'd forget to put the hose out the window. This should have flooded the laundry room, but apparently this room is pretty porous. I suppose we should worry about this, but really we're pretty thankful that the worst thing we did was fill my wellington rain boots with soapy water. I wasn't thrilled when I made that discovery, but we had a good laugh at our own expense.

Our laundry room is a little addition to the house, that one enters through an exterior door. Oddly, the door itself is the width of a standard interior door and actually is an interior door. The door isn't made of solid wood, and because there was no such thing as exterior plywood when this door was installed, the plywood is de-laminating from exposure to the weather. I hadn't been inclined to put any work into this crappy door, but it does look a million times better with a coat of paint. (Robb continues to trawl the architectural salvage places, looking for a replacement door.)

Robb shaved the top of the front bedroom's door, because it wouldn't close. We were trying to remember if this door ever worked properly, and it seems to us that the house got a bit out of whack when we had the foundation work done. Robb has also been working on the door to our broom closet.

As a result of that foundation work, our walls had developed a few new cracks. I've been repairing and repainting them, so that the place doesn't look like it's about to fall down. It's ironic, really, because I've been sending my time at work making brand new construction look old and crummy. At work, I've actually been creating walls with phony cracked plaster. Create decrepit plaster at work, fix it at home. It all seems a bit Sisyphean.

Robb has been working to finish the foundation work that we paid for, but that the contractors abandoned. Those sneaky bastards only did the work that could be seen through the door to the crawl space. It was only when Robb crawled under the house that he realized that they had not done the bulk of the work. Robb has been chipping away at this project. I think he can only do a little at a time, partially because it's very difficult work for him, and partially because it makes him to angry to have to do work that we had paid someone else to do.

All this winter, I had been totally neglecting the front yard. Last weekend, I finally dragged out our electric weed whacker, and cut that grass. We've got a human-powered push mower, but the grass was too tall, and the fallen leaves too thick for the mower. I think our neighbors were appalled and amused. Two of them ran over and offered me their mowers, and another one insisted on helping me gather up the raked leaves. This may not have been entirely altruistic. It seems he lost a gem-encrusted gold crucifix, and had recently found one of the diamonds in the leaves on our sidewalk. (I had seen this neighbor digging around in our grass a few weeks back, and at the time could not figure what he was up to.)

Robb dug up the pile of mostly rotting lumber at the back of our yard. Some of the redwood was salvageable, but most everything was bundled up and disposed of. Robb also did a massive garage clean-up.

Robb and I built some compost bins, out of some of the lumber we dug out of the back yard. We now have two piles going, one that's actively being added to, and one that's finishing "cooking." These structures look significantly better than the heap we had previously.

I also finally cut down the dying elm trees in our back yard. And I ripped out the blackberry bushes. The bushes were thorny and weedy looking, and produced fewer than a dozen berries. I'm happy to have that space to grow something else.

Robb cleaned out our dead beehive, removing anything that might attract ants. To keep the ants at bay, he placed oil-filled cat food cans under the legs of the hive. We're probably going to split our remaining colony and house half of the bees in the abandoned hive.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something. But that's a pretty good list.


JenLM said…
So now that the contractors are no longer taking you to court, can you take them instead??
Anonymous said…
Busy busy busy! Great to hear of the projects you are working on- sounds like you are doing great! Tell Robb to be careful when he is doing house stuff.

We also have a list that never goes away, but as the years pass by we get more accomplished. 5 years by April 1st of this year. We figure the house is like 140+ this year. We should also bake it a cake. And it was originally designed and built by Freemasons, so that explains some of the unusual features... I think we have a cornerstone buried in the foundation facing the southwest corner...

John and I are positively exhausted just reading about all the work you're doing in and around your house! We decided you do more in a few weeks than we do in about 3 years. PHew!!!

ASL Girl said…
How are the cats doing during this construction process? I always enjoy hearing about the cats and what they are up to.
Anonymous said…
OMG...that bread...what perfct little pieces of guys need to open a little bakery.

Having a 1929 home myself, I can appreciate the amount of time and effort each daunting task guys have been hard at work and should be very proud of yourselves!

I especially appreciate how you really go above and beyond in regards to the environment and how you appreciate the "true bones" of what most would quickly toss aside as "junk". Both of you are such an inspiration!!!
Anonymous said…
It just struck me that if you could have read this post to yourselves of "post accident", you would have been totally amazed!

Little things add up to big things, don't they?

--Laughing Gravy, Centralia WA
JenLM -- We settled out of court with the contractors. Thank goodness that's all behind us.

Annalisa -- We have no explanation for our "weird features."

Diane -- It sure sounds impressive if we tally up the work of the past three months... We've been nibbling away at the work, bit by bit.

ASL Girl -- The cats ignore anything that smells like work. Linguine and Smog have both followed Robb under the house, and made a patrol of the foundations. The feral boys tend to disappear when big projects are underway.

Anon -- Open a bakery? No way! Bakers get up at the crack of dawn, which isn't our idea of a good time. For now, the bread is for personal enjoyment.

Laughing Gravy -- You're so right. I read your comment to Robb, and he laughed and said that he stayed deeply in denial about the severity of his recovery when he was in the hospital. (I'm not sure I remember it that way. I like to think that we were both cautiously hopeful, not delusional.)
Masha said…
Sounds like you are busy with your house. Good luck!

Regarding old roses, the best way to go is to take pictures of blooms, buds, leaves, maybe prickles (thorns), load them into picasa and then post a message asking for ID on the Antique Rose Forum:

There are lots of knowledgeable people there. If this sounds complicated, go to a big rose garden (such as the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden) when roses are blooming, and see if you can recognize your roses there:). Hope it helps
Masha said…
I am sorry, I re-read your comment. If you varieties are common, better post on the general Rose Forum

People on the Antique forum might be snobbish about common rose varieties. Pictures are very important for ID.
Anonymous said…
You and Robb are simply amazing! I admire your gumption and applaud your doing things the right way, environment being considered, too. Kudos, and good luck! :-)
Masha -- Thanks! How old does a rose variety need to be to be, before it is an antique?

Frances -- We're trying to do our little part, to conserve the world's resources. It sickens me how wasteful and clueless we are as a nation,
Karen Anne said…
What kind of foundation work was left undone? I am thinking not the concrete part? Maybe missing earthquake wall bracing?

The laundry room on my California bungalow was an add on, too. The house's exterior clapboard siding formed one wall. It also had a smallish doorway, and the door frame was just attached by a few screws so it could be removed to get appliances in and out.

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