Sunday, March 30, 2014

This Is What Is Known as "Existing Conditions"

My big goal after prepping the dining room last month for wallpaper was simply to get all the bills and receipts and tax documents entered and sorted out so I could have a clean Study for the first time in months.

Have I achieved this?


I've  been Writing, and obviously not on this blog.

I've had the fiction writing bug for a few years, but not very seriously:  ideas rattled around in my head but I seldom got around to writing any of it down.  Kind of like a renovation project that always in the planning stages and never gets built.

And then one day you finally get out the shovel and start digging, and who knows what you'll find.  In my case I found writing obsession, broken by periods like the present one when I'm a little stuck and I'll mess around on the Internet for hours rather than do the work to push on through.

Last November I started a writer's blog where I could post my productions and moan and groan about the turmoils of an amateur fiction writer's life (what there is of it).  I put it on WordPress because for various reasons I didn't want my Google/Blogger name(s) St. Blogwen/Kate H. attached to it. But I have mixed feelings about WeirdPretzel (which I describe here), so a week or so ago I started a doppelganger Blogger blog, under a separate Google name and account.

All right, now I've revealed all that here, my cover is blown.  Obviously.  Never mind, there's a method to my madness.

Both blogs are named The Writer Sits Down, and you're invited to pop on over to your choice of platforms and see what my mind has been building while my power tools have been idle.  The novel I'm presently revising is about two architects, so that's renovation related, correct??

 But speaking of DIYers and existing conditions, may I present this:

"Human Remains Found Behind Home."

That is why contractors demand more money for Contingencies.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the Verge

Barring a ceiling I do not want to repaint, my dining room is ready for wallpaper.

Yaaaayyyyyyy!!!! from the peanut gallery.

This means in the past month I got the rest of the old paste off the walls.

Handy scraping tool

And finished washing the yucky mill dirt off from behind the trim.

And used Gardz to stabilize the surface of the drywall on the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.

Gardz = shiny

And used the Big Wally's to close up a plaster crack over the "archway' to the living room.  And to stabilize the plaster at the bottom of the left side of the north wall, and at the bottom edge of the west windows.

And spackled and sanded all the dents and holes and all that sort of thing.  (Used joint compound, actually, it being what I had on hand.)

And took down the register cover and spray-painted it hammered bronze.

Screen wire cover, to keep the kittehs out of the ductwork

And used paint and walnut-tinted shellac to fake a natural finish on the silly undersized cornice molding.

And shellacked the window jambs and heads where they'll be exposed once the trim is back up.

And primed the whole room (and was glad I had enough left to finish the job).

And touched up the perimeter of the ceiling with primer where the shellac got out of hand.

And did the Big Wally's on a couple of corners of the ceiling where I discovered it was sagging a litle when I was touching up the perimeter.

And spackled and sanded the holes left from that, and hope no one notices, since a big enough chip of the ceiling paint didn't stick to the Big Wally washers such that I can get a computer match at the Big Blue Box Store, and I do not want to paint the ceiling!!

Before sanding.  Definitely.

Of course it helps to have an excellent Inspector of Works.

Wallpapering, which will entail railroading blankstock under and hanging the good stuff on top, will have to wait until I can be sure of a second pair of hands.  It's not a job I can do alone.

And yes, I'm pretty well reconciled to using the celery-green-tinged William Morris "Savernake" paper I have eight rolls of.  Not like I can return it after five years.  Or sell it on Ebay and replace it with another dye lot, the price has gone up so high.  I'll deal with it.  It should be fine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Scraping Along

What was the name of that instrument the Romans used to use to scrape the sweat and dirt off their bodies?

Oh, yeah, a strigil.  Pretty effective tool, a strigil.  If you didn't have soap and water, or if soap and water wouldn't do the job, a strigil was the tool for you.

But what's that got to do with preparing my dining room for repapering?

A lot.

Remember I said Monday that removing the old paste was a long, wet, messy, tedious job?  Well, it is.  And using only spray cleaner, a scrub brush, and an abrasive coated sponge, apparently an ineffective job, too.

I started on the east wall on Tuesday evening.  That's the wall that's clad in drywall.  Now, it's not like I've been working on this steadily since Sunday night.  I have other things to take care of, like work and gearing up a new used laptop computer.  I do what I can on the walls, and leave what I must for later.

Anyway, either I was deceiving myself on how well the old paste came off the plastered north wall, or it was thicker on the drywall or the drywall holds it more.  I know I was scrubbing and scrubbing and it was still sticky and gooey.  The Simple Green was not working.  The brush and sponge just spread the goop around.

So, back to first principles.  What is the time-honored way to loosen and dissolve old wallpaper paste?  A 50-50 mix of vinegar and warm water, of course.  And if the sponge is leaving the wet residue on the wall, well, time to start scraping.

Like with a strigil.  Or in this case, a plastic wallpaper smoother.

Spray, spray, spray.  Scrub, scrub, scrub.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  Rinse, rinse, rinse.  Wipe, wipe, wipe.

Oh, my.  It's scary how much pasty glop accumulates on the edge of that scraper.  Once, twice, three times I have to repeat the procedure on each yard-square area of the wall, before I can even begin to fool myself into thinking it's no longer sticky and the paste is gone.

I'm still working on that one east wall with the drywall.  I'm barely half done with the room, if that.  And if I have to go back and redo (scrape) the walls I already have done, I'll wish I had a few of those sweaty Romans around to help me out, strigils and all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Well, That's Done

By which I mean the dining room wallpaper stripping, as of around 11:30 last night.

Went on and scrubbed the mill dirt off the plaster around some of the windows, too.  That and general cleaning to remove the old paste and any remaining bits of wallpaper backing will go on for a bit, as it's a long, wet, filthy, tedious job.  If one could enchant a broom into bringing endless buckets of clean water (à la The Sorcerer's Apprentice), it'd be tempting to consider making it happen.

Before cleaning

There's probably lead dust in that bucket, considering the plant a little way up the river.

Clean.  Relatively-speaking.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Highly Valuable Use of My Limited Time

(She says with just the right tinge of snark.)

Here's where I got to as of 6:15 this morning, when my second bottle of wallpaper remover ran out and I decided to call it a night:

Finished publishing the previous blog post by 6:40 or so, whereafter I set the kitchen timer to ring at what I thought would be about twenty after nine and crashed out with the dog on the sofa. It went off, I heard it, but I didn't bother looking at a real clock.  No, I just reset the timer to ring at what I thought would be about 10:00 AM.  Plenty of time to make it to church.  But it took me to more like 11:30, and too late.

Whereupon I got up, used the can, fed and toileted the animals-- then crawled between my bed covers and slept (still in my clothes) till 6:30 PM.

Whereupon I fed and toileted the animals again-- and have been on the computer ever since.  My excuse is that I'm having second thoughts-- again-- about the color of the "Savernake" dining room wallpaper I bought from the UK in 2009.  Hey, I wonder if the color is better now, and if they'll take the eight rolls I have (all unopened) in even trade?

But now that the site has my location code it keeps reverting to the US page and tells me the company won't ship that William Morris paper to me here.  And that even if it did, it would cost me $98 a roll!  (I think I paid around half that in '09).  That won't keep me from giving them a transAtlantic call sometime this week, but still, this doesn't get dinner (breakfast) eaten or the remaining beige-with-pink-roses paper off the wall.

So now I'm also wondering if I would have been better off to have gone to bed at a (semi-) decent hour last night.

But moaning over what can't be helped is a further waste of my limited time.  And maybe I can redeem myself with some progress pictures.  Enjoy!

Hard at It

Yes, it's the middle of the night.  Yes, I'm sitting here making a blog post.  But yes, I'm also waiting for the wallpaper remover to work so I can keep on stripping the old beige-with-pink-roses wallpaper off my dining room walls.

I've never been big on making New Year's "resolutions."  Ambitions for the new year have always been more my style.  But this year I think my ambition to get my dining room wallpaper stripped had better be reinforced by the resolution to get it done before the end of this month.

And there's no reason I shouldn't get it done, provided I ignore my initial intention to get the stairhall trimwork all cut, shellacked, and installed first.  All those copes and mitres can take a long time . . . while wallpaper comes off in nice, big, satisfying strips.

Started the job last Saturday night, and got the old paper on the southeast corner and the strip over the portal to the living room taken down.
Working on the west window wall now.

I'm finding more than a little irony in the fact that since last spring I've been assigned to the Home Décor department at the Big Blue Box Store.  And every so often I'm called on to sell people the wallpaper scorer and the pre-mixed stripper fluid we carry.  But neither is so cheap or works so well as the hot water, vinegar, and dishwashing liquid stripper I mix up as needed or as the Hohlenpoker I learned to make from Jim Parodi's website.

No. 1 rule:  Do not kneel on der Hohlenpoker
Before I came across his tip I was afraid I'd have to invest in some expensive machine or exotic chemical or other to get the paper off the drywall the previous owners two back clapped onto the wall between the dining room and kitchen.  But as it turned out last week, all I have to do is roll the Poker over the wall, spritz on the vinegar solution, wait a few minutes, and with a little help from the 5-in-1 and the wallpaper scraper, off it comes. And if the drywall yields well to wallpaper removal, the plaster gives it up more easily still.

In the process of getting the paper off the plaster, I'm noticing that there's a layer of dark gold under the primer.  So apparently the dining room was glazed or tinted (not painted) gold, just as the living room was.

How far will I get tonight?  Depends on how fast I work and how willing I am to move the miscellaneous tools, equipment, and furniture that's in the way of the north and east walls.  Little things can make big roadblocks . . . or turn out to be no hindrance at all.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

La Folie de Ma Vie

I should have made this post over three weeks ago.  Never mind, I'm making it now as the year dies down, before the thoughts and sensations that gave rise to it fade away.

Early in the morning of the 3rd of this month my living room renovation was to the point where I could refill the bookcases flanking my fireplace.  And it didn't give me pleasure to get it done, it made me disgusted with myself and sad.

The books had been stored in boxes in the guest bedroom since August of 2008, and in all that time I'd forgotten much of what I had.  Or at least, I'd forgotten the implications of all the books I had.  For once I got them all shelved, I felt empty, disquieted, disturbed. I hardly knew what to do with myself.

For looking at those bookcases was like peering into a window to the past.  There are books on music criticism and music history.  Musical scores I've carried to symphony concerts and scores I've sung.  There are plays and essays and poetry.  Books on art history, church history, secular history.  On art and architecture, ancient, medieval, and modern; on icons and stained glass and Gothic cathedrals.  All the subjects and pursuits that make for a civilized life, sidelined, ignored, for years. The works of so many great, entertaining, and wise authors and composers sat again on my shelves: Tasso and Browning, Shakespeare and Chaucer, Lamb and Emerson.  Beethoven, Schubert, and Berlioz (always Berlioz!).  Eusebius, Schaff, and Chadwick; Ruskin, Conant, and Arnheim. Coulton and Tuchman.  Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Where had they been these past years?  Where had I?

There was a time when I sat down and read those books.  When I sang and played that music.  Back when I had a full time architecture career and felt like I was contributing to the beauty and order of the world.  I was a better person then, before I began to dissipate my energies on computer card games and checking my Facebook Notifications tab every fifteen minutes . . .

 Well.  I kept at the work of putting my living room back together.  By the following Tuesday I had all the tools and debris and the dog kennel cleared out and could see and clean the floor.  By early on Thursday the 5th I had the two-seat sofa moved back in from the front room and the chest of drawers pulled in from the dining room to carry my 1970s-vintage stereo system and the lamp I got two or three years ago and had never used (getting the linen chest out of the dining room clears the way to finish stripping the wallpaper in there).
By Sunday the 8th I was in a fair way of looking at it all and emulating God on the sixth day of creation, standing in the middle of the room admiring my work and thinking it was Very Good.  And since then I've cleaned off the sill of the portal to the 1st floor hall and even decorated for Christmas.

But still.  But still.  I can't shake the feeling that I've screwed up seriously.   It's not that I'm spending time on house renovation instead of reading The Stones of Venice.  Redoing the house is an artistic pursuit in itself.  Rather, I feel I've betrayed the whole way of life my books and music represent. I've made several bad career moves these past few years and I don't think I'll ever get back to my life the way I hoped it would be.

And if I spend too damn much time fooling around on the Innerwebz, I'll about guarantee that outcome.