Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gone Fishin' . . .

Just for fun (ha!), this afternoon I called a custom window manu- facturer here in the Pittsburgh area, to see what they could do for me for my dining room and living room windows.

Sent them digital photos, dimensions, and a description of what I'm looking for. So the fishing line is in the water!

One promising thing-- the window guy says there's a good chance that the big honking ugly metal extrusions on the outside are hiding the original wood trim. "Those people [metal replacement window installers] don't like to do any more work than they have to."
So I can hope.

I'd still have to look into the big wood window manufacturers like Pella, Marvin, JenWeld, etc. But so far, going by their websites, only Anderson seems to have the three-over-one lights pattern I want as a standard. And if I can get units that actually fit the openings, how great would that be?

It'll be interesting seeing what the custom millwork guys come up with. Keeping in mind, of course, that they don't install . . .

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mutilation and Abuse!

I've been living the past three-and-a-half years or more with semi-stripped woodwork. I've got to get the job finished and done.

As I mentioned before, most of the paint on the downstairs woodwork has come off easily. It just took some patient scraping with a dull razor blade scraper.

But where the 1990s paint is stuck on, I'm trying to get it off without destroying the decent color and finish next to it. My plan is to take Howard's Restore-a-Finish in the appropriate color and even out the bad spots. But first I have to get those spots down to the bare wood.

My excuse for putting off tackling that is that every method I've tried so far has mucked the good portions of the finish.

Well, I spent yesterday afternoon helping some friends paint the interior of an 1870s farmhouse they're rehabbing. I got home on a roll and thought, what the hey-- Why don't I tackle one of the dining room windows and see what I can do with the good old heat gun?

But first I had to finish removing the useless vinyl stop moulding that came with the metal insulated windows my POs-1 put in. I say useless because it leaves big gaping cracks between it and the original wood stops. Useless because at some windows I can actually see daylight through those cracks. And useless because with it there I can't get the paint off the wood stops.

I already got rid of the jamb pieces on this particular window awhile back. They were nailed on, and the vinyl ripped when I pried them loose. So much for them. I'll replace them with new wood stops that'll look and work better.

So last night I went after the vinyl head moulding piece. Rats! Same issue with the nails. Rammed in, refusing to be removed. And no matter what tool I tried, I couldn't get the piece down without mutilating the wood moulding above it. This is how it looks after my depredations:
Maybe I could get a hacksaw into the crack and cut the nails? Then countersink the shanks after?

Or maybe I should just be bolder and yank the bloody piece of vinyl to bits? If I'm strong enough, that is.

Or should I take the casing down altogether and work with it flat-- if this time I could figure out how to do it without splitting the wood?

Such a little thing, and it has me stuck.

So stuck and so frustrated, it had me seriously consid- ering getting bids to replace these half-baked metal windows for double-glazed wood. Let the installers cope with getting the old windows and their trim out of my way!

Fortunately, today was a holiday and I couldn't call any wood window reps. Maybe by tomorrow I'll have gotten over such a mad, expensive, and untimely whim.

But I still need to figure out what to do about these nailed-on vinyl strips. Tried to go on Houseblogs.net this evening to post a discussion inquiry, but I couldn't get the site to load.

Well, as the red-headed orphan chick sang, "Tomorrow!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This Old House, the Mag

My first copy of This Old House magazine came in the mail last week.

And is it sacrilege to say I'm disappointed?

What was I expecting? "Before" pictures of old houses. Nitty-gritty techie info. Like Family Handyman but more architectural. Not so much like House and Garden and House Beautiful. Not quite so glossy and high-end decorator-y.

There were some handsome "after" spreads. But show me what it took to get there! I want to see the gosh-awful existing conditions, the nasty surprises discovered and overcome. Encourage me to go and do likewise!

And the article "Picking Out Good Wood" was promising, but in the end didn't deliver. It was helpful to learn what the grading stamp codes mean. But hey, there's more to picking lumber than atmospheric shots of Norm Abrams in an old-fashioned lumberyard! Tell me about checking, warping, and cracking! Tell me what grades are really necessary for what kinds of projects, what I should avoid, and what, if necessary, will "do"! I felt as I were riding down the road, getting somewhere, and suddenly came smack up against a big "Road Closed" sign.

The articles on rewiring and installing vintage fixtures may turn out to be useful. And I had to sympathize with the hapless couple who learned too late the implications of having a "slightly" leaking underground heating oil tank on their property-- I once worked for a city agency that had to deal with removing them. (Really wish they'd had photos of the remediation project. But I guess I can't blame them. There are fools out there who might drive miles to jeer at the householders for the inadvertent environmental damage their UST caused.)

I can't complain on one count. I got the subscription free with my ticket to the local home and garden show last March. But I was looking forward to something a little more, well, down to earth. We're talking This Old House, after all.

And I'm disappointed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free Landscape Rock

Anybody want some landscape rock?

Nice, varigated river rock, about 27 cubic yards of it?

My POs-1 were mad for river rock for mulch. All round the front and sides of the house, along the property line out to the sidewalk, along the three borders of the backyard fence, around the backyard trees, they put in load after load of river rock. They dotted in a shrub here, and a hosta there, but mostly, it was river rock.

And my POs thought that was a grand idea. So they topped it off and brought in more when they installed their above-ground swimming pool.

River rock looks nice. But it doesn't leave me the latitude I need to put in the herbacious borders I've dreamed of since I was an apartment-dweller.

I've used all I want paving the walkways in my kitchen garden (where the swimming pool used to be). And I've kept some over for spare cobbles. Now I want to get rid of the rest.

A local dealer charges $30 a cubic yard for it, without haulage. The haulage contractor who was here on Saturday will charge me $550 to dig it all up and take it away.

So does anybody within driving distance want to come to southwest Pennsylvania, and take a load away for free? Email me or leave a comment and we can make arrangements.

It's nice rock. It's just in the wrong place-- my yard.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Help! I Mean, Hooray! My Mother's Coming!

Today I spoke with my mom in Texas to wish her greetings and felicitations on Mothers' Day. And she confirmed that she and my stepfather are coming here in June!

Yes, I knew that was in the works. They've been talking about it since last Winter or before. But ack! That's less than a month away! I was going to have all this glorious work on my dining room woodwork and wallpaper done for them to see it!

Well, forget that. The wallpaper I've got my eye on is a William Morris pattern that has to come from England. No time to get it and hang it by mid-June, even if it were in the budget at the moment.

All right. What shall I resolve before God and all the neighbors (virtual and literal) to accomplish before they arrive?

I can install the new kitchen sink faucet I bought nearly two months ago, to replace the one that's leaking all over the countertop.

I can do something about the gaps next to the bathroom medicine cabinet that were left when I took out the old one with the ugly built-in fluorescent lights. I have the plaster spackle. And the fill-in tiles. And a new medicine cabinet, so the one I'm borrowing from the basement loo can go back where it belongs. All I need is mastic and grout and getting around to it.

What else? My POs had dogs that left their mark, shall we say, on the beige carpet of the second floor hallway. My own dog has followed suit. It does not look nice. It smells worse. Do I get the carpet cleaner in? Or do I use this as an excuse to rip it up?

I should be able to get these things done, if not more. Right? So now I've put it in writing in public and I have to do it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Something Uplifting

I love perennials. When it's mid-Spring and I've gotten behind (as usual) with my indoor seed starting, or it seems it's rained every weekend for two months, or my work doesn't let me get outside till 9:00 PM, the perennials are still on the job, pushing through the ground, budding out, and assuring me I'm going to have a garden this year, in spite of myself.

So on that note, allow me to intruduce a couple of my stalwarts.

These are my kerrias (Japanese rose, kerria japanica). I've had them in the ground for two years now, and this year's is their best show so far.

Here's the clematis "President". Got this fellow on late-season sale at Lowe's a year or so ago for $1.50 maybe. And despite the backwards Winter and early Spring we had in southwestern Pennsylvania, already it's doing very well.

And lest you think I've done no proper gardening this season at all, here are the lettuces and the spinach (two kinds). Sowed the seeds sometime the last week in March. This is all the further along they are, but see above about bass-ackward weather.

(Yes, they need thinned. I'm waiting till the thinnings are big enough to make a salad.)

And for something really uplifting, we have-- dirt. That is, compost. Despite all expectations, the plastic Rubbermaid bin really did do a decent job of it. That's after over two years and little or no turning, but it's compost!

A Goodlie Heritage

Today's project was replacing the battery in my Black & Decker CM600 cordless electric lawnmower. The cowl was already off, with the help of the guys at the local B&D shop. They'd even shown me how the handle unclips so I could get it out of the way.

So how long could replacing the battery take? We're talking, what, two bolts for the terminals and two to hold down the battery strap? Allow a little time for vacuuming out (most of!) the grass and cobwebs that've been accumulating under the cowl since before I inherited the mower from my dad in 2003, and it comes to maybe forty-five minutes, right?

Say more like four hours, most of it in failing to get a grip on rusted-on, Liquid Wrench-greasy nuts. If I'd known it would be this difficult, I would have soaked the thing in LW all night.

Of course, that time span included my consultation with the guy who came to give me a price to haul away all the landscape rock my POs and POs-1 were so fond of. By my rough take-off, I estimate I've got about twenty-seven cubic yards on the property. And that doesn't count what I used to cobble my garden path.

But the time with the haulage guy was time well spent, since he took pity on me (I strategically apologized for the fact my yard looked like I was planning to make hay) and loosened the stuck bolts before he went.

I really like this mower. I'm glad my dad bought it and that I have it now. But oh, what I'd give to find out why he put the terminal screw-bolts on backwards when he last changed the battery! It really wasn't like him. His work tended to be unaesthetic, but it was sound.

I put the terminal screws back the right way. I'll think of my dad with gratitude when I'm using my gas-free, oil-free, tune-up-free mower. Not with frustration when the battery needs replaced again in four or five years.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Beige vs. Green

When I bought my ugly house nearly four years ago, I was looking for a place that wasn't modern (meaning, for me, built before World War II). It had to have three bedrooms (one for me, one for guests, and one for a study), be at least two storeys (to make sure I got some exercise), and have a nice view out the front windows. And there had to be a yard, preferably with a fence, so my dog (Maddie, RIP April 2005) could run, and that yard had to be big enough so I could plant a garden.

I got the vintage: My ugly house is a sorta Arts and Crafts foursquare built sometime in the mid to late 1920s. I got my three bedrooms. I got my two storeys, and a third one to boot. I got my nice view. And I got my fenced-in yard, with enough space for a garden.

I also got a brick house that was in very good shape, even without considering its age. What I didn't get was a house that really looked the way "my" house should. Or a house that really knows what it wants to be. Or that I really know what I want it to be.

The interior trim is more or less Arts and Crafts as to profile-- but the last two sets of previous owners painted it. The POs-1 were keen on what they thought was Victorian style, so they stuck wooden gingerbread bits in all the Arts and Crafts openings. And they hung beige floral "Victorian" wallpaper everywhere except the two second floor bedrooms and bathroom.

When I was in high school and college I really liked Victorian. But that was then. Anyway, the house isn't Victorian. It's a 1920s foursquare. So why don't I clear out all this Queen Vickie decor and go for clean A&C?

Because of the black and white marble true Victorian mantlepiece imported by the POs-1, which-- alas for me! I fell in love with at first sight.

I'm surprised they didn't paint it beige. When they did whatever it was they did with the original wood exterior trim and replaced it with aluminum eaves and soffits, they went for a striking contrast with the beige brick-- and ordered it in beige. To give them credit, their color choice for the interior first floor trim was cream. But my POs soon took care of that. They got themselves some nice "mushroom tan" paint and redid it in-- you guessed it-- beige. And the wall-to-wall carpet they laid on the stairway and on up to the second and third floors? Got it again-- beige.

I hate beige. Beige drives me to catatonic sensory deprivation insanity. But I was moving here to take a new job. I had to settle on a house. And I walked into this one, saw the natural oak stair newell and hallway bench, and in my charming Midwestern naivete thought, "Oh, the woodwork must all be oak, just like back home. I'll strip it!"

So I bought the house, and I've been stripping yellow pine woodwork ever since. Hasn't taken that much work so far-- My POs-1 didn't bother to prime the trim first, and the paint has been very happy to chip off with a little persuasion from a razor blade scraper. It looks very scabby where the paint stuck, but even so, I think the dark woodwork makes the beige wallpaper (temporarily) endurable.

Shortly after I moved in I painted and debeiged my third floor study. I had the electrician in twice for some major rewiring. After a year and a half I finally got my kitchen stripped and painted and the cabinets rehung. And I've chipped and chipped at the stupid beige paint.

But frankly, I've been putting off tackling those stuck-on bits. I keep thinking there must be some way to do it without ruining the finish. And I haven't quite figured out the scheme that'll pull together the woodwork (once it's done) and the fireplace and oh yes, the ersatz wood floor I can't afford to replace and the brown metal insulated windows that mostly work but look awful, without putting me into bankruptcy court. Or that'll mean replacing all my existing furniture with Genuine Victorian. Which ditto.

So do you blame me if I've focussed most of my renovation energies on my garden? So with a few garden entries are how this blog begins, and I'll pick up on what I actually am doing (and have done) in the house as I go along.