Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Due to the 12' baseboards lying on my front room floor and to the rest of the renovation mess, I didn't put a full-sized live Christmas tree up this year for the first time since 1998. No, I dug out and assembled the little Bottle Brush tree I purchased when I was a sophomore in high school back in 19-mumble-mumble, set it on top of my new old piano, and loaded it with as many ornaments as I could.

And festooned the potted rosemary shrub with a few more.

But for your delight and delectation, here's a vid of my tree from two years ago.

God willing, by this time next year I can take another tree video and all the woodwork you see will be stripped, refinished, and done.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Stroke of Doom

A few minutes ago, 12:26 AM, and my student AutoCAD program died for real. I was almost done doing up one last sketch elevation for my upstairs bathroom, when suddenly the command prompt froze and I couldn't get back to the layout to print it.

Fortunately, I had saved it to pdf in progress, but it's not as pretty as what I was working on.

Oddly, model space stayed with me for a few minutes more, and I got a screen shot of what I was doing.
Was going for a screenshot of something else I wanted to save, but I hit the zoom button the wrong way, and when I tried to zoom back in-- or was it out?-- everything in model space was gone.

. . . Just tried again. All the way out, all the way in. Nothing.

Well, with the pdfs and screenshot jpgs I've got my work in a form I can look at and hand-sketch over. But now that I've gotten used to this program, what are my options?

1. Buy the professional version, for $1,000 to $1,500 for the "lite" version; for up to $4,000 if I want all the 3D bells and whistles. Yeah, right.

2. Renew my student license, either through the tech school or a local retailer. That'd be a lot cheaper, but do I really want all my drawings to go on saying "PRODUCED BY AN AUTODESK EDUCATIONAL PRODUCT" for the next fourteen months?

3. Find work with an architect who has AutoCAD 2008 and who'll let me install a licensed copy on my home PC-- for the convenience of the firm, of course. At the moment, something might be happening along those lines . . . sorta . . . but the architect in question is running AutoCAD 2007. And I don't think I can convert files backwards.

4. Wait a year or two until AutoCAD 2008 is considered out of date and the price goes down. I mean, I won't be redoing my bathroom before then. And I have the pdfs in the meantime, if I want to dream . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This past week I've been staring into the face of Doom. The expiration of my 14-month student AutoCAD 2008 license was looming up before me; yea and verily, an on-screen notice a couple days ago gave me to understand that at the stroke of the midnight just past my program would fold up like Cinderella's coach-and-four and I'd have no more access to the drawings I've been doing on my house.

So all day and all evening today-- yesterday the 16th-- I've been drawing and drawing and printing things out and saving things as pdfs and using this cute little app I have called FastStone Capture to get screenshots of all my plans and elevations.

So at 11:54 PM, I was thinking, Oh-oh, I never did a printable layout of my overall site plan-- I'll do it really quick. But first I had to go into model space and move all the drawings that were cluttering the site plan up [Brief explanation-- in AutoCAD, "model space" is the window where you do the actual drawing. It's like having a drafting board that goes off into infinity in all directions, and you draw on it full-size, as in 1" = 1". It's on the layout tabs that you scale things for printing.]

All right, I got my site plan decluttered. I created and named a new layout tab for it, but when I opened the viewport, nothing was there! I tried zooming in and out to find it, but all I had was white space and the X-Y axis marker! Huh?! Is this what happens when your license runs out while the program is open? Everything on your layouts disappears?

No fair! It's only 11:57!

Uh, no, checked the caller ID on the phone. 12:01 AM. Oh.

Nothing I can do about it now. So I opened my documents file and checked the pdfs and jpgs I'd stored. Pretty good job of getting them all filed away . . . then I switched back to AutoCAD.

Hmm, funny. I could still open model space. And draw in it. And look, some of the layout tabs were showing just what they ought to. Does the program close down piece by piece, bit by bit?

Short answer, no. Turns out it's my own fault I can't see most of my drawings-- they got disassociated from their layout pages when I moved all those plans and elevations in model space.

I was trying to get them back where they belonged when I suffered a Fatal Error and had to close the program.

Yes, it opened again. And the on-screen notice said my license expires tomorrow. Meaning today, but long enough for me to stop cranking and get some sleep. I'm not turning into a pumpkin quite yet.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Furnace Update

The furnace is fixed. Apparently. I hope.

No heat all day Saturday. That afternoon I made a batch of sugar cookies, but 350 degrees in a modern oven doesn't do much to warm up the kitchen, let alone the house. The house temperature went down to 44 and stayed there.

Oh, well, the cookies rolled and cut out beautifully on the marble board. No trouble with sticky dough at all.

In the meantime, I turned off the pilot light and the gas to it. No point in running it if it wasn't going to do any good.

Just as an experiment, though, I turned the ignition back on around 7:30. Went upstairs to make some phone calls, came back down twenty minutes later, and hey, presto! the furnace was on! And proceeded to run the thermostat up two degrees above its setting.

No complaints about that. Went to bed, woke up yesterday morning, and the furnace was off. Again. 50 degrees and dropping. 49 degrees by the time I left for church.

It was a very good day to have things scheduled outside the house until nearly 7:00 PM. I returned to find the inside temperature stabilized at 43 degrees (21 outside). Made another batch of cookies. And lots of hot tea. The coldest part was unloading the dishwasher. Those stoneware plates and bowls were freezing!

A bit before 11:00 PM, I tried the ignition again. Just for fun. And what do you know? the heat kicked on! I goosed up the thermostat to a temperature I figured would require the furnace to stay on all night and not cycle off, and apparently it worked. I still had heat this morning.

But that didn't solve the problem of why the system wasn't working properly in the first place.

Around 8:00 this morning, I got a call from the heating and cooling people. A third person, different from either I'd spoken to before, was on the line. "Your heat is off?" he asked.

"Wait a minute," I temporized. (I admit it-- I was still wrapped in my warm covers, putting off getting up and out into the cold.)

I went downstairs to check the thermostat (the register in the bedroom never gives much heat; no point checking that). 59 degrees. "Let's say I have intermittent heat." And I described what had been going on.

"Could it be your air filter?"

What? I went through this with their other guy on Friday!

"No, I just replaced it less than a month ago."

"It still could be dirty."

"I checked it on Friday. It's gray, but not filthy."

"Do you have a programmable thermostat? Maybe it's just the program cycling off."

"No, I don't have it set that low!"

"Well, maybe it's the factory settings."

I about lost it. "Nooooo!!! At 43 degrees?!" Good grief, man, don't patronize me! And don't you guys communicate? I went through all this with your colleague the day before yesterday!

"Well . . . "

"Do you have the serial number?" I asked.

Of course he didn't. He didn't have anything. But he said, "I'll be out within the hour."

More like an hour and a half. The serviceman was younger than I'd visualized. Funny, but his questions had made me imagine a middle-aged, burly, "I've-got-all-the-answers-and-the-homeowner-knows-nothing" type. I apologized for having lost my patience with him (if other people are acting like idiots, no point in being an idiot yourself) and showed him downstairs.

Having turned off the furnace, he turned on the now-futile ignition. "This unit doesn't have a pilot light," he said.

"But I saw---"

"It's not on all the time. It's got an electric ignition. Did you hear this clicking when it wasn't turning on?"

I listened. "Yes, but I thought it was the metalwork rattling or something" (guess this homeowner doesn't know everything!) "You mean it's like the burners on my gas stove?"

Yes, indeed. Having fished my calico cat out of the bowels of the furnace, I took myself and her upstairs and left him to it. And after a few minutes of poking and prodding, after him having me jack the thermostat up to see what that did, after some turning off and on of switches, the serviceman called me back down the basement.

"It was your ignition sensor. Your pilot light was coming on, but the sensor couldn't tell, so it wasn't turning the gas on. I've cleaned it, and I've shut the furnace off and on twice to make sure. Here, I'll do it again." He hit the switch (which is, as I'd recalled, at the breaker box) off, then on. The furnace shut off, then powered back up. "I think that was it."

And apparently it was. He took the home warranty call fee and went on his way.

And God willing, that will do it. Though I can see that getting somebody out to clean the whole shebang wouldn't do any harm. But not this firm, most likely. I'd like somebody who's a little better at internal communication.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Enforced Energy Conservation

This is what my thermostat read when I came downstairs this morning:

I assure you, I am not that energy conscious. Nor that cheap.

My dad was that cheap. He removed the furnace from his house entirely and got through the Midwestern winters by wearing his overcoat constantly and running space heaters in closed rooms. He swore he wasn't going to give the gas company any more than he absolutely had to.

I, too, economize on energy. But not that much. I routinely set the thermostat back to 55 degrees at night and stay warm and cozy under five covers and three cats. But by 8:37 in the morning I really do expect the temperature to be heading back up towards 61.

Wednesday morning, the thermostat said 53 degrees when I got up, but the furnace straightened itself out. Probably had nothing to do with the fiddling I did with the fan switch.

Thursday morning was a bit warmer outside: no trouble with the heat.

Friday morning, yesterday, the outside temps dove back into the mid-20s. And my thermostat read 52 degrees. Then 51.

I called the home warranty people, who had a heating and cooling repair company call me. Yes, sir, the furnace motor is going. No, sir, the fan and the gas burner are not running. Yes, sir, the pilot light is on. No, sir, I can't seem to find the switch for the furnace motor. Yes, sir, I've found the label inside the furnace . . . oh, look, I think it says this unit was installed in 1987! No, sir, that is really not surprising, it was my POs-1 who put in the forced air system . . . No, sir, I still haven't found the switch you describe . . . oh! look! the burner and the fan just came on!

That's good, the heating guy said, because they were pretty booked up that day. Call them back on Monday to let them know if they should still come out.

I did not wait till Monday. Not with the thermostat reading 46 degrees F. Not with it again in the 20s outside. A number of calls and some futile fiddling with switches later, the maintenance guy has determined the problem is the module. Which he can't get till Monday. And hopefully it's not some other part I forget the name of: that'd mean replacing the whole furnace.

(Though given that I have a replacement warranty, that might not be a bad thing. Even the sort of bog-standard furnace the home warranty company will pay for has got to be more energy-efficient than the unit I've got!)

Meanwhile, I get to rough it through the weekend and most of Monday. Baking Christmas cookies was not on today's calendar. But, um, I think I just changed my plans . . .

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

As Builts

According to my doctor, I've contracted The Bronchial Crud That's Going Around. Doesn't make me too fit to strip woodwork these past couple of weeks. But maybe that's just as well, since my student AutoCAD license expires on the 17th of this month, and after that I won't be able to open the program, let alone practice on it or play with it.

But as long as I've got it, I'm using it to document some features of the house, and maybe to work out some ideas I have for the upstairs bathroom.

The last couple or three days have been devoted to doing an as-built drawing of the living room fireplace. It certainly is a unique feature of the house; I'm thinking it wouldn't be a bad thing to have a measured drawing of it stored off-site in case anything happened.

Here's the results so far. So far and maybe no farther. I've left off the surface ornament, but I've got plenty of photos to show that.
But did I say this was an "as-built"? Not exactly. My fireplace exhibited the same phenomenon as did my staircase-- regardless of how many measurements I took, no matter how often I checked and double-checked them, I couldn't get all the dimensions to agree. In some places it's as much as an inch off, but I can't adjust that inch without throwing other dimensions into chaos. I tell myself it's because the mantelpiece has settled and it's out of true. But not that far out of true! Surely, I'd notice it if it were. It'd drive me crazy looking at it if it were!

But it doesn't. I don't know . . . one more instance of the house keeping its secrets . . .

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wallpaper Progress, on My Part at Least

After working on them for the last month and more, I've finally finished drawing up the elevations of my 1st and 2nd floor halls with the dado wallpaper layout.

I have a lousy case of bronchitis and feel like something a Humvee ran over. I really should be in bed soothing my brain watching mindless videos.

But my student AutoCAD license turns into a pumpkin sometime next month, and everytime I try to sleep with my cough, my dreams turn into torture sessions where I'm trying to finish these drawings or trying to figure out how to calculate the right amount of William Morris "Blackthorn" wallpaper for the dado that runs diagonally up the stairs. Pattern matches and all.

So I've been working on it, and as of this evening I've drawn all the elevations I need for the purpose. And I've done my take-offs for the amount of paper needed, two different ways, and have a number I can rely on.

So I've gone on the Sanderson's Fabrics site and filled out my order form-- 10% discount for quantity, how nice-- and I'm happy to see that the pound-dollar exchange rate isn't as bad as it has been. At least, not according to their calculator.

So now I can push the "Checkout Now" button and see what I'm in for for shipping and handling and get this order in, in, in-- right?

Not right. Because after initially being so expeditious with the samples, Sanderson's has dropped the ball for the past five weeks and hasn't sent me the final-approval swatches I asked for in mid-October.

Well, maybe they did send them and they got lost in the post. Over the Atlantic.

So laryngitis and all, I'm calling Yorkshire tomorrow to see if I can move things along.

And maybe while I'm coughing my way through tonight's slumbers, my mind can roil away at something else.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nasty Bits

No, not that kind.

I mean the four jamb trim pieces I stripped today.

I was really hoping to stop the current paint stripping campaign at the top of the steps from the first floor. It's tacky enough subsisting with my living room, dining room, and first floor hall denuded of trim. It's quite enough to have to overlook the black-dusty-crumbly grossitude that is the exposed plaster where trim once reposed on the walls of the first floor. I really didn't want to tackle the trim of the five doors, one window, and miscellaneous baseboard in the second floor hall as well. Couldn't I restrict the squalor to one floor only?

No, I could not. The wallpaper and/or paint that starts in the downstairs hall will have to go all the way up. No stripped trim upstairs, no nice new stairhall walls upstairs or down. Those five doors, one window, and miscellaneous baseboards had to be done, now.

So I'm doing it. The trim of the window and three of the doors I tackled last weekend. Today my goal was to strip that last of the long jamb pieces, the two from the bedroom doorway and the two from the closet.

Should have taken me five hours. Maybe six, maximum. Instead, I was at those four nasty pieces of work from shortly after 10:00 this morning till nearly 8:00 this evening, with maybe a half hour out for a mid-afternoon snack.

The problem? On the first two, splintery places some previous owner(s) hadn't bothered to glue down before painting them over. Rather, the object seemed to be to get as much paint behind the splinters as possible. You can literally while away hours trying to dig that out.

And then, of course, these damaged places need to be reglued. Which they should have been several decades ago.

With the third piece, it soon became apparent that it wasn't the original trim. Original to the house, but I think it started out someplace else, someplace where it was painted from the beginning. All except one edge, which was stained and shellacked under the paint. Very strange. There's a story there having to do with the time my POs-1 converted the third bedroom into a dressing room/walk-in closet. But I won't insert my conjectures now.
The paint on this piece, even after two laborious, time-consuming attacks with the heat gun and scraper, still wouldn't yield to the liquid refinisher. Had to order in the light artillery and use the palm sander. It now has squiggly sanding marks all over it, but I Do Not Care. It's stripped, that's the point, and I'll deal with the squiggles later.

This piece also had a chip that needed glued back in, but it broke in two and the heatgun blower blew one of them onto the floor where it got lost amidst the paint shavings. Oh, Darn.

Fourth piece I did this evening only because I finally got the Project Tracker working (with help from Larry at Simpson's Folly) and I wanted to post another percentage point.

So there I was out on my screened-in porch at 7:30 PM. It was dark outside, the north wind was rising, the temperature plummeting, the rain was thinking about turning to sleet or even snow, and I was stripping woodwork. I couldn't be sure if the vapor I was seeing was smoke from the work piece or my own breath, and my feet were so cold I had to resist the temptation to turn the heatgun onto my shoes. But I wanted it done.

The last jamb piece wasn't as awful as the others: it just had a lot of that old blue wall color ingrained in the outer edge. Lovely pasttime, freezing your fingers with cold refinisher in colder weather.

My right shoulder needs the chiropractor, I'm so tired I'm liable to forget I have dinner in the oven, but the nasty things are stripped.


Saturday, November 8, 2008


" . . . [H]alfway. A midpoint in any venture is difficult because that's the place where days gone and miles done equal those ahead, and the result is equilibrium, stasis, inertia. A rollercoaster nearly stops just before the last drop to the finish. In some ways, the first mile of the second half is the most crucial because it's the one that propels the traveler down the slope of endurance to destination. . . . "

Thus sayeth William Least Heat-Moon in his book River Horse: A Voyage Across America. Mr. Heat-Moon was in the middle of navigating America's rivers via a C-Dory, a canoe, and miscellaneous other craft from the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Hudson River to the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia. I'm in the middle of stripping my house's woodwood piece by paint-covered piece from the dining room on the first floor to the hallway on the second, taking in the living room, front room, first floor hall, and the staircase on the way.

A couple hours ago I stripped piece No. 168. That's 50% of my 336 piece tally. Halfway. Half done.

So here's the question: Am I going to fall prey to the midpoint inertia that Mr. Heat-Moon describes? For him, it gets worse:

"While we were still some miles shy of being exactly halfway, I knew I had already emotionally arrived there. So I dragged up onto my feet, doleful, depressed, dejected, disgruntled, dissatisfied, dissipated, discouraged, disheartened, downcast, and otherwise down at the mouth, and I went into the damp, dreary, dismal day drooping, despondent, disconsolate, and damnably in the deep doldrums."

Well, it is undeniably dreary today in southwestern Pennsylvania. After a week of lovely Indian summer weather, today it's gray, cold, and soggy, and if the temperature got above 50 degrees it was a wonder. It was not fun to go out on the back porch and strip woodwork. The wind was blowing. My feet were freezing. If it hadn't been for the heatgun, I coulda got frostbite!

(Yeah, right.)

I have every excuse to fall into the halfway doldrums.

But I won't.

How do I know I won't?

Because I went ahead and stripped piece No. 169! I'm over the top! I'm on the drop to the finish! I'm descending the downward slope of endurance to my destination!

And oh, yeah, I've also put off doing the front room with its 60 to 70 trim pieces until that dim, distant day when the dining room, the living room, and the stairhall from bottom to top are done, done, done-- trim, wallpaper, floors (as needed), and all.

Wonderful how encouraged you can feel when you can delude yourself about the true magnitude of the job.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Random Rightbrain Thoughts . . .

Mind floaters while stripping woodwork:

. . . Why is there so much spackle-filler stuck on the door and window trim pieces? Are the gaps between them and the jambs really that yawning? . . .

. . . Did my POs-1 really paint their kitchen trim battleship gray? . . .

. . . Could I hire out and do this for a living? . . .

. . . 139 done, 197 to go . . .

. . . There's a sweetsy smell off this paint when I go at it with the heatgun . . . Lead? Or just the foam insulation igniting? . . .

. . . Look at all these dings and depressions . . . steam them all out? Get away with wood putty? Maybe I can just say the piece is "aged" . . .

. . . I can put the trim back up to minimize those gaps-- can't I? . . .

. . . Hold back the winter, Indian summer, I'm not sure if I can take the snow . . .

. . . Nah, I make too many boo-boos. And wouldn't the demand be down "in these economic times"? . . .

. . . Will dark garnet shellac be enough to recover the original tone of the wood, or will I have to stain all these pieces? . . .

. . . Those stair balusters that back up to the wall, I really don't want to strip them in place . . .

. . . Clear silicone sealant after it's all back up and shellacked. Unless the gaps are too wide?

. . . What if I get the stain color wrong and have to redo a piece? . . .

. . . 142 done, 194 to go . . .

. . . John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, that's my name, too . . .

. . . Oh, crap! Did I just run the belt sander over its own cord? . . .

. . . Well maybe, if it turns out beautifully, I could post pictures and advertise . . .

. . . Maybe somebody on the Houseblogs site can tell me how to take my stair rail apart without destroying it? . . .

. . . Good grief, look at the condition of those jambs! What happened there?? Glad I'm not the one who perpetrated that . . .

. . . Go in and out the window, go in and out the window, go in and out . . .

. . . 145 done, 191 to go . . .

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

This afternoon my friend Hannah* brought her kids Stevie* and Letty* over to carve pumpkins for Halloween. There were two smallish ones for the children and one very large one for me, as a gift from providing the venue and extra supervision.

I had to feel wryly sorry for Hannah*, since at the post-Halloween sales last November she'd purchased a couple of pumpkin carving kits, complete with skeleton hand plastic gloves, wee little plastic-handled saws and tracing wheels, a seed scoop, and so on, and stencils for transferring all sorts of cunning and spooky scenes onto your pumpkin. All these past eleven months she'd been looking forward to her kids executing one of these creations, and what happens?

The little saws were effective, sorta, but a kitchen knife worked better.

The plastic scoop was useless; I provided a large metal serving spoon instead.

And despite all her suggestions and persuasions, the children did not want to use any of the store-bought designs. They wanted to carve classic jack-o'-lantern faces. With triangle eyes and noses. And grinning mouths. And pointy fangs.

Alas for us grownups! We forget that what is old and worn to us is fresh and new to the little ones. And when it comes to executing a masterpiece, the young artisan prefers that the design be his own. Even if thousands of others have done the same thing before.

And alas for us grownups, in that we're so easily suckered into finishing the nasty jobs when the kids lose patience. Thus it was I who stood stolidly by the sink with the serving spoon, cleaning the goop out of Stevie's* and Letty's* pumpkins when they'd left them hanging with orange strings.

This wasn't a task to be finished quickly. Not merely because the variety of pumpkin wouldn't let its innards go without a fight, but also because once nine-year-old Stevie* had his jack carved and done, he was at loose ends and went looking for something else to do.

And being a kid who's lived in houses in a perpetual state of renovation since he can remember, he asked, "I can help on the house! What can I do?"

Following him into the front hall, I said, "Well, there's these nails in these window jambs here that I can't get out, but I don't think you could, either. I don't have the right tools."

"I know! Use a crowbar! My dad always uses a crowbar!"

"No, the crowbar's too big. The nails are too close to the wood."

"How about a claw hammer? My dad uses that for nails!"

"No, tried that. Too big."

"What about that?" he asked, pointing to the catspaw pry bar. "That oughta work!"

"Well, I've tried that before, and couldn't get the groove to fit around the nail. See?" And I showed him.

"Oh," he responded. "But what about . . . ? Do you have . . . ?"

And I, ever optimistic and ready to try anything to extract those blasted nails, brought the child whatever he requested. But neither nailpullers, nor scraper blades, nor anything else could he make to work.

Told you so. If I can't do it, how can a nine-year-old kid?

I had to leave him to it, the guts of Letty's* pumpkin still needing curettage. From time to time Stevie* would call me back to tell him what I thought of new nail-removal ideas. Nope, nope, nope. I'd return to the kitchen, and he kept at it in the front hall.

But then: "Kate! I've got it!" Huh? I ran out to see.

"See?" Stevie* showed me. "You put the end of the pry bar here, and you hammer it in around the nail like this-- " BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! "--and it can come out!" Squee-squee-squee!! What a beautiful goshawful noise! By golly, the kid was right! "My dad showed me how to do that! I just remembered! He does it like that all the time!"

He did another, and another. I showed him how to insert the blade of a putty knife between the pry bar and the wood so the jamb wouldn't get dented, and how to finish the extraction with the nail puller, which ditto.

And he merrily went around the house removing the old vinyl trim nails from the piano windows as far as he could reach.

Then he swiped the high step stool out from under his sister in the kitchen, and set up shop under one of the high windows next to the living room fireplace. Fine with me-- she can use the one-stepper to finish carving her pumpkin. I got the stool safely placed and showed him how if he opened the bottom sash he could get at the nails more easily.

And again left him to it.

So now here's nearly half the stubborn nails removed from three out of five of my piano windows; if Stevie* didn't do the others, it's because he couldn't get at them. And thanks to a kid whose dad is an inveterate remodeller, I've got the technique to get the rest of them out of my jambs and out of my life! Hooray!!!

After that, both Stevie* and Letty* went in the front hall and stripped wallpaper. If they hadn't had to go home for supper, they'd likely be at it still.

Hannah* says when I'm ready, they'll all come and we'll have a wallpaper stripping party. Fun unlimited!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

High Tech on an Old House

I'm using my student AutoCAD program to work out how much wallpaper I'm going to need in my 1st and 2nd floor stairhalls . . . I hadn't touched the AutoCAD for weeks, nay, for months. It's nice to find I still remember how to do it.

Still, the house often refuses to make sense and let itself be drawn up right, regardless of how many measurements I take. I'm telling myself that that's because after nearly 100 years, it's settled down and gotten comfortable and nothing is precisely straight anymore. But I have to wonder if it's just refusing to be confined and defined by something so 21st century as AutoCAD 2008.

Here's the view of the stairs from the side.

I've dotted in the line of the steps beyond the stringer, and you'll notice they don't track with it. They do in reality, I assure you. I literally spent hours trying to figure out the discrepancy, but gave it up at last. If the house wants to keep some of its secrets, who am I to play the highwayman and insist it stand and deliver?

(Note: You're supposed to swoon over the mouldings on the newel post. Ain't that drawn up keen?)

Here's a possible layout for the wallpaper on the west side. Yeah, it's to scale.

Overlook the white boundary lines if you can. For some reason, the AutoCAD program puts those around every imported image, and I don't know yet how to get rid of them. Actually, I'm pretty bucked with myself for remembering how to insert a .jpg image in the first place.

I'm not sure if I'll use the Morris "Acorn" wallpaper above the new wainscot moulding-- it's actually a lot browner than the Internet image and isn't beige what I'm trying to get rid of here?

I may do a color wash paint job instead, but it was fun to play with the wallpaper while I was at it.

This is as far as I've gotten on the stairhall itself.
I think the Morris "Blackthorn" pattern looks really good running up the stairs. I can't order it till Sanderson's sends me the current sample I ordered two weeks ago, but I'm not getting on their case for that. Despite all this jolly computerized drawing, I still haven't used it to calculate how much wallpaper I need.

Later, later! I still have woodwork to strip.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maybe, Maybe Knot

I've been turning over in my mind the past month or so what I'm going to do with the jambs and heads of the cased openings between my front room and the living room and stairhall. When at some stage the PO-2 (third back before me) converted the front porch to an enclosed room, she made these openings where the front door and the front windows had been. And to cover the face of the 2x jamb and head members, she applied 1/4" veneer plywood to finish the new openings off.

So what shall I do?

Strip and remount the plywood? Don't think so. I did one piece of it, and it had too much paint stuck in the ply edge. And I really dislike the fat reveal that it produces when added to the exposed part of the jamb.

The 2x members have a few knots in them, and at the old front door you can see where the strike and hinges used to be. Should I cover that up with a bit of trim that'd sit a ways into the opening? No, because there's some weird irregularities going on with the woodwork between the living room and front room, and I'd have to do some fancy notching to get an applied piece of trim to work. Besides, to look right it'd had to be custom made, and I don't want to get into that.

Or do I just clean up the 2x heads and jambs, notch in appropriate shims where the hardware used to be, and trust in the dark garnet shellac I'm planning on using to cover up the patches and knots?

I'm pretty well decided on that.

So today, I noticed in my basement the 1x jamb and head casings I took off the opening between the kitchen and the dining room, oh, at least four years ago. They covered the actual jambs and head of that doorway, having been added by my POs-1 when they redid the kitchen and added sheetrock to both sides of that wall.

These pieces of wood are a primary source of my lack of progress, for when I took my old heat gun to them, I found it took off the topmost layer of paint, then stopped. How futile and useless.

So much for that heatgun.

Besides, I could see from the back that they had a good many knots. Back then, I didn't want to mess with that. So I leaned them against the basement wall and intended to see if I could find some clear material to replace them with.

Anyhow, today. I was down there today, and I thought, Well, those jambs off the front room have knots and I'm accepting them. Why don't I strip these kitchen-dining room facings after all and save buying new wood?

So I did. One piece. With the belt and palm sanders, since the old heatgun had baked the lower layers of paint on so thoroughly not even the Western Wood Doctor refinisher could get it off.

It looks lovely-- if you like knots, knots, and more knots.

And now I'm thinking, Maybe not. If I'm going to obscure my lungs with sanding dust, I'd like to be rewarded with clear wood.

This time, I think I'm going to be less thrifty with the gasoline and the cash buying new wood, and more sparing of the electricity and the effort.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Deep Thoughts on a Surface Matter

Now that my woodwork stripping in the front hall has given me an excuse to rip down bits and pieces of Beige Wallpaper, it's time for me to think about replacing it, throughout the first floor.

I've long since determined I want patterns from the William Morris line: the house wants the texture of wallpaper and the Morris works best. Now, some people would say, "The economy's going to hell in a handbasket; I won't bother with this wallpaper, I'll just use paint. In fact, I won't even paint my walls, I'll move out into a shack!"

But me, I figure if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it once and do it right. I'll be ordering directly from England: the distributors this side of the Atlantic impose hideous mark-ups, sometimes as much as 300%. When I checked my English sources on-line a couple weeks ago, O deer o deer, I found the per-roll price of these papers has gone up £6 to £9 since I first decided on them in 2003-2004.

Good grief! Between that and the exchange rate, things won't get any more favorable to me if I wait. Besides, Sanderson Fabrics offers some significant price breaks if you order more at one time.

But which papers and colorways will I use?

I've known for years what I want in the dining room: the William Morris "Savernake." It's got a nice overall design, it goes well with the Morris "Strawberry Thief" drapery fabric I got on eBay a year ago, and it's light enough to take advantage of what little light I get in that room. And that's important, because I do most of my reading sitting at the dining room table.

And in the living room, the William Morris "Owen Jones," in a rich red to pick up a color on a painting I did in college.

For a long time I've liked the idea of a cozy red living room, and mine is open enough it won't be overwhelming.

The front room, when its time comes, I'll paint a fresh sage green; there's not enough wall space in there to justify a patterned paper. The kitchen I did up with a sponged finish four years ago and it's fine.

That leaves the stairhall, first floor and second.

For the past four-five years I've lived with a sample of Morris's "Compton" propped up on a wall-hung cabinet, for my contemplation and consideration. I love "Compton," at least I love the fabric version of it. But is this paper too dark and too bold for my stairhall?

What about the more blue-green colorway?

Or considering the whiff of Arts and Crafts medievalism I'm working towards with the encaustic-look tile I'm looking at, maybe Morris' "Blackthorn" would do better. It has a nice overall design, a little more to the scale of my stairhall. It reminds me of the border of an illuminated manuscript! And I already have curtains for the upstairs hall window in the same pattern, not the same colorway, but compatible.

But I wouldn't want "Blackthorn" all over. It'd get too dark and heavy. Maybe just on the lower part, with a new chair rail between and a lighter pattern (the Morris "Acorn," perhaps?) above. And end the "Blackthorn" (or "Compton" or whatever) on the wall at the top of the stairs, and use the lighter-colored paper on the rest of the upstairs hall. I've done some measuring and think it will work, but I'm working bit by bit on some elevations in AutoCAD so I can check for sure.

I ordered my first batch of samples from Sanderson's Fabrics in North Yorkshire on the 23rd, and the second on the 30th. Between then and now I found myself poring over my old "Compton" and "Blackthorn" samples and obsessing over images of the designs that I found on the Internet. Which one, which one? I hated giving up the idea of the "Compton" . . . but then I came across this image on a Canadian distributor's site.

And I'm now thinking uh, no, give it up, girl. I read on somebody's blog that William Morris actually favored large patterns for small spaces, but that doesn't mean I have to. Or can.

So have I decided on the "Blackthorn"? Maybe, maybe . . . though this doesn't help!

Though maybe that only applies to the red colorway.

Both batches of samples have arrived. The "Owen Jones" is a clearer red than the sample I had before; different, not what I'd got used to, but good. The "Savernake" is a problem, as the current batch is definitely less creamy and more green than what I had before. I'm glad it's not pinky-beige, but is it really a good tint for a dining room? I called Sanderson's in Harrogate early this afternoon and arranged to send them a piece of my old cutting for matching-- I hope, I hope!

And guess what: Turns out I inadvertently asked for a sample of an "Owen Jones" colorway I did not want, and forgot to request the "Blackthorn" I did. Or they made a mistake across the Pond. Either way, I'll need to wait another week or more for it to arrive so I can finally, finally make up my mind.

Meanwhile, I can strip more woodwork and get these stairhall elevations done so I can work out just how much of it I'll need.

And pray that we don't all slide into some great worldwide economic abyss between then and now--or ever.

Yeah, I know that if that happens, I'll have more to worry about than wallpaper. But somehow I feel like I'm snatching this opportunity like rescuing something precious from a burning building. I may get singed, but I have to try.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

For the Time Being

If you read through my blog, you'll notice it's my dream and desire to replace the 21 year old metal insulated windows with new, historically-accurate-but-insulated wood windows.

But with 27 windows to do, it just ain't feasible right now.

So today I had the metal window technician over to look at them, to get what I've got tightened up for the winter, for the time being.

Joy and gratitude! he was able to fix a couple of things today. The front window screen that refused to stay in when my cat lay against it, it just needed new clips and rescreening. Done.

And the bedroom window sash that absolutely refused to close, turned out it had broken cams. Replaced, done.

I'm now waiting for a bid to replace the two glazing units that've been fogged the past two winters already, and the broken sash rail on one of the windows in the front room. Hope it won't run to too much.

But if I'm stuck with these windows for awhile, things are already better. For the time being.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Progress, of a Sort

I've been working the past couple of days on stripping the casing and sill of the portal between the stairhall and the living room. Not steadily: the laundry and life have to be attended to some time.
The sill is interesting, since it evidently is a piece cut down and reused from somewhere else: Finished under the paint on both sides and one end but innocent of stain or natural finish on the long edges and the other end; with an unfinished breadth that shows where it once received some 2x member. No conception what it could have been; maybe someday I'll ask my PO-1.

But it left me the problem, how to even things out. Aha, guess this is a job for the belt sander my mom and stepdad bought me for my birthday over a year ago, a tool I used for the first time only a few days ago.

Well, the belt sander took care of that one area. And evened out some bad scratches. But now I have to figure out how to get rid of the ditches my novice sander-handling technique has left in the wood . . . and I don't think calling the piece "interestingly distressed" will satisfy. I'll deal with it tomorrow, when I'm less tired.

This past week, I did work in a few more hallway trim pieces stripped, so I'm up to 119, a little over 35%. I won't count the four I was working on this evening until they're totally done. Which-- see paragraph above-- ain't happening tonight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Point of No Return

I got home from choir practice around midnight tonight. The idea was to take the dog out, then go straight to bed.

But today (Monday) I got little or no woodwork stripped. So I thought I'd cover the floors in my living room and hallway so tomorrow (Tuesday) I can get right to work stripping in place the casing and sill of the communicating portal.

But can I-- ought I-- be using the heat gun on the underside of the sill with the wallpaper there?

No. Probably not safe.

So I pulled it off. Both sides. Living room paper came off more easily and completely; hallway side came off in layers and will need wetting and going over with a Paper Tiger to finish the job. But those portions are gone, gone, gone. And randomly and casually or as a deliberate effort, the rest of it will soon follow. If I had any thought of living with those beige papers for any longer, it's gone gibbering away. The point of no return has been passed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wall Dreams

Last night I dreamed any number of strange things, but one of the strangest was this:

I dreamed, first, that all the wallpaper was off my dining room walls, and I had nothing but white, bare plaster.

And it seemed that I could perceive something behind the plaster, between the studs, in one corner of the room. There were some people there with me, and one of them, a woman who reminded me of my mother, told me, "You have pregnant women in your walls."

Though unexpected, this didn't seem alarming or uncanny at all. It evoked no echoes of poor injured girls murred up behind stone and mortar in old Gothic tragedies. No, I was brought to understand it was a rare but natural development in old houses, a chemical effect resulting from age and plaster and the stuff that falls down inside stud and lath walls. Totally to be expected.

But then it seemed that time went by, and the pregnant women in my wall did what pregnant women do: They got bigger and bigger. There were three of them behind the plaster, standing in a row between the studs, facing outwards, arms down to their sides. I could now clearly see their full breasts, their fecund bellies with navels like demitasse cups, telegraphing through the white wall surface, pushing it out into the room.

I couldn't take the situation for granted anymore. Whatever they were, human or dryad, however they had come to be there, these women would soon give birth, and how could they, how could there ever be room for them and their babies, trapped inside my wall? They had to be set free!

"We have to cut open the wall!" I said to the people with me. One man produced a large carving knife, but I said, "No, don't use that! You might hurt the women, and anyway, if they saw it, it would frighten them and maybe affect the babies."

So I got a small paring knife instead and started to work, carefully carving chunks of plaster away. The dream changed then, or my dog barked and woke me up, so I never got to see what the women looked like, or to learn what became of them or their babies.

I have no idea with this means. That I'm thinking about the built-in cabinet my POs-1 took out fifteen-twenty years ago? That I'm over-obsessing about wallpaper choices? Or that, seeing how I settled on the paper I want for my dining room wallpaper five years ago, I'm excited but a little apprehensive now the time has come actually to order it?

Or maybe it just means I should watch what I eat before I go to bed!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Temporary Stand Down

I reached the one-third mark in the woodwork stripping yesterday evening. But not much is going to get done on it this week, as most of my time through Sunday is booked up on presbytery and music related commitments.

Too bad I can't keep going, since I'm eating into the woodwork in the 1st floor stairhall, and it's falling to my pry bars right, left, and center.

In fact, it's looking rather skeletal in there since Saturday evening, especially in the corner where it's now down to the studs.

Last night I pried off one of the 1/4" plywood facings on the doorway between the hall and the front room. Guess what? It covered up the old door strike mortise. What did I expect? That's where the front door used to be! The real question is, what am I going to do about it?

But that's another post.

Lots of interesting cracks and holes revealed once I pried off the baseboards. Good thing I'm not worried about nasty things crawling up from the basement! But I like the idea of laying down tile board before I put the baseboards back. The thought of wall-to-wall floors is most appealing.

Meanwhile, I boxed up more books in the living room, so I could move the bookcase and get at the last two pieces of baseboard in there. Look squalid and self-sacrificing enough for ya?
And what would the betting line be on whether I'll have any of this put away by Christmas?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Window on the Past

My dream and desire for my house is to get rid of all the clad metal windows and replace them with three-over-one double-glazed wood windows that will reproduce what was here originally.

But the grim truth is, it's not happening before this winter, and I have two of the existing windows with bad seals and if I can help it I'd rather not go through another winter with them wasting energy.

My previous owners left me no record of who installed the metal windows and I couldn't find any mark on them to say what brand windows they are.

But they were definitely put in by my POs-1, and I recently learned they (or at least, she) still live in the area.

So this afternoon, I called Mary Kathryn N. and asked her about the windows. How easy: she remembered exactly what brand they were and who installed them. I'll call the company on Monday and see about getting a rep to come out.

But as long as I had her on the line, I asked her a few questions about the Sow's Ear . . . well, more than a few, actually.

And here's some of what I learned:

Kathryn C. McL was in her 90s when she sold Mary Kathryn the house in 1981. The woodwork was already painted then. "I wanted to strip it," Mary Kathryn told me, "but with the kids there was never time. So we just painted it."

How funny! My POs John and Kate wanted to strip it, too, but couldn't because of their kids. So the job has come down to me.

The front porch was already converted to a closed-in front room, with a triple-width opening between it and the living room and a double-width opening between the living room and the stair hall. "It was ridiculous. There was no place to put furniture in the living room. But we liked the openness." So they filled in the doorway at the bottom, and left the communicating portal I have now.

There used to be the typical four-square house built in cabinet in the dining room, but Mary Kathryn took it out to make more room in the kitchen. "I was sorry to have to do it, but I wanted a place in the kitchen where my kids could eat and I could keep an eye on them. That's where we put the kitchen table and the chairs." I told her my POs John and Kate had redone the kitchen after they bought the house and the refrigerator is on that wall now. (I'm thinking that kitchen table must've done duty as counter space, since there would have been little left with all the appliances on the window wall.)

They "completely redid the plumbing" in her time, since the soil stack burst and made a terrible mess. Me, I knew the one I have is fairly new, but it's nice thinking how I dodged a bullet on that one, by several years.

She couldn't remember whether or not she and her husband applied the drywall to both sides of the wall between the dining room and kitchen, but I'm thinking they must have, since they took out the cabinet. The funny thing is, she clearly remembers putting in the beige Victorianesque dining room paper with the pink roses, but not the cream-on-white silk stripe paper on the drywall under it. "That sounds too modern for me. We tried to do things we thought fit the house. We didn't want to 'remodel,' if you know what I mean."

She definitely remembers removing "ten layers of wallpaper" from all the walls. And all about the fireplace, and the fancy marble mantlepiece they installed. Turns out they did not perpetrate the messy common brick firebox-- it was like that when she moved in. And it had an old gas log connection, which they took out because they were afraid it might leak. They thought about putting a new one in, but never got around to it.

I could have asked more questions, but Mary Kathryn had places she needed to go. It verged on irony reflecting how our tastes differed and how I've taken out some of the features she was very proud of, but why bring it up? She, and John and Kate after her, did a pretty good job of keeping the old house sound and in good repair, and now it's up to me to do the best I can in my turn.

But now I'm haunted by the strange picture of old Miss Kathryn C. McL getting bored one day and deciding to paint the stairhall aquamarine and slopping paint over the woodwork while she was at it. She or her parents, since clearly Mary Kathryn N. wasn't responsible!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Errands, Exploration and Surprises

Today I went to Lowe's to buy 3" exterior grade screws to reattach my fallen fence, and 1/2" metal screws to rehang my back screen door, which is falling off its hinges.

I made another visit to Hamilton's Tools, for another nail puller-- the nasty 3" nails in some of the trim I'm taking down has proved impossible for me to get out with the nail puller and pliers I have.
And I stopped by the Home Depot, because for some reason Lowe's (nor WalMart, nor anyplace else I looked) doesn't carry #0 steel wool, which I need for use with the wood refinisher.

While there, I cruised their tile section, not expecting to find anything. I really want to replace the vinyl junk in my 1st floor stairhall with something on the lines of the old Medieval/19th century encaustic tile. It looks so good with dark woodwork and William Morris patterns. I have medievalist tendencies from way back, not to mention encaustic tile reminds me of north Oxford, which is another story. But it's brutally expensive, to the point you'd almost want to just use accent pieces set in metal inserts, so you could take them with you should you have to move.

But at the Home Depot today I found this:

Not the real thing, far from the real thing, but definitely working towards the effect of the real thing. And a dickens of a lot cheaper.

I'm glad I don't have to make a decision about my hallway floor for awhile. Because before I do, I'll have to fight the battle of You'll Never Be Able to Forget It's Not Real! vs. The Cost of the Real Stuff Is Way Out of Proportion for This Little House!

But it's nice to know this tile line exists, should Sense ultimately win out over Sensibility.

When I got home, I immediately set to work trying to fix the aluminum screen door, before I lost the daylight. I won't go into how that proceeded; it's done well enough to close properly again, even if it does need a stronger hand than mine to tighten the new screws in as well as they need to be. But I had the door propped open as I worked, and the dog and my eldest cat were in and out. After I got done, I went out in the back yard to make sure the kitty hadn't wandered into the neighbors' yard through the gap in the fence.

And then for the first time since I got home I noticed it: There is no longer a gap in the fence. Sometime this afternoon, my neighbor must've fixed it!

The panel is about an inch lower than it was, probably because the ends of the old 3" screws were in the way, and he didn't cut or remove them. Call the difference a souvenir of the Great Windstorm of 2008.

But I think I owe my neighbor a lawn mowing or two. Or something.

And does this mean I can take those long screws back to Lowe's?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Time for Amateur Hour

This is why it's a good thing to have professionals take down your large fallen tree limbs:

I was rather hoping the limbs that broke off my sugar maple the other night included the one that hangs down so I can't see my vegetable garden out my bathroom window. No such luck. But the tree surgeon was nice enough to cut it off while he was up there, no extra charge. It was rotten, anyway.

And happily, he asked if there were any others I needed off as well. Happily indeed, because there was another branch that brushes my porch roof, and I was getting a sinking feeling thinking it would have to be left and I'd have to get the crew back out here on a whole separate call in order to get rid of it. Irrational that I should be so flooded with depression over it, but there it was.

But the tree surgeon did ask, the offending branch is gone, and so is my sad.

And so is the arbor vitae that stood outside my west front room windows. I wanted the tree surgeon to take it out four years ago, but he ran out of time and I never got him back to do it. It's taken care of now.

I've long wanted to put a climbing rose in its place, and it doesn't do to envision how nice and big it would be now if I'd gotten it in in the Fall of 2004.

My maple tree now looks very odd and lopsided. But I'm not prepared-- in all sorts of ways-- to give up on it yet. I asked if when its time comes could I have a sawmill take it and cut it up for boards, but the tree surgeon said No-- Too much danger of hidden nails or hooks in it, which could destroy an expensive saw blade. Too bad: Such a waste of good lumber.

I tried propping the collapsed fence section back up, but couldn't manage it. It's a two or three person job. But I managed to get a couple bags of mulch under it, to take the weight off the tomato bush. If there's any hope for more fruit off that, it's strictly because of the tomato cage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Copping Out . . . or Facing Reality?

No luck today finding any skilled amateurs to deal with my fallen tree problem. My friends with the chain saw seem to be out of phone contact; there's a good chance they still have no power. My neighbor Jim East* asked at work about a chain saw he knows of, but it's broken.

Last night, while I was at choir, he was over here with his Saws-All, cutting more of the smaller branches off. "I was hoping I could do enough to get them off the fence so I could pick it up for you."

But as he worked, he said, he heard an ominous creaking from up in the tree where the two severed limbs are supported only by a branch about 1-1/2" in diameter. Meanwhile, his four-year-old and the six-year-old twins from across the street were running back and forth between his yard and mine. Nope, the piece of fence wasn't getting righted last night!

And anyway, the Saws-All blade broke, and he didn't have a spare.

So . . . the tree surgeon called me back this afternoon. He gave me a price that isn't wonderful, but seems reasonable considering it's not that much more than he charged me in June of 2004 when another limb of the same tree came down and took out a portion of the fence . . . You have to consider the higher price of gas, at the very least. I got him to come down a bit by leaving out the small branches we cut down yesterday: I still want to grind them up for mulch.

But you see, I did not get additional bids. I told this guy to come round and do it tomorrow morning. It'd take me to the end of the week to get callbacks from other arborists, everyone is still so busy, and by that time, those branches could come down and go through my porch roof.

At least, that's my reasoning.

And by hiring it done, I'm not running the risk of some friend of mine getting brained by an errant tree limb while he's doing the chainsaw polka with it. If anyone is going to be brained in the process, let it be the professionals with their own insurance.

But of course, I want no one brained at all. Not the tree surgeon, not the kid next door, not my dog, not me. Easy to say I can't afford to pay to have it done professionally, but can I afford not to? And as soon as possible?

That's what I'm telling myself-- if I'm not just copping out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In the Cold Light of Day

This is my backyard as it presented itself to me when I went outside this morning:

"Where's the path?" queries my dog. "Where's the path!?"

I tried cutting as much of the fallen branch off with my loppers as I could. They're supposed to handle 1-1/2" material. I found it hard to cut through thicknesses half that. I began to wonder if my loppers were bewitched.

No, just bowlegged, badly-adjusted, and woefully in need of sharpening. And I needed lunch.

Inside to make phone calls, to the tree surgeon and to all my friends who might have chain saws, woodchippers, etc. Got everyone's message machines, surprise, surprise. If they weren't at work, their lights were still off, or they were out in their own yards cleaning up their own debris!

Late in the afternoon, I heard my neighbor (I'll call him Jim East*) in his yard, raking up the mess from my tree. Only sporting to go try again with the loppers. I seem to have gotten better at my technique by now, such that by the time I had to change to go to choir practice, I'd removed all the leafy branches that were intruding into their yard, and a great deal of what was lying on mine.

The fence doesn't appear to be broken, just pulled apart. Once I get the tree off the section that's down, I can stabilize the post that's knocked askew and put the fence panel back up.

But that can't happen immediately. The fallen limb with its branches and sticks is bearing on that panel and the ground like a fist, but up above the limb is totally severed from the tree. It's just resting up there. If the branches on the ground aren't cut right, the whole thing could come crashng down and land wherever, like on the house or across the vegetable garden.

That doesn't mean I'll refuse the help of level-headed amateurs to get that limb down and cut up. It's a matter of taking advantage of whatever help offers itself first.

My neighbor says his dad has a chainsaw, but he's using it at his own place. Hmm, I'm willing to wait! Ditto my friend in choir whose husband has a gas-powered wood chipper. Apparently there's a waiting list for that, too.

I am so not astonished!