Friday, July 31, 2009


The first time we saw the inside of the house, I saw these.

Something about these light switches really appealed to me. The solid click during operation , the mysterious way they were affixed to the wall and the well worn brass spoke to me of quality, endurance and sadly, neglect. If these light switches were in the entry, what else might we find in this house? In retrospect, I think that is one of the things that really drew me to the house - the mystery of what we might find.

We might find a box of depression era bonds, or a trunk of vaudeville costumes or maybe even the famed wardrobe of C.S. Lewis' story in the attic. It was a house untouched for years with an aura of neglected wealth, a patina that might reveal a glimmering treasure if only we cleaned it.

We've gone through the garage, the basement, the yard and the attic. Initially, there was a daily expression of surprise over some discovered item, some architectural or structural detail, or some way the house was affecting our lives. But in time, these tidbits of mystery occurred every few weeks and now it's every few months. Less and less the house seems like someone else's mystery. More and more it seems like our diamond in the rough, a diamond that needs so much shaping and polishing.

Still, I take pleasure even in the small surprises. Last weekend when helping the neighbor remove a tree, I saw several large pieces of limestone buried in the ground, along with a few old bricks. They were originally part of the farm that predated even our house. I have taken them to use as part of a limestone path. I wonder, what were they originally used for? Who put them in? How did they get so neglected that they came to be half buried under five inches of soil?

And if I keep digging, will I come across the rotted out stump of a lamp-post?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Just bee-tastic.

Last Wednesday I was raking up the dead leaves and the dead weeds. The dead weeds have been the only silver lining in our cloud and rain free summer to date. There was one stubborn thistle that needed pulling, so I reached down and gave it a good tug. What I didn't see in the evening twilight was the large hive of underground bees buzzing around. My efforts gained me one large thistle and one large bee sting. I'd been stung once before, when I was around 10, so I didn't get too concerned about allergies, but it still really hurt.

Saturday the buckthorn infested city land behind ours had a box elder come down. We helped another neighbor finish disposing of it. And what did I put the same bee stung hand into while moving some lumber? ANOTHER nest of ground bees. I got two pokes in the hand that time around.

I guess the dry weather is making the bees cranky too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I think that the next time we buy a house, I'd like to see it NOT re-painted. Conventional wisdom says that before putting a house on the market, its a good idea to paint the interior a nice neutral color. We've repainted the majority of our interior rooms now and they look much better. The paint also hides all the flaws in the plaster. I think I'd much rather not know the true shape of the walls.

One of the houses that we looked at was in a desirable neighborhood and had the feel of a house where the occupants had overstayed. Overstayed houses are houses that were once lavished with love and attention. Then the occupants stayed well past their ability to care for the house, whether due to financial or health reasons, and the house slid into disrepair.

This particular house had late seventies decor. Wallpaper was holding loose plaster to the wall. The floor was uneven. The chimney needed to be rebuilt. There were signs of water damage in some of the rooms. It had a lot of potential, but the lot was very small and the house was built on the edge of a ravine, so it had no backyard. It wasn't what we were looking for.

We only saw a few "overstayed" houses, but ours was one of them. The most egregious example of water damage in our home at the time of purchase was this.

The problem comes from our built-in gutters over the front entry. (Ms. Huis thought it'd be great to get a picture of me too - I'm taking apart the dining room window, the one I don't know what to do with yet.) The gutters have been lined with black pond liner to try and increase their lifespan, but it's not working very well.

Unfortunately, the gutter (or the soffit) tilts towards the house. The water runs back towards the house and then along the brickwork. This had been going on so long, that the water dissolved the mortar holding the brick together. The water would travel through the brick to the window lintel and then into the house.

There was no point in painting or plastering this area right away, and the first winter we had a little bucket under the window to catch the drips. Then last year we had the house tuck pointed. Now that those gaping holes are plugged, the water running against the house stays outside the house. Last winter the window and wall were dry, even in the face of record snowfall. We finally felt comfortable painting the dining room.

The tuck pointing is only part of the solution of course. Getting the gutters and roof replaced on the front entry is on the list of things to do in the next few years.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Since my wife has started using Twitter, her blogging has decreased significantly. I didn't get Twitter at first; after all what's the point in trying to communicate in 140 characters or less?

But over the last few weeks I've had several ideas for posts and as I let them roll around in my mind, none of them had any real substance. They could have easily fit into those 140 characters.

Now there's no reason that I couldn't have still posted them on the blog, but there just seems to be a certain "weight" that blog posts have. I don't expect to read a one page story from my local paper in a copy of National Geographic. And I don't expect to find a tweet on my blog.

I was looking at one of my old posts and realized there was a solution for this. So, in the interest of combining these different types of media formats, welcome to my...blitter? twog? blogter?

When did they go to dimensional lumber? And what was the progression? My 2 x 8 joists are neither 2", nor 1 1/2". They're 1 3/4".

We ordered and bought enough wood to build screens for two windows in every room. The mill strongly suggested poplar as a more affordable alternative to clear pine. Didn't expect that. Went with it anyway (they're only screens). We'll see how they hold up.

I work with a guy who used to work at the factory near our house. He started to go on and on about "some house" on the National Historic Registry that kept the factory from expanding in the 90's. I stopped him before he ranted too long with, "Oh yeah. That's my house." The look on his face was priceless, especially when he asked if he could see it sometime.

It's really dry here. We've gotten 0.85 inches of rain in the last 37 days. That makes for a lot of watering of the 66 yews I put in this year. Didn't figure THAT into the cost.

Horrible, heavy, thick clay soil that holds water like a sponge is great for keeping plants alive in a drought, even if it does make my basement damp.

A weight broke in the upper sash of our double hung dining room window. I just bought a copy of Repairing Windows by Terence Meany. This gave me enough courage to take out both the upper and lower sash and the parting bead. OK Mr. Window, now what do I do?

We went to a neighborhood barbecue last weekend. I found out one of our neighbors is a marathon runner. She qualified for the Boston marathon this year.

Our neighbors to the south (who hate yews) have been at their lake cabin all summer. It's been wonderfully quiet - almost as if we've been at the lake cabin.

I've had no luck catching rabbits with the stick and box trick yet. But the girls talk about it.

The neighbor's sour cherries were ready this weekend and they let us pick our share. We canned about four pounds and took the other four pounds and added them to a mead I have brewing.

Our mulberry tree also fruited over the last two weeks. More fruit for the honey-ginger-cherry mead. Next year we'll have raspberries too.

Work has been insanely busy - not so much the amount of work, but the number of things going on is making it really hard to keep track of everything.

I think I vaguely remember a time in my life when I was bored a lot. I wouldn't mind a little more boredom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WW - Pre-painting "Before" and a Very Red "After"

(Thanks, Gramma Pet & Papa Pharaoh for the painting & kid-watching help!!!)

Cross-posted to Musings & Mutterings