30 November 2007
29 November 2007
This is not our house. This is one of many houses on a street in an inner suburb that lights itself up from corner to corner in a spectacularly brilliant display of holiday lights. The street boasts its fair share of tacky inflatable winter wonderland snow globes and Santas perching precariously on the roof tops of these ranches, tethered on one end to the chimney, on the other end to the satellite dish. The lights blink, they spin, they emit LED shades that never fell into the approved "Christmas Color Spectrum" and they even span the street from house to house with sleighs and reindeer and twinkling lights. It's gaudy and fabulous and a must-see every season, especially so early as they are all out in their yards tweaking the final designs and chatting about their new Costco finds. If you've ever wondered who purchases those things they show in the Lowe's commercials this time of year, well...these people do. And as with most things, in true excess, they are truly wondrous. Our child was nearly speechless save for the uttering of the occasional "I want our house to look like that." Again, this is not our house.
Our house would be the one that earlier in the day decided (on its own accord) to open up the back door and get a little fresh air, disregarding the fact entirely that the place is wired to the hilt with an alarm system that is trigger happy and connected to people with telephones. These telephones started ringing about the time that I was leaving my phone in the car to drop E off at school, and M was knee deep into his workday as well. Not reaching us, it marched down the contact list, calling my former boss, who was once removed from this contact list, but apparently, by his own good fortune, had mysteriously been re-listed. So he answered, and the cops were on their way. Not being able to reach us during this period he graciously drove by the house to check on things. The officers were exiting the house after going through all three floors to make certain that the door was not opened by someone else. It wasn't. I will take the blame here. We had amassed all the trash from the house in little plastic and paper bags, and they were placed by this door which we only use to go out to the back yard or the alley dumpsters. I had discovered that a package was left on the porch there while we were on our Thanksgiving trip and perhaps had failed to lock the deadbolt...whatever it was, the weather shift and the winds had caused this old door to open despite having the snap lock engaged. When the officers arrived they found the back door wide open, bags of trash strewn over the kitchen floor and toured the house to investigate. When we finally got in this loop I rushed home to check things out. All was quiet, and after getting briefed over the phone on what had happened, I walked through the house myself. I noticed the sorted piles of laundry in the hall from the trip, the folded clothes on the bed, the piles of Christmas projects laying on the floors throughout. Of all the days to be on tour...I felt terrible that the place was in such disarray. I tried to convince myself that this was probably cleaner and nicer than most houses they entered, and at least, for the most part, it was creative clutter. But still. Ack. Always clean up your breakfast dishes before you leave the house.
I dropped some goodies off at the old office to say thanks again for the alarm trouble. Later that busy day, after another stressful day at work, I sent an email back to my former boss apologizing for the way the house looked if he had gone through it. The blown over trash pile at the open door was enough to make my cheeks burn. He assured me he hadn't, and in fact the police officers had actually commented to him on what a great job we had done on the place. I had to smile at that one, and when I came back home in the evening I looked around again, over the Christmas projects and the laundry, and did see a beautiful house to be proud of. Now if it would only keep its trap shut... you better believe those locks are getting a double check this morning.
After a stressful day, we decided to just jump right into the holiday spirit, and take advantage of the last mild day before the winter storms of the weekend. We made our annual trek to get our tree, and I must say, as I do each year, this is the best one ever! See if you agree.
At eleven feet tall, this one is the biggest one we've ever squeezed into this house, so we ran out of lights at this point. We were all tired after a long day, so this afternoon we'll brave the crowds and buy some more white lights, and try to pry our four-year-old away from the multi-colored light-up lawn ornaments. She's seen them in their full glory now...there may be no going back.
28 November 2007
After finishing off E's bedroom and then a few months later celebrating her first birthday, we found ourselves much too busy to devote a lot of time to the house. We installed miscellaneous trim here and there, we ordered some more cabinets to continue towards our overall kitchen plan, which we had only been able to afford in phases. And we were really starting to get tired of all the extra junk. All the junk that you accumulate in a project like this... the materials, the paint cans, the tools, the hardware, the extra trim, the shop vacs...it all had to be stored somewhere, and in our case that meant in the house. We have no garage (one day, sigh.) and our basement had a dirt floor and was prone to water accumulation which turned it into mud. So, before we could go any further on the house, we had to face the basement. No one was excited about this.
When we decided to tackle the basement, we also were forced to face the facts and redo our sewer line as well. It had been requiring yearly maintenance, and always seemed to back up at the most inopportune times. So we dug up the back yard - or I should say, we had the back yard dug up by someone else, and then we set about digging up the floor of our basement. The head height in the basement was just above M's six-and-a-half foot frame, so we knew if we came in with gravel and a 4" slab we were going to be ducking to get anything done down there...so we were forced to dig. We first installed a perimeter drain system, and a new sump pump which has kept our basement completely dry. We redid some plumbing connections inside the house as we did the new sewer line, and we installed some more floor drains. We rented a dumpster for the weekend and spent all day on a Friday digging, then hired a young kid who worked for a contractor friend of ours and paid him overtime pay on a Saturday to help us finish. That was a great idea. We were done by lunch time, and it was the best $150 bucks we ever shelled out. Our backs were so grateful. And we did all this while keeping a toddler occupied with a kiddie pool in the front yard and a series of her own buckets to fill and spill.
After pouring a new slab in the basement, we were finally able to begin the arduous task of moving things downstairs. We now had more of a "workshop" area, but that means that everything we cut or sand or paint has to be carried up 42 steps - from the basement, through the backyard and up to the third floor. There have been weekends where M has made this trek 200 times. It's not easy work, but at least we have a little more elbow room in the rest of the house.
In 2006 we started working on the component of the house that would allow us to finish off the back bedrooms on the second and third floors - the removal of the old attic stair and the rebuilding of the little lean-to bump-out that enclosed it. We did drawings, pulled permits and began demo. Before we had completely thought through this portion of the house we had wired a lot of items, including two remote transformers into the closet space under the attic stair. When we made the decision to remove this stair to open both rooms up more, we had to rewire all of these items. So more trips back and forth were made to the basement to turn off and then turn on various fuses located there. It took long nights for weeks on end to finish this task. The new framing went in slowly but surely, working from right after dinner, and stretching it out until we just couldn't bring ourselves to make any more noise for our neighbors. One night right before Thanksgiving, as we were trying to get to the point of closing up the house tightly before we left to go out of town, M was working up there until after nine. A knock on the door revealed two police officers with a warning to stop working after 7pm. We apologized and knocked it off, but joked later that if we could only work between 6:45 and 7:00 this thing would never get done! We did put the hammers down, and then took a break through the majority of the winter, ready to start again on the exterior work once spring arrived again.
26 November 2007
What did you do most this Thanksgiving? Eat? Nap? Watch football? This is what we did the most of...drive. 1800+ miles over the extended weekend to be exact, as we joined the crowd of family on this annual journey to the family farm and one very special (great-) (great-) (grand-) mother...and worth every last one of them.
rest area diversion
IKEA makes the best rest stop
E takes notes on future purchases
give this kid a free tool and by golly, she'll use it
turkey is for wimps
ninety-one year age span
the lullaby of the road
making herself at home, hotel #3
We arrived back in town after a great weekend of family and food, and E set to work on her Christmas to-do list (stamping envelopes). And I'm perfectly okay with using this little elf and her services...black friday, cyber monday, advent...the season is upon us. Go!
20 November 2007
Okay, I know I said the last post was the last post, but then I went upstairs and saw this cuteness, so this is truly the last one. She's wearing her "car clothes" to bed because we are leaving oh, so early. Hope we can find her in the morning. She gets sort of lost in the dots...
19 November 2007
By this point in the rehab process we were less about triage, and more about focusing on one project at a time. We still worked crazy amounts of hours on the house, but we were more goal driven, and during the time period featured here, the goal was a room for the kid. Not that we minded having her in our room - in fact we loved it - and we probably wouldn't have done it any other way. She was a great sleeper, and since she was used to the hustle and bustle and noise around her, we didn't even have to be really quiet. We turned on lights, we worked on the computer, we talked and hung out. The kid could sleep through anything.
But still, it was time for everyone to have a little more elbow room. We got the windows installed on the third floor (insulated windows, oh my!) and set about finishing out the space up there. We installed the stair to the third floor which was modeled after the lower one. We then moved on to the nursery where we trimmed and trimmed and trimmed and trimmed. The rooms have so little drywall up there - most of it is trim of some type or another. The same millwork shop that made our bedroom wardrobes fabricated four more sets of built-ins for the top floor. If you remember from before, the furnace that feeds the third and second floors is housed on the third floor and the ductwork actually runs along the east wall of the house, and then drops down into the joist bay below the floor to feed the second floor. We did this to avoid soffits on the second floor, and we planned on hiding this ductwork in built-in cabinets on the third. So we measured and drew and laid out a series of wardrobes, built-in dressers and window seats to cover it all up. We added cubbies in the bathroom to house bath supplies and we even added a small niche with shelves into the extra deep west wall on the stair side. It is now home to E's ever changing art gallery. I painted for what seemed like months and months again - endless coats of white, and then finally the palest of blue shades in stripes in the nursery and some color in the form of a mural along the front wall ledge. Her ceiling is a pale blue beadboard with the white beam covers, and the dark cherry floors really set it all off.
I love everything about her room - we tried to make it a pretty neutral space, and let the objects that she loves - her best toys and ridiculous amount of books be the color and the interest in the room. If you watch the changing background in the pictures we take of her in the room, you can see how that front ledge is used and changes and grows with her. One morning she was laying in bed staring at her ceiling when I came in and she said "Mom, I have the most interesting ceiling in the world." I'm glad she noticed.
She also has a great view from that dormer window. She can see the top of the Arch downtown, and the top-two thirds of the fireworks shows that go on at the fourth and during the Friday and Saturday night concerts by the river. When you lay on her bed it looks like you are up in the tree tops and it's particularly beautiful with all the yellow leaves right now.
After we finished her room we moved onto the bathroom, laying tile and installing salvaged fixtures from our house...coming soon after this slide show are the pictures of the reglazing and then some further finish work throughout the house. But it was nice to stop all that for awhile and really focus on her room. She was a great roommate for awhile, but that room...well...it's just the best room in the house. Grab a cup of coffee some morning, have a seat in the rocking chair, listen to her chat and putter around the room and I challenge you to find a more peaceful and wonderful place.
Like everyone else around here, she's finding it hard to nap when she has so many more things to do to get ready for the holidays and this big Thanksgiving trip later this week. She's quiet about it all, for sure, and sometimes you can sneak up on her and catch this little elf in the act.
Last night she tried to go right to sleep but the piles of clothes on her table ready for packing were too distracting. The swimsuit from this summer was laid out on top for the hotel night with a pool. My offhand comment to M. "I hope this still fits" was playing over and over again in her mind. She just had to try it on and whew! it still works. Now at least somebody around here can get some sleep!
17 November 2007
View from the third floor window
It's killing me, it really is. There is so much going on here, so much getting done in a flurry of bright colors and x-acto knives and embossing powder. But it's top secret, and good elves never tell, so I photograph the progress but keep it all to myself for now. The only camera angle I can share is the one that tilts up and out of the evidence spread across the floor. Luckily the shot up is a great one, and I'm enjoying my afternoon in this new room, down the hall from my not-quite-napping girl who is nonetheless entertaining herself in relative quiet. We had a marathon rehearsal this morning for the Christmas musical and she now has a speaking part after writing such a nice letter to the musical director requesting one. She hasn't actually spoken it out loud in front of the group, but we'll get there. So as I cut and mount and paint and wrap and assemble I'm enjoying the stretches of silence that are occasionally punctuated by the humming of some Peter and the Wolf motif, a little clarinet in A strain of her favorite character the cat, or the phrase "What kind of a bird are you if you don't swim?" in her best imitation of Sting who narrates the story in our version. Quiet again, and then the orders of a choir director are handed down to the animals in her bed. "Stand up straight and use that big muscle in your stomach, papers down and watch me, that means you too, Caesar Gus." I pondered this new name, having never heard it emerge before in the list of animal names she uses. After a few more orders to this name, and some repeating of the lines of the play, it dawned on me that she was talking about Caesar Augustus, who is in fact mentioned in the story-telling portion of the play. And that would also explain the words Quirinius and Syria. I think the whole menagerie is getting an exotic name change. At least she seems to be putting Ol' Caesar in his place. We'll just see who's really issuing the decrees around this house...
and Friday night at the bookstore is my kind of Friday night...
16 November 2007
Brain hat, right hemisphere
E, 3 years
Exact date unknown
They made this hat at school one day when they were discussing the brain. The straps wrap around the head and keep the hemispheres in roughly the right location. The evening she brought it home we had a few errands to run, and she insisted that she wear the brain hat. One was our favorite art store, and as she walked through the aisles and displays the staff there (mostly art students at one of the local universities) would comment "Hey, nice brain hat." and she would nod in agreement and move on her way. She fit right in.
14 November 2007
13 November 2007
I should subtitle this post Ode to My Fair Husband or perhaps Who Can Possibly Do All These Things?! My Man, That's Who. But I'm embarrassing him enough already. (It's all true though, I swear.)
So we last left off in the Fall of 2002, and after a really busy spring and summer, we decided to take it easy for a few days and celebrate our second anniversary over a lovely weekend in Kansas City. We wined and dined and shopped and mostly wandered around the art museum and grounds enjoying some well earned time off the house. We probably did a few minor things on the house when we got back, little bits here and there, but there are no pictures to show it (we were still pre-digital at the time). Late, late fall we were onto bigger and better projects, and by Christmas we were surprising the extended family with the news we had held secret for awhile...we were expecting our little third-floor-dweller-to-be in August of the next year. And this is where my praises for my man step up a notch - and of course I'm talking about the house - let's keep this family friendly please...
From the day after Christmas to the day after Easter, and then intermittently for a few months longer, I fought the daily battle to keep some type of caloric content within my body. Nothing I ate prior to 4 pm stayed with me for more than a few moments, and by 4 pm I was exhausted with the effort. After getting sick in the grocery store, I stopped doing the shopping; if I smelled it while I was making it, I couldn't eat it, so each and every night my husband would make dinner for me while I sat as far away as possible from the kitchen. He would bring it to me, and after I finished it I immediately laid down on the couch, exhausted from a long day of operating on no nourishment. I was asleep by seven, he woke me up from the couch around ten, and I staggered up the stairs to bed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I know you can hear the violin strains in the background. I promise I didn't complain too much. Being sick was just a fact, and we both did what we had to do to get through it. And as heroic as he was through the whole thing, as The Cat in the Hat liked to say "and that is not all, oh, no, that is not all..."
In the midst of this gastric catastrophe, he was also completely rebuilding the third floor of our house. In case you forgot, the only thing that was housed on the third floor of this building when we purchased it was the remains and the droppings from hundreds of resident pigeons. There was a straw filled mattress covered in ticking, a few braces in the wall that would have held clotheslines for winter laundry drying, a few newspapers dating to the month that JFK was shot, and a picture of a nude woman carved into one of the old pine boards. The front mansard roof was in really bad shape. The copper gutter, an integral part of the cornice, was in shambles, the only thing holding a good portion of the original slate roof together was a combination of paint and roofing tar. Most of the wood trim was rotted through, the majority of detail on the leaning dormer was missing. There were no windows, just plywood at all the openings. The interior brick was missing most of its mortar, and the old pine planks on the floor were cupped and bowed from all the water over the years with a missing roof. There was no interior stair to the attic, the only access was a tiny winding stair that was accessed from the second floor balcony through a door less than two feet wide. There was little to save, there was nothing to start with. It was an attic, had always been an attic, and so naturally we knew it could be, it HAD to be something more.
So he worked. He waited on me and he worked. All of the rotted pine was removed, including the entire floor. He worked very late one night, working slowly and steadily from one end of the attic to the other. I woke, and after realizing how late it was getting, I went up stairs to suggest that he call it a night and start fresh the next day. He was backed into the final corner, with only a few more boards left to pry up and he wanted to finish. As I went back down the back stairs I heard a crash, and raced into our room to discover a large chunk of the ceiling on the floor and a large boot poking through the joists. Sometimes you can just get too tired.
After cleaning out what needed to go, the new framing went in. Exterior walls were furred out like the rest of the house, only this time by him and not a large framing crew. And the other kicker was that every last piece of building material had to be hauled up 35 steps from the front sidewalk, or be hoisted 30' up the side of the house. Every stud that was installed required a lot of effort. We had roughed in the plumbing and the mechanical unit was in place, so once the framing was done the electrician moved in to wire the place. We modified the plumbing based on a few plan changes we wanted to make. Once this was all done we had the Icenyne system blown into the walls and ceiling. We had watched it installed many times on This Old House but it's very cool to see it first hand in your own house. Although much more expensive than traditional batt insulation, we knew it was the only way to go. We were going to have a very warm third floor with the built-up black roof and the South facing wall of windows. Plus, the Icenyne allowed us to keep the insulation thickness very small which was necessary on this floor with its lower ceiling heights than the rest of the house.
We did a few other things in the house as well. We had our railings finally installed on the stair to the second floor, and as I started feeling better towards the end of the pregnancy I started helping out again on the third floor, particularly with painting (in a well ventilated area and a mask, I swear!)
In August we welcomed our new little girl into this world and soon brought her home from the hospital to our room, because, alas, her room was still far from complete. Once we got into the swing of things with a newborn, we started up again. By October we were getting scaffolding back in place on the front of the house, and M began doing demo on the front mansard after carefully documenting the existing conditions there. We had shopped and shopped for contractors to do all the work - the rebuilding of the roof and dormer, the extensive trim work, the copper flashing and gutter, and the slate roof. We had no luck. We either got no response, or loose bids that well exceeded 30K. Yipes. We knew the copper and slate were going to be about half of that, but no one wanted to do the carpentry. So M took it on himself. Very little was left of each trim piece, but there was just enough left (one bracket out of four on the dormer, a few linear feet of this trim or that) so that he could accurately recreate it all. First the old sheathing was patched from the outside where necessary. The top of the cornice where the new gutter was to reside was rebuilt, and the individual dormer pieces were remade - routed and planed and sometimes intricately cut with a band saw. Tuckpointers came in and worked on the masonry end walls. M put the roofing paper down and then stood back for a few days.
The roofer showed up with a stack of 8" x 16" slate tiles and then hand cut the points on each end and installed them over the shiniest, most beautiful copper you have ever seen. M jumped back in with wood trim where required, and it was a few days of layering, a little flashing here, some wood trim here, a copper cap or drip edge there. Inside he was working to recreate the missing end brackets that I talked about in a previous story. We had spent the summer scouting out salvage yards to try to find ones that would work, but none that we found measured correctly. So he designed them based on the clues we had and prototypes in the neighborhood. He drafted them on the computer, printing out full-scale templates, each bracket being over four feet tall and composed of over 100 separate pieces between them. They are truly something. He mounted the brackets onto the masonry and the roofers came back to finish the flashing over the tops of them.
The weather had turned cold (cold like Novembers used to be) and he tented the dormer and worked with a portable heater on the scaffolding to get the whole ensemble primed and painted. We wrapped up the exterior work just before Thanksgiving, and took some time off to visit with family and relax a bit as well. By this time E was very used to the sound of hammering and sawing - she napped and slept in our room which was just below her new room, and to this day you can vacuum around this sleeping child without rousing her. So with the headaches, there were perks.
It was so satisfying to see our Second Empire shine again - we were finally complete with the restoration of what we both find most interesting and beautiful in this style of house. We had the option to do it much cheaper, with asphalt shingles and simpler trim...but for us it wasn't an option. We had been building up to this moment for three years now, and now the three of us could stand on the sidewalk, bundled up against the winter cold, and gaze up at all that hard work and feel really and truly content. It was our little girl's first Christmas coming up, so we didn't gaze long, but instead hurried in to prepare for the big event. The first ice and snow were to come soon, but the house was ready for it now, and the banner at the top of this blog shows just how beautiful this crowning glory is, and just how necessary that roof is.
And as I always liked to say...our daughter has the most expensive nursery on the block...
11 November 2007
Don't let that angelic little face fool you. She's up to something.
To her credit, she's not been an extremely mischievous child at all. She has her moments...she can be sly and crafty, she's expert at framing her requests in the most convincing manner, she can extract the smallest minutia of humor out of a joke that is supposed to be over her head, and then throw that grown-up humor right back at you without blinking an eye. But she's not a destructive mischievous. She never drew on the wall, or cut her own hair, or tried to escape the crib or the gate at her door. She's generally accepting of most social mores and rarely tries to buck the system. But don't let that fool you.
One of E's favorite things in her room is the set of colorful photo albums perched high above the built in dresser on one wall. They start at birth, and we've filled four or five of the row we have up there with simple 4x6 shots, no captions, no frills. We're pretty camera happy, so they tell a pretty complete story of her life thus far, and she's captivated by it. She's memorized the order, she's heard all the corresponding tales (you did not like those prunes! you close your eyes going down the slide like Mom does on roller coasters! you used to be able to walk right under the dining room table without even ducking!), she knows where all the funny parts are. They read like fiction to her, and she can't get enough. They spawn great talks about deep things - why did I look so messy when I was born? She might enjoy the conversations even more than she does the photos.
Earlier this week she chose one of the books as a nighttime reading choice. We looked through the album together, I repeated the same stories again, she corrected me when the slightest detail changed or was omitted. She wanted to keep the album in the bed with her that night but I wouldn't let her because I was afraid the pages might get torn and tattered, and they just weren't cut out to be a bed book. Later that night I was on the first floor and I heard that little voice on the third.
"Mom, don't worry about that noise. It wasn't anything but me knocking something as I was getting more library books."
Uh huh. Library books is a code word. Something was up.
Now, I hadn't heard any noise, so it must have not been a significant bump, but still I was curious. As I made my way up the stairs to investigate, she kept talking. Faster. More emphatically. I don't interpret lie detector tests, but I did watch enough of Alias to know some truth stretching when I hear it.
"Mom, you don't have to come up here or anything, I just didn't want you to think that something was wrong or that I was hurt when you heard that crash, because I'm not, I'm just reading more library books and they are loud when you accidentally drop them as you are getting more. No need to check."
Uh huh. Library books again. I'm on the second floor now. I scooped up the pile of clothes that M's mom had ironed earlier (ahh, my mother-in-law, the saint) and kept climbing. By now she could see my head.
"Mom, you don't have to come up. I mean it. I don't need any more hugs and kisses. I'm just going to get back to reading my library books in bed. No problems. Good night."
"That's all right, dear, I'm just going to bring up these clothes that Grandma ironed for you. No worries."
Panic registered in her face.
"Oh, good. Just put them in the bathroom there, right on the sink and I'll wear them tomorrow."
Yeah right. I'm not buying that a four-year-old appreciates the effort that ironing takes, and then expresses gratitude for it. I brace myself for the worst.
"I think I'll go on and put them in your room, since I'm here and everything."
Her hands shot out across the gate to cover the latch. But she's smart, and she knew defeat was at hand. Her tone changed to spin mode. How could she make the situation look better, how could she manipulate the truth and gloss over the worst parts? The future politician squared up her shoulders, took a deep breath and started in.
A quick glance of the room showed the rocking chair moved away from the front of the dresser, a small chair from her table was placed squarely in front of it. One of the albums was missing from it's spot. A square lump rose from the middle of the sheets on her bed. She pulled them back, just enough to reveal a corner.
"I was just fixing that page, the one that was coming apart - I just wanted to fix it for you so you wouldn't have to later, but then the picture was sliding out and I couldn't get it to stick together." That's when I noticed the scotch tape on the floor - the object that must have made enough of a rattle when it hit the hardwood floors to rattle this little sneak.
Together we looked at the damage (so slight), I told her how easily I could fix it, how I wouldn't have been mad if she had just told me, how I only dislike it when she hides the truth. I made this point several times, in such a kind tone, and only felt a slight twinge of guilt, because in fact, there are many things that she could do that I would erupt at even if she began by first telling me the truth. I've got to work on that. She'll be a teenager before we know it, and the photo album status will be the least of our worries. She snuggled in tightly, relief coursed through her, and I asked her if it felt so much better now that we were in this together. I think I might have even mentioned how hard it is to fabricate a pretend truth. She snuggled tighter. I just knew she got it.
I stood to go, gave one last hug and kiss, and told her goodnight and no more photo albums after bedtime. She nodded her head and I headed down the stairs. When I got halfway down she called out to me again.
"Hey, uh, Mom, when Dad gets home (he was making a quick run to the grocery) could you just tell him that you came up to bring me the ironed clothes and that's all the excitement that happened up here tonight? Just that."
That lesson seemed to have sunk right in, now didn't it?
Epilogue, Sunday night:
When we said good night after books tonight we reminded her not to get the photo albums out. She nodded in agreement, she understood the rules, no problem.
A few hours later, M discovered this:
Telltale open slot in the albums.
Parents: think we've made our point.
Kid: has the last laugh.