Tuesday, May 30

When The Cat's Away

As I previously mentioned, K. went away for a couple days this weekend leaving me here in Smallville to work on the house. So, other than the brief time spent watching the parade yesterday, I spent my holiday weekend commemorating those men and women who have given their lives for our country by tearing down a shed and painting a foyer. You don't get much more patriotic than that.

First, the foyer. Yes, it has been nearly a year since we painted the bottom half of the foyer and promised to paint the top half "shortly", but what can I say -- we are procrastinators. (Incidentally, if you think that's bad then you don't want to know that the door I removed as the very first Revivalizing project on the day after we bought the house is still sitting in exactly the same spot that we put it on that day in what is now the laundry room. And we have no intentions of moving it elsewhere anytime soon. THAT'S how procrastinatory we are).

So right after K. left for her weekend in the city, I grabbed my spray bottle and my scraper and I started scraping the wallpaper off the top of the stairs. Goodbye, blue flowers! We won't miss you at all! I then pulled out the plaster washers and the drill and the plaster and started patching up the wall, as it really wasn't in very good shape (the previous photo is a good indicator of the shape the wall was in, though it is actually from the lower half of the foyer). Luckily, I have become an old pro at making cracked plaster look somewhat passable (although still far from good -- but that's what hanging big pieces of art over it is for, right?) so this didn't take so long and I could get on to the fun part: priming and painting!




(Again, I apologize for the absence of photos from the first part of the adventure, but for some reason K. thought that taking pictures of old friends who she hasn't seen in a decade was more important than sharing with you all yet another set of photos of plaster and pulling down wallpaper. Go figure.)

Stay tuned for photos of the finished product, coming soon to a blog near you.

At the various points over the weekend where I was waiting for plaster or primer to dry or waiting for K. to return with the car so I could stock up on supplies, I worked on the shed. And while there is still a good deal of work to do both in getting the last of the roof off as well as making it into a nice space of some sort, I did make some good progress, as over the weekend it went from this:


to this:


I wish I could say that there was some easy and fun technique that I used to pry those pieces off, but alas it was just a lot of time with me, a hammer, a crowbar, and a ladder. And lots of pounding and prying. And now I am sore in my arms and shoulders and in muscles that I haven't known existed since we pulled up the carpet last summer. Oh, and of course Memorial Day Weekend means the beginning of summer, which the weather here took quite literally as the highs jumped from the 70's to 90 or so just in time for me to spend all day in the sun working on the roof. Oh joy.


One of the aspects of small town life that we are still enjoying getting to learn about is the way that various holidays are celebrated/commemorated. We already told you about Halloween, and while we never posted about the New Years celebration in the town square, believe me when I tell you it was a fun time. And yesterday we got to experience our first Smallville Memorial Day. Conveniently, we live between the VFW hall and the cemetery so the parade route went right by our house. And yesterday afternoon I took a break from watching the paint dry and K. and I went out to our front porch to watch. I have to admit that it was quite a sight seeing the number of people lining the street we live on, sitting in their portable chairs and waving their American flags despite the heat and the sun.

And then the parade started. For about an hour we were entertained by marching bands and by antique cars and by scout troops and by lots and lots of veterans, some of whom were actual veterans and others of whom were reenactors, pretending to be veterans from just about every period of American history (yes, even those French-and-Indian-War reenactors). And it was only after the parade that it struck us as odd that the fake veterans got more applause than the real veterans.

It was a nice diversion for a little bit, even if we didn't follow the parade to the
cemetery for the real ceremony. It was interesting being someplace where Memorial Day was treated as something other than a day off and a chance to BBQ and time for the first trip to the Jersey shore. And while small town parades may not have the same oomph as the Macy's Parade or the Mummers, I quite enjoyed the charm.

And now, some photos:




yes, they even had "orphans of the civil war" reenactors



Monday, May 29


So the academic year is now over and it is summer. Time for me to get down to business and get serious about research. Unfortunately, I am still completely and utterly burnt out from finals and everything else that the end of the year brought, and so I am not being as productive as I would like. I don't feel like I can take time completely off -- I have several vacations planned for the summer, and a pretenure review in the fall looming -- but that would probably be a good idea. So instead I wake up every morning and try to start working. And I've been pretty good about getting an hour or two of work in before I get distracted by email and websurfing and playing video games. And then I keep pretending like I'm working, sometimes moving around the house to get away from the computer or away from K., until mid-afternoon when I give up and start working on other things around the house. Which isn't really being lazy, now is it?

After all, if I don't brew the beer then who will?

may0005 may0004

On second thought, don't answer that.

In addition to brewing beer, I have been doing some productive things around the house, spending an hour or so a day fighting with the roof of the shed and trying to tear it down. That's a project that is coming along slowly but surely, with a number of scars from rusty nails to show for it -- there's nothing wrong with that, is there? I've also been working on cleaning out the four seasons room (and not just because that is becoming the home of the Revivalized Brewery) and various other small projects around the house. I would post pictures, but K. has gone away for the weekend and taken the camera with her, so that will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, May 18

Domestic Archeology

When I was a child, I wanted to be a paleoanthropologist when I grew up. I wanted to discover ancient humanoid fossils! Later, after college, my interests turned to classical mediterranean archeology. I wanted to spend my summers digging up ancient cities. Well, after the last month, I've changed my tune. In addition to the near constant digging up lawn to make way for flower and vegetable beds, I've been battling with a beast. The fence bar that wouldn't come out.

When I first started the project, I oh-so-naively thought it had fallen at some point and was simply buried in the dirt. But no.... I dug and I dug, it wouldn't budge. I started to get the idea that it was buried in concrete. First I had to dig out the old paving stones. It was so fascinating to uncover the big, beautiful stones that used to line the alley and how carefully they were fitted together. I reused them as the edgers for my backbed and the home for my moss garden.

Finally, in the fourth week of excavation, I succeeded! Here is the result:

One side is relatively smooth and flat, but the rest seems like someone dug a hole, filled it with fragments of brick, marble, and oyster shells then poured sandy concrete in. Was this some tradition in the 40s or 50s that I don't know about? Not putting the first fencebar in straight? Was it structurally supporting the fencepost? With the beast out, I built a little retaining wall out of bricks we had in the basement:

Because we "weedwhack" this area, I wanted to make difference between my plants and the weeds clear. Then I got on with the regular business of gardening: amending the soil with vermiculite and composted manure, then planting the seeds.

Hopefully someday, this will be a lush garden of climbing nasturtiums and sweetpeas in the back, marguerite and marigolds in the middle, surrounded by a groundcover of pennyroyal. The little bush looks like a peony, but it has no flowerbuds. I thought I'd give it a chance and see what it can grow into.

So, now that I know I'm not cut out for digging for a living, I can rule out my dream career of archeology, as well as do whatever I can to stay off the chain gang. But what about my dream of becoming an organic gardener? Or a goat farmer? Can I do those things without constantly wielding the shovel? Maybe I could find some big strong men who could help me...


Last year, this rose bush was so swamped by bee ivy that you couldn't see it at all. I didn't even know what color the roses would be.

I'm so happy with the touch of crimson in the garden. These are the first three, there are lots of other buds. I wish I understood why buds grow on some stalks but not others.

So I guess I'll continue with the fertilizer and the watering. It seems to make a difference!

Sunday, May 14

The end or the beginning?

As of about an hour ago, I am now officially done with the semester. I submitted my final grades and while there are still various administrative meetings to attend to (not to mention graduation), I am considering myself done. I had planned to celebrate by relaxing in front of the Braves game on TV, but it turns out that the TBS coverage is blocked out here despite the fact that we get no other coverage, so instead I am relaxing by thinking about the summer. And yes, my mind has turned to Revivalizing and all of the projects that I can undertake while I should be doing research in preparation for my upcoming pre-tenure review. After all, I have to catch up with K. who has clearly been doing a ridiculous amount of work the last few weeks. Here is a list of some of the ideas of what I want to undertake:
  • Doing something with the shed. We aren't sure what, and it will probably be made up as we go along. But something will be done.
  • Finally finish painting the foyer and touch up some of the earlier paint job.
  • Install a light fixture in my office. This might also entail playing some chandelier-go-round and moving light fixtures around the house
  • Paint the upstairs hallway (and possibly the guest room)
  • Build one last set of bookshelves in the library. This is especially important because it will allow us to finish unpacking the books which means we can finally...
  • Empty out the Four Seasons Room. It has served us great as a 'staging area' for unpacking over the last 10 months, but eventually we need to decide its future fate. And while we are hoping that the architect will be helpful in this regard, I think that I won;t be able to really envision what it can be until I see what it is like without all the boxes of books and photos in it.
  • Organizing the tools in the basement. We have such a large basement that we should really use it properly. This will also likely entail moving my homebrewing stuff down there.
  • Hang some art. We've gotten better about this, even adding 1924, 1972, and 1996 to our displayed collection of olympic posters, but we still own more art that is lining the floors of several rooms, and I would like to remedy that fact.
  • Figuring out some storage system for the closet in the den. Right now we have lots of crap just piled on top of itself, and I would like a better way to store our DVDs/Board Games/etc.
They won't all get done, and I'm sure projects that aren't listed will be undertaken, but that list is a start.


D. says that my guiding philosophy is "Why finish a project when I can start two new ones?" I admit that I have a tendency to want to do everything at one, and that is even more exaggerated in the garden where I don't have D. to hold me back and I'm often working in small chunks of time.

So I've done some work in fits and starts. I moved the rain barrel to the other end of the yard:

But I haven't actually drilled the hole and connected the drainpipe. That opened the space in the backbed:

That's a beautiful rock sculpture that we bought from the artist on our honeymoon in Nova Scotia. This gives it a really prominent position, but doesn't it make the white drainpipe stand out? What can I do about it? Should I paint the whole trellis wall white? Or dark green?

Actually, I also moved that piece of limestone in front of that bed, so I can have a place to stand when I'm weeding.

You can see my other project: trying to plant moss between the back bed and the lawn. I harvested the moss from the alley next to our house:

Based on something I once saw on Martha Stewart, I coated the bottom of each piece with yogurt and stuck it to the rock or soil where I wanted it:

Here's to the moss thriving!

Garden Report - What's Growing 5/13/06

Bed of veggies

Mammoth sunflowers

Super italian squash (the oval non-variegated leaves are the first leaves out of the seed!)

A forest of garlic

Allium flowers


Friday, May 12

The Lumber Yard

In our town, there's a store for contractors called The Lumber Yard. It's across from the Super 8 Motel that we stayed in when we were house-hunting, and we used to joke that it sounds like a bad name for a gay bar.

We also have a mini-lumber yard in our garage that looks something like this:

Basically, one of the previous owners was a woodworker and used that space for storage and working. A couple of weeks ago, I went into the garage and started pulling down the lumber. It's one of the "It seemed like a good idea at the time" projects, and I swear that I had a good reason when I started. Though I can't really remember it now.

Each piece of lumber had an inch (and 50 years) of sawdust piled on it, which came falling down on me. A few hours later, I was sneezing, coughing, eyes running, and covered in a fine layer of brown.

Today, I went back and finished the project, and I found a treasure:

It looks like a Victorian/Classical overmantel designed to hold a mirror. I can't figure out if there are other pieces among the rest of the lumber, but it's a start!

Wednesday, May 10

Slow and Steady.

Here's what the alley side of our property looked like:


What do you think of our two fences? How would you ever choose? Between the ugly peeling-painted-white-metal fence and the aging-pressure-treated-uneven-dogear-wood fence? Well, the answer for us was the taller one. Something about how we didn't want our entire lives to be exposed to the parking lot.

So late last fall, I removed the wire part. Pretty easy stuff, until the hauling away of a five-foot-wide roll of fencing. Since November, it's looked like this:

Not much improvement, eh? What can I say? So all winter long, I've been saying to D. how we need a hacksaw to remove the crossbars/pipes. His response was that I had to be able to list at least three projects for which I would use the tool.

For at least a month, I've been trying to dig out the farmost bar:

Oy, is it a pain. I can't get the left end out, and the right end is buried is a huge block of concrete. Ugh. I've been feeling a bit like Tantalus, battling this rock.

Then the other day, I just gave one of the bars a little (strenuous) push, and out it popped. In ten minutes, I had all but the beastly one out:

All that's left is hours and hours and hours of digging up posts, which I'm sure are anchored in concrete. Sigh. My poor aching forearms.

So it's only 10 months later, and I've done maybe 40 percent of the job. That's what I call slow and steady progress.

Tuesday, May 9

The Architect Has Left the Building

Last summer, we focused almost exclusively on making the interior of the house liveable and presentable. There are still some rooms that need attention, but our work held up well over the winter. We were happy, cozy, and comfortable with the results of our work (and cost outlays on furniture), plus we were pleased with our first efforts at entertaining our new friends.

Now that spring is sprunging, you can see that our minds have turned to the exterior of the house. While we are gardening every day, we are planning some BIG projects:

1) Add a privacy fence on the property line with our neighbors - a luxury but essential to our sanity and ability to use the yard we are paying so much for. We've submitted the application to the Historic District Review Board and been approved for our permit. We have our contractor and fence style chosen, so we just have to figure out when we can afford it.

2) Paint the exterior wood trim and porches - a necessity to preserve the structural integrity of the home, plus a really nice way to show our neighbors that we're here and we care about the way our house looks. The architect said his sons have been calling our house "sad and empty looking" for years. Eek! Yes, flowers and a bench on the porch would be a great improvement, however they must wait until after the painting work is done.

Full house

We're thinking of shifting the white to a warmer ivory and adding an accent color (either sage green or federal blue) on the fishscales and a few other spots. I've talked to two painters, and I'm waiting to get written estimates from them.

We are lucky enough to have a local program that funds exterior work on historic buildings. If we qualify, the organization will grant us 20 percent of the project cost and give us a no-interest loan for an additional 40 percent. The stipulation is that we need to get two estimates for all work.

3) Figure out what on god's green earth to do with the four-seasons room and wooden shed. This is how we get to the architect. Click the photo to for a tour of what we're dealing with:

View from Rear

Basically, we hate the four-seasons room, as you can see from its use as a dumping space. We have so much space in general and storage space in particular that we don't need the room at all. It's ugly - inside and out - and it takes up precious gardening space. What's worst: it doesn't have the main thing that you want from a sunroom, the feeling that you are outside. The windows are too small, the ceiling is too low. Ick!

What can I say about the shed? I guess we have a hope that it could be used for grilling and eating, but I think it was just built to hold trash. Honestly.

We asked the architect to give us estimates on his services to draw up plans for what we can do. Normally overendowed in the vision category, we are just stumped here. We don't know what direction to go, or even what we want. We'd like to have the back returned to its historic appearance, but we also want some outdoor dining/entertaining patio area. I definitely want more gardening space, but No Way do I want to pay to demolish hundreds of square-feet of concrete foundation. Some days I want a pretty little greenhouse, but everyday I want privacy from the neighbors. Whenever we start talking about plans, we end up in circles.

The architect seemed easy to get along with, very down-home. He's lived here for almost 30 years, and he remembers what our house used to look like. I think he has a real affinity for historic architecture. He does LOTS of work in the historic district, lives a block away (his son delivers our newspapers), even did the exterior back of the B&B two houses away from us. In fact, he chairs the Historic District Review Board and originally approved these additions going up!!!!

What was most promising to me is that he clearly had Ideas! And, let me tell you folks, what we need here is Ideas (seriously, if you have any suggestions, please pass them on. We are desperate). So he was here, he's left the building, and I feel optimistic!


We have our permit! Yay! I got an email today notifying me that our building permit is ready as soon as I bring by the fee of $12. Because our project is so "simple," we qualify for "administrative approval" from the public official, and we don't have to appear before the controversial Historic District Review Board. Double yay! Even more, we don't even have to get a county permit, because our budget is under $2,500. How cool is that???? A fence, imagine.

Saturday, May 6

Plans Are Afoot

Reminded by Chicago Two-Flat, I should let you know that yesterday we submitted our application for approval to build a fence. Yes, a fence!

Specifications: 6-feet high, 48-feet long
Materials: Pressure-treated lumber (gack, isn't that horrible? But that's what the other wood in our yard is, and we just can't afford to replace it all with cedar.)
Style: Shadowbox or "good neighbor"

Location: Along property line between our yard and neighbor's

So, have we moaned bitterly here about the lack of privacy from the neighbors? Well, if we haven't, just imagine that we did. And imagine that we desperately need a fence in order to enjoy our hard-won and well-loved backyard.

Here's the thing: we live in the Historic District. So before we can apply for a permit, we have to get approval of the Historic District Review Board. Which, in principle, we are in favor of. I used to work in preservation organizations, and we generally believe in maintaining historic appearances of buildings.

But....it's pretty big step from theory to reality. 1) I really have had the knee-jerk reaction of "Hey, this is my property! How can they tell me what to do with it?" 2) Apparently, this board is the fiefdom of a long-entrenched and self-important public official. While I don't have the impression that they actually reject reasonable proposals, I have heard that the head can be mean and condescending, if he thinks he can treat you that way. In fact, there has been a whole controversy abrew, covered in the Hometown Times, about how a lot of citizens are upset with the HDRB because it infringes on their rights.

So, in 10 days, I have to go attend the Board meeting and defend our projects.

I'm not so worried about the fence, because hey, it's a fence. But I am concerned about the second project we want to do: remove the roof and one lattice wall of the shed.

There are a couple of reasons for my insecurity. 1) We don't really know what we're doing. We just know that we hate the shed. 2) We don't understand the structural implications of what we're doing. When I called the municipal office and chatted with the code enforcement officer (the same woman who sent us a letter on our first day in the house, telling us our weeds were too overgrown), she seemed to think, based only on my very vague and indecisive descriptions of our plans, that the shed would deteriorate and fall down without a roof. Which, in fact, wouldn't be such a bad thing to us.

Anyway, fence and contractor selected (no, we're not DIYing like lots of other housebloggers, for which I feel endlessly inadequate. I'm just not enthusiastic about posthole digging and concrete)). Application submitted. Meeting scheduled.

I'll keep you posted on the developments.

For the Record...

The last post was supposed to be named: Garden Report - Lightpost Bed #1. And it's only days later that I realize what it is named. Didn't any of you think it was a wierd title?????

Thursday, May 4

Garden Report - Light Bedpost #1

Along the concrete path (which I think is hideous), there are two light posts (with unmatched lamps, don't get me started). In my ongoing effort to reduce the amount of lawn, I'm building flower bed around them. I finished the first, closest to the house.

I found the cool ridged bricks in the area behind the carport that I cleared out last month, and interspersed them with recycled bricks that I find around the house.

The three existing plants are orange daylilies I transplanted last fall. I've interspersed the new irises a friend sent me, plus planted seeds for sunflower, black hollyhock, Oaxacan marigold, marguerite daisies, and Roman chamomile. I can't wait to see it after they've all grown!

Garden Roundup - What's Growing

The first unfurling leaves of the Royal Red Norway Maple...

...have filled in, waving like flags in the wind

The tiny pink buds of the grape leaves...

... grow into leaves that shelter the future grapes.

The inherited tulips started out yellow with a tiny bit of red on the tips...

...but they developed into these beautiful ombre orange flowers.

The "seeds" we planted last fall have grown into a wild garlic patch...

...but the most exciting development is ... SPROUTS!