Flowers, flowers, and more flowers.

If you have driven by our house lately you have seen a whole lot of flowers!  We were finally able to have the landscape guy out (Drew Miller, whom I highly recommend) to dig out all of the beds around the house.  At long last, we could plant landscaping.  Since it was so far into summer all the plants were on sale, so I may have gone a little crazy with the shrubs and flowers. 
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Here is what the yard looked like when we bought the house – a real mess.  There was nothing to do except tear everything out, since it seemed to be mainly poison ivy.  We also had to replace all of the concrete walks and the concrete front porch.

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After the beds were dug, the loooong planting process started.  We have the front and sides finished, and are still working on the beds in back.

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I may have gone a little overboard with the flowers this year, but we have a real yard now!  I think I am closing in on a painter to do the exterior paint, so by the end of summer we may have a fairly finished exterior.

The only downside to the landscaping has been that I learned the hard way that digging up poison ivy is not enough.  The oil is still in the soil, even after a year.  I was happily digging away in soil on the north side of the house that used to be full of poison ivy and I got the worst case ever.  Head to toe. I am now avoiding that side of the house because I definitely do not want another case of poison ivy!

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The windowboxes of doom

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When we bought our old house, my favorite part was the big front porch, and the windowboxes on the front windows. Of course, like everything else, the windowboxes were rotted through and had to be thrown away. This summer I built new windowboxes – they are nearly 10 feet long and very heavy. Over Mother’s Day weekend my oldest daughter and I planted tons of flowers in the windowboxes, and the other planters on the front porch.
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The huge windowboxes are insanely heavy, but getting the bottom windowbox up was no problem. However, the second floor windowbox posed a slight problem. At nearly 10 feet long, there was no was it would make it up the interior stairs, and around the corner to the master bedroom. That meant it need to be installed from the outside. Many plans were put forward and rejected, leading my husband to name them “the windowboxes of doom” since he was convinced someone was going to get killed getting the second floor windowbox installed. I finally decided that when my oldest daughter and son-in-law visited for Turtle Days that we would all work together to get the windowbox installed. Be careful if you visit me, because there is a very good chance you will be put to work!

The plan I decided on was to tie rope around two sections of the windowbox and have my husband and son-in-law hanging out the upstairs windows pulling the rope. My 15 year old son and I would lift the windowbox up as high as we could, the men above would start pulling it up, and I would run upstairs and take my place in the middle window and guide the windowbox into place. This was slightly tricky as the supports really got in the way, and pulling a large, extremely heavy object straight up with a small rope, is a whole lot harder than it looks. Even my hugely pregnant daughter was put to work, taking pictures. I figured either the pictures would be used for this blog, or to show the surgeon who was trying to put one of us back together. My plan did work, although for a few tense seconds, it did seem possible that the entire windowbox would go crashing onto the ground. Luckily, my son-in-law is a lot stronger than he looks and manhandled the thing up and into place.

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The good news is that the windowbox was in place for the Turtle Days parade that went right by the house! Now I just need to get the shutters made…..

Finished! The Upstairs Bathroom

When we bought this house I was pretty confident I could make it livable, but the one and only full bathroom gave me, well…nightmares. It was a 50s monstrosity that looked like it belonged in a horror movie. It was so bad, few people would actually enter it, they just looked on in shock from the hallway. Aside from being a general disaster area, the bathroom had a bad layout and no room for both a shower unit and a freestanding tub.

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After we gutted the bathroom, along with the rest of the house, we knocked out a closet to expand the bathroom and make room for two sinks, along with a shower and tub. I found a vintage looking tile for the floor, and in doing so discovered the joy ride that is black grout. I thought about doing a vanity with two sinks, but I really wanted the bathroom to look like it could have when the house was nice. Plus, I love the look of furniture in an old bathroom, instead of a modern vanity. Luckily, at the Wood Shack I found a small dresser that fit perfectly. The shelf above the tub and the wood with the hooks for the towels are also from the Wood Shack.

I showed my husband the “after” pictures and said, “Now, if you saw these pictures, wouldn’t you want to live in this house?” “Sure,” he said, “until you told me it was the ONLY finished room in the house.” Sigh…..

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Wood Floors

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Every once in a while (ok, my husband will say all the time) I take on a project that completely overwhelms me. This project in the old house was refinishing the floors. All 9 rooms, a staircase and a hallway. I totally planned to pay someone to do the floors. And then I got the estimates. The best one was nearly $6,000 and that didn’t even include the boy’s bedrooms. Since we are soooo far over budget I thought, how hard could it be to refinish wood floors when there is a $6,000 incentive? Turns out it is hard….very hard. And dirty….very dirty….

Our floors were in basically decent condition, just covered with years of grime and old varnish.

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First, I rented a drum sander, had it loaded by the nice tool rental people, got to the house alone with it and discovered it weighed well over 100 pounds. I somehow got it out of the back of the Jeep and into the house. It takes off the top layer of grime and varnish, but is a beast to work with and can easily damage the floors. 75641_10152028497157054_1549354671_n
IMG_4718After 2 full days of sanding I rented an edge sander to get the 6 inches or so around the walls that the drum sander can’t reach. As I was leaving the rental place with it, the guy said to me, “I feel sorry for you. You are going to hate this machine.” Yep….I hated it. It wants to take off on its own and you spend the entire time you are using it wrestling with it. It absolutely kills your back.

Then it was on to 4 solid days of sanding all the places where both sanders missed. I bought a heavy duty hand sander and all went well. At first. Then it was one problem after the other when I couldn’t find sandpaper that fit it and ended up retrofitting it with pieces from another sander. After a day of crawling around on the hard floors, I realized if I didn’t get some really good kneepads, I was looking at a double knee replacement! For the final sanding with the fine sandpaper I rented a square sander, which, while still weighing over 100 pounds, can’t do the type of damage a drum sander can. Through the weeks of endless sanding I also replaced belts on rental equipment and rewired the plug on the square sander. I learned to be prepared to troubleshoot rental equipment. During this whole process we pulled about 10,000 nails and staples from the floors. Judging by the leftover bits of carpet we found, at one time the house was covered in a lovely orange shag. I truly believe that as long as we live int he house, we will continue to find staples in the floors.
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Finally, the last wonderful step – applying the three coats of poly. We have pine floors, which don’t take stain well so we decided to just clear coat them.
IMG_4781My favorite rooms are the boy’s bedrooms which had been painted, glued, covered with linoleum and subfloor. They turned out very rustic looking.
IMG_4775The rest of the floors look as good as can be expected for floors from 1860. There are marks and stains that will never come out, but that’s what furniture and throw rugs are for. So, if you visit the house after it’s finished and see an area rug in a rather odd place, you can safely assume it’s covering something up. Really, you can safely assume all rug and furniture placement is strategically done to cover up things.

So, all in all, I am glad I put in the work to save $6,000. The floors make a huge difference in the house and make it look more like a home. So if you ever want to refinish the floors in your own house and need some help, all I can say is……call someone else. While I am happy the job is done, I will never, ever, refinish a house full of old wood floors again!
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Kitchen Floors

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The kitchen in our house was originally in the back of the house, with a room next to it that I imagine was used for a dining room.  However, when I went to lay out the kitchen plan in the existing space, I found that there was no way to put a kitchen in the space when it had the back door, pantry door, and basement door in it.  So, we flipped the spaces and put the kitchen in what was the dining room.  Since we were running all new plumbing and electric, this wasn’t that big of a deal. 

There was a step up to a new subfloor in the old kitchen which we had to pull out when we knocked out the wall between the kitchen and dining room.  When we pulled up the subfloor we found it had been installed to cover up a big sag in the floor.  A bunch of Amish guys and I trudged into the basement holding our cell phone flashlights in front of us to find out why the floor was sagging.  Hello, rotted floor joists.  We replaced the floor joists, but some of the sag remained, along with a hump where the pantry starts.  A few gallons of floor leveler fixed most, but not all of the problem.  I had wanted to lay tile in the kitchen/dining area but I really worried about the tile cracking because the floor wasn’t totally level.  Sheet vinyl flooring is the answer for old floors but I couldn’t find a pattern I liked. 

Soft wood, like pine, is very forgiving of uneven floors, and when the house was built in 1860 it is likely that 6 inch pine floors would have been used in the kitchen.  Whatever the original floor was, it is long gone, so off to Lumber Liquidators I went to order new wood floors.  Their unfinished pine was on sale for 89 cents a square foot, which can’t be beat.  Mark and I laid the floors, which took about a day and a half for the kitchen, dining area and large pantry/laundry room.  IMG_4646

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IMG_4648Then I filled all the knots and cracks with wood filler and sanded the floor with my hand sander.

Pine doesn’t like to take stain and while it is a very light yellow when it is new, over the years it will darken as it ages.IMG_4649That’s great, but I didn’t have years for the floor to look good and a bright new wood floor looked really out of place.  For years I have wanted to do a large checkerboard floor in a kitchen so I decided this was my chance!  First I whitewashed the floor using half water and half of the light cream paint we used on the walls.  This was time consuming as I put the paint down with a roller and then had to go over it with a paintbrush.  After the floor was dry I started taping off my squares.  IMG_20140104_153106_327
I cut 26 inch squares out of floor paper and laid them out and taped around them.  For the three spaces this took approximately forever.  Then it was onto the painting using half black paint and half water. 

Today I drove through Snowpocalypse to finish painting the floor in the pantry and to take up all of the tape.  All in all, I thing the floor turned out pretty well!  My cabinets are off white and my island is black so when everything is in, I think the floor will look pretty cool.  IMG_20140105_125300_373

I still have to put a few coats of poly on the floor which I will do next weekend. 

   The huge amounts of snow we are getting definitely improve the look of the house as it hides all of the construction debris all over the yard! IMG_20140105_130547_955

We have walls!

IMG_4400 I was in Chicago all last week and could not WAIT to see the house with drywall on the walls! I was not disappointed – in one week the house has gone from looking like a disaster to looking like a real house! Even James was amazed and said, “This house is beautiful!”. Which is a long way from the early days when he refused to even go in the house because it was, “yucky and stinky”.

The gas and water have been turned on so we can run the heat for the drywall mud to dry. Unfortunately, drywall goes up in a few days, but the mudding and sanding are where the real time is spent. This gives me time to get my paint colors picked out, so I am all ready to paint when the drywall is finished. Next weekend is our family Thanksgiving, and my children who live out of town will be home, so I will get my daughter Hope to help me with paint colors. I made this offer to my oldest daughter too and got a lukewarm response. If she didn’t look just like me I might think she had been switched at birth, because what could be more fun than choosing paint colors??

Here is the same section of wall before, during and after:

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One of the biggest surprises that came with the drywall is that when the morning sun comes in the kitchen window, the old stained glass makes a beautiful pattern on the walls. You can’t tell in this picture, but the light makes rainbows on the wall – amazing.
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Drywall…..in the HOUSE!

IMG_4383The building inspector scribbled his signature at the bottom of the paper and then held it up for me to see. “You are cleared to drywall,” he said, and then broke into a smile. “How long have you been waiting to hear those words?” I laughed, “Since the day we bought the house.”

Ok, so when I write the novel of the renovation (which will never happen), that’s how the scene will go. Which actually is how it all went down – our building inspector has quite the sense of humor! Those words were probably some of the happiest words I have had said to me since the project began, since drywall marks us starting to put the house back together, rather than tearing it apart. My house is full of drywall stacked against the walls waiting for Monday when it can actually be put up. I would be at the house every day this week checking on the progress, but of course this momentous week falls when I have to go to Chicago for 4 days to present at a conference. Luckily, my Amish contractor is very good at texting me pictures.

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Our insulation is finished and we went to check the work, and James (age 5), who has been very against moving to the “scary, old house” is actually seeing that the house may come together and look good at some point. Quite a relief to me, since he has been very opposed to us moving there.

In other news, you may remember Russel Downey, the young man who received the letters from the wanton strumpet Gertrude in 1914. I have been in correspondence with his great-grandson, who emailed me to tell me he had traced his family geneology back to Martin Luther. THE Martin Luther, as in founder of the Lutheran church. (I did have a rather confusing conversation with my husband who thought I told him he had traced his geneology back to Martin Luther King….) So now I own a house that was owned by direct descendants of Martin Luther – I feel like I should nail a manifesto to the front door. In my case it would most likely be a grant report or an annual fund letter….I will leave you with a quote by Martin Luther that I find particularly applicable to this house reno, “Everything in the world is done by hope.” IMG_4384

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