These Waning Days

Summer is closing fast.  Kids are back to school, the plants in the garden are getting rangy, and I’m thoroughly tired of mowing the lawn multiple times a week. I just got home from a trip to NY, where I discovered that hot weather is miserable even up north.  So we’re all sort of ready for it to end. Fall is my favorite season, so I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also really hesitant to wish my days away.  There are so few of them.  Instead I’m trying to take advantage of this hot and muggy time to harvest as much garden produce as possible, and I take these odd evening walks around the yard in the faux-cool of the evening.  Odd because my yard isn’t that big, and I’m usually smoking a pipe, staring into space. If my neighbors are paying any attention (and the older I get, the more doubtful I am that they are), I’m sure it looks like I’ve slipped out of the looney bin and am slow-motion careering around the yard having lusty conversations with the fireflies.  In reality, I’m in my own head, planting flowers and trellises.  I’m putting in apple trees and hollies.  I’m imagining the sweet taste of next year’s figs.  I’m imagining the climbing of the jasmine, and its energetic race toward the sun. Sammi has made her peace with the fence I put in last year, and now sits happily in the overlong August grass.  The tomatoes and okra that go overripe or woody get tossed out to the yard where she happily chases, engages in a victory lap (that all...

One Less Way to Die

It recently occurred to me that many of my house projects are framed around the idea that, “If I don’t fix this, someone might get hurt.”  I suppose that’s one of the joys of a fixer-upper. I posted some photos to Facebook a few weeks back about my sun room floor: The floor had been eaten by termites.  It used to be a kitchen back in the halcyon days of my castle being a rental property.  Five kitchens and six bathrooms, and none of them saw anything like care or maintenance for a long time. So it should come as no surprise that things leaked, bugs got in and found a ready source of water and food, and no one seemed to notice. That is until the floor started to cave in.  For reference, the sun room is on the east (right) side:   The boards that hold up a floor are called joists.  They are important.  They hook into a bigger board called a sill plate.  It is very important.  Apparently, tasty as well, if you happen to be  a termite. My stalwart carpenter/handyman Tony oversaw some demolition, as well as the replacement of the sill plate.  Demolition sounds fun, until you watch people do it to your own house. I helped a bit.  I removed random live electrical wires.  Because it got cut into so many apartments, and then back again, wiring ran all over the place.  Plumbing too.  I made it my job to keep my guys from dying.  See a pattern here? The previous home owner had attempted some repairs, most of which just made the...

The First Floor

I’ve been writing and posting some photos of my floors.  Specifically, photos of the process of refinishing and re-doing the 2nd-worst room in the house: the upstairs sleeping porch. For Northerners, or those not familiar with old houses, a sleeping porch is a room with lots of windows and ventilation for hot summer nights.  In the days before air conditioning, this room would get stocked with cots and beds in the summer by the servants so the homeowner and family could sleep in comfort.  I think it was used primarily for storage in the winter.  It’s a tradition that has since disappeared, in part because of air conditioning, perhaps in part because closets are in fashion now (wouldn’t it be nice to have a closet again…), but also because the rooms tend to be drafty and hard to heat in the winter. My cousin Emily moved in and decided that all those windows would make for a nice bedroom.  My last post about doing floors showed off the original condition of the room: asbestos tiles, blue sponge paint, and despair.  Under the tiles was 100 year old oak floor, and beige paint of sufficient quantity and quality can hide a multitude of painting sins. I did a lot of the grunt work, but Emily got every step of the process “over the hump” so to speak.  I sanded for weeks to get the glue off the floor, then down through the scratches and prior finish.  She finish-sanded, and I handed her a bucket of stain. It’s the sort of work that makes fixing up an old house worth it....

The Symphony of Sammi and Gertrude

Sammi snores.  Loudly.  Usually when I’m on the phone.  But she’s adorable, so it’s just become part of the fabric that is life at Castle Danchester. Gertrude is still rumbling and rattling the house.  For those not into click links, Gertrude is my boiler.  I’ve installed heat pumps over the last couple years to do the bulk of the heating, but on cold nights, Gertrude wakes up and reminds me of her presence.  I say “wakes up” because it truly feels like some enormous beast is shaking off a long slumber and plodding out to meet the world. Some folks might find that sort of analogy, or that kind of sound, to be discomforting.  But for me, it’s very comforting.  Each year, she wakes up reliably and without fuss, and makes her presence known.  As I get more of the house fixed and opened up, I turn on more radiators, and she lengthens her stride a little bit more. On a night a few weeks back, temperatures plunged, and right on cue Gertrude woke to her job.  Sammi snored contentedly in her crate as the house thumped and hissed, and all was right with the...

Falling in Love is Hard on the Knees

I love my house.  I spend a lot of time and energy working on it, getting it back to its former glory.  Obviously I’ve learned a lot.  One of the most important things I’ve learned while working on my house is how stupid and stubborn I can be.  I’ve also confirmed the fact that I’m not 18, over and over again, to the loud complaint of my lower back. The big project this fall has been getting the “sleeping porch” turned into my cousin Emily’s bedroom.  Despite the blue sponge paint, asbestos tile and creepy fake bear skin rug (I have pictures somewhere), it’s actually a really nice room.  Albeit creeptastic. Emily has done a huge amount of work, some of it psychological.  She painted, pulled tile, and swept.  We both sweep.  A lot. Now that work is underway, it’s apparent that I know how to do all of it, have the tools and skills, I was just daunted by starting.  The photo above is the early stages of cleaning and paint-prep.  Below is one of the new ceiling fan going in. The biggest task is the floor.  I say “is” in the present tense, because while I started working on it a month ago, I’m still working on it.  but progress is very encouraging.   You may notice some swirl marks on the floor in this photo.  You can see that the wood trim is in good shape, and the floor is really great hardwood; I was a little worried that the tile was covering up some serious problems.  No serious problems, but the swirl marks are from someone...
A Year of Sammi

A Year of Sammi

Yesterday morning my dog threw up on my sandal-shod foot while I was on a client phone call.  It reminded me that we’ve had an entire year together. I adopted her from Project Pearl, who re-homes dogs through the county animal control.  I recommend adopting a rescue pet.  She was so thrilled to be just about anywhere. Road trips? Check.  Lazing on the rug? Check.  Sitting on the couch when she thinks I’m not paying attention? Check. But she’s really affectionate, only slightly smelly, and TOTALLY ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT FOOD.  And cuddles.   As it happens, she’s also about three years old, so we’ll consider it her birthday.  I’m going to get her some treats and let her run around the lawn. Speaking of lawn, those of you who follow my blog or facebook know that I recently got a new fence. I let her out the back door without a leash for the first time ever, and she did exactly what she always does when she slips her leash: run like hell while looking back at me to make sure I’m chasing.  She made it halfway across the lawn before seeing the fence, stopped completely, and looked back at me like I’d played some terrible prank.  Then she rolled in the grass for a while. Tough life. So dear Sammi, Miss Fedorah Sandwich of Castle Danchester, happy 3rd birthday, happy one year anniversary, and here’s to many more years of looking like no one ever does nice things for...