New and improved outside pictures

We finished tearing out the shrubs and got a load of dirt and lots of mulch to fill it all in. My mom generously donated some flowers from her garden, and we now have a new flowerbed in the front.


Working Outside the Box

Today we concentrated on working outside in the yard. Shayne ripped out 2 shrubs in front, and my mom and I worked on pruning the bushes, weeding and rearranging the WAY overgrown flowerbeds, and planting a few new flowers. I don't really have any before pictures, but these in-progress pictures show a HUGE improvement.

When we started, the flowerbed by the air conditioner was completely taken over by mint. It was everywhere. Think seaweed, but on land. As we started ripping it out, we found that there were 3 different varieties, plus some chives and a lily hidden inside it. We also found this little guy, which made us happy, since we are planning on putting in a small pond in a year or so. I know he's a toad and not a frog, so we probably wouldn't see them much except at mating time, but it's still nice to know that we have amphibious critters around.

On the side of the house, we ripped out lots of coreopsis, which had really taken over. We saved only 1 patch, but I'm sure we'll get plenty back next spring. We also found some gloriosa daises and a Shasta daisy, which we separated from the coreopsis. An echinacea and an ornamental grass were also liberated. Hiding under all of the crazy plants were 8 12" patio blocks. I moved those near the water faucet, and we put the hose on them instead of in the dirt. Then we ripped out more grass and pruned the shrubs bordering our neighbor's fence. All in all, we worked for about 6 hours, so that should give you an idea of how bad things were before.

Tomorrow we'll be tackling the remaining 2 shrubs, as well as putting in a very low retaining wall. The grass is pretty aggressive, and I don't want to have to pull it out of the flowerbeds again next year. I may also weed the former vegetable garden. I'd really like to do something with the flower bed bordering our neighbor's fence, but there is too much grass and raspberry thicket to mess with it now. Maybe in the fall or next spring, when I can actually see in there to work.

As for now, I'm going to take a well-deserved (and much-needed) bath.


Mission Accomplished

And not in the George W. Bush way, either... For the first time in what feels like forever, I not only accomplished a project, I did it in the amount of time I expected it would take! My motivation to work on the house has skyrocketed, which is good, since I have so much else to do.
Here are the pictures of today's progress on the office:

The miraculous adhesive-free spot, surrounded by carpet, adhesive, and Citristrip

The finished product

The reason the floor looks so blotchy is because it is various stages of drying. The light area in the middle/upper right is bare, dry wood. Oddly enough, there was no adhesive there, and the padding just came right off. There was also no finish on the wood; it looked like it had just worn away. You can see the original finish in the top photo. It's not in very good shape, but it gave us indication of what color the floor was originally (amber).

Something anyone who uses Cistrstrip should know: it will raise the grain of the wood. After repeatedly scraping a treated area, I would occasionally catch splinters of wood. Ano even now, when I run my fingers across the boards, I can clearly feel the grain. It might go down again once it is completely dry, but I wouldn't recommend using Citristrip on anything you don't plan on sanding.

It's amazing how much more tolerable the wallpaper is with a bare wood floor. The room is still pretty fugly, but it's definitely showing signs of improvement. I can't do anything else to this room for a while, though, since the next step would be removing the wallpaper and ceiling tiles. The dining room comes next, so I'm in no position to deal with crumbling plaster and faux walls.

Next step: Order some garnet shellac and get busy on the living room trim.

Proud Member of the Can't-Leave-Well-Enough-Alone Club

This is what happens when I'm only supposed to work on one room at a time... Not only do have have an unfinished living room to work on, but I decided to ignore it today in favor of ripping up the carpet in the office. Now, ripping up carpet in and of itself is usually a quick and easy job. Not so in the Prairie Box. This carpet has fuzzy gray padding that was glued directly onto the wood floors. At first, I thought I could use the steamer to loosen the adhesive. It worked, but by the time it did, the wood was saturated. Not good. So then I tried the miracle cure of Citristrip, which disolved the adhesive in less than an hour.
This padding is really something else... It's half dust, half foam, and very nasty. No wonder the carpet in here always looked dirty! Here's a pile from a 6' by 4' area:
Thankfully it's thin, so the scraping part goes pretty quickly. I should be finished with the entire room today, so I'll post more pictures and a progress report tonight.


On account of the heat wave, my mom and I decided to skip the camping trip this weekend. Carting around a backpack full of gear in 90+ degree weather really just doesn't sound like that much fun. Since I've been home for the past 2 days, I've accomplished almost one thing: one living room window is halfway stripped. Citristrip and Soy-Gel work wonders on multiple layers of lead-based paint, but they don't do jack on 2 layers of latex paint on unvarnished wood. Hmpf. I scraped the top layer of paint off with a plastic scraper, then used steel wool and water to rub off the second layer. This might not sound too bad, but it took over 45 minutes to almost finish 1 window. The citristrip just causes the paint to smear, exactly like on the stairway where the shellac was worn off. Not cool. I can't use any harsher chemicals on the windoes, since they are the modern-ish double-paned type. If the seal is broken, which I'm afraid would happen with a "real" paint stripping chemical, then the window clouds up and looks ugly.

Tomorrow I'm going to take the baseboards and door frames out to the garage and start sanding. I'm tired of not making any progress, and I'm getting anxious to move on from the living room. I promised Shayne that I'd only tear up one room at a time, which stinks. Right now, I'd be more than happy to be stripping wallpaper or tearing up carpet. In fact, I could probably get away with ripping up carpet, since we only have 1 room upstairs that still has it... Hmm...

I wonder where the steamer is...?


The Master Plan Version 2.0

After weighing the pros and cons of different approaches, we've decided to complete our work on the downstairs before tackling the upstairs. As much as we desperately wanted to re-do the bathroom, the HVAC problem is really too important to ignore for another 3 years. Granted, we can live without air conditioning; our house was bult without it, and people survived for millenia before central heating and cooling. But since we have it, we might as well have it working properly.

So here's an outline of the new, improved Master Plan. Once the living room is complete (refinish woodowrk and floors, should be done in about 1 month), we will move on to the dining room. This room should be mostly cosmetic. We'll tear down the paneling and ceiling tiles, remove the laminate floor, and skimcoat the walls and ceiling. The woodwork in this room is minimal. We have 1 pair of windows, 2 doorways with original trim, and maybe 35 feet of baseboard. The woorwork will all be stripped and refinished. The current large doorway between the kitchen and dining room will either be completely walled over or shrunk to a normal-sized doorway. I already have unfinished replacement woodwork for that. Inside the newly-rebuilt wall will be a duct to heat and cool the upstairs office. We're tentatively planning for board-and-batten paneling 4' or 4.5' high around the entire room. The pine cabinet we bought a few months ago will be built into the corner. A new light fixture and outlet covers should finish things off.

The kitchen is next. The wallpaper, ceiling tiles, and cupboards all have to go, as do the 2 layers of carpet and "sub" floor. Hopefully the pine under all those layers will be serviceable. We'll also be removing the soffits, which should be interesting. The walls and ceiling will be repaired and skimcoated, and the original cupboards will be restored and brought back in. A couple of new units might have to be fabricated, but the should be easy to match since the originals are just plywood housing with solid pine doors. We'll either build or purchase a new countertop, depending on the material we deicde on. I'd like to rearrange the refrigerator and stove, but I can't seem to find a good layout. The chimney sits right where I wish the stove was, so that's an unsolvable problem. I'd also like an antique stove, but there doesn't seem to be room for one. Regardless, "new" appliances are in the future. The dining room and kitchen floors will be refinished at the same time, which will complete work on the downstairs.

Ideally, I'd like to be done 2 years from now. You can all laugh at me in 5 years when we're still plugging away... :)


Gone Camping

I haven't really done a thing on the house since we got back from Gatlinburg. I seem to have lost my motivation to the nice weather. Instead of working on the house on my days off, I've been going camping.

I've been really stressed out lately about work and the house, so I've decided to take a little time off. Next weekend my sabbatical will be over, but the R&R has helped me come to an important realization: I'm not sure that I want to work in law enforcement anymore. It's not that I don't enjoy it, because I do most of the time. I'm just tired of the stress. I'm tired of not being able to make a difference. I'm tired of seeing what drugs do to people and how they refuse to get help. I don't get enough time off, I don't get paid enough for what I have to put up with (is there such a thing?), and I'm just plain tired. And that's probably the worst of it. When I come home at night, I'm exhausted. Not physically, but mentally. I spend 8 hours keeping my guard up, and it wears on me. I know things will be different if/when I get promoted to patrol officer (the jail is an evil, life-sucking monster), but I'm not sure anymore if it's what I want. It's hard to tell when I've got a bad taste in my mouth for my current job. I'll be going through the next part of the promotion process soon, which is a ride-along/field training with an offcer, so that should give me a better idea if I'll be happy as a patrol officer. I know for sure I don't want to spend any more time than necessary working in the jail, and I loved going on ride-alongs as a police cadet, so time will tell.

If I don't do law enforcement, I have no idea what I will do. My degree is in criminal justice, and there are no programs at the local colleges that sound interesting. I like old houses. I like being outdoors. If I could just buy houses, restore them, and resell them to loving owners I'd be in heaven. But starting that process requires money, which we don't have enough of right now. Maybe if I just stay where I am for a few more years, get promoted ($10K+ per year raise) and save a massive amount of money, I can start down that road.