The living room is DONE!

Well, not quite, but we're down to punchlist tasks like replacing the outlets and outlet covers and touch-up painting. We even have our Christmas tree up (but not decorated yet). I'm also in the process of finding furnishings, as the Eiffel Tower lamp just isn't very Arts and Crafts-y. :) Somehow, probably because this project took so damned long, we managed to forget that the original trim is missing from the window at the bottom of the stairs and on the landing. I have a header for the landing window, but we'll need to either recreate or salvage the rest. Still, even though it isn't American Bungalow material, it looks like a living room, and it feels like home. In celebration, here's a little photo tour.

The living room, as seen from the stairs. New wood futon frame, new mattress cover, old pillows. Gotta work on those pillows, but they'll do for now...

The doorway to the dining room, complete with ornery cat. The walls aren't really 2 different colors, it just looks that way in the photo. Who knows...? The wall with the futon is a good representation of the wall color.

Here's the rest of the wall. My aunt and uncle "donated" the little corner bookshelf (and the matching bookshelf in the next picture), and they fit in perfectly. I love the Eiffel Tower lamp, but it's going to live in the office as soon as I can find a replacement.

Doesn't the front door look awful now? I hated it before, but now that it's up against some nice woodwork... Ugh. I need a bigger wreath.

And, the front window. The header is one of my two favorite pieces of trim. It has a beautiful grain pattern, but I can't get a better picture of it until I have my tripod. We got paper shades from the Home Depot. After 2 years, I was finally tired of everyone who drove by getting a peek into the house. I like my privacy.

Now if only we weren't terrified to hang pictures on the walls...


Score! Salvaged pine flooring

Shayne and I stopped by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore yesterday to look for a "new" front door. We didn't have much luck with that, but we did find 2 boards of antique pine tongue-and-groove flooring that match our floor perfectly! The best part is that they were only $1.25 each! The boards aren't too long, maybe 4 feet, but they'll help us on our way to patching the living room floor where some big heat vents once were. Note to self and anyone else who might read this: patch the floor before refinishing... That wasn't really a feasible option for us, since it's taken me this long to find matching flooring locally. I probably should have just ordered some from an online salvage store, but oh well. I was also hoping to find registers that fit the opening that match our old ones, but that hasn't happened either. Just more proof that I really have no idea what I'm doing.


A history lesson

After receiving the letter from the previous owners, I figured it would be a good idea to talk to D and M across the street about the Prairie Box. I'm not sure why I didn'tdo this sooner, as they are very nice folks and we've visited on several previous occasions. Somehow, I can't figure out how, since it's one of my obsessions, the house never came up in conversation.

But this afternoon, armed with some wayward Christmas mail for the PPOs (K and L), I stopped in and asked about the Prairie Box. And M said, "Why D's sister used to live there... About 49 years ago!" Who'd have thought? Talk about a small world. They're going to talk with her and see if she has any old pictures of the house or maybe even the property abstract. That would be like winning the lottery!

D and M also provided some insights into the property, since they are good friends with the PPOs and had visited many times throughout the years. K and L seemed like they did the most modifications to the property, including adding a garage, remuddling the porch, adding vinyl siding andfake brick, opening up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, remodeling the kitchen, finishing the basement, and putting up the paneling and ceiling tiles. I learned that the 2 car garage had been moved to the property from South Bend in the middle of the night. I also learned that the back wall of the dining room, facing the back yard, used to have a window. Not a double-hung, but a head-high one that you put a buffet underneath. D and M also told me a little about the porch that used-to-be. It had a short railing and squat craftsman columns, just as I had imagined.

I'm amazed that so many of the changes I wanted to make to the house, even before we started uncovering clues to what was original, are actual features the house used to have. Before it was remuddled, this house was everything I imagined it to be. Too bad I haven't found any built-ins that had been removed...!

D and M were amazed that we want to make the house look old again. "You're young people, don't you want it to look new?" Their home, a vernacular farmhouse, had been remuddled almost to the point of style-less-ness. It is a very nice house; clean, well-kept, and homey, but just isn't what we want. I told them that I love antiques and old homes, and that we just want to pay tribute to the character of the house while making it our own. That's what it's about for everyone, after all: creating a vision of home.

For Mom: Living room pictures


Sneak Preview 2 (and a wee bit of Before and After)

I wasn't supposed to work on the house yesterday, but I did. There I was, already dressed for the graduation, crawling around on my hands and knees staining woodwork. I need help... But look what else I accomplished!

None of the woodwork is attached to the wall in this photo, except for the bottom portion of the baseboard, which never came off. There will also be a separate block at the bottom of the door frame, but it's not done yet. I'll also be getting the green paint (looks white in photo) off of the edge of the door frame, since it just doesn't go with the room...

I can't even begin to describe the amount of satisfaction I'm feeling as this room nears completion. I honestly haven't been this excited since we bought the house. I never thought the living room would look bad when I was done (else why do it at all?!), but it's been such a long project that I definitely felt hopeless at times. It seemed like we'd NEVER finish. I didn't take very good "Before" pictures in some cases, but here's a little reminder of what the door trim, walls, and floors looked like 2 years ago:

We're come a long way, baby!


The 7 Day Blitz: Day 3

I'm exhausted. However, much was accomplished. We're progressing a little slower than anticipated, but still doing great. Today we disassembled the front and side windows and sanded sealed, and stained all the pieces; sanded, sealed and stained the 2 remaining pieces of baseboard that are still on the wall, and cleaned up the sawdust mess. All but 2 pieces of baseboard are finished and awaiting the final coats of shellac. Somehow on paper it doesn't sound like we did much, but that was a good 6 hours of work. The woodwork looks fantastic, and I'm getting really excited about how it's turning out.

Tomorrow we're going to a friend's graduation ceremony and my mom's for dinner, so Day 4 will pretty much be a bust. Day 5 Shayne goes back to work, but I will clean up, seal, and stain the headers for the dining room, south window, and west windows, and put on the last coat of wall and ceiling paint. Day 6 I should be able to start putting all the woodwork back on the walls... Christmas is coming...!!!

For Omar: Staining pine woodwork

A few days ago, Omar of El Paso Foursquare asked, "The woodwork in my home is also pine (fir?). I've had one project already dealing with refinishing and had quite a time getting it to look right. Blotchiness being a major factor. Has the technique you describe to avoid that worked for you?"

The short answer is "yes", but there are some caveats. First, let me describe the technique that I use a bit more thoroughly. I'd like to qualify this by saying that this has worked for me. I'm not an expert (I'd never even done this before last week!), and you may have different results with your project.

I've sanded my woodwork to remove all traces of the original finish, which wasn't in great shape, and to remove all of the stuck-on bits of paint. I finish with 240 grit, then wipe down the boards using a rag dampened with denatured alcohol. I let the boards dry for 30 - 60 minutes, then apply a 1 lb coat of dewaxed clear shellac with a foam applicator. For the first two boards tried to wipe on the shellac, but I couldn't coat it evenly that way, and I ended up with some blotches. In order to prevent that, the shellac must be even. Using the foam brush, I felt that I was putting on too thick of a coat, but it still stained beautifully. I let the shellac dry for at least an hour, then apply the stain. I'm using Varathane golden mohogany and applying it with an old t-shirt. I folded up a section, then dip about .75" into the stain. I sort of "paint" it on, then wipe off the excess with another bit of t-shirt. I let dry for at least another hour, then apply a 3 lb cut of clear shellac over the top.

The result?

I dunno about you, but I think it looks damn good! I'll have to touch up some areas where the paint stuck inside nail holes with some color-matched paint before the final shellacking, but the overall effect is perfect.


The 7 Day Blitz: Days 1 and 2

I took this week off work to try to get the living room done before Christmas. So far so good!

Yesterday was Shayne's b-day, so we only put in about 2 hours of work. I finish-sanded the trim for the door and stripped the header. I also stripped the headers for 2 of the windows. They'd already been stripped with the heat gun, I just used the chemical goo to clean them up. Shayne stripped most of the inside of the doorway between the living and dining rooms with the heat gun.

Today I prepped and stained the trim that goes around the front door. My plan was to finish the trim around one opening to see how I liked the color. While I did stick to that plan, I would have done more if I'd been able to. The color is exactly what I wanted, and it looks great. The lamp-lit pics didn't turn out well, so I'll try to get some up tomorrow. We also finished stripping the doorway and prepped the other trim pieces for stain. About halfway through the day I got a ferocious headache, so I wasn't as productive as I'd hoped. Still, we're making good progress and everything but the stairs will be finished by next week.


shellac+stain+shellac = perfect

I had no idea how much of a hassle this would be. I figured I'd just buy some garnet shellac, slap it on, and life would be good. Not so much.

The garnet shellac wasn't brown or dark enough. It actually looked very similar to the orange/amber shellac I had tried out in the summer. It added beautiful depth and color to the wood, but it wasn't what I was looking for. So then I bought all kinds of little sample packages of Varathane stain. Sample packs like that are God's gift to DIYers. After much sampling, I've finally decided on "golden mahogany". The absoloutely terrible photo below shows all of my attempts at finding the right color combination. Remind me not to take pictures before the sun comes up and/or I've had some coffee. The top of the right-hand board is the garnet shellac, with the amber shellac beneath it. I imagined garnet as a deep reddish hue, but it's very orang-y. More red-orange than red-brown.

Because our woodwork is pine, it's kind of difficult to stain without it turning out blotchy. Based on some recommendations, I decided to seal the wood first using a 1 lb cut of clear, dewaxed shellac (Zinnser SealCoat, thinned). The stain goes over that, then I coat it all with a coat of garnet shellac to bring out the red tones. And then a few coats of clear shellac over that for protection. Is that complicated enough? The resulting color just about perfectly matches the existing woodwork upstairs, which is what I am aiming for. I'll take a picture when the room has brightened up so that the flash doesn't wash it out.


Stairway of the Damned: Part IV

I am finally done with the banister and spindles. Finally. I still have a bit to do on the newel post and the piece where the banister meets the wall (is there a technical term for that bit?), but the back-breaking part is over. Finally. I wish I could sound more enthusiastic, but mostly I'm just relieved. This project brings new meaning to the word "tedious".

Something I am excited about it the shellac. I bought a package of garnet shellac from Rockler, and I mixed up a batch a few days ago. I think it's kind of a misnomer that they're called shellac flakes, though. Mine looked more like glass chips and took 2 days to dissolve completely. I'm testing it out right now on a spare board, and I'll post some pics when I've got a few coats on.

Another bit of excitement is the woodwork came back from The Strip Shoppe less than a week after I dropped it off. 85 board feet in 6 days. That guy is my hero. When we picked it up, he had cleaned off the backs as well as the fronts, and packaged them up neatly in 3 bundles. They don't even need to be sanded. I think the $280 was money very well spent, and I'll be sending more business his way soon.


Letter from the POs

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to the previous owners of our house, asking them for any information they might have about the property, what repairs/changes they made to the house, and if they had any photos of the house when they moved in. Here is the reply I received:

We received your letter dated October 23, 2007. It was good to hear that you are
taking care of the house. B and I were laughing that you had already undertaken
much of the work that was next on our “to-do” list prior to me being offered
another job. I will try to answer your questions as best I can.

When we moved in, the house was livable but needed some modernization. Before
we even moved anything in, we ripped out the shag carpeting in the two bedrooms
facing the street and did some touch up painting. While we lived there, we also
did several remodeling projects. First, in what was our office (the bigger of
the two bedrooms facing the street) we stripped off the wall paper and paint
(several layers of both including some really ugly lime green and pink layers),
refinished the floor and woodwork (woodwork also had several layers of paint),
had the room skim coated, hung crown molding around the top, etc. In the small
bedroom up stairs, we refinished the floor, striped wallpaper and paneling from
the walls, painted all the woodwork (had to cut several new pieces), built the
“toy box”, enlarged the entrance to the attic, added a ceiling fan and rewired.
In the dining room, we painted (it was dark brown paneling and chocolate brown
painted woodwork) and installed laminate flooring. The plan was originally to
refinish the floors there too but several of the boards were missing/boarded
over from when they moved the heating around.

More mechanical repairs included re-wiring portions of the house (mostly to
install ground to the main floor), installing drain valves for the
mudroom/laundry room portion (the water line froze my first year there so after
that I just shut it off and drained the water line when it was going to be below
0 F for several days). I also caulked all the windows (which leaked badly when
we moved in), had insulation blown into the walls of the house and additional
insulation put in the attic. In the basement utility room, there was
effervescence on the walls so I acid etched the walls and painted it with Dry
Lock even though we had never had water in the basement. We put stucco on the
base of the mudroom which was just Styrofoam and then repainted all the brick at
the base of the house. I also replaced the window in the mudroom and rebuilt the
frames of the windows in the basement on the driveway

Outside, we did landscaping. I brought in 10 yards of dirt and several pickup
loads of mulch to use as fill around the site of the house away from the
driveway. Then we planted that area with wildflowers and herbs. I hope you are
enjoying the asparagus that we put in there. Although the Fs left lots of
perennials, we also planted many bulbs, ferns and trees around the yard. We also
cut down a large white pine that was on property line with us and JD. It was
hard for me to do but it lost a lot of branches in an ice storm and we were
worried that it would come down during another storm one of the houses in the
area. JD and I were not sure who owned it so we split the cost on taking it

It doesn’t sound like you found it but there is another “secret” doorway to
the attic in the bathroom, above the stairs and behind the cabinet. You would
need to pull the cabinets out, but I found it while in the attic re-wiring
upstairs and blowing in insulation. If you ever refinish the upstairs bathroom
you will come across it.

The right of way to the north of you still has an easement. The power company
comes through every couple of years and clears it to keep vegetation out of the
power lines. If they haven’t done it in the 2 years you have been there, they
will be back soon.

The best people to learn about the history of the house would be the Fs. They
lived there for 30+ years. I do not have an address for them anymore but they
are very close friends of the M’s that live across the street and we used to
sometimes see them going into the Methodist Church on the corner. Mr. F was very
friendly and helpful when I asked him for a tour of the house before I moved in.
The house does not have a traditional septic and he showed me where the sumps
were located. He also explained that there used to be a mobile home for his
mother-in-law in the side yard north of the driveway. You will still find the
gas and power lines in the utility room going towards to driveway that were used
to heat and power the mobile home. After living there for that long, he knew all
the secrets. In fact, they only moved because it was getting hard for them to go
up and down stairs. The Ms would also be a good source since they have lived in
their house for 40+ years.

I hope you have gotten to know the neighbors. JD is a really nice guy and he
helped us out a lot. The Ms were also fantastic and they watched our daughter
for us periodically and Mr. M was a great help to me as a first time home owner
on how to repair different things.

I will look for some photos from when we moved in but it may be several weeks
before I get them scanned and sent. I hope that this information helped. If you
have other questions, please feel free to call us.

I have much warmer feelings towards the POs now. I've always appreciated the work they started, but I never realized just how much they did. What I think is so great is that they were interested in unremuddling the house, not just slapping up something pretty as a temporary fix. What they did, they did right. I can't always agree with their color choices (!!), but I'm happy that they got the ball rolling for us.


More fall cleaning and purging

Hubby and I are clutterred people. We are all but incapable of keeping anything organized for any length of time. Seriously. This is what our little front bedroom looked like until a few days ago:

Frightening, huh? And yes, Mom, I am ashamed of myself...

Part of the problem is that this little room has no purpose. It's right around 7.5' x 11', so it's really not functional as a guest bedroom. Shayne already has his "office" in the basement, and mine is in the back bedroom. The only thing we use that room for is extra uniform storage, ironing, and depositing junk that doesn't really go anywhere else. We've been talking about using it as sort of a dressing room, but I'm definitely open to suggestions on what to use this little room for.

One thing for certain is that the ironing board is a space hog in that small space. I'd really, really love one of these cupboards from Pottery Barn:

But $279? For a freakin' MDF cupboard? Can't do it... So I'm on the lookout for cheaper alternatives...

In the meantime, we cleaned out the room and donated a BUNCH of stuff to Goodwill. I'm going to take the computer over to a place in Elkhart called Computers For All, so that'll be out of there soon as well. Here's what it looks like now:

It's still not perfect, but it's a huge improvement. I'll just have to hope that our sorry, cluttered selves can keep it that way, since I plan on painting it sooner rather than later.


I'm Cheating...!

I can't decide if I'm ashamed or relieved. I made a call earlier to a local refinishing shop to get an approximate quote for stripping some of my baseboards. Not the flat, easy part, but the little 2" strip of intricate design. I want the living room done by Christmas, and I just don't have the time or inclination right now to do it all myself. There's right around 50 feet of it, and the price he quoted me is reasonable (I'll post more details once the work is finished). It was just a ballpark figure, but we can afford it, and I so badly want the room finished. Two years is too damn long.

I can't help feeling like I'm a quitter though. Granted, I've done a LOT of the work myself, and the focal point of the room, the stairway, will be all my own work. I was just hoping to be able to say that we did it all... There's just not enough time this year with my job change, and training, and both of us working full-time.

Someone, please tell me I'm still a real do-it-yourselfer...!


Fall Cleaning

Since we got back from vacation (a real vacation! We went to the Smoky Mountains!), I've begun fall clean-up in the yard and house. I've cut back most of our perennials that are done blooming, like the daisies and echinacea, and started cleaning up the mess from our black walnut tree. It's probably the messiest tree that grows in this area. Every fall it drops its "fruit", a round green nut, which quickly become soggy and turn black. They're a pain to rake up since they're relatively heavy, and the juice from the fruit is dark brown and stains. The yearly clean-up is enough to make me consider cutting down the tree, but I'd feel so guilty removing a tree that large... I'm not even sure it's on our property, even though that's where all the nuts end up.

This afternoon I'm going to vacuum and mop, then attempt to organize the basement storage a bit. There's not too much excitement going on at the Prairie Box lately...


The 24-Hour Getaway

My sanity won out over my house-guilt. Here are the highlights from my overnight trip to the dunes (the full album is available here).

And I'm very pleased to say that I didn't think about the house once the whole time!


To vacate or not to vacate

Warning: This is probably going to be a slightly whiny, self-pitying post. Read on at your own risk... :)

Ever since I started the academy, and even a little before because of field-training, I haven't had any real time to myself. I've had time by myself, but not time where I felt comfortable just doing nothing. Every weekend when I come home, it feels like all of the unfinished house projects are just suffocating me. It's like I can hear my house accusing me of not working on it, even though I've been making an effort to at least do something each weekend. Some of them I haven't written about yet, but I really have been busy. Unless I'm doing something, I feel incredibly guilty, and as a result, I don't really have any days off. Shayne and I do have a trip to the Smoky Mountains coming up soon, but I'm really feeling like I need some time for me.

So... I'm thinking about going camping on Lake Michigan for a night. I'd like to stay all weekend, but I have some prior commitments on Sunday that I need to honor. The thing is, I already feel guilty for even thinking about not staying home. My house is an evil slave-driver...

But who wouldn't rather spend a day somewhere like this?

So despite the guilt, I suppose my mind is already made up. For now.


More fun with living room paint

I continued my painting spree this morning, and I put a second coat of paint on the living room walls and a first coat of "craft white" on the ceiling. I just can't get over how much brighter and warm the room feels now. Red is classified as a warm color, but something about the copper red made it sort of dreary and depressing. I didn't really notice how dark it was until it wasn't anymore. Stupid, I know, but whatever. I guess I'm a little slow that way. Here are some more pictures. Please ignore the ugly futon and the little stuffed moose.

I'm still going to put one more coat of gold on the walls and one more on the ceiling, but that will be next weekend's project...

Painting the Living Room: Redux

I finally decided that the Roycroft copper red just wasn't what I wanted, so I took my 2 gallons of hubbard squash gold back to Sherwin-Williams and had it shaken up so I could repaint. I only got one coat on yesterday afternoo0n, but the difference is amazing. And, best of all, I'm happy with it. In less than 2 hours, the living room went from this:

To this:

The bright gold just opens the room up and will really show off the woodwork. It feels a little pumpkin-y right now, since the ceiling is still gold as well (soon to be Valspar's Eddie Bauer Bungalow craft white), but I'm thrilled with the way it's turning out. I like the copper red, but I was never comfortable with it. From day one, I wasn't sure if I was really happy with it. Note to self: If you don't immediately love it, it ain't gonna work.


Garden progress

I haven't had much time this summer to work on the garden, and in the flower bed by the back porch the two varities of mint were starting to take over. I was planning on pulling it all out next year, but when I was at Meijer today all perennials were 20% off. They were only $5 to start with, so I picked up a couple Veronica, an obedient plant, a balloon flower, and an ornamental grass for $30. The Veronica is a little sad-looking, but I think it'll come back okay next spring. With all the rain we've had, it was a little waterlogged.

I didn't take a before picture, since it was just that hideous, but here's a picture of the same area last year. Just imagine it with a few more flowers and lots more scraggly mint. LOTS.

And my beautiful Meijer finds (icky mint in the background):

And an hour or so later, after much slaughter of the mint and multiple transplants...

We obviously need more mulch and some kind of border to keep the grass from taking over. The plants are a little wilted and some of them are twisted a bit, since I moved them. I think by next week they'll look better, though. It's not much, but believe me, it's a huge improvement. Now I just need to do something to hide the a/c and get rid of the bundle of coaxial cable...


The anniversary of our 2nd year as homeowners went by without us even noticing. On August 24, 2005, we took possession on the Prairie Box. In the past year, we've accomplished very little as far as the house goes... The living room still isn't done, the office is a big mess, and our budget has sort of disappeared. On the plus side, the stairway is all but stripped; the all of the woodwork (except for the door and window headers) is scraped, sanded, and awaiting stain; and the original garage has been insulated and drywalled to use as a workshop. We also found the door under the paneling in the office...

But for me, this past year has been more about personal progress than house progress. In February I was promoted from correctional officer to patrol officer, and since then I've been working my butt off training for my new job. I've gone through about 4 months of on-the-job training, followed by 15 weeks of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. It's been extremely fulfilling and exciting, but I haven't had any time off in about 18 months. It's been really rough to be gone 5 days per week, and the days that I'm gone, I'm working my ass off. Literally. I've never been overweight or really out of shape, but with all of the running and PT I've done (voluntary and mandatory), I'm definitely in the best physical condition I've ever been in.

But when I come home, I'm tired, sore, and stressed. Throughout my weeks of training, I've engaged in mock vehicle pursuits, performed high-risk traffic stops, been shot with Simunitions (soap-filled 9mm bullets fired out of real handguns) during live-fire exercises, gotten my ass kicked during groundfighting and physical tactics training, been exposed to OC/CS spray (apparently once wasn't enough, eesh!), and lived away from home in a paramilitary environment. It doesn't sound quite as bad when I write it out, but it's enough to stress me out even though I've had a lot of fun as well. I sometimes wonder how Shayne has put up with me during this time, but he does, and he's been wonderful and supportive throughout my training. I graduate in less than a month, and we can't wait until our lives return to some semblance of normal and we can take a vacation!

My goal right now is simply to finish the living room. We're so close right now. If I can just have it done in time to decorate the house for Christmas, I'll be a happy individual.


Kitchen inspiration

I found this picture posted over at Schmich Schack, and it was like a lightbulb went on in my head.
Those are our cabinets! Remember the fugly green cabinets out in the garage?

That's what they are supposed to look like! The ones in the picture even have the same hardware! I knew that they could look nice with some work, but I somehow wasn't able to extend my imagination far enough to see what they should be. I can't say I'm crazy about the green walls (they look nice, but it's not what I want in my kitchen), and I'd like a tile backsplash instead of the beadboard, but I now have a clear idea of what the cabinets should be. I ran it by Shayne, and it even meets his approval... :)


Progress! (with pictures)

After taking Bach for a long walk this morning, I got busy working on the living room. I decided that the front windows needed to be taken apart in order to do a good job sanding, since the joints were extremely gunked up with caulk and several layers of paint.

I'd already sanded the face of the trim visible in this picture. The other one was still all gunked up with paint residue from stripping. I used my little pry bar to pull off the interior stops (the strips of wood that hold the sash in place, or would if my windows hadn't been retrofitted with new sashes in the late '80s). Each only had 3 nails, and in 5 minutes I had all 6 of them off.

I hauled them all outside, then scraped the three sides that were originally painted. Because of the way my windows were retrofitted, one of those 3 sides is no longer visible, but scraping the old caulk helped it to fit flush. Within an hour I had all 6 scraped and sanded.

I was hoping to disassemble the window further and take off the trim pieces that separate the windows. I was able to wedge my pry bar in underneath one of them, but it didn't budge. Rather than force it (and probably wreak something), I decided to just sand and scrape them in place.

Since lead paint is an issue with our living room I wore a respirator with special cartridges. FYI, most standard respirator cartridges do NOT work on lead paint. The cartridges that are approved for lead dust and fumes are designated by a purple band and are NIOSH approved. To ensure the respirator is sealed properly around your face, cover the cartridges with your hands and inhale. The mask should pull tight on your face and no air should be coming in. If air leaks in around the edges, the mask does not fit properly and won't protect you from dust or fumes. For your safety, a respirator should be worn whenever you will encounter lead dust or fumes. I made the mistake of stripping lead paint with a heat gun without a respirator and ended up with the mother of all headaches for 2 days. Not very smart. You should also have a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean up. There are other precautions you may choose to take, and I don't pretend to know everything about lead paint safety. Sand at your own risk!

Another side note... If I ever buy another respirator, it will have a full-face mask. I wore eye protection, but sawdust was flying everywhere so I still ended up with lots of dust in my eyes.

I scraped and sanded the 2 large separator pieces as well as the window sill and trim underneath it. Along with clean-up afterwards, it probably took 2 hours. A lot of the sanding was very awkward, since I had to sand the sides and underside of everything. Not fun for my back, but it looks really nice. Here's my official "after" picture:

There were some spots I couldn't get into with either the sander or scraper. I'll have to figure out something before I stain.

Since the living room was already extremely dusty, I went ahead and started sanding the piece of baseboard that we couldn't remove without ruining the plaster. That looks much better now too! I couldn't finish, since I ran out of sandpaper, but I'm very happy with the progress I made.


"Green" cleaning products: Drain openers

The sink in the upstairs bathroom clogs constantly. At least 3 times per year it becomes completely stopped up, and we then decide it's time to do something about it. Usually "something" involves buying several bottles of Drano or Liquid Plumr to blast the clog into oblivion. Usually it takes 3 or 4 applications before the drain is completely clear. This time, I decided to try something a little less... hazardous. Traditional drain openers can be bad for cast iron pipes, which is what our waste pipe is made of. Drain openers also contain very harsh chemicals like hydrochloric or sulpheric acid. Stuff like that will kill the good bacteria in the cesspool and slow the process of breaking down household waste. The chemicals will also leach into the soil.

The traditional method is to use baking soda and vinegar, so I decided to give that a try.

I dumped probably 1/2 cup of baking soda directly into the drain, then added about a quart of vinegar (slowly). It started to bubble up over the top of the drain, so I gave it 1 plunge with the plunger. The result was instantaneous: no more clog. I waited a minute or so to let the mixture work its way down the pipe, then flushed the drain with hot water for about 5 minutes.

Not only did it work better than commercial drain cleaner, it was cheaper too!


Can I come home now?

I don't know what made me think I could come home from the academy and work on the house on weekends. My weeks are so draining that when I come home, I'm exhausted. And usually extremely sore from one venture or another. At first it was from the huge amount of PT that we do. Once I got used to that, they switched routines on us, and I got sore again. Then it was from being being bounced around the backseat of a car during Emergency Vehicle Operations. It felt like I was in a car crash every day... Then another new phase of PT. This past week was physical tactics, which involved practicing take-downs, joint locks, pressure points, and groundfighting. I'm sore in new and exciting places and have so many bruises that I look like a battered wife.

I'm feeling a little bitchy and whiny today, did you notice?

I did accomplish a few things, but nothing renovation-oriented. Laundry, grocery shopping, and vacuuming are about as motivated as I got. My mom talked about bringing her cabinet doors over tomorrow, and she could work on those while I sanded some more woodwork. Sanding is a great mother-daughter activity... :)

I've also been occupying myself by learning how to use my new camera. It's a Kodak z612, and it has incredible zoom capabilities. Here are a few pictures that I've taken around the house (arachnophobes, beware!):

Columbine in the garden



Scary spider outside the laundry room/back porch


Clawfoot Tub: Free to Good Home

I rescued this tub from our old landlord, and we brought it with us when we moved to the Prairie Box. Its feet are missing, but the enamel is very good shape (no cracks, gouges, etc). There's no interior rust or major stains, but it needs refinishing to bring back its shine. Near the drain is a slightly discolored spot, but I'm all but positive it would come out with some elbow grease. I've already lightened it considerably using Iron-Out and LimeAway. The exterior is a little rusty, but it appears to be surface rust only. I would love to use it in our house, but my husband just doesn't fit comfortably inside it. :(

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Tub as originally found

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After some cleaning

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Tub depth (I wear a 9.5 in women's)

I really just want to make sure the tub will go to someone who will use it in their home, not get scrapped. We could possibly arrange to meet partway, depending on your location. For reference, welive near South Bend, IN. Post a comment or drop me an e-mail (tabbycat1264 AT yahoo DOT com) if you are interested!


I hate Lowes

Every time I go in there, I end up spending WAY too much money. $214 later I came out with 6 gallons of paint and primer, roller covers, a lead-approved respirator, grass seed, and weed killer. Ugh. There's no such thing as renovating on a budget.

When I got home, I scraped and sanded the window trim, door trim, and 2 baseboard pieces for the living room. I now have about 8 pieces that are ready for finish sanding and stain (maybe 50 feet total). Not too bad. I only worked on pieces that could be done outside. I don't want lead dust floating around until I can open the windows and put in fans for cross-flow. The stairway doesn't have lead paint on it, but all the rest of the living room woodwork does. There are a few pieces of baseboard that I was afraid to take off, since it was so brittle, and parts of the window trim had to stay in place as well. I'd like to do more, but it's 87° outside, and the driveway is in full sun. I was starting to bake a bit out there, so I'm inside for a break.

Next on my agenda today is cleaning out the little front bedroom and preparing it for paint. I've got some furniture and clothes there that need to be taken to Goodwill, plus it's just generally messy. Imagine that...


Mini Progress Report

I don't have a whole lot of progress to report, but I did spend some time sanding the stairs two weekends ago. Last weekend I was sick, so all of my energy was spent laying in bed and hoping to feel better by the time I had to go back to the academy. Tomorrow has been scheduled as a work day, though, and I'm determined to make some progress.

Tonight Shayne and I are going to Lowes so I can get a respirator and maybe a Zip Wall. I'd like to set it up over the doorway into the dining room so that the dust stays out of there. I'm also going to purchase some primer to paint over the red in the living room. I've finally decided it's just not the way I want to go. I love the red so much though, that it may just be the new kitchen color. Who knows. I can't possibly think that far ahead.

Also on the list of things to do in the immediate future is painting the little front bedroom. It's a gawd-awful yellow and green combination that grates on my nerves every time I look at it. Perhaps a nice soothing caramel color with white woodwork? That might be next weekend's project. I only have 1.5 days off next weekend (5 day week at the academy, return Sunday night), so I don't want to do anything that requires a lot of clean-up. Other than paint, that room is actually finished (at least until we refinish the upstaris floors), so it's time to start making it liveable and useful. Right now all it's doing is collecting junk and not doing anyone any good.

More tomorrow...


Getting over myself

At the beginning of July I started attending the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which is basically boot camp for cops. This involved a switch to day shift, a 4-on, 3-off schedule, and travelling to and from Indianapolis each week. Needless to say, this has been a big source of stress and a big adjustment. Not that I'd been making much progress on the house anyways...

In the few weeks that I've been at the academy, I've learned quite a bit about motivation and dedication. I've been pushed beyond the physical limits of what I thought I could do. And even though this is just the beginning, I also have a new confidence in myself and a realization that I can push through the times when I don't want to keep going any longer.

I'm really going to try to apply this to the house. It's to the point where the living room upsets me, since I know it should be done by now and I just can't seem to find the initiative to get moving again. I'm pissed at the house, pissed at my lack of motivation, and pissed that I've let it go this long without really trying. I've never really accomplished anything difficult in my life until now. Looking back, it doesn't seem like I really had to try every hard to accomplish whatever I wanted to do. I don't mean that to sound arrogant, but I've been blessed with having everything I've ever really wanted. That's not to say I haven't had to work for it, or work towards it, but there haven't been any major setbacks or huge obstacles to overcome.

But right now the only obstacle in my way is me. And, like I have at the academy, I need to get over myself and get to where I want to be. I can make all the excuses I want, but none of them mean a damned thing. I'm the only thing keeping me from finishing my projects. Not time, not the weather, not work. Me.

It stops now.


The Academy: Week 1

Week 1 was something of a revelation. Jason (the other new recruit) and I drive down to Plainfield on Sunday night, since we had to register by 0740 hrs on Monday morning. We were both incredibly nervous, having heard horror stories about the terrible food and the evils of the drill instructors. Neither of us was looking forward to the next 13 weeks.

By Monday morning we were a little less nervous, but neither of us had gotten much sleep. We registered, then stood in the doorway of the little auditorium where we had been told to go for briefing. I think we maybe had a foot each out in the hall, but it was enough to incur the wrath of a drill instructor. "Get your asses out of my hallway!" he shouted. We scrambled into the auditorium, then looked at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

All through the briefing, I could see the drill instructors up by the doorways, hovering like angry shadows in their black BDUs and straw hats. I pride myself on being an independent and somewhat fearless person, but I was more intimidated than I think I ever have been in my life. In the background we could all hear the state police recruits getting yelled at by their drill instructors. All I could think about was how long these 13 weeks would seem to last.

After briefing we were sent out numerically to be issued our linens and towels and bring our gear from the cars to our rooms. A guy in front of me was very intimidated and turned the wrong way down one of the hallways. A D.I. swooped down on him without mercy, berating him loud enough for everyone in the building to hear. He got flustered and asked a question, which only resulted in him getting yelled at for not paying attention the first time. I put my head down and hoped nobody would notice me and I wouldn't screw up.

It was back to the auditorium after collecting our gear, without any time to unpack or attempt to settle in. We were told the rules and expectations, then turned over to the drill instructors so they could "have some fun" with us before lunch. We'd been assigned squads upon arrival, then each squad was placed into order by height. Each recruit was assigned a particular tile on the gym floor. That tile is ours until we leave the academy. We were taught the intricacies of the position of attention, and I thanked God for my 4 years of marching band. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad...

Some people weren't so quick to catch on that when you're at attention you do not look around, especially at the D.I.s. One unfortunate guy made the mistake of scratching his face, and he was made to scratch that same spot until the D.I. was satisfied that it wouldn't itch anymore. Then we were all placed into the "front leaning rest" position (the up position of a push-up) to get acquainted with our tiles. I don't know how long we were down there, but it felt like an eternity. We were then made to "stand" at attention face down with our noses on the floor. I don't know about everyone else, but I was thrilled to be laying there unable to see anything around me. Throughout this entore lesson in drill, the D.I.s were shouting at those unfortunate enough to make a mistake or to catch their attention. Thank God I wasn't one of them.

We were marched down to the chow hall at a 6 inch interval, which meant that we looked like a train wreck as we all crashed into each other and tried desperately to stay in step to a non-existent cadence. Chow wasn't much of a break, as there are protocols for the way you can get your food and how much you can take. There was also no talking, and we were given maybe 10 minutes to wolf down our food. Through it all, the D.I.s were still yelling, and I was wondering how I'd ever survive the week, let alone 13 of them...


"Green" cleaning products: Laundry detergents

The first laundry detergent I tried was Earth Friendly Products ECOS powder. I found it at Meijer one day, and just decided to give it a shot. If I remember correctly, it was about $9 for the box. I had been using Tide liquid before, and I wasn't really sure about using a powder. I was pleasantly surprised, as it disolved readily and cleaned well. Since it was unscented, it didn't clash with my dryer sheets. Unfortunately, it also left some kind of residue on my clothes. After several washings, they started to feel a little... crunchy. I don't mean that my clothes literally crackled, but the did seem rather stiffer than they used to. I've since found that it may have been a reaction to the extremely hard water we have in this area.

Next I tried Seventh Generation's laundry powder, also found at Meijer. I don't recall the price, but it was more expensive than the ECOS. This detergent also cleaned well and had a fresh, citrusy scent. Unfortunately, it also made my clothes kind of stiff. Your mileage may vary.

I went back to using Tide for a while, but really felt guilty about it once we moved into the Prairie Box. We do a lot of laundry, and I was just imagining the cesspool clogging with soap bubbles...

Then I found Method detergent at Target. It's biodegradable, phosphate free, and smells very nice (I use "fresh air"). It also leave my clothes residue free. Oddly, the detergent doesn't make a lot of bubbles compared to Tide, but it cleans just as well. The price is comparable to "ordinary" detergents, but the bottle is smaller since it's a concentrated formula. The cap/measuring cup is about 1/3 the size of Tide's. The bigger bottle of Method costs about $12 and seems to last us about 3 months. I've also used the "free + clear" version with good results. Since I line dry some items, though, I prefer a scented detergent.

After liking Method detergent so much, I also bought the dryer sheets. I've read that these contain tallow, an animal byproduct, which upsets some folks (I'm not one of them). I'm not sure that they're biodegradable, but they smell great and leave my laundry static-free. Bach also likes them and will chew them up any chance he gets. Half a sheet seems sufficient for most of our loads of laundry, and the box contains 100. Cost: About $6.

I've also tried the softener-infused dryer cloths but don't like them nearly as much. They're more like wet wipes than traditional dryer sheets, and they need to stay moist. I'm not crazy about the scents. Two cloths were needed to kill the static in an average-sized load. Bach also did not approve and won't touch them. These cost about $5.50, less at Target than online, but there are fewer in the container (32).

I feel obligated to mention that I am not affiliated with any company or product mentioned, nor am I receiving any compensation for these mini-reviews. Just in case... :)


Of cesspools and biodegradable cleaners

I've mentioned before that we have to be careful which cleaning products we use because of our septic situation. Actually, we don't even have a septic. That's the problem. Back when the house was built, there was less concern for polluting the groundwater. The wastewater from the home simply emptied into a brick-lined hole in the ground called a cesspool. From there, the water would seep out through holes left in the sides. It's the same concept used today in parking lot drainage, and it's now called a drywell. Drywells are approved in Indiana for greywater systems (no human waste), but codes now require a septic system. Since ours is grandfathered, we're trying very hard to preserve it. Not only would installing a septic be expensive, we'd also have to have the cesspool filled in. And we have two of them. Luckily, we do have an access hatch built into the driveway, so it can be occasionally pumped out like a regular septic.

What all this means for everyday life is that we need to be very careful what we put down the drains. Ordinary commercial soaps and cleaners inhibit the soil's ability to absorb liquid. Over time a scum builds up on the surface, and no water will leach out at all, which would mean our cesspool would be nothing more than a holding tank. As far as I know, this hasn't happened yet. All of our drains run quickly and there are no strange odors in the backyard. Since we'd like to keep it this way, we are pretty picky about what cleaning products we use.

The transition began even before we moved into the Prairie Box. I read an article somewhere (sorry, no idea where!) about how the chemicals we use in our homes can cause the indoor air quality to be worse than that outside. I also found that many cleaners are petroleum-based (laundry detergent, dish soap, and many others). I'm not a crazy hippie-chick, but it bothered me that I was using oil to clean my home and clothing. And myself. It also concerned me that some many substances we use to "clean" our home had warning labels on them. "Vapors can be harmful", "may cause skin irritation", "avoid prolonged exposure". Does this sound like stuff we want to prepare our food around? Take a bath in? Expose children to? No thanks.

And so the quest began. It started with a non-petroleum-based laundry detergent, but once we moved into the Prairie Box, I wanted as many products as possible to be biodegradable. Over the next few days, I'm going to take a look at the cleaning products we use in the house, and write about what works and what doesn't. I'll also include where we bought them and what they cost.

Here are the criteria we use when evaluating a product prior to purchase, in no particular order:
  1. Price: I don't care how well it cleans or how good for the environment it is if I can't afford to buy it on a regular basis. I try not to spend more than $6 for most cleaners, but there are exceptions.
  2. Biodegradability: A necessity. If I switch from a mainstream product, it's never to something non-biodegradable.
  3. Ingredients: I prefer products that are pH balanced (i.e. phosphate-free), since I have well water.
  4. Fragrance: Many "green" products are perfume free. Others smell like various herbs or flowers, which is usually okay. Some smell like patchouli. Ick.
  5. Availability: Some products I buy are only aavailable to me online. Others only at certain stores. When possible I like to buy from Meijer, since it's where I go for my groceries.


A little too late?

I'm not sure why I'm even bothering to water. I think the grass has had it, don't you?


Living in filth

I know we aren't all perfect. Many of us have entered into our home renovation/restoration/building projects armed with only enthusiasm, a few how-to books, and a vision of what our homes could be. I definitely fall into this category. I've spent more than one sleepless night wondering why I thought I could help this poor old house. I really don't know what I am doing. But I am smart enough to figure out that a kitchen is a very poor place for carpet. The kitchen and bathroom are the two rooms most people would want to be easily cleaned and maintained. I understand this, and I don't even know what the hell I'm doing...!

I want so badly to rip out the carpet in the kitchen and laundry area. I know that those two rooms are subject to a lot of spills and messiness, especially since the laundry area is our entryway as well. Shayne won't let me tear up the house any more than it already is, so I settled for cleaning the carpet.

Here's what the rinsewater looked like:

That's not even the water from the first round. That's the water after the carpet had already been "cleaned" once, and I went over it again with just water to rinse. I even rinsed it again after taking this picture, hoping that by rinsing it I pulled up a lot of dirt. Sadly, the water was no cleaner. I'm wondering if I should keep rinsing it in hopes that all of the dirt will eventually get pulled out, or leave it alone because the dirt may be under the carpet and by rinsing I'm pulling it into the carpet. A disgusting dilemma...

Since it's finally cooled off, I've been catching up on other cleaning as well. I've vacuumed the entire house, and I don't mean I just vacuumed every room. I'm talking under beds, in closets, walls, window sills, everywhere. I really wish I could vacuum the cat. She threw up another hairball tonight, right in the middle of the bed. So now, at 10:00, I'm having to wash the bedspread and sheets. Why can't she ever throw up anywhere convenient? It's always on the little bit of carpet we have, on the new area rug, or the bed. Thanks Kitty.