1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Sweet Progress

Remember my fears that the bathroom would be too much for us? That it would sit unfinished - barely begun - until the end of time?

Ha. Silly me. All it took was a few hours of hard work, and the whole thing seems so much more possible.

Turns out all that tile-bashing we did was a waste. Darwin decided we should bash out the whole concrete floor underneath the tile so that we could know for sure the floor underneath was in good condition.

The jackhammer we planned to borrow decided to winter in North Carolina, so we borrowed a gigantic chisel and a sledgehammer from our always-well-prepared friends D&K. The chisel worked well to break up the concrete, though Darwin says it would've been easier to break up had we not busted out the tile, because then it would've come out in big chunks instead of crumbling and making a huge mess.

But it's all worth it, either way, because of what we found underneath. The original wood floor - at least in the one-third of the bathroom we've uncovered so far - is in excellent condition. Looks like it was painted brown. It's not nearly as beat up as the wood floor underneath the vinyl and plywood in our kitchen. We anticipate possibly having to replace a few boards near the toilet (from underneath the house, they don't look so hot), but otherwise the floor is great!

We like wood floors anyway - even in a bathroom - and heck, using existing stuff is way cheaper than buying a bunch of custom pinwheel tile.

Plus, our friend D informed us that the first house built in Eutaw that incorporated a bathroom into the plans had a wood floor. It's still pretty much intact in Miss Judy's across the street, built in 1904. It has wood floors, a clawfoot tub, vertical beadboard up to the chairrail, and a big window-sill-like moulding around the top of the beadboard.

So basically, now our plan is to copy that. It's probably the closest thing to what our bathroom originally looked like.

But wait - there's more! As I tore down the tile around the bathtub and underneath the window, I made a discovery. The window was once about a foot taller! They probably cut it down or replaced it (not sure which yet) because the window sill would've set right above the edge of the tub.

If possible, we plan to restore the window back to its proper size! We plan to move the clawfoot tub down the wall a foot or two, so it won't interfere with the window anyway.

I've been speed-typing this because we have to leave for Gadsden in about 10 minutes (and I haven't packed), so please overlook crazy mistakes. Here's the gallery of progress we made on the master bathroom yesterday:

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Man Oh Mantel

Oh boy, today has been a good one. I'll get into the bathroom project tomorrow when we've done a little more work on it. Today I'll tell you about the mantel.

We went to lunch at the Eutaw Diner downtown with a group of fellow Eutawans and decided to walk there since the weather was so nice. Along the way, we passed a house that is being renovated - practically rebuilt because it was in such disrepair - and decided to stop in and say hi.

Now this house is cool. The back half was built in 1817! That makes it one of the oldest (if not the oldest, must research more) house in Alabama! The front half was built in the 1840s. It is in terrible condition, and the new owners are saints and more to restore it. When the owner told us about the 18-inch-wide heart pine boards they found in the upstairs of the 1817 part, I got tears in my eyes. This place is something special and was literally about to fall down.

Well, the first thing I noticed when we walked through the front door was a gorgeous Victorian mantel, obviously not original to the house. As we stood around chatting, the owner mentioned that she was planning to sell the mantel for $200 if we knew anyone who needed it. Forget bargaining, I said, "WE WANT IT!" probably much too hastily.

We did a quick measurement and determined that it will fit on the fireplaces in our house! Hurray!!!!!

If you haven't noticed, I'm excited, ecstatic, thrilled! All the mantels in our house have had their upper parts with mirrors removed. This one coordinates beautifully with the mantels we already have. *SIGH* I'm in heaven!

We may trade it out with the mantel that's in the entry hall because that mantel, while pretty, has previously been chopped up a bit. The top board doesn't match (which I discovered when I started stripping the paint), and the columns on the sides have been moved and probably cut down at some point.

This new mantel will make a fine statement as the first thing you see when you enter our front door. It would also look lovely in the dining room.

The only trouble with the new mantel is a bit of termite damage on a couple of non-decorative, easy-to-replace boards.

We went back over and paid for it, then the owner's sons helped us haul it home. We're planning to strip it (and of course, repair it) before we install it.

Okay, I'm off to help with the bathroom demo some more. One last thing - hurray! Hurray! Hurray!


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Public Service Announcement

Our savvy, experienced and capable home improver friend D cut her finger pretty badly on a table saw last week. Let this be a warning: if D can injure herself with a table saw, anyone can. Be careful out there!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Toys for Girls and Boys

Expect to see some more action around here in the next month. We're like kids who want to play with our new Christmas toys.

My parents gave me a good heavy-duty step ladder. The woodwork is doing a happy dance because it might just get finished now. The top few feet of the doors and windows are still white as the driven snow. I couldn't reach them before even standing on a chair or the flimsy itty bitty step ladder, and our big ladder is too tall for me to manuever easily. So hurray! Maybe I'll get to mark that project 100 percent some time this century after all!

Darwin got a compound miter saw with a laser guide. Hurray again! He plans to first put the saw to work on a built-in corner cabinet for the kitchen. My Fiestaware now resides on a weak-n-wobbly Kmart hutch. I'll breath easier the day I get to move it all to my sturdy new corner cabinet.

That corner of the kitchen will also look a lot better when the cabinet is there, and either the side of the pantry cabinet is covered up or we can finish painting it out. That ragged scrap of wood showing is not cute.

Speaking of not cute, that light fixture. Gag. I forget how ugly it is until I see it in pictures.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

And to All a Good Night

Darwin and I aren't giving each other gifts this year. As you may have noticed, I'm a shopaholic and love buying gifts. Darwin fears gift-giving occasions more than giant spiders and wizards named Voldemort.

So I let him off the hook this year. Instead of worrying about gifts for each other, we bought presents for a Salvation Army Angel Tree kid, for our nieces and nephews, for our parents and siblings. Of course, we'll receive plenty of presents in return - there's rumored to be some home improvement gadgetry under the tree at my parents' house!

We're spending tonight and tomorrow at my parents' house, and Monday night is the final Christmas gathering of the season, with Darwin's mom's side of the family.

I'm a little sad that I won't be home next to my own lovingly decorated tree on Christmas morning. The last three years, we had such fun watching the cats pounce and slide on the wrapping paper. Last year, one of them pulled down his stocking and broke the stocking holder (not to mention putting a small gouge in the floor).

Ah well, it'll be fun with my family, too. Our tradition is to open one present on Christmas Eve (in the old days, it was usually a pair of Christmas pajamas that we wore that night and in the morning while we opened presents). Mom stuffs our stockings full of goodies, and if you're lucky you'll forget all about it until the last present is opened. Just when you think you're finished, you'll have a whole stocking to plow through.

I've been trying to talk Darwin into bringing the cats with us this year. But there's one dog that harasses them wanting to play and one dog that, if she ran inside, would likely murder them in an instant. So it's probably not the best idea. Still, I hate leaving them alone on Christmas. They don't know it's Christmas, but I do.

I wanted to buy them one of these, but dry clean only for a pet sweater? I don't think so.

Anyway, happy holidays to all! I'll be back on Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mmm, Spending Money Tastes Good

In these cold days, I take comfort in anything that can make me feel a little warmer. Even when it's just playing tricks on my mind.

Yesterday my sister and I did some last-minute Christmas shopping. I haven't been to a Bath and Body Works in about a hundred years, because it is The Bad Place. The place that makes me want to spend lots of money on products that I'll crowd onto the linen closet shelves with all the other products I don't use.

As usual, I bought lots of things. I can't help it. I like things that smell like food but have no calories.

The best thing I got was the Wallflowers "continuous home fragrance" plug-in. Now, even when the house is cold as a witch's you-know-what, the smell of Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin in the air lets me pretend it's toasty warm inside ... and that something delicious is cooking instead of nothing.

I also got some Warm Vanilla Sugar perfume and some Pink Buttercream Frosting hand lotion. And my wristwatch smells like peppermint because it's been riding next to the gum in my purse. Yep, I'm just drowning in the holiday spirit. And I feel strangely hungry. Wonder why that is?

Edited to add:
When I talked to Darwin on the phone this afternoon, he said the house was "cold as a well digger's ass." Guess the pumpkin-scented air didn't make him feel as warm as it did for me.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Midnight Visitors

Good news! A simple can of WD-40 has eliminated many of our door-related problems. Last night my sister stayed with us, and that inspired us to get rid of the squeeeeaaaking problem with the guest bedroom door (and others). Ha! Who knew the solution was so straightforward?

Sadly, even WD-40 couldn't make the door shut properly. My sister spent the whole night hearing the cats' attempts - often successful - to open it, then feeling the arctic blast from the hall creep into her warm room. Once inside, Alistair curled up with her on the bed but Holy Terror Henry spent the whole night knocking things over. Even putting a heavy box in front of the door didn't stop them, so finally she gave up.

This is the very reason our little monsters don't get to sleep with us anymore. I love snuggling with them, but I love my sleep more. Sleep is my friend.

Sleep is my sister's friend, too. No wonder she doesn't spend the night often. :)

P.S. We saw King Kong and The Family Stone this weekend. I recommend both, particularly King Kong. But don't get the large drink - it's a looong movie and you won't want to miss anything to run to the bathroom.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Picture Day!

These pictures don't have a cohesive theme, so I'm lumping them all in one post instead of stringing them out into several appropriately labeled one-sentence posts. Included are pics from times past I never got around to posting.

The glow of the Christmas lights welcomes UPS delivery men to deposit packages on our porch (hmmm, unfortunate wording there).

Darwin considers the philosophical consequences of cutting limbs away from the power lines.

After I took eight million trips to Hobby Lobby for the proper size mats, the Redoute botanical prints (half of them anyway) hang triumphantly in the dining room.

The 1930s bedroom armoire is locked with a key because that's the only way it will stay closed. This key causes visitors to believe we have secret sexual items hidden away inside. I neither confirm nor deny.

Darwin cruises on the Rustmobile.

I tried to wear this replica of a 1904 swimsuit, tights, slipper and cap on Halloween, but sadly it did not fit.

The Super Scratcher gets Henry all hot and bothered.

Alistair brings gifts to all the good boys and girls. However, he hates boys and girls, so he considers them all bad and keeps the gifts for himself. :(

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wrong Number

Last night, I made my daily sojourn to the front porch to check for packages. Ooh, goodie! A package leaned up against our door! What could it be? The clothes I ordered? The Christmas gift for my sister?

Funny, though. I didn't remember ordering anything that would fit in a long rectangular box.

Then I checked the address. I knew to do this because we've received misdirected packages from UPS before (one of them full of time-sensitive medical supplies!). Of course, the package belongs to the owners of a house a few down from ours. Sure, the street is the same. But the NAME on the package? The HOUSE NUMBER?

Apparently, UPS thinks we are the only online shoppers in the entire town of Eutaw.

I can't help feeling discriminated against. Maybe UPS thinks Eutaw is full of people who don't know a computer keyboard from a jar of pickled pig's feet. Maybe they think we are all satisfied with the selection at the town's three dollar stores.

I imagine the UPS guy is bitter about having to drive all the way to our little town to deliver one package. I imagine that in his annoyance, he barely glances at the address before he says, "Ugh, that Eutaw chick again," and casts the package aside. Maybe he even realizes the mistake as he's carrying the package up our sidewalk but thinks, "Eh, I drove all the way to this hick town. They can take it three more houses down."

It's true that dropping the package off at the proper porch on the way to work isn't a huge inconvenience for me. But darnit, why do they have to get my hopes up that way?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Progress on the house has slowed to a crawl. No, crawl sounds too speedy. Creep. Drag. Complete standstill.

First, we got sick. Then came the holidays and all their accompanying gatherings (two down, three to go).

But the real reason we've virtually stopped working on the house is the cold. We're trying to avoid the $300-plus gas bills of yesteryear, so the thermostat is set on 59. Every now and then, the central heat kicks on, but for the most part the house is heated with portable electric heaters. The house is one giant refrigerator punctuated with three tiny pockets of heat.

In the evenings, we retreat to the living room, even eating our dinner there. We almost close the pocket doors between living and dining rooms (leaving just space enough for the cats to squeeze through), set the electric heater on oscillate, and cozy up together under that warm blanket I made a while back. After a few minutes, the cats snuggle up with us - Alistair between us under the blanket, Henry stretched out on my legs.

Who wants to leave the comfort of family and the heater to go wrangle with sheetrock in a cold, dusty bathroom? Not me. And Darwin is even less interested.

Even in the weekend daytime, the night's cold hangs in the house. Darwin flees outside and invents work to do on his motorcycle or the yard. I layer a T-shirt, flannel pajama top and hooded jacket and get sucked into the computer until my fingers and nose turn into little ice cubelets.

Ugh. I'm getting disgusted with myself just reading this. Sure, we deserve a break now and then. But it's so easy to get into a habit of nonactivity.

This Saturday was the first day in a long while that we hardly watched any TV. It was a fun and busy day, but even then we didn't do any work on the house.

We slept late, then went and had pancakes and bacon at our friend R's new restaurant and stayed to watch the Christmas parade out the front window. Then we went to the post office, where the postal worker was as mystified by my package bound for Australia as I dreaded she would be. After that, we peeked in the windows of a cute Victorian house/former hotel R owns, while my heels sunk in the ground. Back at home, Darwin tried to cut some limbs away from the power lines, but the limb cutter pole thingy wasn't long enough. We did some laundry and folded some clothes.

Then we went back to R's restaurant for a late lunch and chit-chatted some more. Back at home, we changed our sheets to the new brown flannel ones I bought a while back (SO WARM!). Then I wrapped presents for our nieces and nephews, while Darwin played invisible marker games. That night, we watched Monster-in-Law (not a classic, I assure you).

Okay, I'm boring even myself.

So what now? Do we just accept the status quo until the end of February? Somebody give me a jumpstart. Is it wrong to think about throwing money at people and telling them to fix my bathroom?

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Multiple Personalities

One of the annoying interesting elements of living in an old house is that each door has its own personality.

The master bedroom door opens with a whinny and closes with a thunk.

The guest bedroom door is a trickster. It appears to shut normally, but a few minutes later, you'll hear it creeeeeeeaking open. Though you know what's going on, it still freaks you out for a second. To get it to close properly, people without much upper body strength (aka me) have to hold on the doorknob, set their feet and lean back, using their weight to tug the door solidly against the frame. Sometimes even this only holds out for an hour or two, and the creeeeeeaking will begin again.

The office door squeaks. The laundry room door sticks. The back door has taught me to automatically pivot out my foot to catch the screen door while I turn my key in the lock.

The front door handle - one of those where your thumb presses down on a metal tab - sticks so stubbornly that those without much upper body strength (again, me) always feel a moment of panic, thinking they've somehow locked themselves outside in the cold after going to get the mail.

The worst is the master bathroom door. You must grip the doorknob lightly - but DO NOT turn it - and yank the door sharply behind you. If there's a resounding slam, you've been successful. If it's a wimpy, muffled slam, try again. If someone is sleeping in the next room, you can pretty much bet it will not shut on the first try, and you'll have to slam it over and over and over until the person (usually Darwin) is thoroughly awake.

Only two doors in the house open and close properly - the half bathroom/butler pantry door and the door between master bathroom and bedroom. Each time I close them, I smile. Such a sweet, simple joy - a door that doesn't require mental or physical olympics.

Maybe other old house owners don't have this much trouble with doors, but we also have cats. They aren't allowed in certain areas of the house (no cat hair on my clean laundry, please), so if we don't shut the door just right, a sneaky little Orangey Boy will find his way inside. Henry is particularly talented at teasing open doors that appear at first glance to be closed.

Is there a way to fix this? Probably. One by one and slowly, we could banish each door's personality problems. But that much therapy is expensive.

Seriously, I wonder which is worse - the daily frustration of using these doors or the frustration of figuring out what's wrong with each of them and fixing it. Eh.

For now, we'll keep living with it. We've got too many projects already.

Let's look on the bright side - if we're still living here when we're old, these doors will keep us mentally active.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

His History and Mine

On Saturday we had Christmas with Darwin's dad's side of the family. Since we live near the place we both grew up, we have a million and one tedious holiday events to attend each year.

But this one turned into the opportunity I've been waiting for. Darwin's dad, Mac, still owns the old house he grew up in, a little farmhouse complete with can house and corn crib. The Christmas event takes place each year in an old schoolhouse nearby, the one Mac and his brothers and sisters attended in the '40s.

For once, I remembered to bring my camera. That's where the opportunity comes in: I finally got pics of the "old homeplace."

No one is certain of the house's age. Mac's parents bought it in 1941, but it had been there for a while before. In fact, before it was Mac's old homeplace, it was someone else's parents' old homeplace.

I know a bit about the middle class-and-up house styles - the Victorians, Greek Revivals, Craftsmans, etc. But I know just about nothing about these spare little farmer’s cottages, the sort of house where every last one of my and Darwin’s plain-folk farming ancestors lived.

It is L-shaped with a simple porch across the front. One side of the L is the front: two rooms with a center hall between. The other leg of the L is the kitchen. A tiny bedroom and a bathroom were tacked onto the back of the house at some point.

The house is not pretty. The windows are a hodgepodge. Some 1950s aluminum, some older divided lights. The exterior is covered with green, faux-woodgrain shingles. The roof is rusted tin. The walls inside are fake wood paneling.

It’s not a house someone took care to preserve, in terms of history. It’s a house people lived in, lived simply with no thought of old or new, or continuity. If a window broke or rotted, they replaced it with anything that would fit. If the top of the stone chimney toppled, they replaced it with brick. If they needed another bedroom, heck we’ll tack one on right here.

Usually, I despise a remuddle. But somehow, this jumbled little farmhouse has a certain nobility. We’ll probably never decipher its age, and it will certainly never be on the National Register. That’s okay. It’s a house that means something anyway. You can see it in the faces of the men in that family, whose hands helped mend the roof and prop up the falling chimney. It is a part of Darwin’s family’s history, a part of my history now.

The can house. This was where they stored the canned goods. (not really in cans, in jars)

The back of the house. The side of the house. The kitchen chimney.

The front porch. The front of the house.

The corn crib. They kept peanuts on top and corn on the bottom level. The curtain from the stage at the old schoolhouse, dated 1939.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I'm a Steel Magnolia Now

I tried out the denatured alcohol+steel wool+spray bottle+paper towels method recommended by The Always Wise and Wiley Greg, along with several other Esteemed Bloggers.

I bought a combo pack of steel wool with three levels of roughness and tried each in succession. The scratchiest stuff worked the best, without scratching the wood. So how did the steel wool measure up to the scraper?

Shall we compare?

The still-gunky right side had denatured alcohol applied to it with a cloth rag and then scraped with a scraper. The smooth and delightful left side (ignore that stupid flash spot) enjoyed the new Houseblogger-Recommended method.

Yet again, it didn't work as perfectly as I'd hoped, but it did work mucho better. Just look how shiny and wonderful it looks.

When I first began this monumental wood-stripping project, I feared the denatured alcohol step. I heard this was supposed to take off the shellac. I was afraid that removing the shellac would remove all the dark color and character from the wood, color and character that could never be restored.

But my fears were unfounded. The pine underneath the shellac is a warm red-brown all by itself. I believe with a coat of fresh shellac, it will darken up a little more and be the beautiful woodwork I know it CAN be.

This is worthy of a celebration. Tequila, anyone?


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Power Rangers

Darnit. I had lots of photos to post today, but the power was off this morning, so I couldn't upload them. I woke up at 7:24 because my alarm clock was dead (I'm supposed to be at work at 8 and live 40 minutes away).

Our power goes out unreasonably often. During any heavy storm, it goes off several times because, we believe, of tree limbs too close to the lines. When the wind blows again and knocks the limbs off the lines, the power comes back on. Today was the last straw for me, even though it may be totally unrelated to the tree limbs in this case.

Darwin says it's our responsibility, not the power company's, to keep our limbs away from the power lines. Okay. So Darwin is going to check on it and do something about it, if possible, tonight. If not, there's a tree or two about to get whacked.