1902 Victorian

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

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Monday, April 24, 2006


My relationship with our triple-track aluminum storm windows is kinda rocky. It reminds me of my relationship with a boy in high school who one day I'd think was the bees knees (you know, when I was a teenager in the 1940s) and then the next day, or hour, I'd think he was the biggest jerk on the planet.

Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel about the storms.

I hate them because they are ugly. Many of the screens are dry-rotted (can metal rot?) or something to the point that they're in shreds, some with big holes gauged or cut in them. Then there are the shiny aluminum frames and the pinchy things you have to push in to open them and the big sheets of dusty glass hiding my pretty old windows.

And yet I love them because they let me open the windows without letting bugs in and the cats out. Ok, that only applies to the ones without shredded screens. Also, they allegedly reduce the amount of cold air gushing into my house in the winter, and they protect the old wood windows from the elements.

So what to do, what to do? Around here, cold is a factor from late November through February. Nuclear-level heat takes over from June to September, so we have to keep the A/C on and the windows shut.

That leaves four months of the year (March, April, May, October) when window-opening is a priority. So far this year we haven't opened them much because the outdoors have been hotter than the indoors. And one night when we left the window open in our bedroom, a mosquito got in and woke us up whining in our ears and biting our shoulders.

If we're willing to forego the cold-prevention thing, we could take off the storms and get screens only for the lower halves of the windows we most commonly open.

The front half of the house (the part without aluminum siding) already has no storm windows, and I haven't noticed any significant difference in temperature.

The usual This Old House-ish suggestion is wooden storms that can be changed with the seasons - glass for winter, screen for summer. That would N-O-T work for us. We are way too busy (and yet also lazy) to make that switch twice a year. If the Christmas tree is any indication, we'd finally get the glass up halfway through the winter and the screens up halfway through the summer. And then what's the point?

Part of me would love to just impulsively take them all down and figure out a solution later. The other part (the one that has a voice remarkably like Darwin's) says "Don't you already have enough to do without worrying about this right now?"

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bouncing Around the Room

Since we had a three-day weekend, I was determined that we would break on through to the other side of this not-working-on-the-house phase, particularly in the master bathroom arena.

Either Darwin is overwhelmed with the prospect of re-plumbing the room or he doesn't care as much as I do about having a functioning master bathroom. So I put on my Evil Woman cap and Nagging Wife apron until he decided that the only way to get me to shut up was to do something, anything on the bathroom.

That something, anything turned out to be moving the unpretty pipe venting the plumbing out through the ceiling and the roof.

The plan was to move the pipe inside the wall. So Darwin merrily went under the house with his elbow connectors, while I peered through a hole in the bathroom floor.

My first sign that things would not go according to plan was when Darwin said, "Uh-oh." Darwin does not say "uh-oh."

Turns out he does when the wall we plan to move the pipe inside used to be an exterior wall (duh, we knew that!) and the entire length of it is sitting on top of a triple-wide floor joist. No getting inside that wall.

Then he cast the flashlight around and noticed something else. The plumbing already had another vent. So that meant the pesky vent pipe could just be taken out entirely, right?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

No, the plumbing has been venting into the crawlspace for the longest time. Probably for the past 35 some-odd years, ever since the previous owners had this bathroom redone (also known as Concrete Fest 1969).

Still, I didn't quite get what he was describing, so I put on my crawlspacing pants and went to the land down under to see for myself.

There you have it folks:

Even then, I thought it was ok. I thought the only purpose of the vent was to let air into the pipes so the drain would work properly.

Until Darwin pointed out that it also lets sewer gases out of the pipe. Ewwwww. Sure kills the romance of being cheek to cheek in the dark crawlspace.

Why this random vent was put there we don't know, though laziness is a good contender. Perhaps this is the sort of thing a home inspector would've found, had we been brave enough to get one.

Darwin has to replumb most of this stuff anyway, but for now the original vent pipe still had to be dealt with. Darwin figured he could move the pipe a few feet further into where our closet will be (right outside the bathroom) and run the pipe up the corner of the closet. It's not ideal, but it's a lot better than having the pipe in the middle of the main bathroom wall.

So Darwin cut the pipe and was all ready to move on to the attic portion of the event ... but by now I had the flashlight and wanted to do some exploring.

For some reason, I like the crawlspace. Maybe the leaking sewer gases make me high. Maybe it's all the mysterious objects lurking in the dark. Maybe it's just that once I get all filthy crawling around under there, I want to make it worthwhile.

So I aimed the flashlight at the foundation pillars of the guest bedroom, next door to the master bathroom. If you recall, the guest bedroom is not very hospitable. The floor has a serious slant and bounces when you walk on it. Also, there's a big crack in the drywall over the built-in cabinet.

More than a year ago, we examined the brick pillars underneath this room and determined the center one was probably to blame for the bounce, but we didn't go close enough to find out for sure.

This time a piece of plastic was hanging down and hiding the top of the pillar from view, so Darwin crawled into the labyrinth of ductwork for a closer inspection.

When he shone his flashlight on the pillar, he laughed while I waited in suspense. Then he pulled back the sheet so I could see the two inches of air between the pillar and the boards above. The guest room had no support in the middle at all.

Darwin rocked the pillar back and forth (an alarming sight!) and declared it solid. It was made of newer brick and was probably added (along with several others) when the POs bought and renovated the house in 1969.

This two-inches-of-air thing was no big deal to Darwin. He found a block of wood nearby and took it outside to cut wedges to fit between the pillar and the floor joists. I was dubious about this method until I went in the house and stepped into the guest bedroom.

Geez louise, it was solid! No bouncing, no jiggling knickknacks, no feeling that if you stepped too hard the whole house would collapse around you.

It's a miracle! Still, I kinda want to have a foundation guy come out and inspect the whole house. The sand-and-lime mortar is crumbling away on several (make that most) of the old brick pillars.

But for now, I'm satisfied. As for the vent pipe, Darwin cut it out in the crawlspace and attic and after consulting with his dad, will proceed with his moving-it-into-the-closet plan.

Doesn't the room look so much better without it?


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Front Porch Therapy

One of the projects we undertook this weekend happened on a whim. We had been crawling around under the house looking at plumbing and foundation issues (more to come on that later this week) when Darwin found a piece of old rope and decided to do something about the hammock.

I bought the hammock at the beach about this time last year. Heavy-duty hooks were already present on the porch, but the hammock was a little too short. It could hang from the hooks, but it hung so high and straight no person in his/her right mind would attempt to get in it.

Since that time, the hammock has hung folded from one hook, slapping against the wall during the occasional storm.

But no longer! Darwin put his Boy Scout knot-tying skills to good use and tied the rope at one end to make the hammock longer.

Then he tried getting in it, which didn't go so well at first.

But soon he righted himself and had a nice rest, dirty crawlspace knees and all.

Then it was my turn.

What a lovely feeling! Gently swaying in the hammock with nothing to do or think about, nothing to see but trees, birds ... and what's that? Spiderwebs and all kinds of filth under the porch!

So I got up and swept the porch ceiling, walls and floor, something we've never actually done because we've never spent enough time on the front porch to notice how gross it was.

Lest you think I'm brave and industrious, Darwin says the cats went and hid in the back bedroom because of my shrieks when bugs fell or almost fell on me. No telling what the neighbors thought (they spent half the day sitting out on their porch watching us).

Meanwhile, Darwin trimmed the bushes and disposed of vines in the front beds.

The result: our front porch is a much more appetizing place to spend time. Last night I spent some time relaxing in the hammock, feeling very pleased with myself and the world.

Yet the porch therapy is not complete. The floor boards at the top of the steps - the place that gets the most foot traffic and weather - are still in disrepair. I feel like a bad house mama whenever I look at them. It's like I'm letting my house run around in a dirty diaper ... for a year.

So I hope to get those fixed this year. At the very least I want to get them sanded and painted to protect them from further damage until we can do a more serious fix.

This picture was taken last spring, when I said the same thing about fixing them during warm weather.

They're worse now, and I think I'm scared into doing something about it.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Pop a Top

On Friday I talked Darwin into popping the cap on the newel post, in search of blueprints, house deeds or anything to shed some light on this hodgepodge of a house and/or its former occupants.

Darwin, staying true to his usual happy-go-lucky, optimistic style, predicted the newel post would be completely empty.

In my usual style, I desperately hoped it would be packed to the brim with historical artifacts that would spew out around us like so much beer foam once the newel post cap was released.

Also in my usual style, out loud I pretended to expect it to be empty in a totally inadequate attempt to prevent my hopes from being crushed beneath the muddy boot heel of disappointment.

You could've cut the tension in the room with a smoking chainsaw as Darwin worked to pry off the cap. First he had to pry up the wood trim, which did not want to be pried. I danced around yelping, "Don't break it!" and "It's cracking!" while Darwin generously did not murder me.

When the cap finally came off, we peered down into a dark, seemingly empty cavern.

"Nothing, just like I thought," said Darwin, much too smugly for my taste.

"Go get the flashlight!" said I and aimed my camera lens into the depths.

The first thing that caught my camera's eye was a string tied to a nail a few inches into the newel post. I gently pulled on the string, my belly knotted with anticipation. I hauled it up and up and up until ... nothing. Nothing was tied to the string, though a mysterious loop remained.

By then Darwin was back and theorized that the string, with its loop, might've been tied around the deed or some other paperwork, so that it could be hauled up out of the post when needed. But apparently at some point in the past, it was needed and now the paper was gone!

Just picture that muddy boot heel grinding down on my chest right about now. I think it was worse knowing that something was once there. Something - but what? - might still be out there in the world - but where?

I managed to crawl out from under the boot heel to zoom down for a closer look at the debris lying at the bottom of the newel post. I took a few photos and then loaded them onto my computer for closer examination.

Among the meager scattering of items, we recognized two dominoes, a few peanut shells, a fish hook and a couple of nails. The rest is still up for debate. Of particular curiosity to me is the object in the third picture. The shape seems familiar ... anyone know what it is?

In the end we decided none of this stuff was worth extracting from the newel post. It serves the house better sitting down there where it was dropped who knows how long ago, who knows why and who knows how?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tudor or Not Tudor

Before we found our house, I fantasized about owning one of the Tudor quasi-mansions in downtown T-town, or in The Highlands, probably the most expensive-per-square-foot neighborhood in Tuscaloosa.

I did lots of calculations, trying to figure how much we'd have to save and how much we'd have to make per year before we could afford one of those. The calculations always came up to the equivalent of "We can afford it after we are dead." Somehow, that didn't strike us as an ideal option.

But I can still admire them (and envy the salaries of the folks who live in them):

And around the University of Alabama, there are several of these type apartment buildings:

I wish I'd thought to live in one of them. But after two years in the 1920s-era dorm with the leaky walls and cloggy showers and no sinks in the bathroom, I was ready to live in a 20th-century construction for a while.

Thank goodness I'm over that phase.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

T-Town Tour

Last Friday the weather people did their usual panic-inducing Storm of the Century stuff, so all the schools in our area closed early in anticipation of tornadoes. Because the kiddies would be left to wander the streets and become drug addicts and prostitutes, many businesses in town closed early to let the parents go home. Whew, that was a close one.

Kids or no kids, I got off at 2 p.m. Since the sun was shining and the sky was blue with puffy white clouds (the storms didn't show up for another 12 hours), and I remembered to bring my camera with me that day, I decided it was finally time for the Photographic Tour of Tuscaloosa I've been planning.

We live in Eutaw, but I work in Tuscaloosa. It's the town where I went to high school and college. In college, I often spent my sunny afternoons riding around the historic districts surrounding the university, falling in love left and right.

The bulk of the houses in this area were built in the '20s-'40s, I'd say. There are few Victorians and antebellums, many bungalows and English-style brick cottages.

No matter the style, one thing is consistent across the board. They are expensive! On the fashionable Deering Place, the tiniest, cheapest, beat-up-iest bungalow costs $110,000 more than our house. And then you get to live next door to a house rented to 6 college students.

Is it becoming clear yet why Eutaw was so appealing?

Still, I can't help sighing a little over the houses. So pretty. So so pretty. It's like shopping for handbags - you know the one you have is perfectly lovely, but so is that one over there and over there and over there. Only with houses you can't exactly treat yourself to an extra one or five.

Here are a few of the cutie pies:

Pretty in pink, though it's sandwiched next to a brick office building

Such adorable details on this Vicky. I'm lusting after this house.

There's evidence in the attic that our house might once have had a dormer window above the porch. It's hard to imagine, but then here's a similar house with one.

Downtown, including the restaurant we went to the night D proposed (a former pharmacy but now a very yummy Italian place)

And of course I have to mention the hideous:

Gigantic wall o' siding

Bet they needed a shoehorn to squeeze that house in there.

Tomorrow, a look at my second favorite house style: Tudor.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Once, Twice, 10 Times a Lady

If other people are going to mention their Top 10ness, then by golly so am I! Hurray, we're in the Top 10 Houseblogs at Top 10 Sources (along with 9 other blogs o' awesomeness). Hee heee heeeeeee, I'm giddy with the joy of it all!

Now that I'm in the Top 10 of something, I guess that means I need to step up my game. Can't have people wandering over here and thinking, "Can you really call this a houseblog when they never work on their house?"

(Bathroom, I hope you're listening. Your days of unfinishedness are numbered!)

I'd never heard of this Top 10 Sources place, but I like it. When you're first starting to read blogs on a subject, it's tough to know where to begin. I've recently been trying to build a collection of daily fashion blog reads, but each one has a blogroll a mile long. Where to start?

I don't like to save a blog to my favorites and then after a few days discover it wasn't quite what I wanted. Then I can't remember which ones I like and which ones I don't. I have too many favorites. Too too many favorites. So if I forget to read your blog for a little while, that's why. I'll find you again one day, I promise!


Monday, April 10, 2006

I'll Stick to Mayberry, Thanks

My mom and I went to Atlanta this weekend to help my sister find a rental house. Remind me to never move to Atlanta. Ack. Even on a Sunday afternoon the traffic was more than I ever want to deal with again. I am not cut out for big city life.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Twinkle Fingers

Darwin and I both got manicures yesterday. That's a pretty good sign we won't be doing much work this weekend, don't you think?

Lest you all think I've turned my poor unsuspecting husband into a "girly mahn," it was almost his idea. He loves me to give him manicures - no polish - so when we saw the nail salon after dinner last night, I thought, hey why not? He was nervous about going by himself, so I generously volunteered to accompany him and get a manicure myself.

As I'm typing this, I catch glimpses of the lovely watermelon pink of my nails. I sort of like this. Reminds me of the days before I became exceedingly lazy about my appearance, and I painted my nails a different color every day. In high school, half the people signing my yearbook mentioned the nail polish. Oh, how I miss the mint blue polish that was my favorite then.

Still, I probably won't be back to the manicurist for a while. I can do this at home and get pretty much the same results. Darwin's manicure, on the other hand (see what I did there!), was miraculous! If he gets any work done this weekend, I bet he'll wear gloves.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mystery Knobs

There's something I've been wondering about since we first bought the house, but I keep forgetting to post about it.

Our back door has a window in it, two sidelights and a transom. The windows on each side are tall and skinny with a divider separating the two panes, but they are not double hung. They have thick layers of paint over them, so it's possible they might open in some way but none that's obvious.

Then at the bottom of each window is a little knob:

The knob turns freely from the outside, and has a screw-like end that pokes through the middle of the window sash and out the other side. It looks like there might be a corresponding hole on the underside of the window frame above the screw end.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what this thing does/did. The knobs are shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned doorbell twist, but they can't be that. We've had one suggestion that they could've once controlled window blinds. But then why would the knobs be on the outside?

It's weird all around, and I've seen nothing like it in any of our neighbors' houses. I'm hoping someone out there has seen one before or has an educated guess.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Secret Compartment

We heard this weekend that some old houses have a compartment inside the newel post of the staircase where the owners kept blueprints and other papers.

Some new neighbors who are restoring a Folk Victorian down the street came over to tour the house on Sunday, and they had a lot of ideas about it. The newel post thing was something they suggested when they saw ours, which does have a cap-looking thing nailed on top. I think they saw something about it on TV, either This Old House or If Walls Could Talk.

Though I doubt our luck is good enough to find blueprints inside, I still think it's worth prying off the cap and taking a look.

Has anyone heard of this or found anything like that?