1902 Victorian

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

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Window Woes

In preparation for our whirlwind 5-day 4th of July bathroom work extravaganza, I'm trying to figure out what to do with the window.

When we first discovered that a taller window had once been in this space, I considering it merely fascinating. Now it's a very sharp thorn in my side.

Darwin wants to leave the current window alone. But then what do we do with the gapped-up beadboard patching the old window opening?

This wasn't a problem when we planned to tile or take down the beadboard and turn it vertical below a chairrail. But we decided to keep the beadboard in its current state, and just patch the holes and one or two broken boards. The only real obstacle to that plan is the ugly hole under the window.

All along, I've wanted to replace the current window with one that fits in the original space. But it isn't so easy finding a window the correct size. Our windows are oddly narrow, and on eBay most of the appropriate style windows have been painted up with roses and cutesy sayings as shabby chic "art." Either that, or the seller lives in Ohio and refuses to ship.

As for the many online salvage shops, most don't traffic in simple 2-over-2 windows. They're more interested in leaded glass.

Which brings me to another idea I had - scoot the current window down into the old opening and put a leaded/stained glass transom above it to fill the space. From the research I've done on Victorian bathrooms, this wouldn't have been unusual.

Only our bathroom is not a fancy one in a fancy house. The beadboard, slanted ceiling and painted wood floor tell a simpler story. This bathroom was once a porch, added on at an as-yet-undetermined date after the original construction of the house. And if they couldn't manage to squeeze in leaded glass anywhere else in the house, would they have put it in a little enclosed porch/bathroom? I doubt it.

I know I don't have to be totally faithful to what was original to the house, but I don't like altering the exterior in ways that just don't fit.

And that's the thing with this window. It will have to work from inside and out, something we haven't had to deal with yet. There's aluminum siding on that part of the house, but what if we take it off one day, and there's the ugly gap below the window to be dealt with again?

*Sigh* What I really want to do is replace the window. It's just hard to be patient waiting for that right replacement window to surface when I want the bathroom finished this summer.

Technically, I guess we could do the rest of the room and leave that wall alone for now. It would be harder to take out and replace a window with a toilet and bathtub somewhat in the way, but it could be done.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Love, Ferret Style

We've replaced one house guest with another. This new guest is of the furry and ferrety variety.

We are babysitting my boss's beloved pet ferret Lucy while he and his family are at the beach this week. She has a cage, but they let her out for extended romps about the house. Since we have two large, unfriendly felines in our house, Lucy can't have the same freedom she's accustomed to. We put her cage in the front bedroom (which the cats aren't allowed in anyway) and let her out for playtime when we can.

Her presence in the front bedroom made me notice what a total wreck it is. Since we have four bedrooms and only actually use one of them for sleeping, the others have become depositories for various types of junk. The back bedroom is the cats' room. It features two litter boxes, various scratchers, indoor-outdoor carpet, and chairs in front of each window so they can partake in the scenic backyard views. The second-to-back room is the guest room. When we don't have guests (okay, and even when we do), it's where I stash all my eBay stock. The third bedroom is ours.

Then the front bedroom is the leftover spot. It's where we stack boxes that have never been unpacked, our winter bedspread and pillows, extra furniture, luggage, light fixtures waiting to be hung, and rugs waiting to be unfurled. This is the room that may or may not one day be a nursery.

And now it's got a baby. Lucy likes to hide inside a rolled rug, nudge a ball with her nose, steal socks and pull them inside the rug with her, chase and bite feet. She's got a weird ferrety smell, she yawns massively when you wake her up, and she can get pretty vicious with Elmo.

All in all, she's pretty cute and a low-maintenance houseguest.

The cats disagree, of course. Henry is deathly terrified of her. Ever since she arrived Friday night, Henry has been slinking about the house looking around corners and over his shoulder, or hiding behind the couch. I brought her out to show him so maybe he'd view her as a rodent rather than a threatening beast. That didn't work. The fear only increased.

Meanwhile, Alistair (resident mean-cat) sniffed her briefly and then flopped himself on the floor across the room and gave me a look that said, "So what?"

I tried again yesterday, only this time I carried the cats individually into Lucy's room to let them watch her on the floor playing. Surely then they'd see how non-threatening she is. Nope. Henry froze with terror in my arms, and Alistair mustered his customary hissy attitude.

So I've given up on the cats and the ferret becoming fast friends. I guess it's for the best anyway. A ferret loose in a big, old house is probably not a good idea - too many places for a squirmy girl to hide.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Marvelous Marble

I realized the other night that I am messy in the bathroom. No, not in the gross way - I'm saving that realization for another day. I mean I splash water everywhere around the sink when I'm washing my face.

How does one avoid this anyway? I bring the water up to my face, it runs down my arm and drips off my elbow onto the counter. Inevitable unless you have a sink the size of Nebraska.

So that got me thinking about our plans for the master bathroom sink/vanity. It would have a wood countertop, since the sink would be in a piece of wood furniture. Hmmm. Maybe not the best idea for an area I will definitely be splashing water all over on a regular basis.

I recently got a book called Victorian Kitchens and Baths. I haven't read it yet, but I've browsed through the many large, wonderful photos about a million times. So I recalled some pictures of sinks in marble-top washstands. And hey, I like these:

The reason we didn't originally go with a marble-top washstand (opting for a plain, beat-up wood-top one instead) was that I couldn't bear the thought of cutting into a perfectly good slab of marble on a perfectly good piece of furniture. But maybe that's a little silly. People sell marble slabs just for this purpose, and is old marble really that different from new marble?

Eh, I don't know. Anyway, my new plan is to keep an eye out for a plain, beat-up marble-top washstand at the next auction. I already have one, but it's part of a matching bedroom set. These types of washstands are pretty common at the Moundville auctions we frequent, so it shouldn't be hard to find.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Forever the Optimist

We tackled the tub on Saturday before the 3-day-long Father's Day festivities commenced. As always, I hoped the chemical stripper would be a miracle cure, that the paint would cower at the sight of it and yield easily under the might of our scrapers.

As always, things happened a little differently. Darwin bought a "semi-paste" stripper that turned out to be more like a liquid. We had to prop the tub up on a cinder block and a rusty old chair to make it level, so the stripper wouldn't run off. Our first layer of stripper wasn't thick enough, so it barely made a dent in the paint. The next time we poured it on super thick. That - with much vigorous scraping - did the job. Well, most of the job.

The bottom layer of gooey paint is still holding on for dear life. We finally decided to try priming one little spot to see if the paint remnants would show. Yep, they did.

So we've got at least another day of work to go on this beast. We think maybe the wire brush and/or a palm sander will take off the rest or at least get it smooth enough to paint. At this point, I am caring less and less about having a smooth exterior. I just want to get the thing painted so I can move on to something else!

As for the rest of the weekend, we had dinner with Darwin's family on Saturday night, and then Sunday we left for a Lambert Family Pilgrimage to south Alabama. We trekked all over Washington and Mobile counties looking for cemeteries where my ancestors are buried and land my ancestors owned.

We went to Old Escatawpa Cemetery, hidden down a dirt road back in the woods, where my great-great grandfather, great-great-great grandfather, great-great-great grandmother and great-great-great-great grandfather are buried. I was expecting some sort of deep, gut-feeling connection to the place, but it didn't come. I guess seeing their graves doesn't change the fact that we know virtually nothing about that side of the family.

The stories my dad told on the way were more meaningful to me. Like the ones about the great-grandmother I barely knew. She'd buy an old house in Mobile, fix it up, rent out the top floor, then sell it and buy another old house and do the same thing all over again.

Makes me wish I'd taken time to know her before she died a few years ago. We could've had a lot in common.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The ratio of Kristin to Darwin in our house is now 2 to 1. No, I have not doubled in size (I've actually lost weight over the past few months, hurray for me). We have a houseguest this week, whose name happens to be Kristin. Actually Kristen.

She's one of my dear friends from college, and she just started a job back here in the town where we went to school (University of Alabama, and it must be said - Roll Tide!). While she's looking for an apartment, she'll be staying with us.

Kristen and I have had a long-standing faux battle about which is the proper way to spell our name. People often assume mine is spelled Kristen, as if Kristen is the more common and popular way to spell it and I'm just weird for spelling mine the "other" way.

A look at the Social Security Administration name website shows that in 1980, the year Kristen was born, Kristin ranked 37 while Kristen ranked 39, and in 1981, the year I was born, Kristin ranked 31 while Kristen ranked 38. So Kristin outranked Kristen both years.

However, the Name Voyager (the coolest tool in the world if you are obsessed with names like I am) says that Kristen achieved a higher rank overall at its peak time (in the '80s, naturally) than Kristin. In the end, more kids were named Kristen.

Still, a massive number of kids were named Kristin. So how did Kristen get to be the default?

As you can see, it's a battle neither of us ever wins. So Kristen and I came to a compromise. When referring to the pair of us, we are Kristein. This came from the name we chose for our team once during intramural bowling. Yes, we were actually on a bowling team for a brief time freshman year in college. I believe we came in last place. We were no match for the team from the Catholic Church - those girls were serious about bowling.

Anyway, with two women named Kristein around, things can get confusing. Especially if you live in the South, where the two names are pronounced identically. And especially if you both have the same last initial (or did before I got married).

I usually refer to Kristen by her full name, even though surely no one is confused about who I'm talking about. Also, she dislikes being called by her full name, so I enjoy it for that reason.

Regardless of her name, you might think that having a houseguest around will slow down the slight momentum we've finally built up. But no! I'm determined that work will continue while she's in residence.

Fortunately, I found out last night that she's interested in home improvement. She actually asked me to invite her to help when we're ready to tile the kitchen countertops. Now this is the kind of friend I need to keep around!

I might enlist her help to scrape the clawfoot tub tomorrow night, though I hate to inflict toxic fumes on a guest.

Other good news - Kristen now owes us one, which means we can count on her to check on our cats when we go to Italy in the fall. She has two eccentric cats of her own (aren't they all?), so she knows just how to handle our little devils. Besides, they don't hate her as much as they do most people.

This means I can now actually book the trip to Italy. I'm nervous because that's a lot of money, but excited because I think it will be worth it. My plan was to go to Venice, but now Kristen says Florence is much better. She loved it and wants to go back one day. That's a pretty strong endorsement from someone whose opinion I value. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions. I guess we could do both, though I am more of a stay-in-one-city kind of traveler.

Anybody been to Florence and Venice?

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Monday, June 12, 2006

I Just Want to Take a Bath

If we're going to get the master bathroom functioning while Darwin's off the week of 4th of July, that means we have a lot of prep work to do. For my part, I was determined to scrape and paint the clawfoot tub this weekend.

I researched it first on Houseblogs.net because I knew I'd read about other folks doing this. I came up with this practical advice from John at The Devil Queen. He gimped up his hand while going at his tub with a drill and wire brush grinding attachment. I planned to tackle my tub the same way, only I hoped without the gimping.

Darwin and my dad lugged the tub out of the shed where it's been hanging out since December 2004 and into a shady spot on the grass, the better for me to contaminate nature with lead paint.

On one side the tub appeared to have two layers of paint (we discovered later it was actually three layers), the top one dirty and so dry and cracked I could brush much of it off with my hand. The other side of the tub had no paint at all, just a little rust.

I started working on it with two different wire brush attachments, one a flat disk and the other a cup shape. Both worked fine at getting off the loose top layer and any already-exposed rust.

But when the second layer of paint saw the wire brush coming, it simply yawned and went back to playing solitaire. The brush had no effect whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Darwin was standing around watching me, interjecting the occasional word of advice, his fingers twitching (while I gave him my patented Death Glare). It makes him insane when I tackle a project on my own because he is convinced he could do it better. Maybe so, probably so. But just back off, okay?


Then he actually made himself useful by taking the corroded old chrome hardware off the tub. I won't tell you what short and curly parts of another human he found in the drain. Blechhcchhelaccchhhh. Shudder.

Okay. So then he went and found a scraper and started working on the second layer of off white paint and the old beige paint underneath it. The scraping worked, but it took a lot of brute strength, which I'm sorely lacking.

So here we were again, Darwin doing all the work while I was standing by with my drill and grinding attachments feeling useless.

Well not entirely. I did use the drill to work on smoothing the rusted areas.

Then Darwin got a blister on his hand from all the scraping and had to quit. I tried it, but all I could manage was to make a few chips in the paint when I wielded the scraper pickax style. The paint is hard to scrape because it's on slightly bumpy metal, which doesn't let the scraper slide along.

So I decided to bust out the trusty heat gun. But even the heat gun proved no match for that dastardly paint. The off white layer didn't budge at all, and the bottom beige layer only got gummy and smeared everywhere.

In the end, we had to give up on my plans to get the tub fully scraped and at least primed. We decided the only thing left to try is chemical stripper, which we've never used before. Our local hardware store was already closed by then (why would a hardware store close at noon on Saturday, I ask you?), so the project had to be discontinued until we could make our next trip to Evil Empire (aka Lowe's).

But I wonder if this stubborn (or as we say in Alabama, "hardheaded") paint is the dreaded milk paint I've heard so much about. If so, will even chemicals phase its diamond hide?

Darn you, tub. I thought at least this part of the bathroom project was going to be easy.


The one bit of good news for the day was that we finally found the date mark on the bottom of the tub. 9-7-1931. Our new goal is to have this tub in place and fully functioning by it's 75th birthday.


Friday, June 09, 2006


Last night I discovered that 85 is my lucky number. Or unlucky, depending how you look at it.

We went to an auction at our usual place in Moundville. We didn't really need anything, but several members of the Eutaw posse were going, and I couldn't resist. I told Darwin we were going for pure entertainment. I wasn't going to buy anything. I didn't even want to buy anything.

It's amazing how little I know myself.

Even after we strolled the place checking out the stuff, I saw nothing I just had to have. Darwin shot down my interest in a green-upholstered ladies' Victorian rocker and an old oak icebox. I liked a marble top round side table but figured it would go too high. I saw a beat-up mahogany desk that could work as a sewing table but only if it went cheap enough.

But then something happened. Once I was in my seat, watching each piece get hauled up front, talked up, chatted over among our friends, the quivering in my stomach began. It got worse when several nice items went for cheap prices and worse yet when I let Darwin distract me out of bidding on an old brass floor lamp that went for $35.

The first thing I bid on was the little marble top table. It was going so cheaply, after all, and it was so pretty. Besides, we'd bought a plain wood one for $75 at a previous auction.

I bid up to $85 - high as I really wanted to go - and then waited anxiously for the next bidder to fire back. But no one did. The table was mine and at a perfect price!

The win did something to me. The next thing I bid on was a pair of old wooden butter molds. Why on earth would I ever need a mold for a pound of butter? Okay, they're cute. But why? I got those for $25, my only not-so-bargain of the night.

Then came the oak icebox. Suddenly, with the cheap prices tonight, it looked more appealing. Then we found out the ornate original door handle was tucked safely inside the top, not missing as I'd thought.

Darwin shot me warning looks. Don't do it! Don't do it! But I've wanted an old icebox ever since we bought this house. I love anything that reminds me of the old way people did things.

So I bid. Again, up to $85. Darwin whispered, "No more! Don't go any higher!" So I waited, hoping. And by george, the other bidders stopped! The icebox was mine!

I was giddy with this development; Darwin was less so. In the end, he was pleased with all the purchases except that one. For some reason, that icebox is one giant oak thorn in his side.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There was more.

A nice 1940s buffet for our dining room - $85 (see there! Lucky.)
Two Hitchcock-style (but not Hitchcock) chairs - $50
Green-upholstered Victorian rocker (got it after all) - $80
Gorgeous, large, rich-colored, excellent-condition Oriental rug - $140

Fitting it all into our vehicles without the need for the usual trailer-fetching/strapping-everything-down rigmarole - Priceless.

P.S. I'll update this post with pics this weekend.

P.P.S. More pics to come; I was busy cleaning like a fiend this weekend.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Our burst of work on the bathroom project this weekend motivated me to finally order our shower enclosure and other plumbing goodies from Vintage Tub and Bath.

We got the Strom Plumbing faucet and shower enclosure with English telephone hand shower, plus Strom plumbing supply lines with cut-off valves, and a Strom plumbing drain with a rubber stopper on a chain.

All are finished in polished nickel because I've bought some old nickel-plated bathroom accessories from eBay. The towel bar even exactly matches the holes/paint circles in the beadboard from where the old towel bar was. Of course, our tub and towel bar will go all the way on the other side of the room from there, but it feels serendipitous anyway.

Plus, the polished nickel is one of the cheaper options. Hurray for cheaper!

I also went ahead and ordered one of those jumbo 180 by 70-inch shower curtains designed for a clawfoot tub and some of those adorable roller ball shower curtain rings. What can I say? Once I start buying, I can't seem to stop.

Anyway, the stuff is coming from two different places. The smaller stuff is coming from Pennsylvania and is supposed to be here in a couple of days. The shower enclosure is coming from California and won't be here for two weeks or so. I hope it gets here by 4th of July, when Darwin has a week off work. That would be the perfect time to get the plumbing done in the bathroom.

Before he does that, though, the wood floor needs some repair. There are a few holes from the two previous bathtub locations, but the worst spot is around the former toilet.

That's where the tub will go. First, Darwin has to move the plumbing for the toilet to the opposite side of the room. Then we have to replace the damaged wood, possibly with boards from the attic floor, possibly with new.

It will be in the corner, mostly hidden under the clawfoot tub. We don't want it to look crazy, but I hate to waste old wood on a spot that won't be seen. Since we're repainting the wood floor, we wouldn't have to worry about color matching.

Also, there are other spots in the floor that need patching, most notably the 4 by 12-inch or so hole where the old tub drain ran. And I think there are a couple of old patch jobs, too.

This room has been transformed many times, and the whole thing is a patchwork of change overlapping change. It will never be perfect, it has a few scars, but that's okay with me. If I wanted a brand new perfect house, I'd buy a McMansion (or in our case, a McShack).

I seem to recall a pre-teen game of Masch predicting I would live in a cottage, marry Jonathan Brandis (R.I.P.), drive a skateboard, and have 15 kids. Hey, one out of four ain't bad.

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Monday, June 05, 2006


Apparently, all that willpower talk on Friday actually worked. When we woke up on Saturday, we both felt that restless feeling, that I've-got-to-do-something feeling.

So we tried to think of something to do on the house. Certainly, we have plenty of projects, but most of them require major preparation and/or purchases that haven't been made yet (such as the edge pieces for the kitchen countertops, which I'd forgotten I never ordered). We can't just wake up one day and decide to do this stuff.

But then inspiration struck. I don't quite remember who it struck, but one of us got the idea to demolish the little closet in the hall outside the bathroom.

This indention in the hall is the place we plan to build our walk-in master bathroom closet.

There was already a little added-in coat closet thing that we'd been using to store the bags of cat food, a dart board, Darwin's collection of caps, and a couple of old roach motels left from the previous owners. Yum.

I don't know why we hadn't thought to demo this thing before. We knew it would have to be done eventually, but we were so focused on the bathroom itself that we just forgot all about the closet.

It didn't take long to gather up the tools o' demolition because they were all still lying around in the bathroom or piled up on the washstand in the hallway amid other debris. We're tidy that way.

I admit I was excited at the prospect of some demo. I like it for the same reason some people enjoy cutting grass - you see immediate results. With every board you tear down, every nail you extract, you're making a real difference and making it fast.

Plus, you get to use sledgehammers and crowbars. Is there anything more fun than wielding a tool and feeling the way its extends and expands the power of your body? This must've been the way our ancient ancestors felt when they first figured out a sharp rock makes a kickass cutting tool.

Besides, I am a girly girl with very puny muscles, so just pulling a nail out of a piece of wood gets me feeling pretty proud of myself. This time I even did some stuff on a ladder!

Of course, Darwin still has to do most of the heavy lifting.

The closet demo didn't take long, and we still had the restless feeling. I peeked under the vinyl peeling up at the edge of floor where the closet had been and thought I saw that the plywood underneath was a separate closet-sized piece with a closet-sized piece of vinyl on top of it. We could just take that part out without interfering with the whole vinyl floor in the hall and kitchen.

But when we got that small piece of vinyl up, we saw that there were only two small blocks of plywood on each end, and the large middle piece extended into the hall. Oops.

We also found that the old vinyl cut easily with a box cutter and that the one large piece basically corresponded to the nook. So we decided to "just" take up the vinyl and plywood in the nook, leaving the rest of the hall for another day.

Ha ha, "just." What I'd been referring to as "plywood" was actually particleboard, which happily disintegrated under our laboring crowbars. At one point, I said we'd be better off with a pickax.

Two hours later, legs tingling from squatting and kneeling, hands sore and not so much enjoying wielding the tools anymore, we cleared the last of the particleboard and pulled up the black paper underneath to reveal a perfectly good wood floor.

I was relieved because in the back of my mind I'd been thinking what sweet irony it would be to find a rotted or hole-ridden floor after all that work.

Now we have a pretty much continuous wood floor in the whole bathroom/future closet. The demo really lets us envision how big (not so big) the new closet will be.

Meanwhile, I calculated that removing the rest of the particleboard and vinyl from the hall and kitchen will take us roughly 18 hours. When I told Darwin that, instead of feeling devastated like me, he said I'd be all set - all I need is one of those 18-hour bras. Ha. At least he still has his sense of humor.


Friday, June 02, 2006


Below is a list of things we will accomplish while the weather is warm. Yes, I said will, not “hope to” or “plan to.” If I say will, maybe it’ll actually happen.

  • Finish the master bathroom. (Stop laughing! Really, I mean it! Stop!)
  • Scrape, repair and paint the disintegrating-before-our-very-eyes front porch floor.
  • Tile the kitchen countertops and backsplash with the hex tiles I bought roughly one million years ago.
  • Repair screens on the storm windows, in preparation for the brief autumn window-opening time.

Now that isn’t really so much to ask, is it? June, July, August, September. That’s 18 weekends, and Darwin will be off work the whole week of July 4th.

Plenty of time.

(You’re laughing again. I said stop it!)


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Swing-a-Ding Kid

You might be surprised to learn that I've guilted my macho man husband into taking ballroom dancing lessons with me. Over the past few weeks, he has done much grumbling and whining, and I’ve been getting more exercise dragging him into the foyer to practice (now that the dining room has a table in it) than actually dancing.

But you might not know that my macho man husband is only half macho. There's the half that works on engines, rides a motorcycle, kills insects without fear, cuts things up with a chainsaw, and hunts Bambi's dad.

Then there's the half that secretly likes to shoe shop and drink Cosmopolitans with me. Oh, and swing dance.

You should've seen him, people. He was a wonder!

We learned the foxtrot, and he squashed my toes. We learned the waltz, and he kept stepping with the wrong foot.

But swing? He caught right on!

The weird thing is, swing is harder than the other dances. But somehow it just feels right together. We had the best time learning the turns, botching them a lot at first but then – oh the feeling when it’s right!

Now I want to become swing dance champions. These lessons (taught by the Tuscaloosa Ballroom Dance Club) only give us two weeks of training on each dance, but I don’t know if I’ll be ready to give up swing after just one more week.

The club offers intermediate rumba and swing lessons at 7 p.m. after our 6 p.m. beginner lessons, and I’m trying to talk Darwin into going.

His macho half is resisting, and I’m dragging the other half out into the light.

(Happy 4th Anniversary, honeypie!)