1902 Victorian

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

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kant Leak This

Yesterday after his deer-shooting fiesta, Darwin came home and tore out the plywood floor in the half bathroom. As I mentioned yesterday, we discovered that water from the perpetually leaking toilet was running into a crack between two pieces of plywood and pooling underneath between the plywood floor and what we thought was the original wood floor.

We realized this while I was brushing my teeth at the sink. Darwin came in and saw a wet spot on the floor. Since our three mischievous animals were hovering around, we thought one of them must have peed. But then when I stepped back, another wet spot appeared. I thought I must have water on my slippers, but they were dry.

I set my foot down near the wet spots, and to my surprise, water bubbled up through what, on closer inspection, were nail holes.

Then I had a general freak-out attack at the thought of all that water ruining the wood floors we were planning to restore.

But that night when Darwin tore out the plywood he discovered not tongue and groove original boards underneath but another layer of plywood. Oh geez.

Of course, this is good news and bad. Good: no wet boards. Bad: no boards at all.

We still think they're underneath THAT layer of plywood, though. And it's actually kinda good to know we don't have to set to work on that bathroom when we're not even finished with the other.

As for the leaky toilet, that's still a mystery. Darwin has replaced the wax ring three times now - this latest time with a KANT-LEAK Jumbo. Ha.

But now he thinks the water is leaking from the tank itself. That would explain why it still leaked even after the valve was shut off, but it doesn't explain why all the water appears to be in front of the toilet.

It would be just terrific if we could have the plumbers take a look at it when they come to redo our other bathroom. So it would be killer awesome if we could just finish the ever-loving painting and trim-installing, so we can schedule the plumbers' visit.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Primed and Ready, Part Deux

I primed the rest of the bathroom this weekend (with no help from Darwin, thanks a lot honey), so that means no more scraping! Heeheeeheeeeeeee, I'm giddy because I'm so very sick of scraping that bathroom and getting covered head to toe in lead paint dust. If I die an early death of lead poisoning, you'll know why.

Darwin started caulking the big cracks between the beadboard (an undertaking John from The Devil Queen is also enduring). He only did this out of guilt because he went hunting on Saturday instead of helping me and went to his singing on Sunday instead of helping me and took off work today to go hunting instead of fixing the toilet in the half bath, which we knew was leaking but discovered only this morning had filled up the space between the old wood floor and the plywood on top with water, so that it squished up through the nail holes with every step.

But I'm not bitter. No, I don't mind at all that our wood floor - the one we were planning to restore - is now soaking in toilet water. I'm totally fine with that. Go on honey, playing me-tough-hunter-gatherer-man is way more important.

At least the caulking looks good. It makes the wall look about 1 million times better and will hopefully keep out drafts and make our bathroom cozier.

You can see the "before" on the left and "after" on the right in this pic:

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Whiny Selfish Lady

This is my crude drawing of the bookshelf we're planning to build in the space under the bathroom window. There's already a cut-out in the wall from where the previous owners moved up the window to accommodate their bathtub. The bookshelf will indent into the wall a few inches, and we're framing it out in 1x6 trim to match the window.

Darwin bought the materials for it earlier in the week, but still, I'm getting concerned again about our bathroom progress. All we got done last weekend was a little scraping and sanding. This weekend Darwin wants to hunt on Saturday (this is the last week of deer season, thank goodness) and may have to go to a "singin'" on Sunday.

He also wants to spend every spare moment working on his project truck, which has been in progress for the duration of our marriage (4.5 years). I think he feels about it the way I feel about the bathroom: it’s been so long, and we’re so close!

I know I should be understanding; these are his hobbies, and he allegedly enjoys them. All work and no play makes Darwin a dull boy.

Besides, he hasn't hunted that much - not nearly enough to justify the hunting club fee, but whatever - and he hasn't had many singing engagements lately - fall and winter are their slow seasons.

And I'm better about it now than I used to be. He has so many hobbies and so many people clamoring for his time that I felt a little neglected. Finally I just gave up the moping and developed a million hobbies of my own – dollmaking (since abandoned), collecting dolls (also abandoned except for the occasional moment of weakness), the dollhouse (on hiatus), scrapbooking, blogging, writing, selling clothes on eBay, designing and running my mom’s online costume store, ballroom dancing, and of course, shopping, shopping, shopping.

So now I’m busy, he’s busy, and our work schedules are at odds half the time. Even when we can spend weeknights together, it’s only for a couple of hours before he has to retire early. That means the weekends are all we’ve got; we have to cram in time together, time with friends, time with family, and work on the house.

That’s why I get a little peevish when something else interferes with the weekends, especially something unexpected.

Like when Darwin’s dad called to tell him about the singing on Sunday. It’s the worst kind, the dreaded “all day singing.” The name says it all. It requires Darwin to leave the house at 9 a.m., attend the morning service and sing a few songs, stay for lunch, then sing a few sets after lunch. Some churches are faster than others – it depends on how many of the church’s attendees want to get up and sing their own “specials” – but it will typically last until 3 p.m., after which Darwin has to help load up the group’s equipment and then drive an hour or more back home.

And there’s pretty much a zero percent chance he’ll eagerly shuck his church clothes, dive into old clothes and throw himself into working on the bathroom. It’ll be 4 p.m. or later; it will be getting dark outside. We’ll want dinner in a couple of hours. Then we’ll want TV time.

Another day, another weekend will pass with little to no progress, and the bathroom’s completion will move one more week later into the fuzzy future.

So such phone calls about singings leave us both in an awkward position. I want to say, “If you go to that singing, I will kill you with a waffle iron!” But I don’t want to be the nag; he should have the right to make his own decisions.

He knows how much I want him to say he can’t make it this weekend, but he knows, too, how much his dad wants him to say yes. Half the reason – maybe more than half – he is still in this group is because his dad wants him to be. His dad hasn’t yet recovered from him moving out of their house to marry me.

So poor Darwin is stuck. Either choice will make someone unhappy. I usually vote for making me happy, but I can see why it wouldn’t be so simple for him.

In this case, he didn’t respond at all. He didn’t say yes or no. He changed the subject to hunting, something he is already doing with his dad this weekend.

So I don’t know yet whether we’ll be working on the bathroom this weekend or if I’ll be sulking at home, priming by myself or trying to figure out how to build a bookshelf.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

The M in MASCH

Before and after pictures are in short supply this week, so I'll post this photo I took on Friday afternoon of the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion, a Tuscaloosa landmark.

I just love houses with cupolas, don't you?

Remember in grade school when you'd play MASCH? You'd draw a square with the letters MASCH above it, and they stood for mansion, apartment, shack, cottage, house. This is just the sort of house I imagined when I landed on M.

Believe it or not, I've never taken the time to go inside for a tour. My mother told us long ago that it was once the public library, and I've always thought of it as the perfect library. Books floor to ceiling, sliding ladders, dust motes, cushy chairs in secret corners. I kinda hate to go inside and ruin my mental image.

According to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society's website, Historic Tuscaloosa, and the mansion's own website, the house (one of only a few Italianate houses in T-town) was built in 1859-1862 by Senator Robert Jemison Jr. to serve as his town house. The architect was John Stewart from Philadelphia, who along with his partner, Samuel Sloan, designed Bryce Hospital (the state mental hospital, also in T-town).

Most of the building materials came from Jemison’s plantations and sawmills, and the majority of construction was performed by skilled slaves under the supervision of Philadelphia craftsmen. The house had indoor lighting fueled by coal gas manufactured in a machine located in the basement.

If I was living in antebellum Tuscaloosa, I totally would've sidled up to the Jemisons and tried to make friends because their house was the first in town to have an indoor bathroom, including running water, flush toilets and a copper bathtub. (Of course, my family was po' white trash, so I would've been more likely to hang out in a dogtrot cabin snuggling with the family hogs.)

The house also featured a boiler for producing hot water, a gas stove, and a deep dry well in the basement that kept food fresh even in hot Alabama summers.

The house's construction was interrupted when the Civil War began, much like Eutaw's own showplace mansion, Kirkwood, leaving many finishing touches undone. According to legend, it barely escaped being burned by Union troops when boys playing a prank ran down the street yelling, "Forrest is coming, hurrah for Forrest!", and the Union commander skedaddled.

The home remained in the family until the 1940s, when it was purchased by J.P. and Nell Burchfield, who undertook a major restoration.

After serving as the Friedman Public Library from 1955 to 1979, the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society and Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa set up a joint board to oversee restoration of the house, which is ongoing. The Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has its offices in the basement of the house. The main floor has been carefully restored to its original 1860s appearance, and it is available to the public for weddings, parties and receptions, none of which have I been invited to attend.

I half-wanted to get married there, but Darwin was insistent on one point for our wedding, and that was that it must take place at his family's church. So that's what we did, and I still haven't seen the inside of that lovely gray house on Greensboro Ave.

I guess it's fitting. Po' white trash like me can't go places that don't provide a spitoon.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

What the Victorians Did for Us

I have a new favorite show (along with Ugly Betty and The Office): What the Victorians Did for Us. It's a British show that airs on History International, and it's a cheeky (literally ... on the most recent episode, the host Adam Hart-Davis ended the show naked, enjoying a bicycle-powered shower) look at the Victorian innovations that made life the way it is today.

Technology is moving so fast today that we - or I anyway - often think of this time as the most innovative, the most quickly changing. It's easy to consider our ancestors primitive and wonder how they survived in a world with no Internet.

But What the Victorians Did for Us points out just how many of the technologies we take for granted - the indoor bathroom, aspirin, ice cream, and the sewer system - originated with the Victorians. Sure, we come out with a new version of the iPod or Motorola Razr every five minutes, but we're not so superior. We still don't know how to cure the common cold, let alone cancer or Alzheimer's or Lou Gehrig's disease. We still fight wars that go nowhere, and we still burn fossil fuels to travel.

I wonder ... in 100 years, what will the TV shows say about us? Will TV even still exist? Will someone have finally invented that teleporter? And for all the new technology, will the world be any kinder? Will humans be any better?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Primed and Ready

What a cliche, right? Forgive me - we just finished the February issue of the magazine I work for, and I'm creative-headlined out.

Also, it applies in a very literal way. We got so much stuff done this weekend that I feel like a different blogger! Where's that lazy girl and her lethargic husband?

Saturday we worked on Millie's fence, and with the help of our friends/neighbors, got all the posts set and the relevant part of the old fence taken down.

Sunday we holed up in the master bath and scraped until our hands were sore. Also, Darwin installed those two boards he cut a while back to fill the holes from a couple of old termitey spots in the beadboard.

Monday Darwin planned to leave for some manly wilderness time at 1:45, so we got started on the bathroom early. I quickly determined that it might-just-might be possible to prime the sink/toilet wall (the largest uninterrupted wall) that day. With that goal in mind, I scraped and sanded and Bondo'ed nail holes with an unusual vigor.

Oh yeah, and Darwin helped, too.

Actually, we both worked hard, though Darwin as usual tried to redo half the stuff I did. I finally said, "It doesn't have to be perfect. If you're going to redo everything I do, I'll just go sit on the couch. There's no point in me working my ass off if you're just going to redo everything."

For once, he didn't argue back with some snarky comment about the quality of my work. He just blinked at me and said, "Okay" and tried not to do it again.

Like I said, who WERE these people?

Finally, the magic moment came. After washing down the very dusty walls, we applied primer to roller, roller to wall. Of course, it wasn't easy. Beadboard - especially old, imperfect beadboard - is a real pain to paint. Darwin showed me the technique he'd already learned on the practice section a few weeks ago - heavily load up the roller with primer, paint sideways, press hard to get the paint into the grooves.

Then he had to leave, and I finished the wall myself. I even cleaned everything up without his help.

Seeing that beautiful smooth white wall was reward enough for my stinging hands and hair full of lead paint dust. The best part was all the little imperfections in the beadboard - where I hadn't scraped quite thoroughly enough - didn't even show once it was all primed. I'm so freaking happy right now. The bathroom is halfway primed, and the other half just needs to be scraped a little more and sanded before it will be ready, too.

Oh, and I almost forgot the good news! We heard from the plumber about that estimate. Drumroll please .... $700 maximum, but probably more like $500-600! I'm fully anticipating $700, of course, but still - that's cheaper than I was imagining. I'm thrilled, Darwin's pleased, and they're hired!

They are busy until the end of January, but that's fine because that gives us time to get everything ready. All we have to do to prepare is finish priming and painting the walls, patch the ceiling, paint the ceiling, and paint another coat on the floor. That's all easy stuff. We've drywalled and painted plenty of times before. There's nothing scary looming over us anymore!

So life is good right now. Oh wait, except I still don't know what color to paint the walls. I spent yesterday afternoon playing around with the Benjamin Moore Color Viewer, but sometimes I hate that thing. Most colors show up looking nothing like their actual selves - red is always pink or pale orange, for example.

Then I went back and reread Fixer Upper's post about bathroom color scheming and noted Beth's comment, "we tend to paint the bathroom whichever color is most flattering to our skin tones so that we don’t spend the mornings depressed."

So I started thinking about what colors look best on me. What Not to Wear tells me "emerald" is a good color for people with coloring like mine (brown hair, green eyes, pinkish skin tone), so that was my first thought. Then I went a little crazy. I cut out a picture of my overly pink-cheeked head from a New Year's Eve photo and pasted it on top of a variety of colors. This is what happens when Photoshop falls into the hands of the untrained:

Purple and green were my favorites, which is unsurprising considering those are the colors I wear most often in makeup. Red also looked okay. Beige, yellow and orange were downright revolting on me.

I love "emerald" as a clothing option, but the thought of applying it to my bathroom walls kinda freaks me out. I'm used to decorating in earthier tones. Bold but subdued - grounded might be the right word.

I plan to paint our adjoining master bedroom a mauvey-gray color, so maybe a different shade of purple would look nice in the bathroom. Not too dark or bold.

I'm being more cautious than I would normally because this paint will need to last a long time. Painting behind clawfoot tubs and wall-hung sinks is no easy feat. I don't need to get the bathroom done and then hate it five minutes later.

So what do you think? Is emerald too scary? Is plum too ... purple? Or should I stick with the sage green I considered back in July?

I know I should follow Fixer Upper's example and choose a shower curtain first, then select a paint color from it. But I don't want to leap into that purchase either. I haven't found the exactly perfect shower curtain, and I have a clear liner that will do indefinitely.

And this is no time for indecision! We're almost there!

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Confessions of Harriet the Spy

Mindy over at Fixer Upper tagged me to tell you "5 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me." In real life, I'm terrible at keeping secrets, even about myself, but that's not entirely true when it comes to the blog. There are parts of myself I hold back even from you, dear bloggy readers. Since I'm writing instead of talking, I can exercise a little more control over myself.

For one, many of my real-life friends and neighbors know about this blog, so writing about them is a delicate proposition. I can't go criticizing their choices or complaining about them, and even writing about them in a nice way is tricky. Some people probably don't want their exploits described for the rest of the town and the Internet to read.

Then there's the family. There are maybe five people in our combined, extended families who know how to use the Internet. But Darwin's sister and brother-in-law recently got a computer and were asking about my e-mail address just this weekend. Eeek. Since my bloggy beginnings, I've feared this day and purposely kept my family-related posts mild-mannered. The last thing I need is a Harriet the Spy moment.

But it's not just the hovering threat of our Baptist families that keeps talk of boozing, carousing, swearing, sex, religion, and politics to a minimum. It's wimpy of me, but I prefer to remain non-controversial. Other than an occasional rant about litter or pets, I keep my opinions to myself. Maybe this comes from living in Alabama, where my opinions often differ dramatically from the majority. Or maybe it's because some things are too important to me to open them up to attack.

I've kept other secrets for the same reason. But now it's time to reveal my deep, dark inner self … or at least part of it. This was supposed to be lighthearted, but dark and twisty can be fun, too … why else would I love Six Feet Under?

So here goes. Deep breath. Leap!

1. I am infertile. Whew, that’s a bang of a way to start, huh? I mentioned it vaguely once long ago, and during a darker time, I briefly kept a separate blog on the subject. But I found that reading and writing about infertility all the time was dragging me down. I cried a lot, and Darwin and I fought daily about our options. We've been married 4 and a half years and not-not-trying for 3 years of that time with no luck whatsoever. We knew we'd have trouble, so we started early. He's been tested, and yeah, it's me. I briefly and half-heartedly tried some fertility meds, but we haven’t given it a real go yet.

2. I wrote a crappy novel in the summer of 2005. It’s hard to admit that something I worked on vigorously for months turned out to be absolutely horrible, but facts are facts. How crappy is it? In 9th grade, my best friend and I wrote a story about us going on a cruise with our (imaginary) boyfriends; it consisted mostly of us changing into cute outfits and then scampering off to make out with said boyfriends. And yet I think that story might have been better than my novel.

Not much of it is even salvageable, but at least I got it out of my system (they say you always have to write one crap novel first). At least writing the crappy novel got my mind off wallowing in infertility-induced self-pity, and I haven't gone back. Now I have book ideas new and old spinning around in my head, but I can’t get them to sit still. And I’m a procrastinator, but we’re going to pretend that has nothing to do with it.

3. I watch DeGrassi: The Next Generation. I even Tivo it. Some might wonder how that fits into the “deep, dark secret” theme here, but just consider this: DeGrassi is a teenage melodrama a la Fifteen and a Very Special Episode of Saved by the Bell, and I am a 25-year-old woman. This season alone, DeGrassi has had two boys arrested for drag racing, a teen mother try to start a daycare at school, someone get addicted to cocaine, a teen try to get breast implants, a girl become bulimic, a pair get robbed while trying to start a T-shirt business, a paraplegic teen (who was shot in a school shooting) have trouble having sex with his girlfriend, a teen get upset over giving her baby up for adoption, and a girl get caught posting sexy shots of herself on MySpace.

It’s basically a soap opera, and I hate soaps. So why do I like DeGrassi? It’s a mystery too deep to fathom.

4. Sometimes I wonder if a person crazy enough to watch DeGrassi should have children. Maybe I only want a child for stupid reasons, like getting to choose a name and buy stuff from Pottery Barn Kids. Sometimes I don't know if I even want a child. Sometimes I think we'll be good parents. Other times I tell myself, "You can barely parent a dog!" Or I find myself yelling at Darwin or swearing like a sailor or acting exactly like my father, and I think, "What if a child was here watching me?" And if I can’t get myself to work on time, how will I ever get a child to school or dance practice or soccer?

Maybe I am too irritable or impatient or even too fat to be a mother. Maybe my genes suck and I should just stop the madness here. Or maybe they are good, and I am good. It's so hard to know without taking the leap, and once you've leapt there's no turning back.

5. It's not time yet. My mother is already hoarding baby stuff she finds on sale (most recently Christmas outfits for $1.59 at Target), and Darwin's brothers and sisters are all allegedly finished having kids, so now everyone is looking at us and saying, "It's your turn!"

Part of me eagerly joins in the daydreaming. Sometimes when I look at a picture of Darwin, I ache to see a child with his face. Other times I think about adopting a child of another race and wonder about the our families’ reactions.

But another part of me is very selfish. In the immortal words of Cartman, "Whatever, I do what I want!" I want to travel, watch Medium and Six Feet Under and yes, DeGrassi, read Lucky: The Magazine About Shopping, work on the house, and do naughty things whenever and in whatever room I please. I want to visit with the nieces and nephews and friends' kids and then go home to our nice, quiet house. (Which is gone now, anyway, replaced by a house full of Millie barking and Alistair hissing and Henry barreling down the hall and leaping up onto the piano.)

I'm 25 years old, and Darwin is 30. There is no rush. It's my mantra now. There is no rush, there is no rush, there is no rush. We can finish the bathroom and the kitchen countertops. We can rip out the falling-apart vinyl in the kitchen and hall. We and the cats can adjust to Millie. We can go to Venice, to London, to Prague.

Those hand-me-down baby clothes and high chairs can wait.

So those are my five secrets. I don’t feel as exposed as I expected. Maybe because I still have so many secrets left. I’ll save them for another time.

And now I'm supposed to tag 5 more people. How about my favorite ninja, Maryam in Morocco, 1901 House, Greg at Petch House, and John at The Devil Queen.

I didn't check extensively to see if you'd been tagged yet. No pressure.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rumba, Baby!

Last night we went to our fourth private dance lesson (we've been taking group lessons on and off since the summer), and for the first time it really clicked. We caught onto the new steps faster and retained the old ones better, so for the first time the teacher could help us focus on the details. How to point the toe, hold out the arm, really throw our bodies into the crossover.

But more than that, we clicked with each other. Everything was smoother.

And that goes for how we treated each other, too. We were kinder and more forgiving. We smiled more and bickered less. We didn't blame each other. The atmosphere was light, not thick with tension.

I'm learning to follow better, and Darwin's becoming a better leader.

And this new way of dancing takes some of the tension out of practicing and going places to dance. Before, I had to insist - more like throw tantrums - before he'd consent to anything. And then I'd have to half-drag him through the dances. No wonder I tried to lead, right? If I didn't, we wouldn't go anywhere!

Darwin still doesn't giddily leap up to practice; he doesn't turn on Michael Buble's "Quando, Quando, Quando" and say, "Rumba with me, baby!" But since we started the private lessons, he's become less confused and more confident. Our teacher constantly tells him that he's a "natural dancer" and has a wonderful frame and great rhythm, things that are hard to teach. That would make anyone feel a little more eager to participate.

He won't admit it, but I can tell he's having fun. Now so can I.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Pipe, Wire & the American Way

A plumber is coming to our house this week for an estimate, and I have Millie to thank for it.

For most of our bathroom project's long and varied life, Darwin has been opposed to hiring a plumber. We have copper pipe, but he studied the plumbers while they fixed a leak this summer, and he is convinced he can do the switcheroo (tub and toilet will need to change places) himself.

I'm convinced of that, too, but what I'm a little less certain about is how long it will take him to do it. Today marks 17 months since my first post about bathroom demolition. As I've said ad nauseum, I'm ready for this to be done. My goal is Valentine's Day this year - just one month away - and if it's possible for someone to spontaneously combust, missing that deadline and dragging this project on for more months and years might just be cause enough for my head to catch on fire.

Enter Miss Millie. The house training thing is not going so well. We read all the comments about crate training, we started Tivo'ing The Dog Whisperer, and I researched house training online. But nothing I've read seems to address what you do if you have to leave your pet alone for at least 9 hours at a time on some days. I thought we could have our neighbor's child walk Millie during the day, but then we met, and our hyper girl was a bit much for her.

The one suggestion that seems feasible for the times we ARE home is to keep Millie with us at all times inside the house, so we can catch her in the act if she starts to poop on the floor (she rarely pees in the house). This morning Darwin had just brought her inside from a walk when he caught her getting ready to poop on the dining room carpet. He said, "No, no, no!" and that girl scurried away to the back door! He took her out, and she pooped outside.

Hmmm, she apparently knows where she's supposed to go, but she doesn't seem that interested in doing it when she's out there. I'll wait for AGES for her to poop, and she won't do it. She's too involved in sniffing out and digging up earthworms, diving after birds, or trying to drag me toward the neighbors' yard (and yellow lab).

Also, she has tons of energy and just really adores being outside. She'll sit at the window and whine, or even go to the door and whine, and I'll think she needs to do her business. So I take her out, and nope - she just wants to run and sniff.

It's pretty obvious to us that Millie needs a fence. When we'll be gone for long hours, we can leave her outside, where she'll have grass on which to poop, a little house in which to rest, and best of all - room to run, run, run. Having a fence will also be handy when we have kids one day to keep them from dashing off into traffic.

So we formulated a plan to build our own fence in the side yard made of roll wire and round posts to match the existing old, incomplete fence. The cool thing about this type of fence compared to chain link is it looks more old-fashioned - like a farm fence - and it blends into the background better than either chain link or a tall wood fence.

The fence will begin at the back corner of the house, connect with the old fence running parallel to the house, and then come back in to meet the front edge of the porch. It will encompass a roughly 500-square-foot area that includes four shade trees and lots of grass:

This weekend we measured and calculated, and Darwin bought two 100-foot rolls of wire and 18 treated posts. We'll be taking down an unnecessary and inconvenient bit of fence from the other side of the house and using its gate. We'll also be repairing some of the old fence. The total project will only cost about $230.

So what does this have to do with the bathroom? Millie's fence is a pretty urgent project, and, like everything, it will take up precious weekend time. Darwin will be working on it some this week, but it will still take up at least a full Saturday, probably a Saturday and Sunday. That sets our bathroom work back yet another week.

When Darwin flitted off to go hunting Saturday afternoon (and we had a belated Christmas gathering on Sunday), and we got exactly NOTHING done on the bathroom, I snapped.

I called Darwin and said, "Look, I'm calling a plumber to get an estimate." And for the first time, he didn't argue with me. He quite perkily said, "And then we'd only have to paint and drywall!" It's not quite that simple, but still - the plumbing is our last major project.

So the plumber will be coming one day this week. Of course, now Darwin is again saying how it's not a difficult project and he could do it and that sure is a lot of money. All before we've even heard the estimate.

I am usually the first to say, "eeek, can't we do that ourselves?" And I know I just posted about saving money. But some things are just worth it. Our time is worth something, too. And having something complete would do wonders for us both. I doubt hiring a plumber is something we would regret while we soaked in a delicioiusly hot bath or brushed our teeth at our new sink, or you know, did other things on our toilet.

So for now I'm voting pro-plumber, if the price is at all reasonable.

And I'm excited about the fence. I can't wait to chase Millie around inside it.

New pictures of Millie!

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Friday, January 05, 2007


When I become a multi-millionaire, this is what I want: a small apartment in Venice in a quiet neighborhood like Santa Croce.

In general, I have no burning desire for vast wealth. I would like more wealth, of course, enough to buy Rejuvenation light fixtures whenever I want, a house full of antiques, a picket fence for the front yard, and an exterior paint job done by someone other than myself.

But it's only since Venice that I've daydreamed about being one of those fascinating turn-of-the-last-century expatriate writers who set up shop in Venetian palazzos and other fabulous places to write their great novels.

Suddenly it feels so desperately unfair that I can't hop a plane to Europe or Canada or anywhere on a whim. I want to go back so, so badly, and yet I can't! It makes me want to stomp my foot and roll on the floor kicking and screaming!

I admit I was a somewhat spoiled child, and I've grown up into a somewhat spoiled adult. I've been lucky in life and love, and I'm used to getting most anything I want, within reason. And I don't like waiting for it!

So it's particularly painful that my sudden desire to travel long and often - and not just travel but have the time and money to live in Venice or another city for a few months out of the year - cannot be realized. If we continue on our current career paths, we will never be able to afford a $1.5 million apartment in Venice, and we will never have a month to spare to live in it.

But there is something I can do. I can save.

If we set aside 4,000 extra dollars this year, that will pay for another trip. I reevaluated our budget spreadsheet in preparation for the new year, and there are plenty of ways we can cut back. Make that I can cut back. I have an online shopping addiction in need of a 12-step program.

Our bathroom only requires two more purchases - the faucet and the vanity light - and I already have more clothes than one person can wear in a year. So I'm declaring a moratorium on buying.

And instead of spending all my downtime online shopping, maybe I will begin working on my book again. You never know which book will capture the public's imagination; it could be mine. Then I really could become that chic author figure, typety-typing away on that third-floor terrace overlooking the canals and the red roofs of Venice.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

We Got Light!

It's like the shine on your shoes,
or hearing a blues that's great.
Makes you relax,
like a big tax rebate!
We got light!

Okay, so maybe those aren't the actual lyrics, but I'll take any excuse to squeeze in a song from Annie. In fact, I think we might name a child Annie one day. Sure, Darwin's mom's name is Annie, but we all know who the real namesake would be!

Sorry, I'm feeling a little delirious today just thinking about that beautiful moment when Darwin flipped the new switch, and the light came on in the bathroom. Light, blessed light!

The new outlets also work!

Now that the wiring is done, we can close up the gaps in the beadboard, finish the drywall, and have light to scrape and sand and paint to our hearts' content. Hurray!

And Benny Goodman's got swing.
Bing is a king, by far.
Mutt has got Jeff,
and Eleanor, F.D.R.!
We got light!

More wiring photos

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It Takes a Village

As members of the unofficial Work Day Club of Eutaw, we've helped our neighbors on several occasions. This weekend we cashed in some of our help-out bucks to get a jumpstart on the bathroom.

It all started on Saturday when we took Millie for a walk around the block. We ran into Deirdre, who was helping tear out more plaster at Denise's house, and then we visited a while with Ken and his son, who were working on a truck. We told them about the work we'd recently begun on the bathroom walls - scraping off the flaky top layer of paint to get a smoother surface for painting.

A couple of hours later Deirdre showed up, scraper in hand. She promptly climbed on a ladder and joined me in scraping the walls. We scraped like mad in short bursts, then stopped to rest and gab, then scraped again. In this way, the work (and the lead paint dust) flew.

Then she and Darwin took two wall boards over to Ken and used his woodworking tools to shave a little indention into the backs, so they would fit against a stud.

For some reason Deirdre and Ken volunteered to help us begin wiring the bathroom the next day. We had to leave for a New Year's Eve ball by 4 p.m., so it was an ambitious project.

The bathroom's power was feeding off the guest room light, so first Ken disconnected that and installed a refurbished antique light fixture I bought on eBay about two centuries ago. Meanwhile, Darwin disconnected the light in the bathroom.

Then Darwin headed for the attic and ran a new wire from the breaker box to the bathroom, where he installed a junction box to feed one wire to the light switches and one to the outlets.

Of course, some other finagling had to happen. Holes had to be drilled, wires fished and plans made. Deirdre brought over their massively long drill bit to drill down through the sill in the top of the bathroom wall, and that's when Ken found the happy little rat skeleton.

In the midst of all this, Deirdre cooked us lunch! Can you ask for better friends than these?

After lunch we ran into further problems. One, we had no large plastic wingnut thingies. Two, when they drilled a hole in the future closet ceiling to feed the wire for that light, they discovered that the ceiling had been lowered from 12 feet to 10, and the drill bit wouldn't reach through the 2-foot gap. Three, Darwin was a little confused about how to wire the three-switch box.

Finally we gave up for the day with the bathroom wiring not finished and not connected to the breaker box. But when they turned the power back on, half the outlets in the kitchen and an outlet in the guest room wouldn't work.

While I showered and beautified myself, Darwin tried to figure out the problem. Finally, he switched some wires around in the guest room light fixture, and that did the trick.

But by then, it was already 4 p.m. We finished getting ready in a frenzy, loaded up Millie in the car (she was spending the night with her grandparents) and flew toward town. We had to call my mom and ask her to meet us in town, so we wouldn't be late. She generously agreed but threatened me with a "life lesson" lecture.

Eventually, we made it to our New Year's ball feeling frazzled but looking snazzy.


We drank champagne, danced the rumba and foxtrot, kissed at midnight, laughed a lot, and crashed by 1:40 at a nearby hotel.

On the way home the next day, we stopped by Lowe's (fortunately open on New Year's Day) and got the larger wingnuts. The rest of the way home, I demanded Darwin explain electrical wiring to me and attempted to draw diagrams to figure out the three-switch problem.

We had resolved nothing by the time we got home except that we have terrible communication skills. And that it's hard to draw a wiring diagram with a dog sitting on your lap.

Fortunately, our neighbor Doug, an actual electrician, was home. Darwin called to ask his advice on the three-switch situation, and Doug generously offered to pop on over and check things out.

He figured the problem out in a flash (we needed a fourth wire directly from the junction box into the three-switch box) and demonstrated how to connect the switches with jumper wires.

After he left, we worked by lamplight until dinner time. Darwin finished the wiring, while I scraped more paint. Oh, and he also hung the second refurbished antique light fixture in the hall to match the one we replaced in November.

All that's left to do with the wiring is deal with the closet light, hang the light fixtures, and hook the bathroom system to the juice. They're all pretty simple, especially since we decided to just rip out the drywall in the lowered closet ceiling. No problem, right?

As for the rest of the bathroom, I'm so sick of scraping I could scream, but we've only really got one wall left. Then we have to fill a truckload of nail holes, hit the whole thing with a palm sander, wipe down the walls, and finally, FINALLY paint.

So how it's going on our wrinkle-free timeline? See for yourself:

Figure out where to put electrical outlets in bathroom wall and cut holes.

Run new wiring to the bathroom for a closet light and two new outlets, and organize all three light switches into one switch plate.

Order faucet for bathroom sink and light fixture for over sink. (at least I've picked them out)

Move plumbing vent pipe into corner of future closet.

Visit Neighbor K to use his woodworking tools to shave a little indention into the back of a replacement piece of beadboard, so it will fit against the stud.

Install two replacement pieces of beadboard. (We were waiting to do this until the wiring was done, in case we needed access in that wall. Now we can install them.)

Cut opening for bookshelf under window and make plans.

Build little bookshelf under the window.

Patch nail holes, scrape loose paint, etc. on "rustic" beadboard walls. (Halfway done)

Buy materials for upcoming projects - wood for trim, paint for walls and trim.

Stuff our faces with Christmas goodies.

Install drywall to close up gaping hole to the attic, and re-create mini-slant in bathroom ceiling. Repair a couple spots of drywall damage on ceiling from when we removed the wall separating the two parts of the bathroom. (This is another thing we were waiting to do until after the wiring was done.)

Prime and paint ceiling.

Prime and paint the walls.

Prepaint and install baseboards, crown molding and corner molding to disguise the edges of the slanty drywall ceiling and where the beadboard meets all crookedy.

Touch up paint on moldings, and paint bookshelf and door trim.

Paint second coat on the floor.

Install light fixture over sink.

Rearrange the bathroom plumbing.

Install sink, clawfoot tub and toilet. The clawfoot tub with its maze of nickel-plated pipes will probably be an ordeal, so prepare for The First Screaming Match of 2007.

Hang vintage nickel-plated bathroom stuff like sponge holder and towel bars.

Take a bath in clawfoot tub, using yummy bath goods bought in Italy just for this occasion.


I'm still aiming for Valentine's Day. Hey, it's a month and a half away. The wiring was a huge project, so the plumbing is the only major obstacle left. It will happen!

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Our First Carcass

You're not officially an old house renovator until you find a dead creature. We've finally joined the club.

Here for your viewing pleasure is the skeleton and clinging gray fur of a dead rat found in our bathroom wall:

And oh look, here's another rat photo. I was zooming in on this photo on my camera's LCD screen when I saw that disgusting ratty head and his horrible little claws and realized that was no animal nest but an actual dead animal. YICK!

Our friend Ken had the good fortune of extracting this creature from the sill inside the top of the wall. You know you have a good friend when he picks up a rat skeleton with his bare hand and, after realizing what that thing actually is, still stays on to help you finish wiring.

And yes, that word I just said - wiring - it's not just an illusion, folks. That really happened this weekend. Our bathroom now has three electrical outlets (as opposed to the none it had before) and a 3-switch box to control the vanity light, overhead light and closet light.

More to come on that later.

For now, I guess the rat solves one mystery. Long long ago in the early days of our residence at the 1902 Victorian, there was a mysterious, unpleasant smell in our bedroom. We could never pinpoint its cause or even the exact location it emanated from, but it seemed to be slightly stronger near our closet wall.

Our ratty comrade was found on the opposite side of the bathroom from our bedroom, so most likely he was dead and skeletonized before we ever arrived on the scene. But it's pretty clear that one of his associates must've died in our bedroom wall.

I'm so psyched to find him when we tear down the closet. You better believe I'll be wearing gloves.

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