Sunday, July 31, 2005

It's an investment

I suspect that to most of us housebloggers, our homes are more than an investment. To Steve and I, sacrificing weekends and summers is more a labor of love (or a life on insanity depending upon how one views it). If this building were strictly an "investment" we wouldn't be putting so much of our own time and TLC into it and things would be done more expediently.

I don't really like the idea of living somewhere just to make money. I go to my share of neighborhood meetings and it troubles me that few of the new condo owners in our neighborhood seem to show up. I don't understand the concept of just "sqautting" somewhere until you can sell -make a profit- and move somewhere else. But then, I love our neighborhood despite its imperfections. I plan to grow some mature roots here if you know what I mean.

It is nice to know however, that your building is an investment that could say --help you live better when you are retired. One reason we bought a two-flat is because housing is to terribly expensive in Chicago- especially near the lake (which we are-2 blocks to be exact). Steve specifically asked his realtor to show him "dingy kitchens and baths" when shopping and wanted a two-flat because the rental income would help offset the cost of the mortgage.

Just to give you an example of the cost of property and homes around here, take a look at this single family home about 2 miles west of the lake. It's going for $375,000 and looks to need alot of work.

Today, there was an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about two-flats and the real estate market here. It confirms that we are on the right track. I like to think we are not, after all, pouring all our time and money into a cipher.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The black hole that is Home Depot

Last night we entered the beast at 6pm and managed to drag our weary selves out at about 9:30pm. We were on one of our "power shopping" trips to buy supplies for framing and drywalling the entry. I hate drywall- it's just so heavy and dusty. Yet another reason not to remove the plaster in an old home if you can avoid it!

We got 10 4x10 sheets of drywall, insulation, pine boards for framing and numerous other items for this project. Steve also got a grinder so he can start his tuckpointing project in the fall.

I got a bunch of mums and 10 bags of mulch for my fall gardening too.

We unloaded everything but the drywall last night from our rented cargo van. This morning, we unloaded the drywall.
We decided to cut the drywall in half for a number of reasons:
1. 5 foot pieces will work perfectly in the small entry.
2. It would be hell on earth trying to get full sheets into our basement.
3.We don't know any willing and able burly men willing to carry them for us.

20 trips back and forth (moving the drywall)to the basement later...Steve started the framing.
We decided not to use the typical 2x2 furring strips to attach the drywall because that thickness would change the depth of the wall, which would make the walls come out farther resulting in the original woodwork not alligning correctly.
Steve contacted USG, the drywall manufacturer, and they said if you decide to use 1x material, you must use a 1x4 and not the standard 1x2.

He is shimming the boards to make sure they are all plumb and using Tapcon masonry screws because we are screwing into brick. A funny thing, the drill bit that comes in the box of screws from Tapcon is always too wide and we have to get next smallest size. For 1/4" diameter screws, we get the 5/32" instead of the 3/16" that comes in the box.

And as I intended, I heat gunned the one remaining door frame and front part of the window.

For the remaining part directly beside the glass, I am planning to apply chemical stripper and saran wrap, scrape off the paint and then use steel wool and more stripper if needed. I don't want to even chance breaking the window.
It's been a busy weekend so far...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Can you hear me now?

Our electrician came back this week and finished installing our new intercom system. We now have an intercom in the 2nd floor apt., in our kitchen, and in Steve's office in the basement.

We relied on the expertise of John the electrician for selecting the right model- not something we usually do- but he is a great guy and knows his stuff.

I can't recall if I'd mentioned this, but we had decided to add the system since the vestibule/entry walls were down. We got a Pacific Electronics Apartment Station #3404. Steve still needs to mortise out the door jambs to fit the new electric strike plates that will allow our tenants to buzz people in rather than come down and open the door manually.

I know it isn't period and if the original old systems were in place, we would have kept them. But we have to think about the marketability of the building as a rental as well. Getting this work done felt good-like we are bringing "up" the building, which is a good feeling.

Speaking of the tenants, I called "Thadeus" tonight and had a short chat. When it comes down to it, I am a softie and if I can help someone, I will. I myself, went through a very rough financial period while in college supporting myself and I am sympathetic to the plight of students. I did tell him that we were not in the position to have this happen on an ongoing basis like it did last year and I was concerned about that. I said, "of course if something happens once in a while, we can handle it(softie)." I think we will be okay- we'll see.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions-they really were good ones.

our hallway/kitchen unit

basement control center

Tonight we had to move some wood in the basement to make way for the drywall we will be picking up tomorrow night at Home Depot for the entry. This weekend Steve will be reinforcing and adding new furring strips in the room to support the drywall and insulating. I will be finishing up stripping the trim for the room and carefully stripping around the window in there.

On Sunday, Steve's siter Teri may be coming for a visit from Kenosha, WI to hang out and see our completed (almost anyway) kitchen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Landlord Blues

I know some of you out there are landlords, but I know many of you live in single family homes and are blessed with only being your own landlord. The best tenant is always yourself, because you pay for everything and therefore you appreciate and take care of things.

I came home tonight and at dinner Steve told me that our tenant whom I'll call Thadeus told him, "his financial aid is late and he will be late paying the rent- maybe on the 12th." Not a big deal right? Well, to understand my annoyance you'd have to know the past history with these tenants.

We really are only TOLERATING them and have done so for 3 leases because of a soft rental market here in Chicago and us pouring all our resources into the 1st floor. Plus, I was laid off last year and Steve's business had been shaky after the dot-com bubble burst. So, there you have it. We just put up with their annoyances, which I will detail below.

I started out trying to like them and make it work. I have done alot to help them really. They are from Liberia and they are students, but my good will has worn a bit thin.

Just to give you an idea of what I have done to accomodate them: For an entire year we allowed them to pay the rent in 2 installments and even with that they were constantly late. Sometimes I wouldn't get paid until the 22nd of the month. Thadeous, who is a PHD student in religious studies and a minister, had lost his student job.

After a year, I had had it and we wrote them a letter stating they needed to start paying their rent on time. That was this past February and since then they have paid on the 1st every month. So, we decided to renew their lease and that next Spring out they'd go so we could then fix up the 2nd floor, raise the rent, and get better tenants. And now this.

Oh, there are the constant annoyances such as: leaving exterior doors unlocked or open (this is the city- hello!), noise from above such as moving furniture around every week or so, losing keys and garage door openers, asking for more heat in winter while coming to our door wearing a t-shirt, shorts & flip flops in January, asking to "use our grill" and then taking it off the premises to cook for 50 people returning it caked in grease (it's a stationary grill not a portable), and just too much traffic in and out of the apartment with a revolving door of third roommates and guests that stay for weeks. I may as well go on: asking us to change their lightbulbs and put new batteries in their fire alarms, breaking a brand new screen frame and losing a light fixture.

Oh, I forgot that they are slobs.

I guess I needed to vent, but I will relish the day I can tell them, "No, we won't renew your lease. We need to fix up the apartment. Buh-bye!" And then we can get some nice quiet couple to live up there who will take care of the place and have some sense.

Monday, July 25, 2005

French doors

We are pretty certain there used to be French doors over the entrance to our two-flat. It makes sense when you look at the sill there. It's the only thing that makes sense. We'd like to restore them someday and change the awning when it's ready to be replaced. We envision some nice ironwork framing the doors and for safety of course.

The wall to the room where those windows are was added at some point also. It makes the apartment a 2 BR plus den. When we rehab the upstairs, we may restore that as well and open up the room again-perhaps with a half wall, so that a desk could go behind it.

Notice the a/c in the window? We told our tenant he could not put an a/c in that window because there is no sill, but he did it anyway. I was pretty po'd about that. Don't get me started on our tenants though. They are on my bad list.

You can see our new address plaque and light in this photo too. Steve obscured the address number in PhotoShop. The door will be replaced with one Steve is going to build. Maybe next year, depending how other projects progress.

I thought I'd share some of our future plans as during the week not much happens on the house.
Like I've said, we are in it for the long haul!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bracket trim

I think I mentioned before that we were planning to add a piece of trim between the brackets to obscure the under shelf lights we will have.

Saturday, we rode our bikes over to the local lighting store, Marshall Electric and we were lucky to find some small slimline lights that will work between the brackets. We are putting in two 6" lights. The wiring is already there, we just need to connect them.
Steve worked on making templates for the trim pieces on Saturday, while I was digging in the yard.
Here's his process for making a template: First he takes measurements and then draws the pieces out on the computer using Illustrator. Then, he prints them out and spray mounts them to posterboard for rigidity. He then places them in position and they usually need adjusting because 1/16" gap is too much. They must fit precisely and a template is the best way to accomplish this.

After the template is completed, Steve will spray mount it to the piece of wood he is cutting, and cut outside the lines using a bandsaw. After that, he sands it to fit perfectly.

This time Steve made two templates as we were considering two different designs for the trim pieces. We selected the arched one as we think it goes better with the design of the brackets.

The push is for us to wrap up the lights and trim on the shelving before my Dad comes over 8/6. I think we can swing it. Steve will have to go to the Lincoln Park woodshop, since ours is out of commission.

I took a break from stripping this weekend and today was over 100 degrees out so we went to the lake for a swim. It felt good to do nothing for a change...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

To do it again

Pigeon Point's question this week asked how many houses we have remodeled. It looks like most of us are on our first. I also noticed a few comments on HiP about the subject. Jeannie saying resoundingly, "not" in terms of taking on another house down the road. I know what she means, not because I can't wait for all this remodeling to be over so I can focus on other areas of my life (although to some extent that is true). But actually, it's more like this. There is so much that we want to do with this place, I can't imagine being finished for years to come.

Take the front and back yard for example. We've done quite a bit of work on them over the past few years, mainly digging beds and planting alot of perennials and a few trees .
I am happy with both the yards, but we have BIG plans for them. Really, we have barely scratched the surface with what we want to do.

Take the front yard, pictured above. There will be no grass when I'm finished. There will be evergreen shrubs and a hydrangea. The sidewalk along the right side will be jackhammered out and the bed that is up against the building will be gone. There will be a wrought iron fence and a new stone retaining wall in front. I won't even mention our idea to add French Doors to the 2nd floor. We believe originally there were French doors there.

For the backyard, we are still deciding, but the two things we need more of are shade and privacy screen. We have a 6 foot fence on both sides, but we need a higher screen to block out the alley. Therefore we are planning a pergola and some arbor vitaes that will only grow so big for our modest city lot. I think for next summer, we will get one of those triangular screens that you can attach to the building and they use for shading landscapes. Again, the elimination of all grass is on the agenda as is a new patio. Our current one, which you can't see in this photo is a concrete pad.

All these things cost money even if you do the work yourselves. Good sized trees, stone retaining walls, and patios don't come cheap! Therefore, it will take us a while to get to our dream yard. But the vision is there. And that my friends, is why I don't think we'll be leaving here anytime soon.

Friday, July 22, 2005

blogged out

I guess I've been a little OD'd on the computer in general. Sometimes, it seems like I spend all day at work writing emails and making phone calls- ugh! And then I come home and stare at the computer more.

I love reading people's blogs and writing my own, but sometimes maybe we all need a break. That's why I haven't posted too much this week. I actually took today off work (OD'd on work too it seems) and did some housecleaning (got to keep those finished rooms up to snuff) and went shopping with my Mom. We went to REI and also a Garden Center and got some perennials. I haven't bought any all summer and they are on sale now. So, tomorrow I'll be expanding the beds and planting. We are going to the lighting store in the morning to look at small halogen lights for under our shelving. Hopefully, we'll get lucky and find something that will work.

Steve has things to attend to as well: adding the hardware for the
swing door so it can stay open, and making templates for the trim he is adding to the shelving in the kitchen. The trim will obscure the lights underneath. I think it will be a nice touch and finish them off a bit more.

2 weeks from now, we are having my Dad over for dinner and to see the finished kitchen. He hasn't seen it for a while as we usually go visit him on his turf . It will be nice to show him the finished room. It will be my first real dinner party with the new kitchen-woohoo!

Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Stripping Wood Using a Heat Gun 101

As promised, I am posting more detail on my process for removing paint from wood using our friend the heat gun.

I love the looks I get from people when they ask what I am doing on the weekend, and I tell them, Oh, I'll be stripping paint off wood." I wish I had a camera because it would be a very funny blog post. I mean, I don't know what their problem is, it's not like I say, "Oh, I'm just going to watch paint dry" or something like that.

As you who have done it know (and there are too many of you to mention here), removing paint from wood is a real accomplishment filled with gratification.
Some just don't seem to understand and that my friends is why we have Houseblogs! People who not only enjoy stripping paint off wood (well, kind of) but they will also read about it!

Here's my basic how-to: (Warning: If you don't want to read minutiae-stop now!)

Before I even begin stripping, I remove all nails from the boards. I use a vise grip pliers to pull them out the back to avoid damaging the wood on the front of the board. If you hammer them out from behind, it causes more damage to the wood. Sometimes the nails break off in the wood and then I get out the nail set and hammer them out until I can try the pliers again. I usually do this task the weekend before I strip the wood as I find this pretty tiring and time consuming.

First off, I set up my work area. I like to have a "dirty" board that I use as a table. I also get my work clothes and shoes on. (Steve filing my scrapers- isn't that sweet?)

Here's a list of what I gather up for this task:
2 sharpened scrapers
2 empty coffee cans for the scrapings and denatured alcohol
cloth gloves
chemical resistant gloves(which I wear under the cloth gloves)
heat gun
extension cord
stool (for sitting on)
block of wood
paint grade steel wool

Most important is to have clean sharpened scrapers.

The kind pictured are the ones that I find easiest to work with. I like a smaller scraper because I feel I have more control.

The reason you need 2 is that one is used to scrape the excess gunk off the active scraper pretty much constantly. If the scraper gets gunked up, it becomes less effective and leaves more paint residue on the board.

Say I am working on a piece of trim that has been removed. What makes this awkward is that there is nothing to push against. If it was on the wall for example, I could leverage the wall. What I do is clamp a small board to the end of my wood "table" so that I can push the trim up against it. Without the leverage it is a lot harder.

I usually heat up a 3" x 5" area of the board. It doesn't take very long maybe 30 seconds. If it starts bubbling at all, you have definitely heated it up enough. After a short time, one really gets a sense of how long it takes to heat the paint up and things move along smoothly.

As I said in a previous post, for a piece of trim about 6 feet long and 6" wide, it takes me about 35 minutes. I try to get the pieces very clean to avoid having to really scrub them with the denatured alcohol afterwards.

Boards post heat gun pre-denatured alcohol

After stripping the front and sides of the piece, I wash it down with denatured alcohol and paint grade steel wool. It seems to take a bit of elbow grease. I also scrape off any leftover paint chips at that time. Then I have a clean board that is ready to be sanded on a future date.

I used to apply stripper after heat gunning to get the residue off, but recently found out that isn't needed. Denatured alcohol does the trick, but it does take a bit more scrubbing that using chemical stripper.

There are many many posts on stripping, too bad we can't have a searchable database, but the info is there if you look for it. Hope this was helpful. When I stripped my first piece of furniture, I went to the internet in search of how-to info and I found some very good information on the subject.

I should mention that when you do stripping with a heat gun indoors on moulding that is still installed, there are many other factors to consider, including potential fire hazards. Maybe this warrants a Stripping 102 post.

For posterity: Here's the very first piece of furniture or wood I ever stripped. If you can imagine, it was painted orange probably in the 60's or 70's. I did not even stain it or anything, it had such a nice patina.

Good night housebloggers!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Coming Through!

This is the new mantra in our house after this weekend. No, no one hit themselves in the head or knocked anyone off a ladder, etc... Rather, Steve recuperated enough from his injured back to install our swinging door in the doorway between the dining room and hallway to the kitchen. Hence the "coming through" mantra as this door doesn't have a window.

There were a few ideas behind this door. One was the separate the house for better cooling in the summer. We are pretty economical with the a/c and separating off the back of the house will help keep the bill down. Also, if you cook in the kitchen, the heat won't spread to the rest of the house. Another benefit is that should one person want to hit the sack early, and another watch TV until all hours, the person in the bedroom won't hear anything through that door. Or if we have house guests, it gives a bit more privacy.

It's a salvaged 6-paneled Oak door and we got it at Renovation Source over on Southport Avenue just down the street from the historic Music Box Theater, which I can't not mention, and which is showing the Penguin Movie we did not go see this weekend.

The door came with some monster hinges and was not painted. I stripped it and sanded it and applied a light coat of stain. We bought it about 3 years ago I think, which is proof that while some things may take a while to get to, if you keep at it, eventually you get there!

We also bought some push plates for it from the same place and more recently got some hardware to hold the door open for the times we want it open. This will be most of the time I am pretty sure.

View from the dining room. The screws still need to be painted. I treated the hinges with rust remover and then painted them. They need to be retouched too.

We had a snafu occur while installing the door that is a bit embarrassing to recount, but maybe it will make someone else out there feel better for having made a silly fatigue-induced mistake themself. If it does, that makes me glad.

The hinges are inset into the door jamb for strength and in order to do this, Steve had to chisel out the precise space for the hinges to fit. Well, one went without the hitch, the other Steve had held the hinge backwards and as result chiseled out the wrong spot. Now he has to patch the wood in that spot in addition to filling the old spots where a different door was hinged.

Now I suppose we could have just replaced that part of the frame, but we had to replace a lot of missing wood in the kitchen and it added up to alot of money. Plus, I really prefer to keep the original super straight grain wood wherever we can, even with the nail holes and dings. Our wood is in pretty good shape and plus that's what they make wood filler and wood glue for.

Steve does a very good job at patching as well. Here's one example:

The funniest thing about our new door besides 2 grown adults yelling "coming through" like they are working in a restuarant is our dogs. They are completely stymied by the door. They are small dogs and I doubt they could even move this door. Maybe if I put a steak on the floor on the other side I could train them to open it. Like I said, they are small, but not dumb. They are wise to approach this swinging monster with caution.

I am kind of ambivalent on the door. The wood looks like red oak and most of our moulding in here looks to me more brown. The door was quite old and I stripped it but it has a patina that is a little red. I wonder if shellac would make it more brown. I know just who I can ask about that if he reads this- Gary?

As for me, this weekend I stripped the remaining trim for the entry and I washed it down w/ denatured alchohol saving myself that extra step of using stripper. See, reading houseblogs can make you work smarter. I am going to do a separate post on the stripping with a little how-to because I think my last one wasn't detailed enough.

"Coming through!" Actually the mantra is more like this, "zzzzzzzzz.....zzzzzz" as we are tired yet again. When will we ever learn?

Every Monday, it's like "Oh, I have to take a break." And then by the weekend, I'm feeling so much better that I'm ready to go again. It's hilarious to think that working a full-time job is my "break."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Open Mouth Insert Foot

Some of you may be familiar with this phenomenon. But I know some of you are way too smart to say the dumb things I do sometimes. Well, honestly I don't think they are dumb- they're just my reality and sometimes that reality clashes with a certain other person's reality.

Many of you will have seen some of the woodworking that Steve has done and he does a fabulous job. This work takes patience though and although I am told by many that I am a very patient person, sometimes I fall short in a certain someone's opinion.

Today, Steve took half a day off work and spent 4 1/2 hours working on 2 pieces of moulding. When I came home one of them was up and the other was drying on the back porch. Now, mind you these were redos that many people would be satisfied with I suspect. Steve's fudge factor is like 1/8" and he doesn't really like to leave things at that. He prefers a 1/16". And it's really hard for me to wrap my mind around spending 4 1/2 hours on 2 boards.

So when I came home and he showed me what he'd done, I made the mistake of saying, "Well, I'm glad you were able to work today, because if that was all you got done all weekend, I'd be disappointed."

And then I get "the look." "The look" basically tells me to go crawl back to the rock from which I slithered out of. It says...well I won't tell you what it says, but suffice it to say, I have offended the great artist Steve (sigh).

And then he said the words that struck fear into my heart, "I'm going to go on strike for a month- you just wait." As I laugh nervously and subsequently say, "Can we just pretend I didn't say that?"

And then he says, "Just for that, you're buying dinner tonight."
And I say, "Drats!"

Everything has its ups and downs, it's silver lining and rusted out bottom, including renovating a house and a relationship at times. Sometimes we get testy, but today I don't think I was the testy one...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

No, we're not dead...

Just resting....

soon we'll be ready to run free again...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Crash and burn

Alas, I just typed almost and entire post and then somehow lost it. I'll try and recreate it.

I've hit the fatigue wall again. How annoying that it slows my work down.

This morning I left for work and saw more shards of wood (see last post) and I got mad again. I will be buying that red pepper spray recommended by Stucco House stat.

We may be taking a break this weekend since I am so draggy and Steve's back is hurting. We are just falling to pieces, kind of like the wood shards I saw on the ground this morning- Scrappy you cad!! (Sorry, I'll try to control myself)

Anyway, we might just go shopping for under shelf lights this weekend and go see that new Penguin movie narrated by Morgan Freeman. He has a soothing voice and from what I hear, those penguins have it pretty rough and maybe it will make me feel better to see them overcome their obstacles.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Scrappy the most evil squirrel in all the world

Last week, I noticed shreds of wood near the spigot for the hose. I thought it was odd, but then we get so much construction debris from the new condo building next door that I figured it came from something they were doing.

Then, I found this- with telltale knaw marks:

I looked up at the four stained glass windows on the side of the building and I could see the first floor looked okay, but suspected the knarled wood trim had come from above and I don't mean heaven.

On the bright side, one of the advantages of this new 3-story condo building is that Steve asked the guys if he could go in and look at our windows from their building rather than pulling out the 30 foot ladder (not something you want to do on a Monday morning)

and here's what he found:

Here's a close up:

We know who did it of course: Scrappy. Yes, we name our neighborhood squirrels silly names and we feed them peanuts in the winter and this is the thanks we get.

The guilty party: beware Scrappy-the most evil squirrel in the land

Seriously, yet another project for Steve will be rebuilding the frames on the 4 stained glass windows (2 per floor) but obviously he hasn't time this year. We will probably end up screwing a storm window onto the moulding to protect the window till next year.

And if another houseblogger posts on shredded wood this week, I say we've got a theme going.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Brackets and Shelving Finished (pictures)

Steve is going to add a piece of front trim between the brackets to finish it off and hide the under-shelving lighting we will have, but here they are in all their glory.

I have to say that after all the waiting, I love them. There is something so incredible about having pieces of furniture that Steve has made himself. I don't know, they just have this great permanent kind of aura. All the work he puts in just emanates from the pieces and I love them.

Eventually, we will get some pictures to go over them too.

Here's a side view:

toekicks are in:

Remaining to do in the kitchen:
Fix a few switchplate snafus.
Add a few plynth blocks.
Finish the air gap install.
and a little project we like to call "storage nirvana" or the pantry.

and some fun was had this weekend too at the lakefront:

Yes, the little wiener dog is quite a strong swimmer!

Woman Stripping

Who can resist a stripping joke once in a while, right? Heat gun in hand, yesterday I went to work on the entry trim. I wanted to have a little reality check with my fellow strippers out there.

Here is a picture of the boards I stripped yesterday.

Here's a close-up

If you count the boards in the top photo, there are 8. Eight boards took me about 4 1/2 hours, which is 33.75 minutes per board. I am throwing down the gauntlet now, "Can you do it faster?" And if so, please do tell how. I had to do the front and sides and to be fair keep that in mind.

This is way faster than chemical strippers for certain. I have used the SPR in the past on some doors and I think that was faster.

Here's a photo of my heat gun. I have to say that I don't feel as attached as some people, but then I haven't done any major stripping for a year, so we are just getting reacquainted now.

See my index finger there poised? Well, that little digit is numb today. I forgot about that part. 5 or so hours of holding a vibrating gun and my finger goes numb. I was wearing chemical resistent gloves, but maybe leather would prevent this?

And finally, I've seen quite a few discussions of stripping wood around glass. Here's one solution we've found: Heat shields. Plumbers use them and we got ours at a plumbing supply store, but it seems to work well for protecting glass while stripping.

Oh, one other question I had for people, do you wash down the boards with Denatured alchohol immediately after heat gunning them? Or do you pile them up and go back and wash them all down at once.

Helpful tip:
1. I noticed that letting the boards sit out in the hot sun is helpful because the sun starts the process. The boards that were sitting out melting stripped faster.

Next weekend, I'll wash down the boards and finish the remaining boards. They are mostly plynth blocks and smaller pieces of trim so it shouldn't take as long.

Friday, July 08, 2005

what would we do without Houseblogs?

Sometimes the houseblogs world is abuzz. I just love that. I think I am going to name my houseblogs fixation after a really good book I read years ago: "Geek Love". The book is about a so-called carnival freak family. The parents try to make freak babies so the show can go on. The book is narrated by a dwarf- anyone read it?

I am going to take this opportunity to thank our humble Houseblog hosts Aaron & Jeannie.

A really big THANK YOU and God speed from Chicago 2-flat. I don't know how I managed my stress etc... before without being able to read other people's stories on a more than daily basis but it's sure easier now.

Everyone, lets' give Aaron and Jeannie a well-deserved round of applause!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Ready for landing

I think they had a special at Menard's on carriage lights, what do you think?

The new "lighting store" aka condo conversion down the street from us is trying get planes to land in their courtyard. I think I'm going to call the Alderman about this....

Footnote: total of 10 lights with 4 shades and bulbs per fixture + 2 lights at the entry gate + a sconce on each entry door of which there are 4 comes to grand total of 46 lightbulbs burning brightly. Actually tonight I noticed 3 burned out already.

I think I like picking on condo conversions. I'm bad. (sound effect: evil maniacal laughter in the background)

City Livin'

I was inspired by Minor Adjustments' funny and bizarre post this morning to share my funny city living story from last weekend. It's short, but it pretty much sums up alot about my neighborhood.

Steve and I were out on the front yard on Saturday morning early like 7am. I was in my robe and checking on the flowers. Steve was smoking a cigarette (bad Steve). Two guys walked by and said good morning and then one of them paused and turned to me and...

No, he didn't ask for a cigarette -that would be too common to make a good story (And incidentally Steve never gives out cigarettes to anyone).

He had a packaged breakfast sandwich in his hand and he asked me to, "Throw it in the microwave for a few minutes for him."

What do you think I did in my morning daze?

I microwaved it of course.
I said, "How long?"
and he said, "Till it's super hot." and off I went to the microwave.

I brought it back to him and he was on his merry way to the bus stop. Like I said, city living.

This whole thing reminds me of the issues we face in our gentrifying/transitional neighborhood on a daily basis. For example: 2 guys are sitting across the street on a stoop drinking beer out of bags. They aren't being loud or anything. Do we call the police? I have to say that I feel bad for people and if they aren't being truly disruptive, I let it slide sometimes but I dislike the beer bottles they leave behind etc...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Still drying

The kitchen shelves are still installed yet empty while the stain dries. During down time last night I made a "To Do" list for the entry and divided up the tasks to see who will be doing what.

Here it is:
Strip, Sand & Stain moulding - Jocelyn
Reinforce existing furring strips - Steve (maybe J too)
Add new framing - Steve (maybe J too)
Insulate walls & ceiling - Jocelyn
Drywall - S & J
Taping - Steve
Sanding walls - Steve (maybe J)
Prime & Paint walls - S & J
Re-install mouldings - Steve (without question)
Replace glass on one door & pane - S & J
Clean floor - Jocelyn
Curtains - Jocelyn

There are some things that Steve is just way better than me at- finish carpentry is one of them.

I am pretty strong, but not as skilled with a hammer or a drill. But, this time I am thinking I may reinforce the furring strips and install the new framing myself.

Doing this room now was my idea, I pushed for it and I am supplying the capital so I have to try and do as much as possible so Steve can work on the projects he has had planned.

And they are important ones. The pantry for one. He is building custom built-in oak shelving. He is even making a storage compartment for my beloved Dyson vacuum. And there will be a small pot rack too. We put framing in the ceiling to support it.

I am convinced after he finishes this, we will be in storage nirvana.

Here's the pantry before we cleaned it up:

Here's the outside view currently:

Pantry light

and Here is inside currently:

You probably notice the discoloration on the floor there. We believe it was water damage as the refridgerator used to be in the pantry. We could have replaced those boards, but it really doesn't bother us. After all, it's a 100+ year old floor. I know I won't look brand new when I'm 100.

Steve's other "project" is tuckpointing the sides of our building. I won't go into that one right now.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Does not compute....

The idea of actually finishing our kitchen proper (the pantry won't be done for a few months perhaps) just doesn't fit with my reality. Steve put the toe kicks in today, adjusted the stove height, adjusted a faulty cabinet from Kraftmaid, and we put the shelves in place.

We can't actually put anything on them for a few days until the stain really cures at which point I will post photos. We like them though, thank God. The room needs some pictures on the walls too to break up the green, yellow, and oak color palatte in there.

I am planning to get some cool reprints of cookbook covers from The Library of Congress archives. If you've never checked it out, you can get real prints from negatives in their database, which is vast. This is a great way to get some affordable art on your walls.

They have a huge collection of Edward Curtis photos as well. There are plenty of options as to how you have them printed (archivally or not for example).

We keep our house pretty clutter-free. For one thing, it is only 1200 square feet and clutter makes rooms look smaller. Plus, we still are generating dust, and it just makes more to clean.

I look forward to the day when all my books can come out of the basement and be put onto the wall of bookcases that Steve is going to make for the den. That will be a very happy day.
My books are like old dear friends that I can never seem to part with. I firmly believe that one can travel to many distant places and meet all kinds of people reading books.

My BIG dream (and hopefully no one will stomp on it here) is to finish our house and have a "writing room" for myself where I can write those books I know I have in me. Do any of you have dreams deferred for after you finish your restorations? I mean I know, "we'll never be finished really, but things do die down after a while."

Happy 4th of July. We're skipping the festivities this year in favor of the comfort of home and peace and quiet.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

We've got conduit

As many of us have experienced, when you open up a wall in an older building, you are kind of taking your life (or your bank account) into your hands. You often don't know what frightening hidden problem will leap out at you uninvited.

In this vein, we were relieved and not too surprised to find that our building wiring was already in conduit when we opened up the wall. There was some bx flexible conduit that we have replaced. In the City of Chicago, you can run bx for 6 feet or under; anything longer must be conduit. Not sure how this compares with other areas. I suspect other big cities have comparable codes. It makes sense to me that here in Chicago, having had the devastating Great Chicago fire in our history, we would be extra careful.

Having wiring replaced reminds me of getting cavaties filled at the dentist. It's a good thing and it gives you peace of mind, but it's not the most "fun" thing to spend money on. Too bad we can't take x-rays of our home's walls before opening them up! I'd say that getting new wiring is more fun hands down than getting fillings though, definitely.

Anyway, the electrician was here yesterday and did a great job. He did find some old wiring in conduit that we had him replace since the walls were open. He also ran conduit for the outside light and sconce in the vestibule both with electric eyes, and ran wiring for an entry/intercom system for all 3 floors. We were planning to only have the wires run and then add the system later, but after I got a nice bonus at work on Friday, we decided to go for it and will be installing the intercoms and strikes (that buzz the doors open remotely) next week.

Here's a few shots of the work. The colored wires are for the intercom system.

Intercom wiring going upstairs to the 2nd floor unit.

Conduit at top going to the outside light.

And while the electrician was doing his thing with Steve as helper, pulling wires and what not, I was outside starting at 7:30am working on the following:
1. Mowing the lawn (We use a manual push mower and a rake, so this is more involved than it sounds)

2. Removing the monster nails from all the trim for the entry.
3. Stripping a small table I am going to keep on the back porch.

4. Sanding the shelves with the orbital sander. Grits used: 60, 80.120, 220
5. Staining the shelves.

Steve also filed the last bit of countertop and adjusted the cabinet that was slightly off kilter as well as helping me stain and bringing the boards back from the woodshop.

We finished the day at dusk, just in time to see our new light go on. Just to clarify, the wet pavement is from my neighbor's sprinkler; I wish it was from rain as we are in a major drought here. Illinois corn is history this year.