Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who says a little hard work doesn't pay off?

Today, we were featured in a special issue of the Chicago Reader, the leading arts & culture weekly publication in Chicago. The feature is called "The Nest" (Written by Laura Molzahn/Photography by Leslie Schwartz).

I must say we are in some pretty good company. Our section of the feature was called (not surprisingly) "The Bloggers". All the profiles were great. Of course I was super impressed with the one called "The Restorer".

Working on your house is by nature somewhat solitary work, so it's kind of neat to get recognition from "the world at large". Unless of course, you have a bunch of friends as crazy as you are who don't own their own home and really want practice. I don't know anyone like that.

Or then, you could have one of those renovation "parties..." Somehow I think the quality of the work might suffer while drinking alot of beer.

If you are coming to our site from the Reader article, welcome. Feel free to stay while and come back. We still have plenty of work to do!

If you are new to the phenomenon of houseblogging, I have to tell you, you've just hit the motherload. There are houseblogs of all kinds : Victorian, Craftman, Bungalows and then some. There are purists and there are the the tried and true. From the quirky to the romantic.

Perhaps you'll find kindred spirits as I have. Or maybe you'll just enjoy the stories. I myself find keeping up with people's lives over the years fascinating. And I know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Upside to Not Having Buckets of Money

One thing about Chicago winters, I tend to spend much more time indoors. I look around the house and start to think of things I'd like to change or improve. One of the things that occurred to me in January was that I really should shorten the curtains in the dining room to let in more light. That was a reasonably affordable project so I went ahead with it.

Since I'm not independently wealthy, I usually can't do many of the things I want to do at any given moment. I have to wait.

Waiting for things is not always such a bad thing. It gives one time to realize if you really do want them. Case in point, our kitchen remodel, which we thought about for a few years before we actually undertook it. We planned ahead and when it was time to select materials and colors, we had no angst. We knew exactly what we wanted.

Not having tons of money also cuts down on impulse purchases. I've seen plenty of examples of people who will buy something - just because they can. I am convinced this is something to be avoided at all costs. The outcome of such impulse buying is inevitably an overcrowded garage or basement or a closet where shoes constantly fall on your head (been there done that!)

With all the focus more and more on being green and recycling and reuse etc... I find myself trying to think more long term about what I buy. And of course, living in an older home with smaller closets and less space in general makes one more likely to think, "Do I have room for this item?" This can only be a good thing...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Starting Point

Ah yes, the yard in March is not such a pretty place. All plants are dead except for our lone Picea Orientalis, which is hanging in there. We are pretty sure an application of Wilt Pruf and the drought from a few years back were what injured it. (Free advice: Skip the Wilt Pruf spray)

As the Treekeepers told us, "It is possible to love a tree to death." Steve's job is to take care of the trees and he is what I would call extra-conscientious. He waters the trees religiously and even sought out an anti-desiccant spray called Wilt-Pruf to help keep the tree from drying out in winter. Fortunately, it looks like it may recover.

Last weekend I spent a few hours raking and clearing the front and back yard. So, I'm ready for spring, but it's supposed to snow tomorrow-perhaps up to 6 inches!

We have quite a few yard projects we are planning for this summer including some concrete work, so if that interests you, stay tuned.

Addicted to accomplishments

People have often asked me how I find the time to work on the house and then blog about it. I remember one time I was answering that question and explaining what motivates me to keep on going with the DIY house projects.

I told an acquaintance, "I'm kind of addicted to accomplishing something." After I said it, it made me think. It was really an accurate assessment. After several years of doing renovation projects, I find that I am often most satisfied when I see concrete results. Crazy as it may sound, I actually like weeding. I like the feeling of being physically whipped after a hard days labor. I like that I can relate (in a small way) to contractors. And I love the way oak boards look without paint on them.

I used to go to a health club and work out. I used to get manicures. I used to highlight my hair. The results? A slimmer, fitter me with nice nails and hair. Nowadays I much prefer getting my workouts in the backyard heaving bags of mulch around or digging a new flower bed. Stripping layers of paint off wood suits me more than running on a treadmill to nowhere. And manicures? Well, they would just get in the way.

I know that one of the things that keeps me working on our 2-flat is the satisfaction I get from completing projects, from making our little dreams a reality with my very own sweat and muscle and determination.

Every once in a while, I do question how I spend my time. I could be more of a social butterfly after all. Or I could go to the movies more. I can't do the bar scene because I am not a drinker and it bores me when sober. I could do (more) volunteer work, but then I already do that. Maybe I could just try and make my world bigger. The house and all its needs can, after all, be a vacuum.

But then it's also a respite. And I am a quiet person that likes peaceful moments in my yard with Steve and dogs at my side. This is just the person I am. And something about working on our house makes me feel very grounded and very connected. When you spend a few summers stripping layers of paint off 100 year old oak boards, you really feel like the house is yours. It's almost a part of you.

Restoring an old house to me is many things. It's an act of love for one. It's romantic and awful and exhausting and exhilarating. It's also an act of faith that when you die, someone won't come along and tear it down! But even if that happens, it will still have been worth it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The saga of our kitchen continues

Almost 4 years ago, Easter weekend to be exact, we demoed our kitchen. You'll be pleased to know that the kitchen was in fact (mostly) finished back in in 2005. But what we were unable to finish at that time, was our pantry.

We had opted not to demo that room to the studs as we had in the rest of the kitchen, and instead the walls had been covered with 1/4" drywall and a new light fixture put in. It was cleaned up, but not very functional(see photo). After that oh so long road to finishing our kitchen, we were weary and took a little break. Then came the 2nd floor and the summer of the wood pile. The pantry took the back burner.

Our kitchen was clean and functional, but we still had loads of stuff stored in the basement. We longed to be reunited with all our cooking instruments, pots and pans. I feel the same way about my books, most of which are as I write, stored in the basement awaiting the creation of built-in bookshelves.

I can't remember exactly when we started on the pantry project. I kind of dropped off on blogging around that time. I have a memory of staining the shelves in the basement in the fall maybe. Steve had to cut open the wall and add more blocking and then do some taping etc... And we had to find jusssst the riiiggghhht braaaccckkettts. These things take time you know.

Then came the holidays and our wedding. But in January, we got back to it. Steve worked outside in the cold like a trooper.

And's mostly done! Just the bottom shelf and some trim remain to be finished.

Look at that- even a place for my beloved Dyson vacuum. At last!

Originally, we had planned to fit a pot rack in the pantry that would hang from the ceiling. This turned out to be a classic eyes bigger than actual space moment. It won't fit! So, we considered hanging it in the kitchen over the stove. Too cluttery for us.

So now, we have decided to add a few more cabinets. One over the fridge and a double door over the stove. Then, we'll be done with our kitchen. Until we decide to redo the counter tops. I really want soapstone...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Are we there yet?

That's how the past few months have gone. Waiting for winter to end. I want to see some bulbs, buds, see a robin, maybe some juncos...please....

This winter was what we native Chicagoans call "a real Chicago winter" for a change. Lots of snow, with a dash of frigid cold thrown in, more snow, and then some more snow. Then a slight warm up and then...psyche! More snoooowwww...and cold...and snow...zzz....zzz...

My company also moved at the end of January. Winter is not the greatest time to move you know. Especially in the middle of a real Chicago winter. The new office is great, but I think we should start a betting pool on who next will fall ill with "the terrible flu" this year.

I should be grateful because I have not been among the illin'. I'm just one of the people left at work freaking out about all the work we have to do and how on earth will we get it done with everyone out sick all the time?

So, what am doing this weekend? Sitting on the sofa dammit. Oh, and we started making a "to-do list" for this spring/summer/fall. We've got work to do and I'm itchin' to get started.

For kicks, here is last year's list with what we were able to accomplish. Perhaps this will be of comfort to some of you, when you see how much on the list was and wasn't accomplished. Last summer was pretty light for us, really. Some of these items will be pushed out farther and some different things have been added. I'll do another post on this year's goals soon.

Fix single popped screw in mud room inset all nails in trimwork
Adjust hinges on swinging door so we can prop open with $50 hardware we purchased over a year ago...
Put in thresholds for bedroom & dining room
Restore/fix 2 stained glass windows
Add storm windows on all 4 stained glass windows
Refinish floors throughout
Refinish bathtub
Add electrical outlets and light to closet in Bedroom
Purchase & refinish salvage replacement doors for missing doors to den and front mud room
Strip Basement stair door and refinish
Strip trim in bedroom
Install ceiling fan in living room
re-paint radiator covers
Asbestos abatement in basement

Yard & Outdoors:
Install new awnings
Reframe and replace Garage entry door (Some adjustments needed...)
Paint front door
Replace basement windows
Install back yard side door Gate
Install dog run gate
Garage door wood framing paint
Paint front door

Front yard:
Jackhammer sidewalk in front to expand garden beds
Eliminate bed right along side of house and lay patio area
Plant evergreen trees and shrubs for interest in front yard

Fence on north side- new posts and stockade fence
New back porch deck? hahahaha!!!! now that's funny.
Plant evergreen trees and shrubs in backyard for privacy
Add some source of shade

Monday, March 03, 2008

It happened again!

This time, I was much more calm, cool and collected. Steve was in the basement, and I yelled downstairs, "Steve! There is water coming from upstairs." He immediately shut off the water and came upstairs.

Again, it was over the bathroom door. Again, the toilet had overflowed. Moments later, a knock on the door. Our tenant was desperate to use the loo, you see. If you think about it, the whole situation is pretty funny really. Water comes pouring down over our bathroom door. Moments later tenant comes in with legs crossed begging to use our bathroom. Funny.

Fortunately, there was no real damage as the water came through the door trim again, which is just so weird.

Of course, the first question Steve asked was, "Has the toilet been acting up?" Our tenant, in a meek voice said, "Well, yes a little, but I didn't notice it until this morning."

A yes, the life of a landlord is filled with trials and tribulations. Those who throw away a plunger because it has feces on it and those who don't heed warning signs. It's best to just laugh sometimes.

p.s. We do like these tenants pretty well. They are just a bit young and inexperienced.

What is determination?

Soon after I met Steve, he showed me his 2-flat (now our 2-flat). He took me inside and showed me the coffered ceiling he had spent the summer stripping.

I just stood there amazed and I thought to myself, "this is a man who is not afraid of commitment." I was moved and I like to tell the story because it brings that moment back to me.

Obviously, I was destined to become his partner in rehab and life.

Which brings me to the subject of these photos of Steve working outside in January. This winter, Steve (with my help) has almost finished the pantry.

The day these photos were taken had to be about 20 degrees. Again, Steve never ceases to amaze me. This is what I call determination.

And that is what it takes to renovate an old house, unless of course you have money, lots of money and even then you have to be determined and keep writing those checks.

Many of us old house people like to joke about how "crazy" we are taking this challenge on, but what is life without a challenge anyway?

I also think that it goes back to character. Old houses have it. We value it. As a result, we have it too.