Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blue! No—yellow!

We painted our house!

Suddenly, a few weeks ago, we decided to paint the house this fall. It was less a matter of forming the plan than being seized by it. We realized that, if the weather held, we’d have just enough free days to pull it off before the cold arrives, and there’s nothing we like better than a ridiculous time crunch. So whee! Here we go!

Day 1

Early wake-up and over the mountain to the paint store in Waynesboro, where we picked up a fourth color sample just to satisfy my curiosity about Solaria, even though we were already pretty sure we liked Butter Up better than Midday or Optimistic Yellow. Then to the hardware store to rent a pressure-washer. Once the beast was in the back of our truck, we blasted home and got right to work, hoping to slide in under the four-hour time limit on the rental.

But—but!—a number of problems ensued. One: the soap wouldn’t draw into the sprayer, and we definitely needed soap for our mildewed palace. John called the store, got the helpful suggestion to use a bigger nozzle, and soldiered on. Two: A less helpful suggestion that we could use the Simple Green soap straight, without pre-diluting, turned out to be Simply Wrong. We went through an entire $14 gallon in no time flat, and John had to run out for more.

Three: While standing on the deck to clean the peak of the north side of the house, John changed out the nozzles and then tested the new one, to make sure it was on tight, by pointing the sprayer up over the trees and pulling the trigger. Well, it wasn’t on tight. The yellow nozzle flew over the front of our yard, beyond the hedges, and disappeared. We walked around the front edge of our neighbor’s property a few minutes until I spotted a yellow thing among all the yellow leaves and aha! Back to work.

All in all, though, it went quickly and John was a trooper with that loud, dripping machine that got his feet and head all wet as he worked his way around the house. Meanwhile I cut back vegetation and cleared stuff away from the walls. One exciting moment came when I used a drywall knife to pry a giant hornet’s nest—which I was 99.9% sure was abandoned—off the west side wall. Anybody home? No, but the basketball-sized thing was amazing once it was down and we could see inside it.

We returned the sprayer and went back to the paint store, confident in our final choice of Butter Up. After going through numerous questions with the lone employee, we said “OK, mix us up five gallons of Butter Up in Satin-finish Super Paint” and he said OK and then looked at his computer and announced that the color we’d chosen required a light yellow base, which would tend to fade very quickly when used on an exterior.

It seemed like a threatening moment, but we thought we’d solved it when we all realized that the sample we’d previously bought (and painted onto a piece of drywall) was mixed using a white base, and since we liked that color, we could indeed use a white base (which is less prone to fading) and all would be well.

Off we went with our five gallons of paint.

Day 2

We were making coffee and getting psyched up for a full day of painting when John remembered that we should test out the paint we’d bought and make sure it did, in fact, match the color of our sample. So I painted some onto the drywall and guess what? It wasn’t even close.

We drove back over the mountain.

Walked into the store. Same lone employee. He sees us coming and says “Didn’t match up? I didn’t think it would.”

That was only the beginning of the strange, circular conversations we had: with him, with the people at a different paint store, back to the original guy, on the phone, then more employees at a different location of the same chain. At one point we were contemplating rounding up discontinued paint from three different towns in Central Virginia separated by dozens of miles. My favorite moment was when we asked “But how long would it last before it faded?” and the guy answered, “Depends on the weather. If it’s sunny every day for the next year, it might fade in a year.” When's the last time we had a solid year of sunshine? I looked over at another customer in the store and he was looking back at me with a bemused, “better-you-than-me” expression.

Long story short: After several tense hours and yet another trip over the mountain, we exchanged our five gallons of wrong-color paint for eleven gallons of the right color, in a better-quality paint, for a low low price.

And finally, at 3pm on an uncommonly beautiful (i.e., perfect for painting) day, we were ready to begin.

We put the big ladder against the south side—not quite in the peak—and I climbed up and applied the first bit of cheery sunny yellow to our rainy-day house!

And from there, it was honestly just a lot of painting. We got about two-thirds of that big south side done that day. Then we feasted.

- Erika

Day 3

Day 3 was pretty much like Day 2. We finished painting the south side of the house, then we painted the back wall outside the bathroom, and spent the rest of the day into dusk painting the north side of the house. I started getting over my uneasy feelings of being up on the big ladder.

Day 4

Day 4 was just like Day 3 and Day 2! This time, we painted the front of the house, and then Erika painted the sides of the dormer (using the chicken ladder) and I got to work on getting a second coat of paint onto the south wall. Then Erika joined me in the second coating business and we finished that wall up before dusk.

So what's left? Putting a second coat on the rest of the house and painting the back porch!

- John

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In which we shed our burdens, and burden our shed

Let’s hear it for outbuildings, people! We’ve got a nice one, yes indeedy we do. Last time we posted, we’d just installed a floor. And now we have also fixed up the siding, repaired the front door and built shelves and a loft inside! And moved our stuff in! Yeehaw!

Everything, to our delight, was buildable with wood we already had laying around—right outside the shed, as a matter of fact. The shelves were easy to make using triangles we’d cut out from our front porch stair project lo these many months ago. And sections of old horse fence that someone freecycled to us—those made great shelf surfaces. They’re sturdy and they have wicked patina. We knocked them out quickly and couldn’t resist immediately storing things on them.

And we built the loft from some of the rock-hard actual 2x4s, made of oak, that we’d taken out of the house when removing walls and a ceiling. It’s amazing stuff; one plank weighs, I’m guessing, 500 pounds. It resisted our efforts to get screws and nails into it, but we prevailed. More wedding dance-floor plywood made the “floor” of the loft—just like the shed floor, cut to crazy custom angles to accommodate our little building’s non-squareness. We slid it into place and it fit like a glove.

Most of that stuff happened Saturday, followed by a much-needed session of sitting in the creek with cold beers, then a dinner of pasta with ricotta and local tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, basil, a salad of local lettuce and cukes and goat cheese and nasturtiums, local bread, local vinegar…argh! The food around here, at this time of year, is off the chain. Peach/blackberry cobbler for dessert. Check it.

Sunday I vacuumed out the entire shed while John started cleaning up the wood pile outside, and then we moved everything we want to keep from our back porch into the shed. Made some nice little custom hanging systems for stuff and kept the floor pretty clear for moving around. It’s sweet. Now we have to figure out how to be rid all that stuff on the back porch we don’t want, never use, aren’t sure what to do with.

Last step was hanging a horseshoe over the shed door. Hurrah.

- Erika

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Our shed has a floor!

When last we spoke, we had installed four of six floor joists and were a little bit dreading the last two. Well, we broke through and got them in without too much trouble. John repaired the Sawzall so he could cut away this random edge of a plank that was sticking into the space where one of the joists would go, and that made it all possible. We also had to use our mattock to trench out spaces for the joists—otherwise they would have been resting on soil. And though this isn’t what you’d call a super-tight building envelope, untreated wood resting on soil is not up to our own personal code. We’re perfectionists, people.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that we finished the frame and then whipped up a floor using half-inch plywood from our wedding dance floor. It’s polyurethaned to a high shine and blessed with the boogie of nearly all our family and friends. The funny thing is this: the shed is more of a parallelogram than a rectangle, the joists are on these odd angles for various reasons, the entire floor frame slopes down by design…weird nailers stick up into the floor space…it’s extremely funky, in other words—but nonetheless we lovingly and carefully cut this floor to fit right into the space that’s given. It’s like a nice custom floor for a crazy old shed. For some reason photos straighten it all out and make it look normal, but in person you can see the angles and you expect balls to start rolling uphill, so funhouse-like is the structure.

Anyway, now we’ve got our shiny floor and we’re talking about installing shelves and a little loft, and getting ready to replace siding around the bottom where it had been removed. It’s good stuff. Shedariffic.

- Erika

Monday, June 22, 2009

More progress on the shed

After a little research, we decided not to use cement to set the locust piers. Instead, we opted for packing the posts in with gravel. Well, we don't actually have a supply of angular pea gravel handy, but we do have a large pile of small rocks and gravel as a result of sifting the first round of garden beds that we dug last year.

It was tough work on this warm, solstice weekend. We would fill the wheel barrow and push it out of the woods and up the hill to the shed a half dozen or more times. Once a pier was in place and relatively level, we'd fill the hole about four inches and then Erika would hold the pier with a level on top and keep it right while I tamped the gravel down all around it with a 2x4.

Then we'd add another four inches or so and tamp again. The tamping was done with all our strength, really packing the heck out of it. By the time the hole was full of packed gravel, the post would not budge. Half of each pier was buried. Nice and sturdy, and if we ever decide we need to remove them or something, we can unpack the gravel with a metal rod.

After setting both piers, we jacked the front of the shed up so we could pull the 6x6 beam out, move it over the piers, and measure it for cutting. Once it was cut, we set it in place on the piers and lowered the shed back down onto its new seat and called it a day.

The next day, we used some large nails to spike the beam to the piers and then the shed to the beam. Then we started figuring out how were were going to frame this floor out.

The floor needs to be on a different angle than the shed. That's just the conditions we're working with. So we've got all sorts of funky nailers in place to make this happen. We ended up adding a 2x6 flat across the beam so that the floor joists would gain another inch and a half lift at the front of the shed. We added our diagonal support in the back corner. And we managed to install four of the six joists. The last two will be the toughest because there is some old framing in the way and we'll need to find a creative (or forceful) way to deal with that.

Also, we harvested garlic on Saturday!

- John

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Return of the hammer

By now, the only people reading this are probably our own future selves, indulging in nostalgia. Hello, future selves! And anyone else who happens to be hanging around.

Though we have not posted in a dog's age, we have been working steadily. Mostly on the garden. Currently it is rocking the free world with very beautiful lettuce, cabbage and our first-ever successful broccoli crop (yeah!), as well as promising pepper, tomato and bean patches. The peas, marigolds, squashes and radishes are a little more marginal as yet, but most still have the potential for greatness. We've expanded the areas we grow in, and without much digging at all. Now we can see that the entire backyard will somebody be producing food, and this vision makes us very happy. Next up: fruit trees!

House-wise, there has been a snail's pace attack on the remaining trim painting, which involves large ladders and the need for dry weather. Ladders suck and it's been rainy all May, hence the creeping progress. It will be done soon, though. We have our eye on some front porch work, but we have to wait until the four baby Eastern Phoebes fledge before we go out there with paint scrapers and belt sanders and circular saw. They are currently occupying a very crowded nest on the top of a porch column. You'll recall that we replaced that column, but we left the top plate and the nest in hopes they'd return. And they have! The parents are always around, hunting for insects and looking watchful.

Which brings me to the shed. It's been a bit of an eyesore since we moved it--propped up on concrete blocks and twisted askew from its taxing journey up the hill. Last week we suddenly got the notion to start making it a usable building once again. And so we are. Basically, it needs to have the bottoms of its walls shored up, the foundation rebuilt, and a floor frame and floor put in. Nothing to it.

We've done the first of those four things and started on the second. Shoring up the walls meant adding various bands, planks, diagonals, nailers and plates to the softly rotted wall studs. We're using whatever lumber we have around, making our miter cuts on the back porch, and taking our time. We've both hit our own hands with the hammer. Construction takes some re-getting used to. Also, there is a nest of bees or wasps living inside on the ceiling, so we sometimes have to wait for them to calm down before proceeding.

But the shed is looking much sturdier, and we've straightened out many of its funkier aspects. The days I spent watching my dad jack this thing up must have sunk in, because we've been able to jack it and nail stuff to it without any big hassles.

Yesterday we finished step one and moved on to step two: the two posts that will support the shed's front corners. We decided to use black locust posts for this, setting them in concrete. We already had one in our wood pile, and the other came from the back of our property, chain-sawed by John out of a downed locust tree. Carried that monster back to the yard on our shoulders. And ended up sawing our post out of it with a handsaw when the chainsaw blade proved too dull. This is living!

Next up: level the posts as best we can, and pour concrete. We're psyched to have this thing ready to hold our stuff. Long live Snoopy.

- Erika

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fresh coats

On the list it only reads "putty screw holes in the attic hatch" but what it really means is "put a quality paint on all of the window trim, doors, and baseboards in the living room and dining room." And to that I unofficially added "scrape old paint off all the glass" and Erika added "scrape old paint off the floors around the baseboards."

We chose a nice quality semi-gloss paint in "delicate white," all colors gleamin' in the spectrum. Scraping paint off the window panes with a putty knife takes a while. You do the inside, then do the outside which reveals spots you missed inside. You get those, then you see spots you missed outside. And so on. After scraping the dining room windows, I washed them inside and out.

We washed all the white wood, Erika scraped the paint off the floors, and we got down to painting. The old paint is so dingy. It looks gray compared to the fresh coats. We got two coats on the dining room over the weekend.

Holy cow, what a difference! (And now you can actually see that our walls are "onion powder" and not white!

Erika has been working on the living room this week, as well. Check out the paint on the right, old on the left. Sorry, sorta dark and blurry...

The other improvement/accomplishment was finally making and installing the ceiling plate for the dining room chandelier. We've had this old brass dish serving as a candle holder for well over a year. We actually bought it for the purpose of making a ceiling plate one day. After a couple of false starts (poor design on my part), I figured it out. Just needed to buy a hollow threaded rod and hooped nut thing (sorry, but I hate saying "nipples and nuts"), and a threaded cross plate for the junction box. We also decided to spray paint it a flat brown/lavender which matches the wood grains and other things in the house. The brass as it was clashed with the copper chandelier.

- John

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A frivolous invention

One can live forever with no toilet-paper holder, but we are striving to be a civilized household. Though we deemed “heat system” and “ceilings” more urgent projects, we still gave toilet-paper holder a place on our big list of things to do. (This is notwithstanding John’s claim that the back of the toilet made a fine toilet-paper holder.)

I got an idea a couple weeks ago to use the last of the four wooden drawer pulls to fashion the TPH. (The other three found various spots as part of our trim.) I liked how well the dark wood of the drawer pull matched our sink cabinet, and it seemed that if we cut the pull in half, it would make two arms perfect for holding the plastic springy thing that goes inside the roll.

And it did. The cutting was a death-defying double-operator miter-saw trick, and we made it through sans injury. Then John skillfully drilled depressions (not holes) into the ends of these arms, into which the springy thing would fit. Then we cut a scrap of oak trim to be the “plate,” sanded it, and forstenered two holes in for screws.

We glued the arms onto the plate, and we put two drywall anchor screws into the bathroom wall.

Glue dried, plate went onto wall, roll went onto springy thing, and voila! Civilization.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Working at it

There will come a time, hopefully in the next couple of months, when we will be "done."

(We will never be done.)

But we must be. At some point, there needs to be a "done." We need to be able to say, "hey, we finished fixing up this house and now let's get on with the next big round of modifications: the converting the attic to a bedroom, the kitchen remodel, the tearing off the back porch and laying down a deck, chickens, an outdoor shower, an earth oven..."

Oh so close now. We've been steadily tying up the loose ends and we're making progress. Each week it seems like we cross another thing off the list. Lately, we've been way into molding. We've finally made, painted, and installed baseboards where they had been missing.

We did all sorts of crazy work around the attic hatch above the staircase: plywood, doorstop, cove, quarter round, small pieces glued perpendicular to long ones, a time capsule hidden behind a square of plywood with an old wooden drawer handle mounted to it...we spared no technique for that area! Oh yeah, then we painted the stairwell and all its new trim.

in progress:

the front portion, completed:

the plans that we dated and tucked away as a time capsule:

Also recently crossed off the list: the screen door. It's an old, dry, wooden thing which has had a nasty sag to it since we bought the house. It wasn't doing much for the overall appearance of the front of the house. We installed a couple of steel brackets and glued a few small wood triangles in support of the cross members and now it sits level (pretty much).

We've been trimming around the oak posts! Ended up using a 1/2"x3 red oak arrangement and we think it looks pretty sharp. This is about the time when we discovered the beauty of wood glue

Did some insulating around the chimney (wow, there were some large gaps where a bunch of our heat was escaping) and finally finished insulating the attic.

Oh yeah, and we made a 3-sided wood box to hide the plumbing under the bathroom sink!

We've even ordered a ceiling lamp for the kitchen!

Basically, in our quest to be "done," here's what's left:

- fabricate an "official" toilet paper holder (we started this last night!)
- Choose and install light fixtures in the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and studio
- Sand and paint the front porch
- Put some sort of newel-items on the porch railings
- Finish painting the eaves
- Paint the house (outside)

And then, then we'll be done.


- John