Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Gifts O. Henry Style?

Lisa and I always seem to be on the same wavelength when we give each other gifts. A typical example: for our 5th anniversary Without either of us knowing what the other was planning I gave her an outdoor chimney, and she bought two cedar yard chairs. This year's Christmas gifts were not complementary like those, but still were oddly parallel.

I had been thinking about a picture for above the mantle, and bought one through Friends of Historic Preservation. This picture was in a house that the City of Iowa City had condemned, and FHP bought to restore. The painting is an original oil of a coastal landscape. It looks like northern California to me. Lisa is very much a "water person" and I knew she'd like it. I had it framed by the local A&C picture person, and it looks great. I had it hanging in my office for a month and really liked it. I gave it to Lisa on Christmas Eve so we could have it up when the family came for dinner, it got many compliments.

Lisa then gave her present to me early, so we could also use it on Christmas Eve: a new digital camera, so that I can record our family and our house projects with better quaility than I have been. So here I am using my present to show hers:

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

More and More Floor

We worked upstairs on the floor again today. We put in spline (a piece to put in the back of a groove piece to allow you to work in the opposite direction) and now have the area between the top of the stairway and the laundry door finished.

Sometimes we have a warped board, here's how we get it into place: We screw down a block and use a crow bar to push it into place. This can be done by one person, who pushes and nails, but it’s much easier with two.

As we came to the other side of the stairway we knew we'd need to put a narrow piece in before we ran a full length piece alongside where the balustrade will go. Luckily we needed an inch and a half, and I have some boards of that width, which beats ripping a piece on the table saw.

We then glued and screwed down the first board on the other side of the stairs:

We are now working into the sitting room. When I stopped tonight we have 3 and a half feet to go to finish the room.

John may stop by tomorrow with the bathroom window he built.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Upstairs Bowling Alley

Thursday Pete and I continued to work on the flooring upstairs. We came out even at the two doors down the hallway, and then worked into both of the girls' bedrooms.

Using the same technique that we did to start, we set a single board across each room at the beginning of the doorway by snapping a line parallel with the far wall, and then gluing and screwing it into place. We then worked completely across one room, into the hallway and into the other room. This makes for a 34 foot run through the doorway. If we could only find the kids' plastic bowling pins and ball!

After finishing the door way section I carried the hallway to the threshold of the master bedroom door.

In theory we could now set all three bedroom doors, as well as the bathroom door as all the floor around them is complete. Lisa did a test patch to clean off the old finish. She wiped a 50/50 mix of laquer thinner and denatured alcohol over a small area with steel wood pads. When the time comes to do all the floor we rent a floor buffer and get nylon pads. I really don't ever sand a floor if I can possibly avoid it.

On Friday Pete came to work a couple of hours and he got the stairway area ready for flooring. Since we had added a quarter inch plywood deck to the original subfloor, we had to remove the top stair and put a quarter inch piece under the step so that the floor boards would come in level to the step and not create a tripping hazard. He then started to cut plugs to fill the holes for the counter sunk screws in the hallway and the two bedrooms. He did the plugged the hallway, cut and sanded them down, I plugged the bedrooms and started to cut, if I have time today I may get them sanded too.
Here are the plugs sticking out of the holes:

Cut nearly flush with the floor:

Sanded to level:

As he worked on Friday morning, Pete listened to "The Dottie Ray Show" which has been an institution for more than 45 years in Iowa City on radio station KXIC. Dottie started her daily 15 minute show in which she interviews visiting artists, educators, community activists, and other interesting people when she lived next door to Foxcroft. Until she moved in 1986. and her daughter and family came to live there, the shows were broadcast from her study at home. We can see that room's window when we stand at the kitchen sink and wash dishes. She now broadcasts from her condo just down the street from us.

Dottie's guests were Rowan and Laurel, commenting on Christmas and life in general. Since it was radio, they were dressed to the nines in their new Christmas outfits. Thankfully Lisa and I stayed off microphone. Dottie is a delight, and a faithful reader of this blog, who will no doubt be embarrassed by this post!

With Christmas Eve today we will get ready for family to come over tonight. We will have 17 for dinner and then the grandkids (the next youngest after our two is a senior in high school) will get their presents from my parents. Dad came and hid envelopes the other day and everyone will have clues as to where theirs can be found. In reading them over I think there will be some very interesting intergenerational discussions about what you notice in your environment.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Laying Down on the Job, I Mean Laying Down the Floor

We started laying the hard wood floors upstairs today. Paul, the salvage barn manager for Friends of Historic Preservation, came this morning to give advice on where to begin and how to work. My thought was to start in the master bedroom and work toward the hallway. Paul's suggestion was to figure out where the baluster for the railing would be, and snap a line to work down the hallway toward the bedrooms. So that was what we did.

The first board we glued and screwed with 3" deck screws. We made sure to drive them into the floor joists, which means they also went through the original sub floor and the 1/4 inch plywood we laid over that to ensure a smooth surface. We counter sunk the screws and will cut 3/8" plugs to cover the holes.

Laying down the plywood will allow us to orient the floors the same as first floor. In so doing we will end up running the same direction as the original subfloor, which would be a big no-no without the decking. The sub floor on first floor is laid diagonally. Paul suggested laying the oak flooring diagonally which would simplify corners and edges, but we decided against that.

The floor nailer we are using is one I bought on Ebay. It is a "Ramsond" which I cannot find through any google searches. We are certain this is a reverse engineered knock off, that is probably produced by an overseas company that is a front for Al Qaeda, or the Columbian Drug Cartel, or both in partnership with the Tripartite Commision. Here is Pete driving the first staple.

We don't work quickly but are careful. At the end of the first wall I was with an 1/8" from being plumb.

I did work a little on my own down the narrow hallway, then called it a night.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Artistic Successes

Sunday was a day of artistic successes at Foxcroft. Pete and I filled the last of the plaster hole in the dining room, and then moved into the kitchen. Since he had slopped a bit of plaster on the wall, which are smooth coat unlike everywhere else Pete asked for a basin of hot water and sponge to wipe it off before it dried. As he cleaned he accidentally wiped over the area we had just filled. To our amazement he perfectly replicated the look of the finish plaster throughout the rest of the house. We have been scratching our heads over how they made this lightly textured look for months. Our speculations included sand in the finish plaster, sand in the paint. Wipe the walls with broom when not quite dry. In reality its just a little bit of plaster, in a natural sponge wiped over a dry wall. Pete was so excited that he immediately took the little plaster we had left over, and "finished" the hallway wall where we started two weeks ago

We are now very confident that the hallway and dining room patches should be "invisible" when completed and painted. The kitchen will be a little harder with the smooth coat, but that won't happen yet for a while.

The bigger artistic success of the day however was elder daughter's first violin recital. She had taken four lessons before breaking her right arm's radius and ulna in October, got the cast off Dec. 6 and had two lessons before the performance. She did wonderfully, and while she and I have performed in public before at the Fiddler's Picnic, on ukulele, this was a great moment to watch her. I had a bird's eye view as I accompanied her on banjo. Her teacher plays fiddle in my band, Acoustic Mayhem, and is great with kids.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Snow Day!

Yesterday was the first “Snow Day” of the school year, here’s a chronology of what happened at Foxcroft:

5:20 AM I wake up, look out the window and realize there’s about 5 new inches of snow. I get up knowing that there is a lot of shoveling to do. I check the thermometer: 31 degrees. School closing seems unlikely

5:40 AM I go down to the basement to get my shoveling things off the clothesline. The phone rings, it’s the school district’s automated phone system contacting all employees with the message that school is canceled. Since I’m in the basement, the phone rings enough to wake EVERYONE ELSE in the house.

5:45 AM I fire up my computer and start my checklist of school cancellation updates
•School district’s cable TV channel
•School district’s web page
•Log into “Centerpoint,” our web based student information system, and place the following:
o“School Closed” message on the user log in page
o“School Closed” message on the District Announcements page, this message should also then be sent automatically to all parents who have requested to get district announcements via email. I immediately get a message saying that the email portion did not work. So I
oGo into the “message center” portion of the system and send an email to all parents informing them of the cancellation.

I then check to make sure the web page displays, and log into Centerpoint with my parent username to look at announcements and messages. While all this is going on I can hear Lisa trying to get the girls back to sleep. Eventually they end up in bed with her, a very rare occurrence. I realize later that since I'm online we're lucky enough to not get a second phone call as parents telling us of the school closing. Parent calls don't start until after 6:00 AM.

6:20 AM I check the local TV to see why we are canceling and to find out who else is canceling. The snow is mixed with sleet and some rain, and temperatures are forecast to drop, so fear of ice and the buses is what did it. The older daughter has already gone up to watch cartoons, and is not happy that I am doing this, but I turn to the school’s cable channel and show her the “Canceled” message. I tell her that I did that, and she is dutifully impressed. I am glad that the system is password protected.

7:30 AM I go out to shovel. Our earlier snows have been powder and easy to shovel; this is heavy slop. The girls come out and play in the snow fort they made last weekend. I grab the camera and shoot a few pictures. The kids are circled for easy identification!

9:30 AM The girls go in for breakfast, Lisa and I finish shoveling, so I drive to the tile store to pick up the linoleum tiles for the 2nd floor laundry, along with several other errands. When I come home I take a few more pictures, from the neighbors yards. I realize that if I stand next door, I can see both the old gable to the front of the house and the new one to the back at the same time. I also stand in our back yard and shoot toward the ravine.

11:00 Pete stops by to look at the roof, I had noticed a lot of melt on the back half last week, almost like there isn’t any insulation. He calls the insulation installers and they will send someone to look at 1:30. I start to empty the laundry room so perhaps I can tile it today. This room has served as our “tool room” so I relocate everything to Laurel’s closet.

1:30 PM Kevin the insulation guy comes, and goes up the access panel into the attic. He immediately notices what I did when I stuck my head up there: it’s rather warm. He does what I had not and crawls on the rafters over to the main HVAC trunk and watches the insulation moving as the air travels through it, there are several leaks when the lines to the bedrooms branch off the main. We call the geothermal guys, they will send someone tomorrow.

3:30 PM I start to spread the tile adhesive on the laundry room floor

3:31 PM The superintendent’s secretary calls to ask me to remove the “School Canceled” notice from the web page, they are already getting calls about tomorrow. I finish troweling adhesive and then update the pages.

4:15 PM I lay the first course, spread more glue, and then do subsequent ones.

5:30 PM Finish the room

Not a bad day. Of course this means an extra one in June, but I’ll take it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas Then and Now

Here are a few shots from the scrapbooks that we were so fortunate to get along with Foxcroft.

This is Christmas 1930, which would have been the third one celebrated here. I really like the old pictures that show Christmas trees that look like real trees. A story in the local paper last week mentioned that white pine is the only conifer native to Iowa. You may notice the picture on the wall behind the tree. It is "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" by John White Alexander. We now have a copy hanging in the same place, along with another version done by an unknown artist.

The second is from 1932 which would have been Helen's senior year in college. In the two years that we knew Helen before she passed away she didn't have a tree up.

Here is our tree, it is on the other side of the French doors from where the Fox family put theirs. We have always had a tree on a table since Lisa and I have been married. The table is one she got from her family. Apparently a now ex-uncle cut down the legs on a family dining room table to make it coffee table height. 20 years ago I had bought some hand-made oak lawn edging fence. I cut the two long pieces off each section that were meant to be driven into the ground and had made a fence to go around my Christmas trees. The first year we celebrated Christmas together we found the fence was the perfect size for the table and have done it that way ever since. I was noticing this year that 20 years of taking the fence up and storing it have put a nice patina of wear on the paint that really makes it look authentic! The lights that look like stars are plastic pieces that you slip the bulbs through before you screw them in the sockets. They were in a box of stuff I got at an auction, and I will be honest it took my three years to figure out what they were! The are very cool.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Getting Plastered

This is NOT a post about over indulging in egg nog. Pete and I have embarked on the journey of learning how to cover up the destruction we have made: Filling in the first floor walls where we had to put in the supports for the upstairs gable. We had discussed many options for this, and had decided to fill the areas with sheet rock just less than what was needed. We were then going to cover the difference with a mixture of joint compound, first coat primer and plaster of paris that I had read about on the American Bungalow Bulletin Board. We even had the sheet rock in place in the hallway, dining room, and kitchen. Then we talked to John…

He said to just fill the areas with metal lathe, and use Structolite premixed gypsum plaster. He said that's what he had done on his house and you couldn't tell where he had patched. The stuff will fill large depths, doesn't shrink, and will adhere to any exposed wood lathe, and to old plaster. So we ripped out the sheetrock and decided to try it.

John said the key was getting the right consistency of plaster. His comparison was to meringue. We read the directions carefully

and made our first batch on Saturday night.

Our first batch was usable but not what we expected. But when we worked again Sunday afternoon we hit on a formula that we had great success with: 2 inches of water in the bottom of a five gallon bucket and 6 half gallon scoops of plaster. It really did set up like meringue, and was easy to work with, and had a pretty long open time.

Pete did most of the troweling. We did the hallway first because it was the least noticeable place, was pretty narrow, and both the hallway and dining room had a pretty rough finish coat, with pebbles in it. We speculated on just how that finish was achieved our guesses range from sweeping it with a broom when nearly set up, to dipping the float in sand before doing final passes over the plaster.

We got most of the hallway covered Saturday and finished it with our better stuff on Sunday

We then started on the dining room, the area to be finished there will be partially covered by the buffet, and should also have a chair in front of the lower part. We worked MUCH faster than we had Saturday. We covered the area in a little over an hour.

Our most efficient work seems to be to have Pete trowel, while I wet the old surfaces, fill his hod, and mix new batches of plaster as we go. We used up our two bags, and called it quits. We ran pillars of plaster up both sides of the opening so that when we come back to finish we will have a narrow area that can be covered in a single float width.

Friday, November 25, 2005

More Wall Tile/Thanksgiving

Pete and I finished tiling one bathroom wall on Monday night. The subways are topped with a white tile embossed with a floral vine pattern, and a black chair rail above that. After we finished we carried the tub in, and sat down to admire the view. Here are some pics:

We hosted Thanksgiving supper last night. My parents, 3 out of 4 siblings and spouses, their kids along with assorted significant others including Anne, Helen's cousin, who lived here at Foxcroft for 3 years. Final head count was 22. We put twelve at the main table in the dining room, and another ten in the living room at card tables. Our seven year old had everyone write down what they were thankful for, and then we read them out loud after dinner. Highlights including the usual "friends and family," as well as "having enough plates," "that we can get along and have fun for a while," and "Equal Rights," (The last coming from the seven year old.)

I think we'll have good success hosting holiday events here.