Friday, December 26, 2008
Christmas day broke our 5 day string of snow shoeing in the ravine behind our house. Here are some pics of Rowan and I from Christmas Eve:
In our backyard before we set out. The ravine is about 12 acres of woods between us and the University golf course. Four separate gulllies all come together back there. Winter is about the only time you can really get in, its too wet otherwise. We have seen deer and turkey there this winter.
At the bottom
Walking in the creek bed.
Christmas morning was just us. Laurel got a wren house. Here we are putting it together.
Lisa has quite a collection of pottery, and especially loves pitchers. Here is a small one I gave her this year.
Lisa's family from Rock Island, Illinois, came for dinner. Since my family had come already last Sunday and we had turkey then, we decided to do a roast. We had never cooked a roast, so thankfully my 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook explains everything. We got an 8 pound top round roast. There were 11 of us for dinner, slightly smaller than the 15 we had with my family, but both below our crowd of 22 we had at Thanksgiving 2005.
The butternut squash in the picture above (bright orange squares) was from our garden as were the potatoes. While we were getting dinner ready I read to Lisa "A Christmas Dinner Without a Maid" a reprint from The Ladies Home Journal, 1905, which I had found at the Arts and Crafts Society website. We were both laughing over things we remember our grandparents doing for holiday dinners that seemed to come right from this article! Lisa said her grandmother always wrapping up the celery to make it keep longer, I told her my grandmother always served nuts and mints with coffee after dessert.
It was a wonderful holiday of good memories.
Friday, December 19, 2008
We went to bed listening to the sleet that had been hitting the house since 7 PM last night. I got up at 4:45 with it still falling. Not surprisingly school was cancelled, so our winter break begins a day early.
We had nearly an inch of ice on the ground this morning. We all worked at shovelling for nearly two hours and got all the sidewalks and steps cleared. I took the car in for an oil change and walked home.
This afternoon I took the cup of walnuts I have from our trees (I picked up a small percentage of our walnuts this fall, husked and dried them and then hung them in burlap bags in the basement.) So far I've cracked and gotten a grand total of three cups of nuts. I used two cups in Apple walnut cake and banana bread. The last cup went into Black Walnut divinity. Here is the recipe:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup white syrup
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 cup chopped black walnuts
Cook and stir sugar, syrup, water and salt in sauce pan until boiling. Cook without stirring until hard ball stage on candy thermometer. Remove from heat.
Beat egg whites with mixer until stiff. Slowly pour hot mixture over egg whites while beating continuously.
Continue beating, scraping sides often until mixture begins to lose gloss. Add vanilla and beat until candy can be dropped by heaping teaspoonfuls on aluminum foil. Add chopped nuts.
I've never made divinity before, I'll get pics when it's done.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Worked only 6 1/2 hrs. Just like Spring, skated with Hilly + Jimmy after work. Lots of baby snails. Listened to Alexander Wolcott on Helen Hayes' new play "Mary Stuart."
(Helen Hayes as Mary Stuart)
- I believe Helen was doing work study in the French department.
- Even though I use this picture to show Kinnick football stadium, actally the two figures are Helen and Hilly roller skating here:
- Baby snails would have been part of the aquarium set up that Bess and Helen ordered. Their plan was to raise fish etc. in the aquarium over the winter and transfer them to their new pond in the spring.
- "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was based on Alexander Woolcott. I greatly enjoyed playing Dr. Bradley in that show in high school.
- The name of play was "Mary of Scotland" Helen Hayes played Mary Stuart. The show ran at the Alvin Theater, on Broadway from Nov 27, 1933 - Jul 1934. The playwright was Maxwell Anderson.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Noel came in a box of other goodies I bought at an auction. I referred to some of them (the plastic stars) last Christmas in a post here:
Ghosts of Christmas Past Part 2
Noel is made of felt with sequins. I think he was a home project, my guess is maybe from the 1940's? To me has has that era's look. We are lucky to have a front door so similar to the one at our old place, so he fits as well here as he did there:
Monday, December 01, 2008
Here is an original picture of the archway leading to the hall from the dining room:
Here is roughly the same shot today:
Looking down the hall from the dining room:
The hall is a dogleg, here is a view from the back family room, which was originally Bess' bedroom:
And looking up the stairway. I still need to cut the base shoe that will cap the stairs to length and install the new railing:
This now brings to two the number of spaces that we still need to restore. The next to be completed will be the "office" which was the daughter's bedroom when the house was built, it was our bedroom when we first moved in, and is now "the dog's room."
Here is an original picture:
And the same corner today:
The last will be the kitchen.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The major impetus behind Iowa City being such a writer's haven is the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. The initial director of the workshop was Wilbur Schramm, who built his home across the street from Foxcroft in 1934, which was 5 years before the the official beginning of the workshop. He was an English professor, with an emphasis in writing. (Read the link on his name above to see what else he is famous for)
Schramm's wife, Betty, had been a sorority sister of Helen's. Helen's mother, Bess, had a degree in English from Upper Iowa University in the early 1900's and did graduate work in English at the University of Iowa while her husband Walter completed medical school and taught anatomy at UI roughly from 1905-1909. She was a highly educated woman, especially for the times, and a voracious reader. Given their mutual interests and the fact that they were living on the edge of town with few other neighbors it is no surprise that the Schramm's and Fox's all became close friends. This is evidenced by journal entries and letters I have read. It is not too much to surmise that most of Schramm's visitors and houseguests (Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stegner, William Carlos Williams, etc)also visited Foxcroft.
I found a great deal of Schramm memorabelia in the house while emptying it. Items included a copy of his biography of Francis Parkman with the inscription "For Mother Fox with the sincere hope that she reads no further in this volume." I found a brochure that describes the "Arts at Iowa" including the first use of the phrase "Writer's Workshop" from the summer of 1939, and numerous poems that were sent as Christmas Cards, the latest being from 1979.
The best find, however was from a photo scrapbook. It is a portrait of Wilbur and Betty Schramm. The picture below was taken in 1938, eight years after "American Gothic" became an immediate sensation by placing third in an art contest sponsored by the Chicago Art Institute:
This picture was taken, presumably by either Helen or Bess, on the front yard of Foxcroft. Schramm was Grant Wood's best friend while Wood was on the faculty of UI!
I have heard from several sources that the idea of a writer's workshop was born in the library at Foxcroft over conversations between Schramm and Bess about how to create a place that would encourage the creation of great literature. I have absolutely no proof that corroborates this in the slightest. But there are still quite a few boxes of things to look through!
Friday, November 07, 2008
...to bring you a post about home restoration.
I was able to come to some completion on the back porch. Steps are installed, but I still need to finish the railings. Here is a close up of the steps:
And a long shot of the porch:
I cleaned up the garden last weekend. I dug up my potatoes (two meals total, tops), harvested acorn and butternut squash, and picked green tomatoes. Here's some of the last haul:
I don't have a photo right now but we took the plants out and put them in a livestock tank in the basement along with our one surviving fish. I used the wet vacuum to take out the last 150 gallons of water. I excavated the hole that was punched into the bottom and after two days of drying, filled it with lime base and cemented it up. That was Wednesday morning. Of course it rained in yesterday. I vacuumed out water again and now have three 4x8 sheets of plywood covering it up.
LAST POLITICAL COMMENT (for a while)
Wednesday also marked the two year anniversary of my neighbors Mike, Pete and I going to downtown Iowa City the Sunday night before the 2006 mid term elections and listen to an electrifying (but widely unknown) young senator from Illinois stump for the democratic candidate for Iowa governor, Chet Culver. Of course the speaker was Barack Obama, and we were astonished at the idea of 2,000 people showing up for someone who wasn't Hillary Clinton.
Monday, November 03, 2008
If anyone needs a good laugh before we start watching election returns, I suggest you go here:
3 term Verne Mayor, Garner St. John is in the re-election battle of his life!
Be sure to watch each week's campaign video starting with week one. Then check out Garner's recipes and his work prior to politics when he was the host of "Travellin' Man." Read his blog too:
Some would claim that in an alternative universe, Garner St. John is an old high school friend of mine, and that Verne is merely his Los Angeles based comedy troupe's latest endeavor. Some would claim that that he was mentioned this Foxcroft blog post: Holiday Plumbing. Some would go so far as to say that I appear briefly in the crowd scene in the "Opponent Chooses Running Mate" episode on votegarner.com. But I wouldn't know about that. All I know is that the town's bar is called "Haverkamp's..."
All I can say is that this is the proud bumper sticker on my car:
Friday, October 24, 2008
I think it's great that "Rank Strangers," a song about coming home to find everything changed, is playing in the background. I think that pretty well sums up the realization of what the Republican Party has become for working class Americans. The "devoted husband" plug was a nice touch too.
Dr. Ralph Stanley is one of the great bluegrass legends. With a 60+ year performing career he is an American icon. Most of you not familiar with his story should recognize him as the person who sang "O Death" in the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou."
The very first and last promo shots has him holding a Gibson archtop banjo very similar to one I have.
Monday, October 20, 2008
With some luck I can get them painted this week and maybe installed next weekend. Then I would be ready to install the steps.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
After working on steps all last weekend I was able to install TEMPORARY STEPS on Sunday night. While appreciative of the fact that, for the first time since June, they could walk up something resembling acutal stairs, the rest of the family was a little underwhelmed by what I had to show for all my work:
In my defense, since we made the concrete pad high enough to ensure drainage AWAY from the bottom of the stairs (a huge problem before I started this project, water used to pool at the bottom of the stairs , often to a depth of two inches) The distance from the top of the porch deck to the pad was a shade over 19.25 inches. Standard stairs have a 7 inch rise making the perfect height for two steps onto the porch 21 inches. I bought precut stringers and then proceeded to shave off the top and bottom of them to get an approximate 6.25 rise. Since the stringers are pitched slightly forward to ensure water drains off the steps I couldn't just set the fence on the table saw a rip away.
Another issue was how to attach the stringers to the porch. I know that over time the concrete pad will shift and heave. the porch sits on footings so it shouldn't move. I ended up running 2x6 boards from the stringers back under the porch and then drilling through the porch joists and attaching a carriage bolt assembly to tie them together. I only made the bolt finger tight so that over time if there is movement the steps *should* be able to float a bit??? We'll see how that works.
Anyway I got the two middle stringers set up and was able to use salvaged steps from the old basement stairs to serve temporarily. I did get the two outside stingers cut to correct rise and bought a bunch of really nice yellow pine to cover the rise, and to box in the sides of the outside stringers. When I have everything installed the stairs will be 6 feet wide. That means they will extend from one tall pillar to the other.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Oct 11, 1933
Up late M and I put down wood. She put on N + W storm windows. I excavated pool about 6-9 inches + scraped sides, concrete fine.
The photo above is labeled "Oct. 1993" but it must have been near the end of the month since Helen is more than "6-9 inches" down. She and Bess dug a trench for the sides of the pool and used the ground as a form when they poured cement for the side walls. After it dried Helen then excavated the middle.
Whenever Helen writes "M" she is referring to her mother, Bess, who was the original builder of Foxcroft.
I can only guess what "put down wood" means: The blueprint for the basement shows a "kindling room" maybe they were putting wood down there to burn in the fireplace that winter? Maybe they laid planks on the gravel driveway for traction in the mud?
I had wooden storms made for the west side of the house, but since it has been so nice I still have the screens on.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
When digging out the garage side I found that there are more stepping stones under the cement sidewalk, like the ones we found three years ago running out into the back yard. Since the original photos of the house show only a gravel path from the porch to the garage, the stepping stones must have been added when the others were done in the 1950's. Here was our photo of the other stepping stones taken in 2005:
So now I know when I replace the rest of the sidewalk I can recover more stepping stones.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Worked 8-12 reading scores. M + I to Iowa (38) Bradley (0) game. Got much colder during the day. M canned 35 qts of wild grape juice from Grace Strubley.
Giants won World Series 4 games to 1 over Senators. Score 4-3 in 11 innings
- Helen had a work study job and UI in foreign language department.
- Tickets to the Iowa-Bradley football game would have cost $1.00 each according to some quick research showing that UI cut prices in 1933 from $1.50 to $1.00 due to the depression. For the Florida International game this season I bought tickets at face value of $50.00 each.
- I can't imagine how many grapes it would take to squeeze 35 quarts of juice
- The New York Giants beat the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. to clinch the series. According to Wikipedia:
Washington, D.C. has not hosted another World Series since 1933. Game 5 was the final Series game played in the nation's capital as of 2008. This Washington Senators franchise became the Minnesota Twins during the 1960-1961 offseason, and would not reach the World Series again until 1965. The second Senators team became the Texas Rangers. The transfer of the Montreal Expos to become the Washington Nationals opens the door to D.C. again potentially.
Iowa football player and Big Ten 1933 MVP Joe Laws. This photo was taken after the mayor of Iowa City offered Laws any honarary positon in the city after winning the MVP award. He chose to be the fire chief (photo from Des Moines Register)
Washington Senator's Player/Manager Joe Cronin (photo from Wikipedia)
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Since we expanded the back porch this summer I needed to make two small columns to place at the corners to attach the railings to. Using the same construction method as the original columns that support the porch roof, I created two boxes 30 inches tall. These will go over the 4x4 posts I attached at the corners of the frame. The railings that ran between the house and the tall columns will fit in there. I have also started to strip the paint off those railings and will get them ready to paint.
Last Sunday I broke up the concrete pad that was at the foot of the porch in order to pour new and be able to build steps back up to the porch. A major reason for all this porch work was that the pad had dipped in the middle and rain water collected into a giant puddle at the foot of the porch steps. With proper slope we should be able to get rid of that problem. Pete stopped by last night and our plan is to dig out and pour a new pad this weekend.
I was looking through Rowan's pictures from her digital camera and selected these to show the pond. These were taken when we had emptied the girls' swimming pool into it. The hole in the bottom still needs to be patched so water has slowly leaked out. I'll get that done this fall too.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Here's to hoping that the next 80 are just as good.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Commenting on Runner Up!
Jennifer said, "Congratulations! I love berry pie."
So did everyone. I'll make more next year certainly.
Commenting on I'm Floored By How It Looks
Tech Handyman said, "looks amazing! I will now have to read the rest of your blog. Be sure to keep us updated on the progress!!"
Umm sure, I have included your comment because it at least linked back to a blogger profile, but this seems a little spammish to me...
Commenting on On the Cutting Edge
StuccoHouse said, "Wow, that looks great."
Donald & Christie said, "Nice job! I like the verticle grain flooring. May i ask where you found it! Enjoyed you blog and will be watching for more! :)"
Stucco: Thanks! For those that haven't read her blog let me tell you, this is a highly valued compliment. She is one of those people who really does everything right with her historic home.
Donald & Christie: The flooring was from Friends of Historic Preservation's Salvage Barn. I helped pull it from a farm house outside Belle Plaine several years ago. This floor was used as interior floor, many of the pieces we pulled were over 12 feet long. You cannot get that quality lumber today.
Commenting on A Cool Thing About Elevation
Jenni said, "And you will never forget this comment...
“I will never ever forget this night!”
Thank you, Jeni. Like StuccoHouse, I read Jenni's blog often without commenting...
Commenting on Amateur Archivist
Captain Zamo said, "I lived in the basement of that house on golv with mick and helen in 1979. a family of racoons lived on the roof because helen often fed them. The famous Iowa Writer's Workshop was planned in the living room. mick worked for vance bourjally on blue bird farm."
Captain- I think you're the person who called me too, I was stripping paint when I talked to you and really wasn't focusing very well. I thought you were someone local calling to chat. I appreciate your call and information.
I am aware of the legend of the idea creating the Iowa Writer's Workshop being formed here. There is plenty of evidence confirming the friendship between Wibur Schramm's family and the Fox's: Wilbur Schramm autographed books found in the house and Bess' war time letters to Helen asking if she had read Wil's latest story in the "Saturday Evening Post," for example. But I cannot get any outside confirmation of that story from other sources... But that doesn't mean I don't repeat it or pass it along myself!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Commenting on As If We Didn't Have Enough Water!
Christine said, "I hope you fare well with all the flooding. Good luck!"
We did OK, the river crested 18 inches lower than expected due to downstream levies and dikes failing. Their misfortune was our gain. The lower crest prevented my office from flooding. A fellow ICCD teacher and her family have moved into the rental house behind us, their acreage along the Cedar River completed washed out.
Commenting on Ride the River
Kathy from NJ said, "Thank you for all these pictures. I am very happy that your family is all safe.
I was looking at some of the original house plans and am curious about the storm cellar. Was it ever built? Is the storm cellar part of the basement?"
As to the storm cellar, yes it was built. It is no longer part of the basement because at some point they walled it in. When I look I can see where the opening was. My guess is that the thing leaked water into the rest of the basement. 20 years after the house was built photos show a big cinder block cold frame for starting plants right above where the storm cellar would have extended beyond the house. I'm guessing that contributed to problems. After we had owned the house we discovered that the foundation wall on that side was cracked. 5 Deadmen in the Basement explains what we had to do about that.
Commenting on And Now For Something COMPLETELY Different
NV said, "Wow! How awesome to see that same closet a lifetime ago and to have unearthed such treasures inside. It's great that you have such a connection to the original owners. Also, glad you haven't floated away. Bad year for us Midwesterners."
Jimbo said, "Make dude man spring for a ticket to London too! Woo!"
Jennifer said, "Very cool! I say you send them with a personal escort... you of course!"
Sandy said, "Awesome! I agree with Jennifer."
My thoughts exactly! Lisa and the girls get to leave for California next week but since we are implementing a new student information system in the school district, I am extremely busy right now training people on it. Maybe I'll blow all my overtime pay on a ticket... or new wooden storms, sigh.
I'll comment on the rest of the recent comments tomorrow! I promise.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
We packed up popcorn and drinks and rode the two tandem bikes to the driving range a little after 9:00 last night. No one else was there and we settled in on the bench above the range. Thirty seconds after we sat down the golf course sprinklers went on and doused us. We moved.
After half an hour of younger daughter asking if it was dark enough yet, we finally saw a tiny glow barely above the tree line off to the north. “IS that IT?” screamed the six year old.
“No, I think that’s the North Liberty fireworks.” I said. We watched them for a few minutes Then we saw tiny flares, barely above the tree line to the west.
“IS that IT?” screamed the six year old.
“No, I think that’s the Tiffin fireworks.” I said. We watched between the two for a few minutes. Then another set of fireworks started, barely above the tree line to the north, but east of North Liberty’s.
“Is THAT it?” screamed the six year old.
“No, I think that’s the Lake Macbride fireworks.” I said. We watched between the three places for a few minutes.
Suddenly a big firework explodeed MUCH higher in the sky. “Those are Coralville’s!” I said. We oohed and ahhed appropriately. Older daughter was very disappointed that being so far away we could barely hear the explosions.
After 20 minutes of watching there was suddenly a VERY LOUD explosion BEHIND us (to the east). We looked back and realized we could see the Iowa City fireworks too. Our heads were on swivels going between Coralville and Iowa City.
I told the girls, that’s the cool thing about being at the highest point in Johnson County, we could see 5 community’s fireworks all from the same place. Younger daughter commented on the way home that, “I will never ever forget this night!”
Monday, June 30, 2008
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations ix 33
On Saturday I finished nailing down the porch floor. I got out the trusty pneumatic floor nailer and had at it.
Since the threshold of the door extended over my ledgerboard i got to go "old school" and hammer in nails too:
I told Lisa I would have the whole thing done in an hour, but it really took me two and a half.
That was where I left everything on Saturday because we had guests coming in the afternoon to swim with the girls and stay for dinner.
On Sunday afternoon I snapped a line along the edge of the porch to even my boards up. I had let them "run wild" because I couldn't be sure how tightly each would butt against the house.
I put a new blade in the circle saw and with as steady a hand as I could muster I sawed the edges. Hence today's title:
I then sanded the the top of the cut edge to round it off a bit. Then I hit all the end grain with wood hardener. It looked so good, I did the entire porch with hardener for good measure. After waiting 4 hours I used wood filler to plug up gaps since the tongue never completely fills the groove. I didn't want little openings for water to migrate into.
After that was set up I hit the edge with 220 grit sandpaper and put a final coat of wood hardener over what I had just sanded.
This morning I got up early and put a second coat of stain over the whole porch. Tomorrow we should be able to walk on it.
Like Marcus Arurelius I have sound reasons for everything, but it certainly doesn't lead to the short cut!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Then I took my porch flooring and started to sand. Every board got hit three times with the random orbital sander. First with 40 grit paper, then 80 grit and finally with 120 grit. By the time I had done that all the old varnish and stain was gone from each one. I took a few boards and hit them with the exterior stain I'll use on them. It is a semi-transparent oil based stain. The color is "Cedar" which was the closest to amber shellac color I could find.
When they were pretty dry I got out my pneumatic floor nailer and got the first few boards down, it took a lot of measuring to make sure they were cut and lined up correctly. I'm leaving the board ends to "run wild" as it will be easier after they are all installed to go and cut them all even at once.
I screwed the first board into place so it would hold firm when installing the others. When I went back to fill the holes. I tried cutting plugs from some extra fir I had, but it kept falling apart. I went down and got a scrap piece of maple from the kitchen floor. It worked fine for plugs.
Then I went and stained the rest of the boards and let them dry overnight. I'll install them today.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I had Rowan use her calculator to see how many boards I would need by dividing 115 (inches of porch length) by 3.25 (width of each board) Her answer was 35.38. I said that meant 36 boards, plus two more for the overhang outside the edge of the 2 x 8 frame. That meant I needed 38 boards. I got a sharp glance from the ten year old who said, "Dad, just make sure you have 40 boards."
I used 53 inches as my rough length, finished length should be 51.5. Many of my salvaged boards were over 9 feet long so I was getting two shorts out of each. When I had finished with what was good, I had a total of 42 boards.
Here is what they looked like when I was cutting them to length:
I started to clean them by using my mixture of denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner with steel wool and realized this was going to take a LONG TIME.
Pete stopped over to drop his saws off to me and help with the 1 x 8 sheathing that goes over the porch frame. He suggested that I call Taryl to see if I could use his planer.
Since Lisa was at an administrator workshop I took the girls with me and went to Taryl's last night. The planer was sweet. For most boards I took off about 1/64th of an inch. Here is an example of the "after":
I will hit the places that aren't clean yet with a random orbital sander today.
But was even better was that the girls got to swim for an hour in Taryl's pool AND feed his horses.
So the upshot is that my kids have volunteered my labor for any project Taryl needs help with in order to get pool time.
And the way this all ties into today's title? The reason for using vertical grain fir on a porch is that with the grain running up and down rather than horizontally the boards are much more resistant to rain and cupping since they will be outside, even if they are covered by a roof: