Wednesday, January 30, 2008

IF The Iceman Cometh...

... We will be ready.

The day that the temperature falls 50 degrees was the perfect day to get my Christmas present from Lisa picked up. As you can see above it is two pieces from the Iowa City Ice Company. I had owned the ice pick for years. We bought the sign from my parents' sale when they moved into their apartment. The sign was designed to hang from your back porch window, there are holes on all four sides, and whichever side was up indicated how many pounds of ice you needed delivered.

Foxcroft never had ice delivery. I have a letter from the designer/builder asking Bess if she wanted an opening from the porch for direct ice delivery into the house. She replied that she was planning to get a new electric icebox. The builder then wrote that they would put an additional electric plug into the kitchen design. Here is a picture of the original icebox:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Friend Flicka* Flicker

*with apologies to Mary O’Hara
I’ve been watching the bird feeders pretty closely this week, trying to get some good pictures. We have a “thistle” (niger) feeder that hangs from the bargeboard near the kitchen nook window. That feeder is usually chock full of goldfinches, now in their winter muted yellow/brown. I love watching the finches, they are the state bird of Iowa. At our old place, in 19 years of bird feeding I think I had a grand total of two finches. Here at Foxcroft I get 10+ every day. However I can't seem to get a good photo no matter what...

The other feeder is set on top of the birdbath/moss planter. With a winter bird mix feed we get all the usual suspects: juncos, cardinals, sparrows and chickadees.

However this week I've been looking for our new spectacular specimen:

Can I just say that maybe I should clean the windows before taking more pictures?

I was sure he was a flicker, (hence the catchy title) but after a quick google search I’m pretty sure he is a red bellied woodpecker. He is great fun to watch as he goes between the hackberry tree and the feeder:

Helen used to put out enormous 5 lb. blocks of suet, our suet feeders are much smaller.

Laurel and I saw an owl Thursday night in the huge white pines in the neighbor’s yard.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"THE BOX" Revisited

I wrote about "THE BOX" in my very first blog post, and then I don't think I've ever mentioned it again. I usually keep "THE BOX" at my office at work. It's an old cardboard (when I say old I mean 1920's old) box that says "Abraham Chocolates A.G Abraham Co. Moline" (Illinois) Here is "THE BOX"

Here is "THE BOX" in its original context: the upstairs before we started cleaning it out and finishing the space. I took this picture before I knew what "THE BOX" was. It's underneath the Pabst Beer and Campbells Tomato Juice boxes:

While "THE BOX" is interesting and somewhat unusal its what's INSIDE that is important.

"THE BOX" was the respository of all Bess' material regarding the building of Foxcroft. The box contained:

  1. all the correspondence with the architects/builders 20+
  2. The notebook Bess sent the architect with the floor plan and detailed descriptions of every room, electrical, roof, porch, etc.
  3. The builder's contract
  4. all the correspondence with the realtors 10+
  5. A wall sized plat map of the entire development
  6. Source books and catalogs galore:

  • Original 1926 Gordon Van Tine catalog and "Building Material" supplement with doors, millwork, andirons, etc
  • "28 Better Homes" catalog from Portland Cement Co.
  • "Enjoyable Living Rooms" from Kroehler Furniture Co.
  • Kohler of Kohler Enameled Plumbing Ware 1927.
  • Hardware for Utility and Ornamentation, Sargent 1927
  • "Better Homes at a Lower Cost" Standard Homes Co. Washington D.C. 1926
  • "Bungalowcraft American Lumberman's Special Edition" a HARDBACK book of house plans from the Bungalowcraft Co of Los Angeles
  • "Dustman's Book of Plans and Building Construction" Charles C. Thompson Co.
    Chicago copyright 1910. HARDBACK book of house plans
  • Multiple wallpaper books
  • Sargent door hardware catalog
  • Moe Bridges lighting catalog
  • Armstrong flooring catalogs
  • Fireplace catalog

You get the idea:

It was an incredible find, and one that I still pore over!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Looking Through Another’s Eyes

“Familiarity breeds contempt. “
Aesop (620 BC - 560 BC)

“Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration. “
Apuleius, Roman philosopher, rhetorician, & satirist (124 AD - 170 AD)

“Familiarity breeds contempt - and children”
Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

Don’t get me wrong, I really love living in our house. Every night when I go upstairs I am amazed that we really turned an unfinished attic into liveable space. I look out the back windows every morning when I get up and gaze in wonder at the woods and ravine in its beauty.
That being said I also look at the ice on the front steps every day and grumble about how can I get the original copper gutters re-hung so that they will actually drain instead of pouring snow melt onto the stairs: “A tort waiting to happen” my childhood friend turned lawyer commented. I look at he woodpecker damaged shingle exterior, last stained in 1982 or the wood trim, probably last painted in the Lyndon Johnson administration, and wonder when I’ll ever get it finished. I think about what the county assessor innocently asked me after making an inspection tour two weeks ago “Are you planning to fix up the kitchen like the rest of the house?” (If I’d been quicker on my feet I would have responded: “We’re finished, we did it in an early industrial wasteland motif.”) I could go on and on…

However, we had houseguests last weekend, Jeanne and Aaron from House in Progress and came to speak at the Annual meeting of Friends of Historic Preservation. They were dynamite! We had such fun with them. Last night I looked through pictures Jeanne took. It was the shot of the wallpaper in the master bedroom that made stop and think.

I got the idea for writing this post, and its title. This idea was solidified when a fellow Friends of Historic Preservation board member called to say how much he enjoyed Jeanne and Aaron’s presentation. He also commented on how great it was to hear someone from outside rave about the good things we have.

Then lo and behold: Jeanne wrote about us today in glowing terms (and Foxcroft visits have spiked like I’ve never seen before). Reading her thoughts was the perfect antidote to winter blahs, coupled with the dread that comes when you’re starting your third year of working on a huge project. She loved the everything. Jeanne posted a picture of the music room light:

What do I see? That it’s broken (missing a piece at the bottom)

She loved hearing about Friends of Historic Preservation, I think about the historic structures that we’ve lost, and the opposition that has risen up to historic preservation districts. But driving around with two people saying "Wow. look at THAT house!" Does make one notice how nice our neighborhoods are.

So thank you, Jeanne and Aaron for making me see the positives again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

God I Love...

...Self Promoting Spam-like Commenters!

Like this one, from yesterday, commenting on Need A Door? or 50?:

Contemporary Area Rugs said...
That squirrel/gopher/groundhog is in a very compromising situation, literally. If you're looking for more home accessories for your projects -- area rugs specifically, check out - they have a wonderful selection with affordable prices.

Of course the squirrel/gopher/groundhog he is referring to was this:

IF only I could actually talk to Contemporary Area Rugs! I'd love to ask:

"Say, any chance of of turning my squirrel/gopher/groundhog INTO a 'Contemporary Area Rug?' I'd happily send you the carcass."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Need a Door? Or 50?

Friday and Saturday Friends of Historic Preservation's salvage crew started working on the International Center building on the University of Iowa campus. The old portion of the building was constructed in 1935 as a dormitory for law students. There are over 50 old birch (we think) 5 horizontal panel doors complete with fully functional window transoms and hardware.

We have removed 20+ already in their jambs. The doors are a nominal 32 inches with some hallway doors (also with transoms) at 36 inches. With the transom they are 8 feet 4 inches tall.

Nearly all are right handed. The casing around them is mitered in the corners, with a biscuit hold thing miter together and three screws on each side of the joint (six per corner)

If you're building new (or remodeling) and want a great set of matching, never painted doors, let me know and I'll put you in touch with our salvage barn manager.

Of course the highlight of my day was crawling out a second floor window to a parapet to get a great shot of the Old Capitol Dome across the Iowa River:

What was even better was when I turned around and saw this:

Too big for a squirrel, wrong color for an opossum. Could a groundhog climb to third floor?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hey Housebloggers!

Want to meet others like you in "REAL TIME?" The Friends of Historic Preservation will be having their annual meeting on Sunday, January 20, 2008 in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St. Iowa City at 1:00 PM.

Featured speakers will be owners Aaron and Jeannie Olson. Besides speaking about starting one of Money Magazine's best real estate websites of 2006 they will be sharing on "Your Internet Toolbox" regarding using web resources to restore and maintain your home.

Aaron Olson lives in Chicago, where he and his wife, Jeannie, have spent the past five years restoring a neglected 1914 stucco bungalow. They document their renovation at the blog, House in Progress. They also own and manage the website, where over 550 writers from around the world document the renovation, restoration or construction of their own homes. Professionally, Aaron has over 10 years experience consulting with organizations about change management, leadership development and professional education. He is an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University where he teaches about corporate learning and organizational change. Personally, he has a soft spot for old houses and new technology.

Jeannie Olson has been working on old houses for over 20 years but has only blogged about it for the past 4 years. She has also picked up a hammer to benefit not-for-profits such as Cabrini Alive, Habitat for Humanity International and Rebuilding Together. She is an unapologetic house voyeur and enthusiastic old house geek. You can often find her salvaging old house parts out of the alleys in Chicago. Together with her husband, Aaron, she helped to launch, an online community of home improvement enthusiasts who are seeking to document their efforts and help to educate others. She specializes in social media community management and interpreting user experience related to social media. She is also a consultant with 15+ years of experience in the fields of organizational change, adult learning and knowledge management. Prior to becoming a blogger, she led the Chicago User Research Lab for Scient Corporation and helped to launch the knowledge management practice at Hewitt.

This meeting is FREE and open to the public. Contact me at if you have questions.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Caucus Report

Lisa and I went to our precinct caucus tonight, our first in University Heghts. The town of University Heights is a single precinct. There are nearly 1000 people in town. There were 287 Democrats at our caucus this evening. Not too bad a turn out.

The large crowd was expected, we met outside city limits at West High in Iowa City, in the cafeteria. There were eight other precincts meeting at the school. We met in the cafeteria. Other precincts were in the band room, the library, and class rooms.

When we came in nearly every candidate had a portion of the room marked out and there were treats at each table, something I’d never seen at our old precinct.

We are a highly educated precinct, many doctors and PhD’s live in town. Given that you wouldn’t think it would be nearly so hard to count us all. Everyone was given a numbered card when registering. Our precinct chair then wanted to count everyone to double check that the number was correct. At this point my neighbor Mike looked at me and said, “You realize these are the same people that are going to be in charge if the Bird Flu ever breaks out. We’re all doomed.” The group shouted that down and proposed just accepting the number count from the cards, so our count was 287, and apparently 45 minutes that were used in 2004 were saved.

At 7:00 each presidential candidate was allowed to have someone speak for them for up to two minutes each. After that it was announced that each group would have to have at least 44 members to be viable. We then broke into preference groups.

I decided to back the same person I did in 2004 and looked for a Kucinich group (he was the only candidate without a sign anywhere) I found the six other hardy souls backing Dennis. At the end of the first session here were the group totals:

Obama 115
Edwards 49
Clinton 47
Biden 32
Richardson 30
Dodd 8
Kucinich 7

Then it was announced that there were 4 total delegates to the county convention that would come from our precinct. Every viable candidate would get at least one delegate. The groups could discuss and move if they wished.

We decided to go to Obama as Kucinich had mentioned. The Richardson, Dodd and Biden groups tried to figure out a way to merge and become viable, but it didn’t work so at the end of the second round we had our final standings:

Obama 144 2 delegates
Edwards 53 1 delegate
Clinton 51 1 delegate
Uncommitted 35

So the caucus groups selected delegates to the county convention, accepted resolutions and pretty much finished.

I am a great believer in this process of getting out and talking to your neighbors, listening to others and making decisions. I also really understand that we in Iowa don’t pick the winners, but we do pick the losers. I think the best quote ever regarding the caucus was from Bruce Babbit after finishing 5th in 1988, “I was in it right up to the beginning...”

Vacation Update

Here's a quick recap of what happened over vacation:


When we took out the closet that bumped into the kitchen from the back room, I knew some day I'd have to deal with the floor. The old closet floor was oak, the kitchen was maple. So after 2.5 years I cut the oak off even with the doorway and pulled out that part that had been in the kitchen. I then pulled the existing maple back to a point just past the doorway. I did this carefully so I could re-lay it back down. I managed to get a bundle of new 2 1/4 inch maple at an auction, which along with some other salvaged floor I had I thought would be enough. I barely made it with nothing over a foot long left over. Here is a pic from the door way looking into the kitchen after I'd pulled everything, you may notice the hole in the subfloor where the other side of the nook bench was (prior to being pulled out in 1948) There was a great deal of cutting/holes/cracks in the subfloor there, I replaced a pretty good sized chunk:

I then laid down the old/new floor with help from Pete. I think it looks pretty good. I'll get more shots up soon.


One of the basement windows cracked a pane of glass last summer and I finally got it replaced. The inside of the window was still raw wood, so I gave it a coat of 2 parts boiled linseed oil/ one part turpentine to protect it. I painted the exterior side with enamel like the other windows.


Since I was set up to paint I decided to get rid of the last vestiges of the mustard in the first floor bathroom. I took out the translucent glass lower sash window and repainted it inside and out.


Lisa stripped a salvaged railing I'd gotten last summer. I dug it out of the garage and varnished it, but now I'll need to do a piece of 1 x 4 casing on the wall to attach the hardware onto it. I boiled off the old paint splatters/yuck from the hardware and then buffed with steel wool. I still didn't like the look, so I took some of my linseed/turpentine mix and coated the hardware. I wiped off the excess after a couple of hours and really like the way they turned out.