Monday, May 28, 2007

I fought the wall and the wall won

There's an insidious white substance that has taken over my (and Ed's) life. I'm not about to divulge some illicit drug habit to you, dear reader. No, the substance is called joint compound and when it comes to patching plaster on our new bedroom walls, we are called idiots. Now let me explain why:

When we moved into our roughly 100-year-old home, the potentially beautiful master bedroom had so many layers of wallpaper over it.

Well, I guess 100 years-worth. Removing it was some kind of archeolgical dig. It involved co-worker George's wall paper steamer that she ordered from QVC, along with a stripping tool given to us by a nice guy named Jeff. It involved scraping and cursing and smelling many layers and years of mold. In the end, we discovered some cryptic writing. Murph partially deciphered one particularly curious tiny heart with even tinier writing inside, "When I grow up I want to be a .. (illegible)" (Even the grafitti in the room finds a way to be frustrating!). There was also a slightly perverted picture of a woman's butt with no torso, only a head. But we got through it, all the way down to the plaster.

Bare, the cracks were even more obvious, but that was OK, because the fabulous Jeremy had plaster patching experience and came over on a snowy April day and gave Ed a lesson. Ed taught me later in the day and we were well on the way. First, you coat some binding tape in joint compound and put it over the cracks. You smooth that onto crack. Then you have to build up some plaster all around the taped crack, so that the crack will eventually blend into the wall. The process was soothing, and since I work well with clay and cement, I took to the plastering process like a champ. We put Ed's IPod on shuffle and got to work. And we smoothed. And we smoothed and we smoothed, smoothed, smoothed.

Then we had to wait for it to dry. The next step would be sanding the edges of the plaster around the sides of each crack down to where we could no longer make out a difference between the new joint compound and the wall. Again, the key word is smooth. And this is the part where we discovered that we were, okay, not idiots, but not the smartest joint compounders on the block. No, we had put on way too much joint compound for the job - a whole big bucket of the stuff. And now we had to sand most of it off, where it flew around freely in the air and then (I'm for certain) implanted itself deeply into our lungs.

Yesterday, instead of those fiber-y paper type masks that people wear for painting, we purchased respirator masks...ones that we can also use when the pandemic hits, or when the terrorists strike. Or when we continue to take up the rug (different post - not yet written).

The powder from the joint compound is an organism. A being of it's own. It coats the floors and the furniture (sloppily covered in plastic) in the room. It's also found a way into the adjoining room, the yoga room, where, with snow drift-like tactics, it overtook the bed we were sleeping on. It forced us into the back bedroom, where we reside today. This white powder is so powerful that it's living in two of the four rooms in our upstairs -- and it pays us no rent. This powder is out to take over the house.

So, the title says "the wall won," but that was just a battle. We will win the war. We will once again sleep in the front bedroom - powder free.

Two walls remain. Root for us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Haunted by a Happy Bird

It started with the photos before we even saw it. I felt like I had seen that aqua-colored middle bedroom before. And it continued with the photo album. When Ed and I viewed the house, the owners left a photo album with pictures of the parties - weddings, christenings -- that happened in their house. Smart selling technique: "You too can have a full life. We were so happy here, we've christened everything. We christen you the new owners" - that's what it felt like they were saying and we bought it. And now I know the previous owner's face. She's so pretty -- a fine-boned Italian woman, who reminds me of a bird. A happy bird in a wedding dress.

And of course she got older, before she died. So, I remember her at her most beautiful, and maybe her happiest. Maybe she got even happier, but it's my fantasy. Her life is now my fantasy.

When we first moved in, we had three kitchen's-worth of kitchen ware -- mine, Ed's and Theresa's. She left everything. Ed's was the newest, and with his Cuisinart and his Global knives naturally selecting themselves into the cupboards and onto the shelves, Theresa's china and my pressure cooker went the way of the meek, down into the basement. But there were times when Theresa's stuff has come in handy. Her tiny measuring spoons, her gargantuan, old-school mixer with three bowls, her pretty little saucers, silverware, towels, cleaning solutions, detergent, everything.

And there were times when, between the three of us, none of us had what was needed. Or, it was packed away in one of the many boxes (probably one marked bathroom).

The first time I asked Theresa for guidance, I was searching for a corkscrew, so you can understand the imperative nature of the request. "Oh, Theresa, where would you keep the implement to open the wine. The cork screw. Theresa!" I spoke to her like the immigrant Italian, even though I don't think she was. I did end up finding a corkscrew, which gave me the creeps, but nothing a little wine couldn't fix. I also asked her for cinnamon, soap, and a funnel. I only got the soap. She wasn't foolproof.

I started to get comfortable with the feeling that an old Italian woman was watching over me, especially in my new kitchen. I told Ed that I invoked Theresa for help now and again. He replied, "Oh, I thought her name was Maria."

Maria. Yeah, that did sound familiar. So, I asked the neighbor. What ever happened to Theresa? It turns out she lives in New Jersey in an assisted living facility. She was the owner's sister, who moved in after Maria had died.

Maria was in the pictures. Maria was the one that grew up and old and died in the house.

So, I've stopped trying to divine information and kitchen equipment from a little old lady who lives in New Jersey. I'm probably irritating her. Maybe she moans at night in her sleep or dreams about corkscrews. Maybe she thinks that a distant memory about cinnamon is trying to make it's way back to her. Maybe I should just go to the store.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Patio Fence

Betsy and I moved in last November, so we haven’t really had a chance to use the back patio all that much. However, we’ve been thinking all along that we might put a privacy fence up along at least one side of the space. There are cinder block walls separating our patio from our neighbors' on either side, but one of them is really low – about three-and-a-half feet high. If the neighbor and I happen to be back there at the same time, we're hanging out together, whether we want to or not. When our neighbors on that side moved away, they told us that a “young couple” had bought the house. We were excited about this, because the average age on our block is about 85. Visions of us all out back grilling and drinking beer together filled our heads. Maybe we didn’t need the fence. Then we met the new guy. In a conversation that lasted 2 minutes, he managed to establish himself as one of the most negative, down-in-the-dumps, killjoy people I have ever met. The fence was on!

Betsy and I paid a visit to the Lowes that Sunday, where we found a pre-built, pre-stained, cedar privacy fence. Our friend Kris had recently built a fence from scratch for her back patio, and although it looked great, it didn’t seem like all that effort was necessary for such a small length of fence. Well, relatively small - the fence was 6x8. Trying to fit it into the back of a small rented pickup truck along with a decent amount of impulse-buy patio furniture was tricky, to say the least. Fortunately, Lowes was generous with their rope and theories on how to secure everything. Still, the precarious nature of the packing job required we roll at about 5 miles an hour all the way home (fortunately, only about a mile).

There was a lip at the top of the concrete wall that was preventing us from mounting the fence flush, so the plan was to attach sections of 2x4 to the concrete wall and then attach the fence to the 2x4s. The 2x4s extended the same distance as the lip at the top of the wall, so everything would sit flush. We had bought a long piece of 2x4 while at Lowes, but it turned out I had enough scrap leftover from an earlier window project to just use that. Since this was going to be outside, I painted the 2x4s with a coat of wood stain. The next day, I pre-drilled Tapcon screws into the 2x4s and and then held them up to the wall one at a time, giving them a few good taps with a hammer. The screws put small dents in the wall, which I marked with a Sharpie. Then, using the special drill bit that came with the Tapcon screws (big thanks to Jim for telling me about that - never would have occurred to me otherwise), I drilled the holes into the concrete. Once the holes were drilled, I lined up the 2x4s and just drilled them in. I was doubtful about how well this would work, thinking the cinderblock might just crumble, but those Tapcon screws held fast.

The fence was about a foot longer than we needed, so using a sawzall borrowed from Jim, I cut through the three backing braces that were holding everything together. Again, this went much smoother than expected. Finally, Betsy helped me get the fence in place. The patio has a pretty serious slope built into it for drainage purposes, so we figured getting the fence level might be difficult. Although the 2x4s seemed well-secured, we weren't too keen on hanging the entire weight of the fence on them. Fortunately, a spare brick lying in the corner proved to be just what we needed. With the corner of the fence resting on the ground and the right corner resting on the brick, we popped the level on top and were amazed to see that it was perfectly level right off the bat. With Betsy holding the fence in place, I drove screws through the fence into the 2x4s. Sturdy as a rock.

I don't expect many other projects to go as smoothly as this one.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

House Proud

Hi, and welcome to Hey, Where's the Tape Measure?, where Betsy and I keep a record of (and running commentary on) our attempts at home improvements. To get an idea of what we're working with, check out the pictures here. This blog has been in our heads for a while now, and we're a little late in getting it started, but I'll try and get you up to speed on some of the projects we've already tackled (or paid to have tackled for us):
  • Replaced stack pipe
  • Replaced sub roof
  • Updated electrical
  • Master bedroom: stripped wallpaper, fixing plaster walls, painting (in progress)
Every so often we'll go back and fill you in on the details of how we went about getting the above items completed, but for now, we'll just forge ahead. Thanks for reading!