Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tips for Calmer Pets During (OMG!) Tradesmen Visits

If your dogs are anything like ours, they get VERY EXCITED when people come over. I'd love to have chill, dignified dogs who casually glance over at newcomers, but that's just not how it is around here. We don't get many visitors, and of those visitors, unfortunately and inconveniently, not all of them are professional positive reinforcement dog trainers. OK, none of them are. Frankly, James and I are are not very well-socialized ourselves, so we can hardly expect the dogs to be.

The cat is easy: I make sure he has access to a quiet, cozy retreat, and offer him treats and pats (and cooing) if he ventures out. I pretty much talk to my pets the entire time visitors are here. I gave myself permission to be that crazy pet lady, in the interest of managing situations and making sure they are having positive experiences. I'm a childless woman post-forty. Everybody expects this of me, anyway.

Initially, with the dogs, we tried a complicated system that involved visitors ignoring them until they calmed down, and then asking guests to reward them. This was hit or miss, because it relied on the dog-savvy of visitors, and their absolute compliance. We were asking people to help us train our dogs, and that was potentially frustrating for all involved. Most people were not stopping by to help us deal with our dogs.

Our current system works much better. First, since they are not good with surprise visitors, I give the dogs a heads-up. I say "Plumbers are coming." (I used to announce different vocations, but decided it was ridiculous to expect the dogs to differentiate between different types of tradesmen.) I explained to the insulation guys, "I told them plumbers were coming. They consider all tradesmen plumbers." They were A-OK with that. I basically want to alert my dogs 'Someone is coming over. You probably don't know them. Probably a man/men. Probably big. They will brings tools in, and start using them on your house.'

Then the treats come out. When the "plumbers" arrive, the dogs are sent to their beds and showered in treats. They bark, and their first inclination is to rush the door, but we send them back to their beds. Bed=treat storm. Off bed=nada. James/I go to the door and greet the VERY EXCITING PERSON. Then we get tennis balls, and one of us rushes outside with dogs in tow, explaining to our visitor that the dogs need to blow off steam when people first arrive, then they calm down. Half the time, the Plumbers oblige by playing a few minutes of fetch with us. (We are lucky to live in a dog-friendly place. Almost everyone has dogs here and doesn't mind mixing it up with them.)

Then the dogs come in somewhat winded, and are sent to their beds for more treats. They are allowed to visit the Plumbers when calm, and when invited. Pippi is an extrovert, and 'calm' is a relative term for her. We settle for enthusiastic, affectionate wiggling.

The success of this method comes down to the fact James and I are in control. We don't ask anyone else to do anything (but if they want to join in, that's great), and the dogs know the drill.

"Plumbers are coming." They are intrigued, and peering down the driveway
expectantly, but not nearly as amped as they could be.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Antique Gas Stove Repair

Antique gas stoves: I've always loved them. I pretty much like anything at least several decades older than me. Even people. If you are 80+ years old, we will likely get along fantastically, and find ourselves waxing poetic about the 'good old days'.

So, of course this old stove with the door stuck halfway open and a 'Happy Cooking' emblem caught my eye at a yard sale. Caught my eye as in triple take and double back. It was the same yard sale we found our claw foot tub and antique sink at: an old country inn was changing hands. Some yard sales are gold. Anyway...

We'd laid down some money at this sale, and in the interest of common sense/thriftiness, I offered the yard sale ladies $50 for it (they were asking $100). I wasn't sure I'd be able to overcome the door issue, and no one could guarantee it worked overall. They said they would let me know at the close of sale. I later got a call informing me the stove was mine for $50 and was elated.

The door issue was a head scratcher. I removed both doors, took them apart to inspect the hinges, attachments, etc., and put them back together none the wiser. An internet search led me to an old appliance maintenance website: antiquestoves.com.

I ordered a stove repair booklet from the site, with the promise that included with the booklet was unlimited follow-up advice. They carry parts for numerous popular brands of antique stoves (and have an Ebay store). Mine was made by Hardwick Stove Co. and they didn't have anything for my brand/model handy, so the repair took some work-shopping.

The booklet convinced me my issue was with the door springs. I emailed pictures and measurements to the stove repair expert. (This was kind of like dealing with the Wizard of Oz; the emails were always unsigned, so I can only assume I was speaking with The Stove Repair Expert.) He said my springs were a size he hadn't seen before, and I spent nearly as much as I paid for the stove ordering a range of potential springs from an industrial spring company that has a minimum order requirement.

Those springs arrived and I replaced the old with new and the door seemed even worse. I sent the strove repair guy more pictures of the original springs. Finally he emailed me with "The smaller spring looks like someone tried to make this work and is not the right one. Hard to say without being there so check the other side(s) if you can." The spring on the other side was huge by comparison. It looked so heavy duty and immovable I hadn't even worried about replacing it. I'd concerned myself solely its sad, bent, rusting little counterpart.

It never occurred to me the whole thing was a jerry-rigged repair, and the springs on either side of the door should, of course, be a matching pair. I felt kind of silly, but relieved. Now all I had to do was measure the space the springs spanned, and figure out what size they should have been. I tried some out via the stove repair website. It turns out an old Tappan stove part fits my Hardwick.

The door closed with its new springs in place. I did some cosmetic touch-ups; polishing the chrome with metal polish and repainting the black areas. I removed the burner grates and coated them with Rustoleum 'High Heat Ultra' spray paint, designed to withstand temperatures up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. I taped off the bottom of the stove and gave the black base the same treatment.

We hooked it up and it worked great. My mother talked me into getting a carbon monoxide detector when I told her we had just installed a recently revived antique and planned to cook on it. It passed its carbon monoxide test with flying colors.

We took to it straight away, with its sturdy retro charm and chic blue flame. We can cook side by side and not elbow each other! It was immediately comfy to use and cozy to behold. This was the first change we made to our kitchen, before our renovation started proper.

And what's more, reassuringly, this stove is cat-approved.

Bear the cat gives his stamp of approval.

D.I.Y. Stained Glass Window

We decided to gut the bathroom and start fresh. Because we were starting fresh, we got creative with the design. I spent many winter hours sitting by the wood stove sketching up floor plans until I arrived at one we really liked, which allowed for a separate tub and shower, instead of our old tub shower combo. Some months earlier we'd found a clawfoot tub and vintage Standard sink at a yard sale.

Inspired by the notion of a soaking tub, we decided to remove the lone, small window and install a bigger one; we were thinking a stained glass window. I came close to buying one on Ebay, but for the price, I decided to dust off my stained glass skills and buy the materials to make my own window. (I took an adult ed. stained glass course years ago.) I dug out my tools, ordered more online, bought some glass, and reacquainted myself with glass cutting, etc. With my customary creative outlets on hold for the renovation, my attention to detail was probably a touch more obsessive than necessary.

We found an old 12 paned window at the dump that seemed a good candidate to receive stained glass panels, with a little TLC. I filled half a sketchbook with window design ideas.

I got my heart set on bees. A Google search made clear the most graceful way to depict bees in stained glass is to paint them on....and proper stained glass painting is an ancient art. So, how did they used to do it? I got the rough ingredients for traditional medieval glass paint and stain from Wikipedia and ordered most of it online. I figured I'd just whip up a Middle Ages-style stained glass painting (coughs).

An early 15th Century roundel courtesy of stainedglassmuseum.com

Further digging revealed of course the glass needs firing, and no, a kitchen oven will not do. I found a kiln on Ebay. I also found a company that manufactures traditional glass paint (Reusche).

I settled on a design and started making the panels. Only the center two would need to be painted.

Because I was going for a medieval folk art feel, I didn't worry too much about everything being perfectly exact.
(Although stained glass really does need to be planned out and measured properly, and this I did.)

When I got around to attempting the final two panels--the painted panels--I found a website that spelled it all out pretty well. These two pale English druids have kindly supplied the interwebs with everything we should need to know to get on with old school glass painting properly. It became abundantly clear just how much I had yet to learn. 

David Williams and Stephen Byrne of Williams & Byrne Stained Glass Studio,
found online at realglasspainting.com

The first few firings were trial and error, and I took a lot of notes. It is going to take a while to master stained glass painting/reach competency. But I got to a point where I was happy enough with the results to go ahead with putting the window together. I look forward to revisiting stained glass painting when I have more time to experiment. 

James built a sturdy frame around the window and caulked the panels in.

The old window was removed, new window installed, and clapboards replaced.

It has made the room so much brighter and lends that ambiance only stained glass can. We are happy with it.

A close-up of the center panels (and a better representation of the true colors)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Floors

When I renovated a small early 1900's cottage in Australia, I found some beautiful hardwood floorboards hidden under shag carpet and black tiles. Chipping the tiles up was a chore, but once I'd finished, there was the floor, ready to be sanded and polished.

Nothing in this house has been that straightforward. Originally the entire first floor was done in nice maple floorboards. When James and I began this project, the kitchen was half aging linoleum and half tiles. The mudroom and bathroom were done in the same tiles. The hallway, and master bedroom that we converted back to a living room, were covered in wall to wall carpet. 

When all of these floor coverings were removed we found (in addition to the black mold in the mudroom/laundry area and bathroom): a complete patchwork of flooring. The maple floors were mostly intact in the living room, hallway and kitchen, albeit covered in glue. We scraped this off with a scraper and rented a floor sander to do the living room. It took us a full three days of tag team style working to sand the floor, due to how undulating the surface was, and how much glue remained. I've heard said floor sanding should be left to the professionals; you can end up with sanding drum marks if you don't have the right touch/timing. We have some light scuffing here and there, but it looks much improved from the tired old carpet. This isn't a museum quality renovation: we're not killing ourselves here. Working with what we've got, I coined the look I'm shooting for in this renovation: Rustic Farmhouse Chic.

As I mentioned in the first post, I don't believe this house ever was built to perfection. 

When we did all the glue-scraping and sanding in the living room, we came across an unpleasant surprise. At some point someone decided to stick a square of plywood in the middle of the room (maybe this was an opening to the basement?). At that, the perfectionist in me had to admit defeat. Did we want to try to track down some matching maple boards and re-floor half the room? No. We were renovating to a deadline and budget: our living room doubles as our guest room and summer, a.k.a. guest/tourist season, was upon us. I decided this eyesore would probably be under a throw rug, anyway. I took a straight edge, drew some pencil lines matching the adjoining floorboards, and the entire floor was finished in a couple coats of Varathane. It still pains me, but at least your eye doesn't shoot to that spot anymore. It is under a rug now.

In the kitchen there was more glue under the lino. I've slowly been scraping if off when I have a spare moment. Sometimes I prefer to work that way, rather than spend an entire afternoon in tedium. Plus, my wrist gets sore, so my scraping is less effective anyway. So short bursts, here and there is my preferred approach, when James is working on some heavy duty one man job and I feel like I'm just standing around. Eventually it'll be ready by the time we need sand and paint. (This is how I got the tiles up, too, for the most part: a few concentrated bursts.) I've discovered white vinegar poured and left to soak into the glue allows it to be wiped off instead of scraped. It's messy, but effective.

Speaking of tiles, once those were gone, it became apparent so too were the original maple floorboards: they'd been cut away and replaced with plywood. I managed to track down some maple flooring on Craigslist the same depth as our boards, but not the same length or width. We decided to paint the floors to tie them in better. Considering the kitchen/hallway/mudroom used to be part tiles, part lino, and part carpet, even with mismatched boards, our new look would be more uniform, and painted floors are in keeping with the old farmhouse aesthetic. 

We're re-flooring the bathroom, too, but our bathroom reno has gotten so involved I'm going to leave the entire topic for another post.

Literally chipping away

Tiles are off here. Plywood and various bits and pieces are being removed to make way for new flooring.

A new sub-floor: most of the old boards needed replacing.

The new (secondhand) floor going in over tar paper. The original floors are on the far right.
(Edit: I should add, before we laid this floor, we brought the wood inside to acclimate to the
temperature and humidity of the space we were installing it in (a week or more is recommended).
Because these were secondhand floors, we had to file out the grit that had accumulated in the
tongues and grooves. It had already been de-nailed.)
Pippi helped a lot. She made off with the chalk line chalk and proposed a game with Thomas, our older,
somewhat more sedate dog. His bed was covered in chalk, but her paws bore the tell-tale mark of a chalk thief.

I don't know who's reading this (bar a handful of our friends/family), so I am erring on the side of not boring you senseless with minutiae. But, when I'm mid-task/quandary and poring over the Internet, that is sometimes exactly what I want: the finer details, the tools used, etc. So please, ask away if you ever want me to go into more detail. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Un-Fun Stuff

A lot needed to happen before we could get onto the arguably more rewarding task of setting up the house to our taste.

A few decades ago James' grandmother had an addition built on the house, allegedly in kind of a hurry. I can't blame her--J's grandparents were raising six kids in a smallish 1.5 story farmhouse. The addition became the new living room. It's on cinder blocks while the rest of the house is on granite foundation. The exterior cladding is press board, which is not holding up well and clashes with the original wooden clapboards on the rest of the house. (We'll sort this out later.) The wood stove is in there, which is a pretty inefficient way to heat the house. It's on the farthest wall away from the rest of the living areas (bedrooms, kitchen, dining, etc.). The roof leaked during heavy rains and in winter when deep snow caused ice dams.

We had to shovel the roof off with every big snowstorm. 

Yes, I am quite determined to get dogs into every single blog post.
And yes, Pippi climbed that ladder herself.

So the first order of business was re-roofing the addition. We had to wait for the weather, of course. Fortunately James had roofing experience and we were able to do this job ourselves. (Mostly James, some me--just enough to note how much roofing kills your knees, and some Pippi.)

Good supervision is the key to success.

We got an energy audit done. The auditor foam-sealed gaps and lessened the overall draft for us. Based on his advice, we zeroed in on the areas that needed insulating, and got insulation blown into the attic and above the addition ceiling.

Before the insulation guys came, we removed the attic floorboards to make way for insulation.
This allowed us to rebuild the floor higher, so we can still have storage space up there, and not
just a room full of insulation.
We decided the house would be easier to heat, and cozier, if we reverted back to the original floor plan: all the living areas under the original roof. We converted the addition into James' wood shop. That actually was kind of fun. It's handy having a workshop just off your living area, especially in this climate; working outdoors or in an outbuilding is barely an option (unless that outbuilding is tricked out with all the mod cons)....And it gave us a room to tinker in while the rest of the house takes shape.

We also built a laundry area into the addition/James' workshop. The washer and dryer used to live in the mudroom/main entry and that kind of drove me nuts. So we moved them just to the other side of the wall. It seemed straightforward enough...it wasn't quite. There was black mold under the tiles, both on the wall, and floor. This became a serious affair with masks, white vinegar, bleach, etc. The sub-floor was rotten in many places and needed replacing. The wall had been pushed aside to make way for tiles: the studs were sawn off at the bottom where they should have connected to the bottom plate, and simply nudged into the adjoining room...This is a supporting wall, by the way. James had to kick the wall back into place, and hammer it into its original position.

The new laundry area taking shape, with the mudroom/entry through the door behind.
(Plus a rare shot of James sans builder's crack!) We'll finish this area off with an
accordion door and some cedar siding we pulled out of the bathroom.

And then there were the floors...But that can wait for another day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Beehive Compost System

We built several compost bins inspired by a design James found in a book ('Compost' by Ken Thompson). It's a stacking system involving several levels, built on a slant, with a wooden lip nailed on the inside, toward the bottom, so they stack neatly. Levels can be added as your compost pile gets bigger, and subtracted as it breaks down. The lid is just a similar nailed lip and a rope handle. We had a little bit of rope laying around...

We just slapped a coat of paint on these. Actually, it was one coat of paint followed by black spray paint. They are holding up OK. There's room for improvement on the design and execution here...some wax or tung oil maybe, or sturdier varnish, or two coats of proper exterior paint.

Here they are after their first coat of paint. There is also a dog standing
on a boat in this photo, because why on Earth would anyone crop that out?

A single section

The bins in use today, showing a small compost bin for 'finished' compost, a
larger bin used for daily food scraps, and a spare section awaiting use.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Starting a garden

The first thing we did once Spring sprung was put in a garden. We used felled trees from the neighboring forest for the posts, and rough-sawn boards James' grandfather had lying around his property for the rails. (Grandpa Bob lives just down the road and has an old timer's...erm...passion for salvage.) The gate I salvaged from the first rental I lived in on the island. I built it from some interesting scrap metal I found in the old farm dump, i.e. that spot on the property where everything unwanted was thrown and left to rot...cars, glass bottles, old stoves, etc. I even found a bed frame...

Anyway, I rescued that gate when I moved out, and added it to the garden James and I put in here. Garden fences are a must here. Appropriately, there are a lot of deer on Deer Isle.

James tilling the soil with his constant helper, Pippi Shortstocking
...still holding strong a few years later. This was last winter.

I got some good tips from this fun book I found at a yard sale. It has all manner of old-timey gardening and homesteading advice and anecdotes. We decided to give magnetic gardening a whirl, and added some copper wire to the perimeter. (You can just make it out by a line of snow sitting about a foot and a half up from the top rail.)

I spotted this book for sale on a certain giant online retailer's site, so it's still out there...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

In the beginning...

A few years ago James and I were basically living at my rental house. James was technically still living in his family house (where we live now), or at least keeping an eye on it after everyone else had moved away. During a particularly cold winter spell, when this house was vacant, the pipes burst, flooding the living room, and sending a cascade of water directly onto James' bed, soaking the mattress and the wall behind. At that point we decided it was ridiculous to spread ourselves across two houses. James took over the mortgage from his mother, and we began slowly making this house our own. 

James grew up in this house, as did his mother before him. The property was built around 1900 and used to be a dairy farm. It's your basic old farmhouse. It was not built by master carpenters. There aren't many flourishes, but it does have a certain rustic, utilitarian charm (and a pretty adorable steep roof pitch on the main house, if you're into that sort of thing. More on the newer, less cute addition later). Some of the old character remains, and some was lost to history. The house has seen several children raised, at least two divorces, various tenants, and people coming and going over the years. When I moved in, the detritus of several families was everywhere; in boxes piled in rooms, in drawers, cupboards, floor to ceiling in the barn...

So, we literally had to clear a space to live in. 

Our bedroom came first, and we didn't do anything too fancy: dozens of milk crates, boxes, etc., of clutter sorted through and moved, some wallpaper scraped off, a new coat of paint on the floor and walls. 

I didn't take a lot of 'before' pictures during that time. Partly, I think, because it didn't feel like my space yet. It was other people's stuff, other people's decor. I know these people...entering a family house and changing everything around felt kind of awkward, kind of rude and judgey. In the beginning. Now, helping this little house come into its own has become priority, and the fires of my design dork passion will not be quelled.
Our bedroom: our first project: nothing major, just new paint...