Friday, November 21, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Foyer Revamp

You know how sometimes you get it into your head that you'll do "just one quick project" before a major holiday, because you want the house to look nice and you think an arbitrary deadline will help you get it done?

Yeah. About that.

I did that. With my foyer. Now, honestly, it was easy to make the mental leap here. I don't have any grand entrance, no two-story lofted ceiling, no chandelier, no staircase. My foyer is barely 4 feet by 5.5 feet, and a small closet is exactly opposite the front door. On either side it opens into the living room, or into our front room (the office). This is no place for square-dancing.

Just like people are glib about bathrooms, I was glib about this foyer. That was two weekends ago. And I'm not even technically "done," I just completed a list of short-term goals.

The woodwork and doors were tired and scuffed, the paint was fleshy beige on both the walls and the trim, and there were even faint drippy stains leftover from a catastrophic coffee travel mug bomb that got dropped on the floor last winter. The whole thing was getting me down. I didn't even take before pictures. So just imagine something in your mind of that sort of tired, scuffed and grubby state that highly trafficked areas get, and sigh heavily. I did.

I decided that the color going on my front door outside could come inside, too. I like how it's setting off all the apple greens and browns in my living room. It's a Valspar paint color called Cinnamon Cake, but done in Sherwin Williams exterior grade satin gloss. It's a bit more subdued and spicy looking in person than is showing in the photo.

The paint on the walls is Valspar's Oatbran, which is a beige that is taupey-gray enough to avoid any pinkish overtones. Super important when you're going with an orange door.

You can also see my vintage foyer light, original to the house, in the upper corner of the photo. You know what also revamps a foyer? Cleaning about 18 billion dead gnats out of the light shade. Who knew?

After having the paint and woodwork painted the exact same color (and a color I didn't like) it's been a pleasure to see the contrast of freshly painted white woodwork with the burnt orange and oatbran colors. And I hung a wreath from Target on the door. Just a wee tiny bit of early holiday decorating. I'm usually pretty strict about that sort of thing, but this seemed more "winter" than "Christmas" to me.

It doesn't solve all the obvious problems in this tiny room. The hardware on both doors needs either refinishing (closet door) or replacing (front door). The torn vinyl is still there, though it's under a new and bigger (though still not big enough) rug.

I'm glad I decided to go bold with the front door, instead of just going with white. I find myself sitting on my sofa with my mug of coffee, staring at my pumpkin pie door. It's just the right color for entertaining guests over Thanksgiving, and they'll be here soon--my sister and her family.

They'll be just in time for my other company's-coming crazy-in-the-head behavior, which is trying a recipe I've never tried before. When will I learn? Probably never. But in the meantime, here's to fresh paint on the walls!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Battlefield and Homestead: October Trip

In my last blog post I mentioned that instead of confronting the end of the outdoor/exterior house work season head-on, I put my paintbrushes down and left town.

That I did. Twice. I was feeling restless and burnt out, and even though my time was running out, I knew things weren't going to go well if I kept plugging away at it without a break. The book festival weekend wasn't quite enough for me, so I also headed south to my Dad's house in Missouri to get some fall hiking in, and to honor an anniversary of sorts. My sister Dyan met us there so we could all get some family time in.

Last year, we'd run an inaugural 5-mile race hosted by Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, in Republic, Missouri. We were so proud to do it together. And finish!

On the one-year anniversary we returned, to do some hiking and appreciate the history of this place. It saw the first Civil War fighting west of the Mississippi, and the death during combat of the first Union general, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. I even wore the same shoes:

Dyan, Dad and I have developed the tradition of always bringing my Grandad's (my Dad's father, who passed away in 1996) favorite candies on our hiking expeditions. These are the Official Walter Millsaps Memorial Chick O' Sticks: 

The battlefield is a quiet place, beautiful in autumn. It's hard to believe that 535 men gave their lives here over 150 years ago. And that the Ray family, whose farm is pictured below, turned their home into a field hospital to tend to the wounded and dying.

Another day, we visited the Nathan Boone Homestead, a Missouri State Historic Site. Nathaniel was the youngest son of Daniel Boone, and the cabin and barn are preserved in an attempt to give visitors an idea what life was like when Missouri was a frontier state in the 1830s. Every year, they have a festival encampment, which includes 19th century re-enactors dressed as frontiersman, tradesmen, and soldiers, and craft demonstrations.

For some reason I've always been fascinated by stone chimneys, and Nathan Boone Homestead's are beautiful. 

I loved the underside of the porch awning, as well. 

The beautiful frontier garden was wrapped up for the year: 

The long weekend also featured a fish-fry with okra and hush puppies, large mugs of coffee, reclining deep into the cushions of my dad's big leather sofa, and watching a John Wayne movie. In other words, it was nearly perfect.

Both trips were mental health imperatives. Now that my soul's been fed and my travel itch scratched, I'm beginning to take up some small indoor projects in advance of the holidays. I'll be back with a few of them soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall Road Trip: Book Festival

All the film noir criminals know their stuff. When the situation gets hairy, you leave town. So when I was up to my armpits in dry-rotted siding and paint cans and totally behind schedule in everything, I decided the solution was a road trip. Actually, two.

The first one was to reward myself for a long-standing romance I'd been working on mending this year. I'd fallen out of love-- with books.

That situation hardly seemed probable. I was the child who fell out of trees (fortunately not far, though this may explain a few things), because she was too distracted with the ratty paperback in her hand to keep her feet braced on the right branch. It was how I passed long hot summers and snowy winters and awkward adolescence (thankfully only one of those) and ungainly pregnancies.

But I used to work as a newspaper writer, and I'll just say it plain: journalism makes you stupid. It can be an honorable profession at its best. But at its worst, it strips away everything but the now and the next deadline, the context, the background, the poetry of words, and eventually, your attention span. By the time I left the job two and a half years ago, I had the concentration of a fruit fly. I had trouble making it through a magazine article, let alone an entire book. Always having child-rearing and home improvement responsibilities piled up around me made it even worse.

This year I decided to work on that, with the idea I'd reward myself somehow if I got through more than one book. It wasn't easy at first. I felt like my brain was broken. Which turned out to be true in a way-- the internet has rewired our minds, studies say. I got through five, plus a book of poetry. It felt gooooood. Like getting reacquainted with an old lover--slowly, over many glasses of wine, and with flushes of fresh pleasure over old stories.

I rewarded myself with a weekend overnight in early October at the Iowa Book Festival, in Iowa City (which is a UNESCO City of Literature). It's not that far from me, but I decided to get a hotel room and just throw myself headlong into author readings, literary panel discussions, coffee shops, and bookstore browsing. Even the nearby interstate rest stop celebrates the city and state's literary heritage:

It was marvelous. And because I hadn't done so in a really, really, really long time, I allowed myself to spend money on books. A drug habit may have been cheaper, but I'm not sorry. I went to Prairie Lights, a bookstore that should be on every book lover's pilgrimage list. It's small, but densely packed. And who can't love a bookstore with categories like this?

It was a quick weekend, but memorable for all its fine moments. I got to listen to one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, discuss her new novel "Lila." I revisited my college love of literature class in a panel discussion about Irish American writers. I ran into an author in the elevator of my hotel. It felt like meeting a rock star, and I was about as awkward and tongue-tied. I even had enough time to connect with an old friend and meet his family.

My purchases were typical of my usual stack-of-book binges: backwards and forwards in time, always one large, wonky history book with lots of footnotes, a classic I haven't read yet, something new I picked up on a whim, gift books for my dad and sister.

It was a too-short, coffee-fueled, splurgy weekend that I spent mostly inside of my head, pushing my glasses up my nose while I listened, read, and scribbled notes. It was just what I needed after a summer of the messily physical. And the old romance and I are doing just fine, too. 


The Book List That Got Me Back on the Road
1. Looking After Minidoka; An American Memoir, by Neil Nakadate
2. The Prince of Frogtown, by Rick Bragg
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
4. The Ascent of George Washington, by John Ferling
5. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
6. The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats

The Book Festival List (Those with an asterisk were featured authors at the festival. The rest were random purchases from browsing the bookstores.)
1. Lila, by Marilynne Robinson *
2. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis *
3. A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James *
4. Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich
5. Bearwallow, by Jeremy B. Jones
6. The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Making Progress With A New Paint Primer

I left the south side of my house only done half-way last fall, and it's looking like the peeling gable may get left again this fall. Why? I'm a big chicken-headed coward about heights. The ladder scaffold system I used on the front part of the house, now on the south side, has freaked me completely out this time. I didn't understand why my entire being kept saying "nope. NOPE. No way" when I'd sucessfully navigated it last summer. But the elevation on this side is another two feet higher, and on concrete instead of earth. And it all adds up to me being so incredibly nervous that I decided it was a bad, bad, bad idea. I'll be taking it down to work off a single ladder instead. I'll make slower progress, but feel a little less wobbly about being up there. 

In the meantime (I have to round up helpers to take down the scaffold. It's too heavy for me to manuever the parts alone), I've been making progress on.....the garage. The front of it faces the street, and in turn the kitchen sink window faces it, so it's a matter of making the house look better, and my view better too. 

My garage siding is different than the house. It's dutch lap siding, meaning a wide curved groove at the top of each lap. The paint is in even more miserable shape than the house. 

While a ton of paint came right off, the surface was really patchy, and I had no time and no plan to go down to bare wood everywhere. It just wasn't worth the effort on a secondary structure. That said, I didn't want to paint and have it all come back up again after three seasons. As much time as this nearly overwhelming project is taking me, the thought of that happening is nightmarish. 

Sherwin Williams makes a product called PrimeRx Peel Bonding Primer, which according to my internet research was a new product in their line of primers in 2013 (Just a note: I wasn't solicited by SW to write this post, and I paid for my own materials. My opinions are purely my own). At $47 per gallon is isn't cheap, but I had a 30 percent off coupon and a willingness to see if this couldn't help because with old houses, peeling paint isn't just a little patchy thing here and there. It can be the entire project. 

That said, I don't think it was meant to be slapped on without any prep. I scraped away every last bit of loose paint I could, than then sanded with 80-grit sandpaper to get off any stubborn small bits and to smooth the edges of paint patches. Below is a look at the siding before it started going on. The greenish-tan stuff on the two siding courses in the middle of the photo are wood grain filler I'd used to even out some pretty rough boards. 

I suspect the SW people wouldn't take kindly to me comparing their formula to school glue, or decoupage medium, but that is what the product is like. It is thick, a little viscous, and goes on milky white. It dries clear. It is a little smelly, and I'm glad I was outdoors for this. I understand that it can be tinted so you can see where you've been, and if it performs well I may do that next time. It helped in some places to work the primer into the surface with a little stippling effect. 

If the prep was done right, the product should work to seal the edges of paint patches to prevent them from lifting. Reading a few reviews on line it seems that some users thought that this product would function as a leveling product; it doesn't really do that and if you expect a perfectly smooth board prepare to be disappointed. That said, it did a remarkable job evening out a horribly rough surface. 

Here's what the surface looked like when painted: 

You can still see the unevenness of the paint surface, but it's pretty subdued. I can definitely live with this on my garage, and I think it's a quality-looking result for the house too. I plan to try this product on my peeling south side of the house as well. Only time will tell on duration, but so far I'm impressed. 

Here's my before/after corner of the garage, with the front face done on the left (and before I had time to sweep up), and the north-facing side undone on the right (and with a mass of weeds instead of a garden bed). The planter box you see is built of old barn boards from a farm my mother used to live on. One of my next projects will be replacing the side-entry door, which is currently a plywood veneer hollow-core interior closet door (insert massive eye-roll of disgust here). 

Next weekend calls for mostly clear skies and crisp days, perfect for painting. We'll see how much I can get done at the finish of the season. Deadlines are motivating, aren't they?