Friday, June 28, 2013

Bathroom of the Past

While I'm busy slapping the next layer of paint on the bathroom walls, I thought my readers might like to see what it looked like in 1968. It's the only picture I have, and the details are tantalizing.

The bathroom was tiled! That's going to happen again someday, I hope. The tile color is pale, but depending on how you squint, you could read it as beige, pearl pink, or perhaps a buffy yellow. It has floral wallpaper with aqua butterflies, and the lady of the house picked up that color in the toilet seat cover, what looks like some hobnail glass accessories on the shelves about the toilet, and the some of the hand towels.

Since we're seeing a side view, we can only guess at the vanity mirror with what looks like tilt-out side panels. Was it a medicine cabinet? Not sure. If it was the recess has long since been drywalled over.

The bathroom also had a drop-front installed sink. How nice to have a full-sized ceramic one instead of a weird fiberglass bar thing! That's also on my list of things to change.

I'll be working this weekend to completely rid the room of its muddy mauve colors. I'll check back next week with updates.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Messy and Full Life (and Blog Post)

This blog post will resemble my life right now. Which means it will lack organization, direction, and possibly sanity.

But it's better than no blog post at all, no?

I've been puttering along at both bathroom and exterior paint scraping. In a few areas, the paint has come off in gloriously large peels. Definitely a sign that the paint was in bad shape, but so gratifying to have gobs fall off all at once.

(And apparently it's also Toe Fetish Day on the blog. Enjoy.)

I've bought paint for the bathroom walls, but I am still busy filling holes and sanding patching. I didn't take any picture of that because, well....boring.

All that work is what made Housiversary Number 2 go by almost completely unnoticed. I'd had some grandiose scheme last year about a party-slash-open house, and I'm sure I was imagining cupcakes and drinks in pint jars and home-made party banners and croquet on the lawn like I was addicted to Pinterest or something. But the truth is that even under ideal circumstances I sorta suck at event planning.

So Mr. Man and I had one couple over for dessert. That I can handle.

The kids are back from Colorado and camping a la sandy underpants, and from Europe and a post-trip bout of jet-lag. Grant knows his mother's ultimately geeky heart, and brought back a reproduction folio of The Tempest from the Globe Theater in London. It makes me all swoony.

The weather is hot and humid, and I live in an old house without central air upstairs. We finally put one of two new window air-conditioning units upstairs on Tuesday night, and it ended up being a two-hour cluster-f#$% because the new units aren't quite as well designed to fit on an old house windowsill as the old ones were. Which begs the question: what brand spanking new house needs a window air-conditioner? Really? Aren't window a/c's for working-class families and old-home owners whose central air is non-existent to non-functional? So that's my home ownership rant of the week. And I've still got one more cluster-f#$% to go. Remember me in your thoughts.

Because it is hot and humid, I've also lost the will to cook. Unfortunately the boys have not lost the will to eat hot meals. They honestly want me to boil pasta in this weather? I could easily live on fruit, carrot sticks straight out of the bag, and this:

Edamame hummus. It's my new food "thing," eaten with whole grain pita chips. (Um, no. I don't do sponsored posts, they didn't give me anything, and I'm not getting paid to say that.)

Secretly I'd like to ditch all of bathroom and house scraping mess and garden. I'm enjoying the color and textures:

The daylilies are off the hook:

And the roses too:

And the Asiatic lilies are about ready to go:

But see that plant in the lower right background? Giant weed. I need to get on that too. What's keeping your summer crazy?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall

Has anything about your house ever irritated the crap out of you?  So much so that ripping it out RIGHT NOW seemed like the thing to do?

Meet my bathroom mirror.

It's 4 feet, 5 inches wide, and 34 inches tall. It goes right down behind the faucet, and catches every splash, smear, and finger print.

Because it's so large, it's got a pretty wide angle, and there is no place safe to be undressed and middle aged in that bathroom. No where. My self-esteem has never been that sturdy.

Hate is not too strong of a word.

Now to be honest, I've been living with this monstrosity for two years. But suddenly, while I was up the step ladder last weekend painting the ceiling, I caught a glimpse of my scabby knees and a particularly unbecoming view of my own thighs I still cannot unsee,  and something snapped inside me. That thing was coming down.

To be on the safe side, I taped it up with lots of painters tape, so in case it broke coming down I didn't cut myself.

It turns out I'm grateful in more ways than one I got determined to take it down. The bottom was simply resting on the top of the backsplash in metal edge that wasn't actually fastened to anything. The top was held to the wall with two screws. I don't know what was really holding it up there except habit and a slight discontinuity in the laws of physics. I also had to remove the hand towel hoop just to get it out of there.

It weighs about 55 million pounds, too.

Now that it's gone,

I have the opposite problem. No way to know if there's still lunch in my teeth. I'm not minding so much, actually, though after measuring I've realized that I will need a custom-size mirror to fill this space. I'm just not going to fill up so much of the space. In the meantime, I need to find a temporary mirror.

Oh, and that other thing I mentioned.

The ladder barely fits in the bathroom, so to get out the door or even to the other side I'm stepping in the tub (the location from which I took this photo) or walking across the counter on the other side.

But after mirror and ladder wrangling for half a day, I had a painted bathroom ceiling:

None of these photos are particularly pretty, but that just means I'm at the stage where things have to get a little worse before they start getting better. And I've got motivation to get a move on, since my sister will be here in two weeks. I'd best bust a move.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Here and Gone: When the Kids Aren't Home

I've been busy at work, mucking around in the garden, slapping paint on a few things, scraping the siding when it isn't raining.

My heart really isn't in it right now.

Grant graduated from high school, and almost immediately boarded a plane for England, on a senior trip.

The rest of the boys got in a van with their dad, headed for Colorado and camping. 

Ben and his faithful companion, Moosie. 

That was last week, and I won't see them again for another week.

Saying I miss them doesn't really cut it. There's a gone-ness haunting this house that is hard to take.

It isn't always this way. But often enough that it's hard to pat their shoulders and leave them standing in their dad's driveway.

The custody arrangement I have with my kids' dad is fair. And really, we're luckier than many divorced couples. We live in the same town, and our arrangement is 50/50-- we alternate weeks. Whether at Dad's or Mom's, they go to the same school. Though there are some hiccups with business travel, vacations (like now), and holidays, we mostly stick with dropping the kids off at the other parent's house every Sunday before dinner.

We've been doing this for a few years now, so it's built into our schedule. A habit. But saying that it's routine for us is different than saying it is easy. It is not. I don't know that it will ever be.

I don't, or am at least not able to, sort the emotional freight of this situation into a neat list of advantages and disadvantages, pluses and minuses.

What I do when I have the kids, most people call single parenting. I prefer to call it immersion parenting. It's true I don't have a parenting partner, but I would rather concentrate on the intensity of the experience, rather than the aloneness. I am the one responsible for everything; I am also the recipient of all myriad gifts of mothering my sons.

The boys, all four of them, are noisy, smelly, ravenously hungry, and come with the familiar daily challenges: orthodontist appointments, music lessons, sports practices, and endless mounds of dirty laundry and shoes in the foyer. My days are also full of hugs from little boys (and sometimes the big ones too), chord progressions from Nirvana songs, innovative new Lego inventions, pots of home made macaroni and cheese, reading James and the Giant Peach aloud, the smell of freshly shampooed hair and clean pajamas.

It's a heady, concentrated distillation of parenting-- stressful, intense, familial, comforting. It's the blood in my veins. It's also the reason I'm up until midnight or 1 a.m. every day, trying to keep up.

So when they do head over to their other home for a week with their father, I'm often ready for a break.  I admit it's not a bad thing, the chance to catch up on the laundry, for the cook and kitchen to stand down for a few days, for a few earlier-to-bed nights. I am not routinely miserable-- there are magazines to read, glasses of wine to drink, blog posts to write.

I also admit I used to get so angry when married mothers would tell me, "I'm so envious of all your time without your kids. How nice it must be to have regular breaks."

I was tempted to yell at them, "do you really think this is something to envy, you idiot?" But I've softened over time, because really, they are only expressing a universal truth of all motherhood. We do need breaks from our children. Not because we don't love them. But because parenting is hard even when we're doing it right, whether as a couple or on our own.

However, being ready for a break and wanting it are two different things. My head tells me my children's healthy relationship with each parent is important. It tells me this arrangement is the best case scenario for everyone, considering all possible and far unhappier outcomes of divorce. Sometimes my head even tells me that it would be nice for a clean room to stay clean for longer than 15 minutes. But my heart tells me a different thing, and that's what makes it difficult to stand in their empty bedrooms while they are away.

The one consolation I take away from all this is the improvement of my parenting in the precious time I do have with them. When I was married, I wasn't the best parent I could be. The toxins of the unhealthy adult relationship were literally shedding off into my mothering, and I was emotionally exhausted, scolding, tense, perpetually dissatisfied, motivated by guilt and resentment. While I was far from a terrible parent, I was far from my best.

Now, with all the personal and family turmoil of the last five years beginning to resolve itself, I have emerged to find that I'm a relaxed mom, who sees her four sons as amazing, developing individuals whom I have the privilege of watching grow up. I still have days where I haven't had enough sleep and more often than not ones with dirty socks and popcorn on the floor. But the one gift in those silent, absent interstices is the realization of how much I've been given. I think about that every time I am baking a pan of brownies, waiting for the sound of the door to open again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Housiversary 2/74

It's been two years since I signed on the dotted line. The house and I are both still standing (so far). The house itself is 74 years old this year. She's aging well, and I hope better after I've put in a few years taking good care of her.

It doesn't seem like two years. I've noticed that with most worthwhile things, like raising babies and writing good stories and making a damn fine pie, time turns in on itself. It seems like a long time, and yet no time at all.

This house and these two years have seemed like that. I have always been here. That is the rightness of knowing this is home. I have only been here a few weeks. That is how the calendar days pass when life is handing you blessings and challenges, one right after another.

That's a kind of yin and yang you can miss if you don't stop to recognize it.

I do.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Projects: Weather or Not

We've been having plenty of weekend forecasts that look just like this:

Every. Freaking. Week.

It's getting me down, and I have nightmares of my house painting project turning into a kind of fiasco. I worry this wet, wet weather will never become a dry, clear summer.

However, the scraping has started.

I'm relieved to report that the paint that the previous owners used was the A-100 label of Sherwin Williams. I found the old cans in the garage. Even though the house is long overdue for repainting, it's a good, good, GOOD thing that the last layer of paint was a good-quality one. Also, there are only two layers of paint on the siding. It means the paint that's not peeling is still adhering well, and that we don't need to go down to bare wood every square inch. I can't tell you how much better I feel about the job. I hope this isn't over-confidence on my part.

Still, I can't work on it when it's raining. Even scraping paint is a bad idea when the siding is wet.

So, my mantra this summer will be sunshine: painting; raining: bathroom. Lather rinse repeat. I figure no matter what the weather does I'll manage to get one of them done by this end of the summer. Right? Who's with me? (Seriously, I do need a cheer squad right about now).

Here's where I am on my bathroom list:

10 Mini Projects for the Bathroom

1. Upgrade the cabinet hardware.
2. Grout the floor.
3. Paint
4. Replace the light fixture
5. Replace the mirror
6. Replace the toilet paper holder.
7. Replace the shower curtain rod.
8. Add art and decorative items.
9. Replace counter top.
10. Replace sink and faucet

I also grouted the nasty tub, which was this month's "Do I Have To?" project. My next steps in order are to:

1.  paint the ceiling
2.  replace the shower curtain rod (this step is second so I don't drip ceiling paint on a new fixture
3.  paint walls.

New paint color for the bathroom?

An Eddie Bauer Home Valspar color called Weathered Glass:

Image Source: My Perfect Color 
It's a light turquoise that looks so clean and refreshing compared to that muddy mauve, I can hardly wait to get started.

But with the weather forecast looking like it does, it's likely I'll be painting indoors instead of scraping outdoors. At least I've got a plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rain + Rain = Super Green Garden

We've had record rainfall around here this spring, and it hasn't been the greatest thing. On the larger scale our community and our state have had minor to moderate flooding. That's been scary, but we've managed to avoid a true natural disaster. We're all grateful.

On the smaller scale, the wet days means the garden has grown lush and green, but the weather has given us few days to mow or work on landscape projects. Add that to a house painting project this summer and we already, in the early days of June, feel like we're weeks behind.

It always helps me to review the progress going back to the very early days of the front yard. This was April of 2012

The first year, in 2011, we didn't get much done the other than reclaiming the front yard from the weeds, and getting rid of a few unwanted plants and shrubs that were either diseased, dying, or ugly as all get-out.

Then in 2012 my oldest son built this retaining wall for me:

And we were able to make some small progress on adding the kinds of plants that make up an old-fashioned perennial border: roses, day lilies, bee balm, salvia, and purple coneflowers.

This spring, though, was so wet I struggled to find sunny days to plant, weed, mulch, and landscape.

This weekend was a little crazy and disjointed. (Again. Can we stop having these, please? Thanks.) But we had some sunshine and dry weather. It was about time.

Below you can see some real progress. In the foreground is a clump of yarrow/crabgrass/some other thing that I think might be butterfly weed. That's sort of a mess. The electric blue in the middle is May Night Salvia, and to the rear of it is some wild Joe Pye Weed that volunteered in my garden. It is tall, has purply pink flowers, and butterflies love it. It can stay. To the right of the salvia are mixed Asiatic lilies. If the rabbits leave them alone this year (fingers crossed) I might actually get some flowers. The retaining wall is out of sight on the left side of the photo, below the lamp post.

Here's a view of the lawn edge of the perennial border. Behind the lilies in the lower left corner are some kind of nameless penstemon with reddish leaves and stems, and white flowers. Near the house is the Limelight Hydrangea we moved away from the foundation:

I conquered another little bit of acreage in front of the faucet/hose rack for some delphiniums:

But to the right of the delphiniums is still an overgrown mess. It doesn't look that bad, but the overgrowth is hiding a pile of waste sod, sticks and stump pieces, and the sump pipe.

Eventually we'll get the entire border in front of the house cleaned up and edged in these stone pieces. I like how you can just run the wheel of the mower up on them.

Those green spikes are gladiolus. I was so happy to see them come up! I've never grown them before.

I'd like the front yard to get close to done on the major landscaping this summer so I can move onto the back yard, which also desperately needs attention. However, house painting is the priority this year. It's a race to see what we can get done before October and too-cold-to paint temperatures.

I hope to post another garden update later in the season. Until then, I leave you with my latest star of the garden, which finished up blooming last week. This is a tall bearded iris variety called Tennessee Gentleman. Enjoy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Do I Have To? Caulk the Tub, or The Ugliest Blog Post Ever

This post has pictures of mildew and trash.

It goes downhill from there. I didn't even finish it, because apparently working in my bathroom until late with the intent of writing a blog post does NOT mean that I'll be taking a photo of the finished project.

But seriously, why do you need to see a tub with fresh caulk? If that's how you get your jollies, you need a new hobby.

So do I.

Anyway. My tub is the original tub from when the house was built, in 1939. In that sense I love this tub. It's got this cool Art Deco design on the outside, and one day I'm gonna have it shipped out and reglazed. That's the plan.

But right now, it's toast. It also has a fiberglass tub surround installed by the previous owners. Also not so cool.

In the past couple of months, ooky black spots of mildew have been appearing in the caulk line between the fiberglass surround and the tub, so I knew it was about time to get the tub recaulked.


I removed the old stuff with a box cutter and a putty knife. I'm not sure that's particularly advisable for any type of tub in newer condition, but my tub, like I said, is pretty well shot. The glaze is long gone, and there's not really anything I could do to make it worse. The best tutorial I found online is one by Popular Mechanics, here. So do as I say, not as I do.

More disgusting stuff:

After it was all pulled out, I scrubbed the space with a strong hot bleach and dishwashing liquid mixture and let it dry completely. When I was ready to caulk, I even gave it blast with my hair dryer to make sure it was completely dry in there.

Maybe some of you have seen this pin, from This Old House, making the rounds on Pinterest, about using painter's tape to do a neat line on the caulk. I figured it was worth a try, since caulking is about the messiest thing since eating corn on the cob, and whole lot less fun.

                                           Source: on Pinterest
So I figured I'd give it try:

Those white squares in the tub are plastic cleats which were stuck on the fiberglass surround, I suppose to corral the shower curtain. But they were always catching grody grime behind them, and so I popped them off while I was in there with a putty knife. You can see the grimy spot where it used to be on the far lower right of the photo above. More yuck.

So far in this post I've managed to refrain from caulk jokes in poor taste, but if you can't, I really don't mind. I mean, it's a picture of a caulk gun. What else can you do?

My hands are small and the caulk gun handle hard to compress, so I was shaky. For pete's sake, it looked like I was taking a class in basic buttercream. I mean, look at this:

My inner voice kept yelling: stop acting like a dumb girl. This is a tub, not a cupcake.

That, as far as I was concerned, was the whole problem.

You're supposed to smooth your caulk bead with a wet finger, and really, I just keep both hands, my whole hands, dunked in water during the process. It helps. Wipe everything up with paper towels that you place in disposable plastic bags right away. Caulk, like the common cold, gets every where if you're not careful.

Did the tape work? Yes and no. Yes, it contained the worst of the excess goo on an easily peel-off-able surface.

But it left little ridges, albeit small, that needed to be smoothed with an additional wet finger swipe. At that point it's hard to say whether it saved me excess mess or just moved it around. I think my official review of this idea is "Meh."

Here's the point in the post where I'd show you that picture of a finished project, if I had a brain in my head past 11 p.m. But I don't. You know what it looks like. Use your imagination. Seriously. There's no way that photo was going to rescue this post from its ugly state anyway.

In other "Do I Have To?" news, my oldest son had some unholy fit of ambition and irritation hit him about our garage, and about two hours later I found this on my curb.

Not only that, he took months worth of soda/beer/wine empties back to the store for deposit. He decided to do both of these things on his own. Either he has a virus, or someone hit him in the head with one of those pool cues. Either way, I'm not complaining. I even let him have the deposit money.

Stay tuned for July's "Do I Have To" post; every first Monday of the month I hit one chore that few homeowners like to do. It's like a monthly collective whine. See you next time.