The pace has been a little different at the bungalow this summer. Eric has been working hard to prep the house for painting during the week, while I, of course, bring the bacon home from the cube farm. By the time the weekend rolls around, we both want a break. It’s summer after all, and we in the damp, gray Pacific Northwest cherish our summers, which traditionally begin on July 5th and sometimes, if we’re lucky, blaze gloriously into early October.
Who can blame us for packing in all the summer activities we can? It’s time for art fairs, ferry rides, farmers markets, architectural tours, dinner with a view. You may have noticed that I’ve slacked off on blog posts. No apologies! I’ve also, um, slacked off on my living room replastering project. What can I say? By the time I get home from work in the evening, plastering doesn’t sound appealing… and come the weekend, I want to play outdoors. And I don’t mean hunting crabgrass, either! Our crabgrass is alive and well!
Okay, break’s over. I have some gnarly before-and-durings for you (no afters, yet). A house does not get to be 103 years old without experiencing some decrepitude. Years of deferred maintenance cause spots and wrinkles, as surely as years without sunscreen cause spots and wrinkles on us. These photos are tantamount to a confession.
Eric started the prep work on the south side of our house, which bakes in the summer sun and soaks in the winter rain. I may have mentioned that whoever painted the trim back in 1995 never got around to trimming out the south side. That person should be thrashed!
In her defense, I recall our 2007 trip to New England, when we visited the Olson house in Cushing, Maine, inspiration for many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings (most famously, Christina’s World). We were free to crawl all over its shabby, faded austerity—a religious experience for me. It made me think: If this house can stand on this windswept hill since the late 1700s with, apparently, no paint, then … what, me worry? But, I digress. That’s a topic for another travel blog.
It is with humility that I reveal to you … our bungalow’s south side. This is my bedroom closet window. (Craftsman houses often have windows in their tiny closets so that one might air out one’s few clothes.) The upper pane is cracked. The checked and peeling brown paint has a tenuous grip on the oversprayed trim boards. The window glazing is mottled but still there. That’s more than some windows can say. Eric used a combination of scraper, power washer, and heat gun to get all the paint off that would come off.
Here’s the south foyer window. Same condition. No hate mail, please.
Are you tired of looking at these depressing photos? I am. I’m sure you get the idea. But wait, there’s more!
Some places are going to be hard to paint, like this oddly shaped cubbyhole formed by a shed roof under the gable over the south foyer window, where pigeons like to roost. In the spring we can hear the chicks peeping and the adults cooing. Eric used the power washer to blast out the remnants of nest and lots of pigeon poop. Yes, he wore a face shield. Then he covered the area with net to keep the birds out. The net will be neatly attached to permanently deter the birds after we paint. Our bird-watching cats will be disappointed. (They do not catch pigeons.)
Pigeon poop is not the only hazardous waste Eric encountered. On the porch roof he discovered a disgusting pile of what we think was raccoon poop, loaded with cherry pits. You know what happens when you eat too many cherries … that raccoon must have had a bad bellyache.
Back to the window frames … After Eric removed as much old paint as possible, all window frames got one or two coats of Zinsser Peel Stop, a treatment that soaks into punky, dry wood and dries hard as rock, at the same time bonding any remaining paint to the wood. Then, a coat of Kilz Klear, a primer that goes on translucent white and dries clear (I mean, klear), like Elmer’s Glue. The new paint won’t dare to come off.
In contrast to the south side, this is our east-facing attic stairwell window. Looks much better, right? But up close, its paint is also checked and brittle, not to mention filthy from pollution.
The most dramatic weather damage is on the parts you can’t see from the ground—the knee braces, for instance. What would your knees look like if they’d been propping up the eaves day in, day out, for 103 years? This is not a log on the beach. It’s the top of one of the knee braces.
You might be surprised to learn that rotten wood like this can be salvaged with good old Bondo. Yes, the same stuff used at body shops. Eric tells me it’s rather tricky to mix the two-part goop, race to the top of the ladder, and schmear it on while it’s still malleable. Bondo is a lot stronger than wood. Real restorers would replace all of these parts with new wood, of course … but we’re not doing that. Our goal is to stabilize the existing wood, paint it, and move on.
In all, Eric replaced eight window panes and reglazed several more. Both of our bathroom windows had cracked panes, so we took the opportunity to replace the clear glass (which we had covered with patterned adhesive privacy film) with new, obscure glass. Wow, what a difference in the bathroom—almost too bright. I can see my own spots and wrinkles too well.
Yesterday, after our spate of too-hot-and-windy-to-paint weather ended, Eric and I applied two coats of “haint blue” paint (Valspar “Gossamer Sky”) to the front porch ceiling. Here’s a teaser for my next post: Woo-hoo—it’s time for COLOR!
Big changes are afoot at the bungalow this summer: Eric got caught in a round of layoffs at the company where we both work. (So far, I’m still employed.) While not in our plan, this is not a bad thing. He parted with a few months severance pay, and after 60 days hiatus (required by law), he potentially could return as a contractor. He’ll officially retire at the end of the year. We say he’s “pretired.” Me? I’m just tired.
Having the summer off with pay sounds like heaven to me … but Eric is saddled with a mile-long honey-do list, his penance for being home and hanging out with Duke and the cats while I continue to toil at the cube farm. You know, little stuff like muck out the attic, build a new fence, paint the house. Yes, folks, it’s time … long past time. The house was last painted back in 1995, best I can remember, and that paint job never was quite finished on the south side, which faces our neighbor. That fact doesn’t sufficiently bother me because I never see our house from that side … out of sight, out of mind—I’m such a lazy bum.
Painting any house is a big job, but painting an old house with intricate trim and peeling paint, weather-beaten wood and petrified glazing is truly daunting. I’ll be giving you a play-by-play description over the summer as things progress.
First, of course, comes a ton of not-so-fun prep work—the key to success if you can force yourself through it—which you must. Yes, I will be helping. You know that painting is my thing. I’ll be painting most of the trim because it’s all brushwork. The body of the house, which, regrettably, is covered in asbestos shingles (along with much of the neighborhood, since some convincing salesman came through in the 1950s) will be sprayed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We can’t paint without picking our new colors, and that’s where the auditions come in. The house is currently a light taupe called Tooley Fog (is that a great color name, or what?) with white trim and spruce-green accent on the window mullions and doors.
I’ve long been imagining the house painted a darker, more traditionally Craftsman scheme of dusty olive, with paler olive trim and burnt red accent. Time for paint auditions!
Eric and I have a routine that we go through every time we pick paint. I’ll pick a color, and Eric will claim, “It’s too dark.” Every. Single. Time. So this time, I picked out the Valspar paint chip cards and, instead of going for the darkest shades, I chose the middle ones, Mossy Aura and Wild Hawk. I moved two cards to the left in the same row and picked lighter shades for the trim, Oatlands Subtle Taupe (which was also a contender for living room paint), and Oatbran. For the red accent, I chose Jekyll Club Cherokee Rust, which reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature red.
Although the two schemes look almost identical and not quite true to life on my monitor, here they are.
I fell in love with Mossy Aura the moment I applied it. It’s, well … mossy. A great backdrop for plants, and very Craftsman. Subtle Taupe is its perfect trim color: light and slightly green-tinted, but with lots more character than white. I eliminated the Wild Hawk/Oatbran combo, although good colors, as too brown. (When I bought the house in 1983 it was vanilla with mud brown trim. Yech! I want to stay away from brown.)
But the Cherokee Rust—oh dear! It screamed – and completely overpowered the moss and taupe. No, no, no!
Back to Lowe’s for a do-over, not so orangey this time … a little darker. How about Olympic’s Brick Dust?
Still too intense. Where was I going wrong? I shuffled my paint chips and even thought about abandoning the red accent and going to a dark teal, which would be beautiful … but it didn’t look like the picture I’ve had in my head for so long, and I didn’t know how it would look with the red porch floor (which could be repainted) and the fireplace chimney.
Time for some field research. Eric, Duke, and I drove up to Seattle’s Ravenna district, a bungalow neighborhood where our house would be worth three times as much as it is in Auburn. (Especially now, when Seattle real estate prices are going through the roof … the median price for a house is $666,000. Alas, Auburn prices lag far behind.) Sigh …
As usual, click to enlarge.
I noticed three things:
- We have the most heavily landscaped and planted yard in our neighborhood. It kind of sticks out compared to our horticulturally challenged neighbors, and we get lots of compliments. But almost everyone in Seattle has plantings like this—and more so. Many front yards have no grass at all. Parking strips aren’t grass, but gardens. Flowers are bursting out everywhere, spilling through fences and onto the sidewalks. It’s gorgeous.
- No one in Ravenna says, “It’s too dark.” They are not afraid to paint their houses deep shades of gray, olive, teal, even dusky purple (the nearby University of Washington’s colors are purple and gold).
- Lots of people use the very type of red accent that I was trying to find, only it’s more brownish and rusty. In combination with other colors, it reads as almost red. Got it! Back to Lowe’s!
This time, I got a sample of the darker olive shade, Falcon’s Plume, with Filoli Carriage House (which in person looks a little like guacamole) for trim and Chocolate Cherry for accent. (I wish I could get a job as color namer instead of a technical writer.) The darker, richer field and trim shades finally held their own against the rusty red. Success! Even Eric had to admit that darker worked. We had our color scheme!
Or did we? As I slept that night, colors swirled in my head, shifting hues and intensities. In the morning, I knew I had to try the Chocolate Cherry with the Mossy Aura combo. Bingo, it worked! Now we had two equally successful color schemes, one of medium intensity and one deeper. Which to pick?
We had agreed to go dark, but my heart was still with Mossy Aura. Our neighbors Art and Mari wandered by, and we stood on the sidewalk and pondered. We realized that the darker Falcon’s Plume was almost the same color as our dark green roof. Too much of the same value. The house needs the contrast of a medium green under the dark roof. Mossy Aura it is! Woo-hoo—we have a winner!
Or do we? I came across this photo.
This house is painted a green similar to our Mossy Aura, but the trim is darker, and a little bluer. If you look closely, you can see reddish brown knee braces. I like how those colors echo what I like to do with plants: play shades of moss against shades of blue-green. Hmm … maybe we’re not done, after all.
After sleeping on it, I decided that although I love this combination, I can’t picture our porch railings painted blue-green. I may try the Filoli Carriage House (guacamole) with Mossy Aura, though.
In between paint tests I’ve consulted numerous websites and some of my own books (Powell and Svendsen’s Bungalow Details: Exterior, while it doesn’t specifically address paint, has inspirational photos). Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips. The older I get, the more I learn how many well-intentioned mistakes I’ve made.
- Don’t paint the trim white! Many people do to make it pop, but it’s not Craftsman. My bad.
- If you have some shingle trim, as we do on our porches, stain it a natural color or at least a slightly different color than the field. We’ll definitely do this to our two shingled porches.
- Paint the eaves the trim color, not the field color. Oops … our eaves are Tooley Fog.
- Leave your masonry natural! Too late … our fireplace has been painted for decades.
So, is my mind finally made up? Don’t worry, Eric has lots of trim to scrape and windows to repair, which means I have plenty of time to audition all of my color whims before we commit. What do you think of our current fave? Is Auburn ready for some real Seattle Craftsman colors? Stay tuned!
As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.
Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)
A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!
We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.
From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.
Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.
Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!
The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.
McKee Botanical Garden
Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?
Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!
It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.
The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.
We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.
I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.
Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.
The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.
The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.
See you later, alligator
The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.
We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys had long been on Eric’s and my bucket lists. It was finally time to go! Come on along on a photo tour as we see what Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett made a such a fuss about.
Here we go on the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile, 42-bridge, southern end of US 1, which links the Florida Keys to the mainland. Most of the highway is two-lane like this, but a few places have been upgraded to four-lane. Our destination: Key West.
We planned to drive straight through, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over to take pictures of that water. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m talking about—the colors are incredible. If you haven’t, well … you need to go.
The highway follows alongside the remains of the old railroad or the old highway (I couldn’t always tell which). The railroad, built in the 1920s, predates the highway, which was built in segments during the 1920s and 1930s. The continuous highway opened for traffic in 1938; it’s been partially updated.
Arriving in Key West, we made straight for famous Duval Street, a mile-long strip of tourist restaurants, loud bars, and tacky t-shirt shops. For some reason, Key West is overrun by feral chickens. They’re everywhere. People love them or hate them—I think it depends on whether they’re trying to get some sleep.
We hoofed it through the sauna-like air down to a long pier at the end of the street—the southernmost point in the US.
Later we learned that the pole at the end of the pier is not really the official southernmost point. The official southernmost point is the painted buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. (It’s not a real buoy … it’s an old concrete sewer junction box that’s painted to look like a buoy! Ha! Tourists beware.)
But wait—that’s not the real southernmost point, either. The really real one is on nearby US Navy property and not accessible to civilians. Anyway … we were damn close.
It was getting on toward sunset, so we beat feet to Mallory Square, all the way at the other end of Duval. This is the iconic plaza where the crowd gathers every evening to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. Every tourist on the island was there, plus souvenir vendors and performance artists … maybe even some locals. The place was packed, but we managed to find a spot at the rail, so to speak. I was so busy watching the sunset that I didn’t think about turning around and taking a picture of Mallory Square itself. Here’s one taken from a cruise ship, which gives you a much better perspective than I had.Here’s what was distracting me. Wow, what a show! I can’t possibly cull my photos down to one favorite shot, so enjoy the gallery. None of these photos has been Photoshopped or color-enhanced. (Click to enlarge.)
The next morning we toured the Hemingway Home and Museum use to get a cat fix. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived in this charming house from 1931 until their 1940 divorce. We were lucky to be there when the African tulip tree was in bloom.
A plaque beneath this 1928 photo explains that Hemingway got the gash on his forehead when he yanked on a skylight chain, thinking it was the toilet chain. The skylight shattered over his head. I’m sure alcohol was not a factor.
Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the present-day house and gardens are crawling with kitties, some of whom are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s cat. Many are polydactyl. All are safe and content, and do what cats do in the heat: snooze. They even have a feeding station designed to match the house.
How about this for a bathroom? Windows on three sides! I love the Deco tile floor—fish are always at home in a bathroom.
We peeked in at Hemingway’s writing studio over the old carriage house. A suitably masculine place to hang out. But it’s blocked off … we could only stand in the doorway to look and imagine him typing the manuscript for To Have and Have Not.
From Papa Hemingway’s place, we walked to the other end of town (again) to catch a glass-bottomed catamaran cruise to the barrier reef. (Alas, I am neither swimmer nor snorkeler.) The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest living coral reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize). I thought it would be cooler out on the water, but it was mercilessly hot and humid. The woman next to me mopped her face with a Kleenex, which disintegrated and stuck to her skin.
Back on shore, we walked some of the side streets. Just a block or two off Duval, Key West is quiet and distinctly Caribbean.
We strolled by Harry Truman’s Little White House, which was being set up for a wedding (even the bride’s little dog was wearing a lace gown). I was amazed to find coleus, which back home are small potted plants, growing taller than me!
Bahia Honda Key
We wanted to stay longer, but we had a schedule to keep and a wedding to get to, so back we went on US 1. We stopped to take photos of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This one was obviously a railroad bridge … right? Yes … and no. The new four-lane bridge sits to the north. Beside it, the old bridge is slowly crumbling into the sea. It was originally a railroad bridge, but when a hurricane wiped out many railroad bridges in 1935, the state bought what remained of the bridges and used them to build more of the highway. In this case, the pavement is on top of the railroad structure. Something tells me they wouldn’t get away with that these days.
In Marathon, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital, an experience that I’ll always remember. This nonprofit hospital rehabilitates sea turtles that have been injured by boats or nets, have eaten trash, or are suffering from disease. It’s set up in an old motel, and the staff lives onsite. What a perfect use for an old property! The old salt-water pool is too dilapidated for humans, but it works just fine for turtles. Some of these turtles are permanent hospital residents. For instance, a collision with a boat can force air into the turtle’s body tissue, deforming its shell and causing it to float head-down, bottom-up. This condition, called bubble butt, can be compensated for by gluing weights to the turtle’s shell … but the weights will eventually fall off, so the turtle cannot safely to return to the sea.
That night we ate at a seaside restaurant whose boat dock was lit from underwater. As darkness fell, I snapped this otherworldly photo with my cell phone. I think it’s the shot of the trip.
One last stop before we returned to the mainland: John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where we discovered a beautiful aquarium. After studying the sea life there, I was able to identify all the types of coral depicted in Finding Nemo.
We walked down a wooded trail and along the beach, where we found these large coral rocks. Easy to see remnants of sea life here.
As we were leaving, we passed the kayak rental. Why do these colorful kayaks remind me of fruit?
Goodbye, Florida Keys … we’ll be back someday!
Coming next: My final post about Florida, featuring gardens, lighthouses, and a wedding!
Gators in the ‘Glades
After reveling in the retroglam of Miami Beach, we lit out for the territory to visit something wilder—Everglades National Park. We’d already had a glimpse of the Everglades from our plane. It looked like this: On one side of the canal, dredged waterways and man-made islands covered in homes and golf courses … on the other side, miles of uninterrupted grassland.The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s a shallow, slow-moving river, draining water out of Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. This vast grassland covers the southern end of Florida. Everglades National Park is at the southernmost tip of the overall Everglades area.
Like many of our natural areas, the Everglades has been ruthlessly exploited and nearly destroyed by humans. The northern part was converted to grazing land and sugarcane fields. Canals, levees, and roads blocked the natural flow of water and decimated animal life downstream. Urban development crept ever closer from the East Coast. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas [Wikipedia]. I won’t go into the horrifying history of what humans have perpetrated there, but if you read about it, it will make you sick. Fortunately, restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s, with the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Better late than never, right?After a brief stop at the main visitor center to plan our day, we continued a little further into the park to Royal Palm Visitor Center, where we walked the .8 mile Anhinga Trail. Most of this accessible trail is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to peek down into the brush and water.
Before long we found some wildlife … this turtle was lounging on the warm mud.
Smack in the center of this photo is an alligator bag. No, wait—it’s a real alligator!
Here’s another one, facing away from me.
I didn’t know much about the Everglades, other than what TV shows lead us to believe. Here’s what I thought it would be like.
Thankfully, airboats aren’t allowed within the national park. We certainly did not expect to see this:
The Everglades were on fire. Lightning-induced fires are not uncommon, and sometimes prescribed fires are necessary to burn off spilled fuel or to reduce invasive plant species, but this 3800-acre fire was caused by some idiot who got careless at a campsite.
We had hoped to take a boat tour into the interior of the park, but because of reduced visibility from the smoke, the Forest Service made us wait for a lead car to escort us through part of the main park road. We waited. We missed the boat. By the time we arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center, only one last boat tour was available, out into Florida Bay. (Florida Bay is between the mainland and the Florida Keys.)
As we cruised into the bay, the captain ran through the mandatory flotation vest demonstration. “If you fall overboard and can’t remember how the life vest works,” he said, “just stand up.” Florida Bay is only three or four feet deep … six feet in dredged boat channels.
From the water, we saw birds … lots of birds. Ubiquitous brown pelicans, white egrets, terns, and this nest of osprey.
Out in the bay, distant mangrove islands shimmered in the sun like mirages. They seemed to float above the water.
These islands begin as a single mangrove seedling that breaks off the parent tree and floats away. If the seedling gets hung up on a shallow spot, it can put down roots in an hour. As the tree grows, its dropped leaves decay and build up, eventually forming a small island.
Over many years, this island may gain enough elevation—just a few feet—to support hardwood trees. These small humps are known as hardwood hammocks. We passed many hammocks as we drove through the park … but we don’t have a single photo to show you. Guess we’ll have to go back.
After the cruise we lingered at the marina, hoping to see the manatees that often visit there … but we were disappointed.
The only manatees we saw during our whole trip were these popular mailbox holders. They’re so cute and kitchy, I suppose I would have to have one.
A few hours in Everglades National Park was only enough to scratch the surface. We’ll have to come back to catch that boat into the interior, meet a manatee, and hang out in a hammock with a Florida panther. But now, off to the Keys!
The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.
In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.
For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.
But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!
This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.
People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.
We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.
We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.
The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II. What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.
The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.
Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).
This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.
The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.
The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.
Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?
Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!
The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.
This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.
A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.
The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.
A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.
Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.
We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.
This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.
After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).
Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.
We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.
So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.
Next stop: Everglades National Park.
With the speed of a Pacific banana slug riding a glacier, new white joint compound is creeping across the face of the west wall. The glacial pace is due, I admit, to the fact that I am not having the time of my life doing this task. That’s a lame excuse, but it’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I just sit in my living room chair and look at the wall and wish it were done. So far, wishin’ ain’t workin’.Work gets in the way. By the time I get home, I have other things to attend to and little energy for projects. Golf started this week. Facebook is a total time-suck. Now that Daylight Saving Time is in effect—hallelujah!!—I might have a chance to get something done in the evenings while I have decent light pouring in. (That sounds promising, doesn’t it? However, I know it’s BS, so don’t expect anything). Oh, and my back hates being on a ladder. There … those are all the excuses I can think of. For now.
Click to enlarge.
I took up the resurfacing again in the left corner of the fireplace wall, where I knew the narrow slice of wall between the window trim and the foyer opening would be difficult … and it was. I had a hard time maneuvering the putty knife to apply a smooth coat around the trim. Lots of sanding in my future. Can’t wait.
Then I plastered (or, joint-compounded?) across the top of the window. I found myself removing more and more of the old plaster finish coat, coaxing it gently off the wall. I grudgingly came to accept that nearly all of the top layer on this wall would have to go, so I helped it along. Only those places that were firmly stuck remained, and these islands of original finish plaster became tinier and tinier, as if the sea were rising.
I knew I’d have to apply a second coat because the first coat didn’t quite bring the surface out to the correct depth against the trim. And, one spot looked like this:
I took the easy way out: I applied a second coat and hoped for improvement. This time, no crackle finish. Hey, maybe wishin’ does work!
The second coat seemed to slide on easier. You’d think by now my technique would have improved, but I suppose you have to have a technique before you can improve it.
After a while, it occurred to me that I might look up plastering technique online. The You-Tube videos made it look easy—it’s all in the wrist! I did learn a couple of tricks. One: They all use bigger trowels than I have (I’m using the biggest putty knife I can fit into the tub of mud (not a trowel). And two: Smoothing over the top coat with a damp sponge will virtually eliminate the need to sand. Well, heck … wish I’d known that 50 lumpy square feet ago.
Inevitably and with considerable trepidation, I had to remove the damaged plaster over the middle of the mantel. I whacked the length of it with the handle of a putty knife and it all came away with alarming ease. After vacuuming up the debris, I was left with a neat hole down to the lath, right in the middle of the mantel. Barely noticeable when I pushed the mantel clock back into position! Cold air poured in from the uninsulated wall cavity. Didn’t humans of a century ago think of insulating their walls?
When I had finished coaxing most of the wrinkles out of the area above the fireplace I cast my gaze upon the space between the right side of the fireplace and the casement window, which I knew to be a problem area because of the suspicious way the finish coat paper has slumped. True confession: When I bought the house back in 1984, I noticed some dampness there. It’s hasn’t been damp for ages (I don’t think), but the damage has been done.
I stabbed the offending area repeatedly with my trusty frog-green utility knife … and this is what I found.
Not good. Not good at all. What makes plaster pulverize like that? Water. What lurks behind? I’ll leave that mystery for my next post. OK, the truth is … I was busy this past weekend, and I didn’t get around to digging out this hole. We had company over for Duke’s tenth birthday dinner, and I didn’t want to deal with the mess and pulling the TV cabinet into the middle of the room, where it would surely stay for weeks. That’s right, folks—I’m blaming it on the dog.
Eric and I made a trip to the box store to get real plaster patch material—the kind you mix with water and then work like hell before it sets up. As soon as I get up my nerve to see just how badly that section of wall is damaged, I’ll try my hand at true, from-the-lath-up plaster repair. But first … maybe I’ll take a tropical vacation!🙂
What will it take to patch these holes? I can’t let it go. I can’t! There must be some way to bring them back. Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!*
*Extra credit if you can identify this.
[Special guest blogger Eric continues his saga of transforming the unspeakably gross basement into a usable workspace.]
When you have a room full of stuff and no storage space, what do you do? Make storage space, of course! But what do you do with all the stuff in the room when there is no other place to put it while you make storage space? Pile it up in one corner while you work on the other. Or better yet, go to the Flower and Garden Show and then go to the Seattle Home Show. In my last guest post I said I felt like Billy in the Family Circus. Ah yup. Here is how projects work at our house.
The first step in creating my new workshop was, I thought, to repaint the walls a brighter color. Like white. Removing the dark color in a basement without much in the way of windows and replacing it with a light color just seemed the right thing to do. That meant removing some of the wood crate shelving so I could paint behind it. As I emptied the shelves, I sorted. Stuff for the dump here … stuff to keep there…unidentified stuff somewhere else. I was quickly running out of space to pile stuff. Two five-pound lead bricks could be used for something someday. So I put those on top of the foundation wall next to the little wooden Japanese sandals that a long-ago owner must have made for his daughter. Let the next owners of the house wonder where they came from.
The solution to the storage problem? Take out half the wood crate shelving along the south wall, paint, and then install some new cabinets for storage. Fill the cabinets and the repeat the process. That was my plan. Here is what I started with.
The first real step was to find a place to temporarily stash a few bottles of wine. The new wine cabinet will become a storage unit after I build a new wine rack or we drink all the wine, whichever comes first. One bottle a day and we will be out of wine sometime in late July or early August.
The fanciful paint job was actually fun to look at. But it made the room really dark. The dirty metal cabinet on the right is the original base for our vintage kitchen sink. It was rusted beyond use, so I chucked it … but I saved the Art Deco pulls.
I decided on bright white paint. I first put Zinsser primer over the top of the painted wall. One coat was enough to cover the paint below. Of course, I had washed and wiped down the walls to remove the many-years-old dust and dirt that might be there. It seemed solid. But as the primer dried, the existing paint bubbled in places. And it flaked off in other places.
It was then that I realized that the base coat of old paint (under the foliage design) was nothing more than a whitewash. So that meant scraping and wire brushing the walls to remove any newly loosened paint. A good lesson learned there. A new coat of primer went on. I made sure it was a version that had mold inhibitor and would cling to cement and masonry. The white semigloss went over that.
When I had cleaned and painted about half the wall I stopped and bought a couple of inexpensive storage cabinets at IKEA. They were two inches too tall. I had to trim them down so they fit under the floor joists. Now I had a place to put hand held power tools and accessories. A good start!
When the walls were all painted white the room seemed so much brighter! If there was any OCD within me I would have put a skim coat on the rough foundation walls to make them smooth. But what the heck? It is a basement, after all, and no matter what I did to the walls and floor, it would still be a low-ceiling basement! Harumph …
My next task was either to buy or manufacture some sort of new worktable for myself. I wanted a lot of drawers and counter space. I figured 28” x 78” was a good size for a worktop. It would go under the east wall and window. Since the closest worktable I could find for purchase was roughly $850 and was not everything I wanted, I decided I would build one myself. Wouldn’t it be great if I had a fully functioning workshop to build something like that?
For $63 I purchased all the wood I needed for my workbench. Fir 2x4s and 2x8s were pretty much what I started with. That and some 1×6 pine boards. These days, a nominal 2×4 is actually 1.5×3.5 or so (plus or minus a sixteenth of an inch from board to board). That is something that is a constant reminder in our 103 year-old home, where the 2x4s really are 2×4. It always makes the remodel and repairs here interesting. I milled the 2x4s to1x3s and milled the 2×8 to even, squared thicknesses to create the tabletop.
At first I thought of making 15 wooden drawers for the workbench and then decided to go a totally different way. IKEA sells plastic drawers that are the perfect size and only a couple of dollars each. I picked up a few other things while at the Swedish superstore that would wind up in the basement.
The bench is done and works well. The entire workbench cost me less than $120 and many hours of labor. But it will work until I make one out of quarter-sawn oak or other really hard wood.
With the workbench done, I had the storage space and workspace to get the rest of the room cleaned and sorted. The pegboard is full of tools, the cabinets are in place and full, and all the bench tools are in their resting places. My old center island worktable and all the bench tools are on locking casters so they can be moved around as needed. That helps when you have a small workspace.
What’s next? I still need to add outlets and another new LED ceiling light. And I need to seal a few more floor cracks and run some leveler on the floor, too.
When those last few items are done I will move to the other side of the basement. There is an old workbench over there that is still great. I plan on using both side of the basement. The side I am finishing now will be the area where we do the heavy work of sawing, milling, and sanding. The other side will be for the detail stuff and will hold more storage for household needs and some hobby things. And mostly spider free. The adventure continues.
Northwest Flower and Garden Show
Every Christmas I find two tickets to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in my stocking. Come February, the show marks the exit from gloomy winter to dreary spring. Playing hooky from work for an afternoon (cough, cough) is part of the tradition. To my winter-weary soul, nothing beats entering Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center and breathing in an acre of soil and plants in the display gardens. Ahhh—spring!
This post covers only a small sampling of the garden displays. Hope you enjoy the color!
There’s always a theme to the display gardens; this year’s theme was “America the Beautiful.” Let’s begin right here in Washington State with a visit to the Hoh Rainforest. This large display was incredibly realistic, with native plants, fallen trees, and even a natural mulching of dried leaves.
Nearby was a nod to the upcoming PGA Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, complete with azaleas, Rae’s Creek, and the Hogan Bridge.
A trip to the desert Southwest sounds good at this time of year.
One of my favorite gardens this year was inspired by Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, with rocky outcroppings and windblown, craggy trees.
From bare rocks to an overabundance of blooms.
Great seasonal color around the basalt water feature, inspired by Na Pali Coast State Park in Hawaii.
This gorgeous fence promised something special inside. So did the people crowded around with their mouths open. “Tiny Tetons” was probably the most beautifully designed display we’ve seen.
A depiction of Denali National Park in Alaska featured trout from Fish in the Garden (we have FITG carp in our garden).
Beyond the display gardens were acres more, filled with vendors of all things garden-related. Fish in the Garden was there, all the way from Maine.
I was so fascinated by this sculptor’s metallic shoes that I didn’t take a picture of his wares, which were, appropriately, water features made of brass musical instruments.
Are bugs your thing? You can collect some fancy ones for your wall.
And of course, the Northwest is home to glass artist Dale Chihuly, so art glass is very popular here. No sign of Dale, though.
Inevitably, after a day filled with beautiful garden designs and colorful art, we always return home to this: February in the Northwest, the deadest and gloomiest month for the garden, and the wettest winter on record. Right now, it just looks like a lot of work.
I was inspired enough to plant primroses in our porch planters and create this succulent garden (with frogs!) for my desk at work.
And we installed our garden art addition, an biplane whirligig, which fits in nicely because we enjoy watching the small planes fly over our house as they turn to land at our local airport. We’ll let it rust up and then add a coat of protective lacquer.
Suddenly, it’s March, and everything’s starting to bud and grow, including the weeds. Our Mt. Fuji cherry is about to put on its annual show.
Seattle Home Show
The week after the garden show, we returned for the Seattle Home Show. We don’t hit this show every year, but it’s time for us to start getting serious about building our retirement home on Whidbey Island. I can hardly believe we’re to that point. We have a lot on our plate this year: The company we both work for is going through massive layoffs, we are planning to retire within the next two years, and we’ll be building a house on our island property … and, of course, continuing to work on the bungalow. What could go wrong? Right now, life is full of questions and we just have to wait for some of the answers. We’re having an interesting year.
At the Home Show, this architect’s design caught our eye. This home’s exterior comes really close to embodying our vision for our next house.
Now, we’re just waiting for the money tree in our backyard to bloom like crazy! Where’s my fish fertilizer?
While I’m toiling away with endless plaster repair (or, alternatively, lolling in the Barcalounger ), I need to come up with something to entertain the five people who read my blog. Fortunately, the living room walls aren’t the only project around here. I’m making a mess upstairs, but Eric is in the dungeon—a.k.a. the basement—turning it into a functional shop. He’s doing such a great job, I asked him to write a few posts about it. Put on your hazmat suits, folks–Eric is taking this blog where it’s never been before!
I feel a little bit like Billy in the Family Circus. D’Arcy is taking a short break from her blog as she works on our living room walls and I get to fill in for her. Patching and filling and sanding and painting a 103 year old room has its ups and downs (mostly on a ladder) so it takes a bit of time to get it all done.
So, what project in our house do I have to write about? Well, we have a small basement in our house. It used to contain the boiler and heating system for the home. Old pipes for the radiator system that used to be in the house are still present and capped off to provide a real plumber’s nightmare (especially when not all the pipes were capped off properly many decades ago).
Piping for new-fangled items like washing machines made for interesting challenges for someone in the past. The drain for the basement sink (no longer functional) and sump pump go out through the foundation wall at about two feet up from the floor and come back in again at five-and-a-half feet. Oh yes, our washing machine drains into the sump. At first I thought that was a bad thing. Then I realized that during the long dry spells we have in the summer, using the washer actually runs the sump pump regularly to keep it working properly.
[Ed. note: I heard this was a common setup in older Midwest houses, but not many houses on the West Coast have basements, so it’s an oddity out here.]
We live in the Green River valley. That means that the water table at our house is about two feet below the surface of the yard in wet weather. The basement floor is five feet below ground. When it really rains the sump pump is very active. With a 103-year-old cement floor, there are bound to be small cracks. There are patches upon patches on the floor. Water is always trying to seep in, but that is what the sump is for. I will have more on the sump and plumbing another time.
We have only a partial basement—under the kitchen and our bedroom, on the east end of our house. The bottoms of the floor joists sit about 65″ above the floor. Wiring, ducting, and piping go through and along the floor joists. There are few windows to the outside world from the basement. The furnace, the sump, and the water heater are on the north side of the basement. The stairs come down the middle. The north side is storage and is full of bicycles, cat carriers, and stuff from many decades. Well, the whole basement had a lot of stuff in it. That would include spiders. That would be why my wonderful wife doesn’t go down there.
So why bring all of this up? This is where I decided to create my workshop. There used to be a workshop there. Oh, by the way…I am 73″ tall.
The workspace that was in the basement when I moved into the house served a purpose for a former tenant. It did for me too, for a while. But then I decided to make a change so that it worked for me. Isn’t that what ALL guys do with projects, anyway?
The original arrangement of the workshop was just an open space next to the stairs. The foundation walls had been spray painted in a colorful, but dark, jungle-like theme. The shelves were made from old floral bulb pallets (a clever reuse of materials). But they didn’t provide the best storage space for me. The countertops were sheets of heavy chip board. They sagged in a few places (as do many things that are older). There were a lot of extension cords hanging in the rafters to provide electricity and light. They all came off of the same outlet. As long as only one thing was plugged in at any time what could possibly go wrong?
Bags and boxes of old project pieces, leftover hardware, and hundreds of parts to something or other had been here on a shelf since the last century. And of course I only added stuff to the mess.
I somehow managed to build, from scratch, an entire set of kitchen cabinets, a king-sized headboard and footboard, and many other things in this environment. So why make any changes? I set down my trusty old Reed and Price screwdriver somewhere on one of the counters and I couldn’t find it anymore!!!! I need better storage! I need better lighting! I need better ventilation! I need more outlets! I need a real workbench! Phew, I need a nap.
My next post will show what I did at the start the project.