Monthly Archives: March 2013

Here comes the sun … for now

We’ve hit a little bump on the kitchen project … Eric is recovering from abdominal surgery and won’t be back in renovation form for a few weeks. He’ll be able to creep up on lightweight tasks as he recovers, but hauling wood and cabinets up and down the stairs is out for the time being.

Having Eric out of commission has made me appreciate how much he really does around here every day. Suddenly I have to work at keeping the house running (oh, poor me). And that includes the outdoor chores, as well, which I’ve been ignoring as I obsess about the kitchen.

After a warmish, snowless winter, spring arrived this weekend with summer-like intensity. Of course, being the Pacific Northwest, it’ll be back to endless rain in a few days, but sun and pushin’ 70° is making the plants really excited. Including the weeds. Especially the weeds. So this morning I slathered my pasty white Seattle winter skin with SPF 50 sunblock and set out to tame the wild yard.

long grass and dandelion

First, I pruned the roses—long overdue. The previous owner used to live a few blocks away, and always admired this house’s roses as he walked into town. When the house came up for sale, he jumped at the chance … in 1945. I’m not a big rose aficionado, but I love that story, so I’ve maintained these old roses in his memory since I bought the house in 1984.  I’ll show you the rose garden when it’s in bloom … and after I eradicate the damned moles and weeds. It’s not ready for its close-up quite yet.

The grass had grown to ridiculous lengths. Luckily, the lawn mower started, but the grass was so long I couldn’t use the self-propel feature. I actually had to PUSH the beast through the jungle.

Shaggy grass in front yard

Checkers played possum when I suggested he help dig up all those dandelions.

Cat lying on pavers

The work was hard, but signs of spring were all around me. I watched the leaves on this Japanese maple unfurl as the day progressed.

Small Japanese maple in the sun

The Chinese windmill palm has several new fronds.

Chinese windmill palm with shaodw pattern

The sun shone through a curtain of weeping birch catkins …

Sunlights through weeping birch catkinss

and made the Mt Fuji cherry tree glow.

Mt. Fuji cherry tree in bloom

The euphorbia gets bigger every year. The flower clusters hang their heads down until they are ready to straighten up and bloom. They last all summer.

Euphorbia in bloom

Chex hung out with me all day. He’s a good garden buddy. Here he shows off the tulips, which are just about to open.

Black and white cat with tulip buds

Fred, though, is ambivalent about gardening.

Tuxedo cat next to garden clogs on steps

Had Fred known about this little guy (only about 1.5 inches long!), who narrowly escaped being frappéd by the lawnmower, he might have shown more interest.

Tree frog in moss

So here’s the fruit of my labor … neither edged nor weeded, but lots of dandelions temporarily lost their heads. Plenty more shine in the gardens. At least it looks like whoever lives here cares a little bit. As Eric would say, it’s a start.

Front yard with mowed lawn

If only I didn’t have to go to work this week, I’d have this place whipped into shape! The weatherman is already warning of rain, but it’s been a glorious Easter weekend. No complaints!



Little boxes without topses*

My horoscope for this week:

Your past experiences may help you to see beyond the immediate tasks at hand. You need to use your positive energy to promote more change on the homefront.

So, instead of bemoaning all the things that are going wrong, I’ll focus on what’s going right … and actually, there’s quite a lot. I bet you’re glad to hear that.

I’ll start with the simplest thing: We moved the two bulky base cabinet carcasses back into position. (No. 1 had been up on saw horses in the breakfast room for face frame painting, and No. 2 was in the middle of the kitchen while we fiddle-farted around with the upper cabinet doors.) Just moving them out of the way was such a relief! Suddenly we can maneuver around the kitchen again–it feels almost normal. And we don’t have to stumble over poor Duke and say “‘Scuse me, Duke—MOVE!!” every few minutes. Duke’s happy, the cats are happy, we’re happy … but still far, far from done.

We’re still unsure what’s binding on the upper cabinet doors. It occurred to us that the original left door never closed, either. Hmm … I always attributed that to its ten coats of multicolor paint, but maybe, just maybe … it’s the house!  Eric did some research online and found he’d used too small a bit when he predrilled for the latch screws (he also found plenty of complaints about cheap screws). He couldn’t drill the broken screws out of the doors, so he simply filled the holes and moved the latch slightly higher. It covered the previous holes perfectly .The latches look fabulous. I’m a bit worried that the left and center doors, still wanting to pop open, are putting too much pressure on those little latches, but dang, this small part of the room is looking almost finished! I had to put a few pieces of Fiestaware on the shelves, just to see the effect.


With the “paint room” free once more, I started sanding and polyurethaning the drawer boxes. Stacked in the basement shop, they reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin III lamp.

little boxes without topses


I could look at these sweet dovetail joints all day. Eric did such a beautiful job of constructing them! Here they are, all finished, waiting to have their faces applied … kind of like me in the morning (only smoother and better rested).


TA DA!! Here it is at last, our first functioning drawer, presented by Lacy! Unlike some of our other camera-shy kitties, Lacy loves to pose. She tells me her dream job is to model next to a concept car at the International Auto Show, so I’m helping her assemble a portfolio.

Lacy and drawer

Not to be outdone, Duke wanted to be featured on the blog, too. Even though Eric has to tweak the self-closing drawer glides a little, I’ve already loaded it with silverware. For the first time in months, we won’t have to rifle through boxes in the dining room when we want forks!

Duke and drawer2

*If you’re wondering about the title of this post …

In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excavating for a mine,
Lived a miner, forty-niner
And his daughter, Clementine.
Light she was and like a fairy,
And her shoes were number nine.
Little boxes without topses
Sandals were for Clementine.


Man vs. screw: Who will prevail?

Here’s an actual email exchange between a friend and me (my responses in red):

“From what you are relating in your blog, you seem to be living the old saying: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”!! Surely there must have been some projects that went off without a hitch? Maybe you should devote a blog to those positive projects. Here’s the criteria:

– came in at or under cost. No. I didn’t even know that was possible.
– was completed on time. Are you kidding?
– you did not discover or cause any other problems as a result of the project. Oh come on—this house is 100 years old!!
– the job was NOT more difficult than anticipated. NO. (Duh!)
– everything turned out as expected (or maybe better than expected). Yes—the bathroom really looks nice. The livingroom floor used to.
– (here you add your own) Did not require purchase of expensive new power tools. Uh … no.

Of course, I am assuming that you have actually had some projects that fit the criteria – you have, right? I suppose the front walkway comes close to fitting the criteria, but Eric did come down with serious pneumonia in the middle of that project … so ‘on time’ went out the window.”

My friend’s conclusion: “How depressing!”

No! I thought. It’s not depressing at all! It’s frustrating, aggravating, patience-testing, discouraging, maddening … but it’s not depressing. I know home renovation doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, I bet it doesn’t appeal to most people. But to those of us with the vision, it’s a labor of love and a great adventure.

That was so last month. I’ve been stalling this post until I could report the “ta-da!” moment when we installed the upper cabinet’s glass doors. We have been fighting with those doors for three weeks. And counting.

glass doors

Attempt No. 1: We marked and pre-drilled holes for the hinge screws. I carefully supported the doors (rather heavy, with glass in them) while Eric screwed them in. Left and middle doors didn’t fit properly. What the … ? We installed them upside down! On perfectly rectangular doors, why would that make a difference? Read on. Down they came.

Attempt No. 2: The doors fit much better turned right-side-up … except now they have visible ugly screw holes on the edges, which need to be filled. The middle door hung too low and none of the doors would close. The hinge sides seemed to be binding against the shelves. (I should explain that this is not a proper cabinet mounted to the wall. No—these are just stout shelves with three doors on the front! In hindsight, we should have torn it all down and built from scratch, but sentimental me wanted to retain the original 1913 shelves. When Eric built the new doors he discovered that he had to rebuild the face framing as well, because new wood is a different dimension than old wood.) We took the doors down.

old shelves

Eric sanded the hell off the front edges of the shelves. I gritted my teeth because I’d already cleaned the shelves and laid shelf paper twice, and now everything was covered in sanding dust AGAIN. I reprimed and painted the shelf edges, and we rehung the doors. Right door closed nicely. Middle and left doors obstinately popped open. More sanding. Yet they popped open. I am holding off on repainting the shelves. We took the middle door down.

Attempt No. 3 (or was it 33?): We redrilled and rehung the middle door. It’s now straight and level. And it still pops open. Eric determined that the hinge screws are not sunk quite deep enough, and they won’t go in any further. In fact, they are as deep as the hinge will allow them to go. And … they are stripping. The hinges themselves are fine, but the screws are evidently made of pot metal and are crap. Eric cleverly created an impression where the screw meets the wood of the frame, so that when the door closes, the screw head fits into a little custom depression. Did it help? Somewhat. Does the door close completely? No.

hinge problems

This is what happens when you try force a May/December marriage between new construction and an original structure. A straightedge proved that the doors are straight and plumb, but the shelves, and therefore the face frames, are not. I’m not flummoxed by out-of-kilter antique shelves. But THE DOORS MUST CLOSE!

To cheer me up, Eric attached a latch to the well-behaved right door. That’s when I heard the F-bomb explode in the kitchen–never a good sign. The latches are solid brass and not junk … but three of the screws sheared off in the door, under only moderate pressure! Crappy material strikes again!! Now Eric will have to drill them out (somehow!) and I’ll have to patch and repaint the door and hope the latch can be reattached in the very same place and that it will cover the scar. And of course, we’ll buy stainless steel screws to finish the rest of the job.

latch problem

Dejected, we threw in the towel for the night. Will I ever get to show you our beautiful glass doors?

I’m so tired of writing blog posts about how things are not working as we’d hoped. Yes, I cry “uncle!” It’s depressing. We’re beaten … the damned little screws have won.