Friday, July 31, 2015

Scrap Paper

Occasionally I feel like writing about topics that are only tangentially related to restoring our home. Ideas that have been swirling around, half-formed, waiting to be shared. I'm not sure how often I'll write these mishmosh posts, but each time I do, they'll be titled "Scrap Paper."

By the way, there is an interesting article on the usage of "scrap paper" vs "scratch paper." I was raised primarily in California, and "scratch paper" is the term I heard most often on the West Coast, as this article suggests. But I currently have approximately five dozen bug bites, so I do not want to think about the word "scratch" more than absolutely necessary.

The Papered House is the first home that my husband and I have owned. It's also the first time we've had a yard of our own. It turns out that I like gardening more than I thought I would. If you give me an empty five-gallon bucket and a few spare hours, I'll spend the entire afternoon weeding. Even the unpleasant parts, like the dirty fingernails and achy back, don't really bother me. Unfortunately, I'm a mosquito magnet. I've tried multiple methods of insect repellent, but none of them seem to work very well. I counted my mosquito bites last night and stopped counting when I got to 65. I know the chances of contracting West Nile Virus from a mosquito are quite small. But surely, your chances must increase when you have been bitten >65 times?

I have a theory that wearing a full neoprene ensemble, like a wetsuit, would offer excellent protection from these pint-sized airborne vampires. But if I traipse around in a wetsuit in our backyard, I'm sure the neighbors would worry about my well-being.

Not Coloring Books, but Color Books
About two weeks ago, I was listening to the radio and heard about a study claiming that coloring is therapeutic for adults. I don't doubt that artistic endeavors are beneficial to our mental and emotional well-being. But I filed that information into my brain's compartment for "Things That Would Be Good for Me But Are Unlikely to Happen." It's the same place where I file advice like "Drink eight glasses of water each day" or "Don't eat anything for four hours before your bedtime." How am I supposed to enjoy a glass of red wine or a piece of dark chocolate at 10 pm if I follow such a regimented schedule, drinking all that water and eschewing all those late-night sweets?

But that coloring study must have caught on quickly, because I have noticed that Coloring for Adults has become a thing in my daily existence. To wit: I attend classes at a local fitness studio that focuses a lot on mind/body connectivity. Sometimes, the classes are a little New Age-y for my taste. The instructors say things like, "As you move through tree pose, push your arms out to the side and imagine that you are pushing away something that is holding you back." We are meant to imagine things like anxiety, or stress, or fear. But my mind is relentlessly literal, and so I tend to envision physical things like our pain-in-the-butt chimney. Our chimney has been quite difficult to repair, and we are delaying several other decisions about the house until we know what's happening with the chimney. But when you are standing on one leg with your eyes closed and arms out to the side? It is awfully hard to maintain your balance while envisioning yourself pushing away some brick structure. I readily admit that I am not good at mindfulness. But! The instructors are friendly and there is a wide variety of class offerings. I am trying to be more open to new experiences. Embrace uncertainty. Relinquish control. That kind of thing.

Anyway, after one of the classes, the instructor handed each student a sheet of paper with a medallion-type thing printed on it. We were told about therapeutic Coloring for Adults and asked to color the medallions at home. Sometime in August, all the colored medallions will be hung in the studio.

I don't think I scoffed or rolled my eyes. But I might have raised my eyebrows slightly. This sounded very much like a third-grade assignment. Like I said, I'm still working on that "open to new experiences" thing.

However, just yesterday, I was at Barnes and Noble. At the entrance to the store and by the register, they had entire displays geared towards Coloring for Adults. Perhaps two dozen coloring books for the young-at-heart. So, Coloring for Adults is officially a trend. I may give it a try after all, if I can remember where I put the crayons.

In the meantime, I've been perusing more Victorian writings about paint color usage. In 1883, architect William Comstock published a book called Modern House Painting: Containing Twenty Colored Lithographic Plates. It was republished under a different title by Dover in the recent past, but it can be hard to find. I purchased a used copy online and it arrived this week.

Comstock includes brief chapters on color theory and paint application, but the real appeal of this book is the section of full-color plates illustrating recommended color schemes. The plates show gorgeous, deep, rich earth tones meant to resemble natural surroundings. When bright whites and light colors are used on exteriors, Comstock finds that "the result has been that violence has been done to nature by glaring effects and contrasts that are hideous." He encourages readers to experiment with more expressive colors than had been used in earlier architectural periods, during which "the old puritanical hatred of color...found its natural outcome in white houses with green blinds." A puritanical hatred of color. Isn't that a memorable turn of phrase? Those Victorians had a way with words.

Ironically, the exterior of our house is currently painted a shade of white so bright that it is named "Incandescent." I would bet every penny to my name that Comstock would find our house color glaring and offensive. The previous owner repainted just before selling, so we're not planning to paint the house in the near future. Eventually, I love would to see The Papered House painted a light sage green or a warm cream.

Minor Functional Obsolescence
Speaking of memorable turns of phrase: when we purchased The Papered House, the appraiser's report said that it "suffers from minor functional obsolescence" because it only has one bathroom and the fourth bedroom is really more of a loft/sitting area. Linguistically, isn't that a bizarre phrase? I don't believe that "suffer" and "minor" ever belong in the same sentence. There is no such thing as minor suffering. There just isn't.

I hadn't been familiar with real estate lingo, but it turns out that "functional obsolescence" is a common term in the business, particularly when speaking about older homes that lack some of the modern conveniences and design features. I admit that the layout of our home can seem inconvenient in comparison to modern homes. Honestly, the floor plan works for us and we know exactly where we'll add a second bathroom when finances permit. But I found it amusing that the appraiser failed to mention something of major functional obsolescence: Our boiler from the 1950s.

The Scuffle
We ran out of printer paper recently and I urgently needed to print something. All we had left was a stack of college-ruled loose-leaf paper. Why do we even have this type of paper? We have no children and I can't remember the last time I needed to take notes at home. Perhaps I've held onto this stack of paper since grad school as some sort of strange tribute to my days as a compulsive note-scribbling student. Perhaps I thought I would use it for scrap/scratch paper. But that means that I would have packed and unpacked the loose-leaf four (4!) separate times. At least it's not wide-ruled, I suppose. That would really be embarrassing.

In a fit of desperation, I tried using the loose-leaf to print the first page of a 20- page document. The first page worked like a dream. So I printed the remaining 19 pages. Big mistake. The printer looked like it challenged the paper to some epic battle of "rock, paper, printer." Printer lost, by the way, and it didn't recover quickly.

~The Papered House, with glaring effects and hideous contrasts
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Master Bedroom Progress

Our master bedroom is still a work in progress, but it's looking loads better than it did previously. I think this is my new mantra: it's not as bad as it used to be.

The walls are (mostly) painted and we've hung a couple of pieces of artwork.

I still need to prime and paint this wall. The masonry was repaired recently, and we needed to wait for the mortar to cure before we could repair the plaster. Now that the mortar has cured, we're considering leaving that small portion of brick exposed, if we can make it look intentional. We're still thinking about this, so this section of wall has remained unpainted for now. 

We've moved our furniture into the bedroom, and it feels like a functional, cozy space. 

We really dislike those lamps, and the fact that they have mismatched lamp shades. But we found them in the basement, left behind by a former owner. Our love of saving money trumped our dislike for these lamps. We'll replace them eventually, but they're fine for now.

We even have a door on the doorframe (Wow! Getting fancy at the Papered House!). It's not the right door for this room, so it doesn't close completely. We took this door from another room while we repaint the actual master bedroom door. Having a door on one's bedroom hardly seems like something worth celebrating. But in this house, it is.

We've refinished the wood floors and found some pretty rugs. Apparently I didn't vacuum/sweep very well before I took this photo. Sorry about that.

The window repair is in progress. The alcove is missing the left window, which is currently in our basement for repair. So far, window repair has been pretty straightforward. However, we're reglazing each window and it took 10 days for the glazing on the first window to dry. I'll be repainting with oil-based paint later this week. It's my first time painting with an oil-based product, and I understand that it typically dries more slowly than latex-based paint. We've got about 50 windows in this house, so we're projecting a window completion date of roughly...2080. Hooray, just in time for our home's 200th birthday!

In the meantime, we're using heavy-duty plastic, painter's tape, and duct tape to keep the bugs and other flying critters out of our room. There's no particular reason for the use of two types of tape; we just used whatever we had on hand and could find quickly. Apparently, we have tape in all sorts of hideous colors.

Window repair supplies

Here's another of the master bedroom windows in sore need of repair. I considered moving the fan before taking this picture, thinking that it would make for a more attractive photo. But honestly, when your windows look like this, the fan is NOT the problem. The ropes on this window are broken, so the fan is the only thing keeping that sash from slamming closed.

I've got 99 problems, but the fan ain't one.

And when this is the view next to the window, suddenly those windows don't look so bad in comparison to the closet door. I'm not sure why we're still keeping clothes in that closet...

Don't worry, that closet door is being fixed. We've been using safe chemical strippers to remove the paint, and it will get a new coat of paint soon.  

Here's a quick look at the remaining projects for this room.

Short Term Project List
*Repair all windows
*Paint crown molding
*Prep and paint narrow walls to the left of the alcove
*Stencil ceiling
*Repaint and rehang entry door
*Repaint and rehang closet door

Longer-Term Project List
*Purchase new/antique nightstand(s)
*Purchase antique table lamps
*Purchase small antique chandelier
*Hang some additional artwork
*Refinish husband's dresser (not pictured)
*Improve storage (maximize space in closet and under the bed; find/create some storage solution for me)

By the way, I just set up an Instagram account. I've been posting a lot of pictures of our garden, which looks a lot better than our master bedroom does. And feel free to follow along on Facebook and Twitter as well, if that's your thing. Thanks for stopping by, folks!

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

History of Our Home

A few months after we moved into The Papered House, my husband and I ventured to the county historical society to see if we could learn anything about the history of our home. The helpful folks at the historic society recommended that we start by researching our deed at the Hall of Records. Once we had a better idea of our home's ownership through the years, we would be able to return to the historic society to peruse their genealogical records and learn more about the home's prior owners. The Hall of Records is only open during the week, so my husband and I made a mental note to visit the next time we scheduled a day off from work.

In the meantime, though, the volunteers handed us a few binders filled with historic photos. The photos were not cataloged or organized in any particular order, and many of them were unlabeled. Most of the photos were of people or of public buildings, so it was unlikely that we would find any pictures of our home. The historic society folks warned us that it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack...and the needle might not actually exist.

My husband and I each took a binder, flipping through the photos quickly, without expecting much. After about three minutes, I heard my husband gasp in amazement. He nudged me and whispered, "Hey...look at this. Isn't that our house?"

Sure enough, that house on the right is ours. I would recognize the roofline anywhere. The kind folks at the historic society allowed us to take photos with a phone, so long as we promised not to use the flash.

And here is a closer view, admittedly a bit grainy since the original document was on the small side. 

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Friday, July 17, 2015

When Life Gives You Lemons

I've mentioned a few times on this blog that The Papered House has a slate roof. It's beautiful and historic, and tends to be very durable. Our roof is in pretty good shape, all things considered. But every once in a while, individual slate tiles become so weathered that they chip and fall off our roof. This is most common after particularly bad ice storms; the ice thaws and slides off the roof, taking small pieces of slate with it. When the ice and slate hit the ground, there is quite a ruckus. I'll tell you, seeing pieces of your roof on the ground, a good 30 feet from where they are supposed to be, is a pretty terrible feeling. We've been checking the attic for leaks after every storm, and, so far so good. We're also planning to have a roofer perform routine annual maintenance on our roof as a preventative measure. We have a plan to keep our slate roof in good repair. But still, seeing broken pieces of roofing material on the ground is an unsettling occurrence to say the least.

Throughout the winter, I gathered those slate scraps and stacked them into a pile. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to throw them out. I kept thinking, "Suppose we could do something with all this slate. It'd be a waste to throw it out." So I collected little pieces of slate for several months. It's similar to my hoarding of "good" boxes. I will save any cardboard box that is particularly sturdy/well-proportioned/potentially useful, with a definitive proclamation that "This is a good box. We can do something with my box. We shouldn't get rid of this box." My husband doesn't like this tendency; his response is typically, "Yes. We can do something with that box. We can recycle it."

Anyway, back to these pieces of slate. I decided to give them new life as DIY garden markers. If that's not an overly-optimistic interpretation of the saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" I'm not sure what is.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Garden versus Groundhog (0-3)

The Papered House has met its match. On three separate occasions, we have been bested by a pudgy groundhog who skulks through our backyard. He has an insatiable appetite for leafy greens and seems to view our garden as his own personal salad bar. I've taken to calling him our nemesis. My husband has a much stronger name for him, not fit for this blog.

When we first planted the garden, we knew we would need to take some measures to keep the animals away. So we surrounded all the beds with a chicken wire fence. That worked for a few weeks, until our peas, cucumbers, and broccoli seedlings went missing. A groundhog had found a way in.

Our next step was to douse all the plants with a homemade pesticide made from habanero peppers boiled in water. This measure worked for about a month. But then our nemesis must have developed a spicy palette, because he kept munching away, this time on kale and bok choy. Seriously? He likes kale? It's as though we have a hipster groundhog who thinks he's entitled to eat all the kale because he was eating kale before it became a trendy superfood. Whatever, groundhog. I didn't really care about the kale anyway. We just grew it because, you know, it's supposed to be good for us. And also, kale chips are oddly delicious.

After the second round of vegetable thievery, we doubled down and protected each individual vegetable bed with fine black netting. The netting made it more difficult for us to weed, but we figured that would be a small price to pay for keeping the groundhog at bay. Right?

Unfortunately, this is the mess we discovered in our vegetable garden after the groundhog's most recent escapade. It's almost impossible to see in this picture, but the groundhog ate the plants through the netting. He got our lettuce, arugula, and beets. He also got the second set of broccoli seedlings, which we planted recently to replace the ones he ate. From what we can tell, he sat on the netting until the vegetable leaves poked through the holes in the netting, and ate to his heart's content.

He's one determined bugger. I have to admit that I'm sort of amused by his tenacity and resourcefulness. On the other hand, it's hard not to feel deflated after devoting so much thought and time into a project that isn't going to flourish (at least, not this year). My husband carefully picked out the vegetable varieties from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, even going so far as to select the Calabrese broccoli variety because it dates to the 1800s (apparently it's not sufficient to paint our rooms historically appropriate colors. We are also trying to grow the very same type of broccoli that previous owners might have. If you're rolling your eyes right now, I don't blame you. We're obsessive, I know.) Anyway, we planted some of these crops back in the winter, setting up fluorescent light bulbs and heating pads in our basement so that we could grow the seedlings when the ground was still covered in ice and snow. The seedlings grew really well in the basement, and we gradually hardened them outside, then transplanted them when the weather was warm enough. We were really looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labor.

I hope our nemesis enjoyed that organic heirloom broccoli.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Blush Pink for the Master Bedroom

I almost named this post "In which my husband agrees to a blush pink bedroom, because the Victorians said so." But that title was far too long. Plus, I thought it might imply that my husband lacks strong opinions about interior decor. That would be misleading. In fact, he's so committed to historically appropriate decor that he agreed to paint our bedroom a color that looks suspiciously like ballet slippers, in spite the fact that he doesn't really like the color.

Anyway, let me provide some background before I bore you with paint color research.

Last night, I came across an email I wrote to my sister-in-law. Among other things, I mentioned that we would be working on our master bedroom over the weekend, hoping to make significant progress. That email was dated March 6. It's now solidly July, and the master bedroom is still a work in progress.
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