Saturday, April 30, 2005

Survival of the Fittest

Apparantly my yard, which during the day seems so benign, at night turns into some type of National Geographic "Survival of the Fittest."  As you will recall, one of my little friends recently met an untimely and kind of loud death outside my house last month. 

Well, for the past few weeks I have been discovering various other carnage outside of my house.  Last week a stripped to the carcass pile of what was once a my backyard gate.  Today, a tail and stripped carnage of what was once a my front steps.  Did I say how much this freaks me out?!  I can handle a lot, but little dead bodies on my front doorstep does not fall in that list.  I shoveled the dead bird out of the way and gagged for an hour after. The squirrel is staying where it is in the hopes that some dog will drag it off.  I'm also trying hard not to take this all personally in an animal "mafia message on your doorstep" sort of way.

I was blaming the neighborhood racoon, but as I was edging my lawn today I watched in amazement as a HUGE crow flew over my head shrieking and then tried to take out a squirrel climbing up the trunk of a tree.  (I'll pause here to admit that there was some small amusement on my part in the hopes that this was the squirrel that bit the top off my tulips - what goes around, comes around.)

I'm a little nervous to see how this all plays out.  For goodness sake, I live in the middle of the city.  This kind of stuff isn't suppose to happen here.

Friday, April 29, 2005

New Addition

Let's just pretend for a moment that I am somewhere near the time where I will be restoring my bathroom.  Let's pretend that there are no other projects before it in line.  If we pretend.....then I can enjoy the deal I found today.

Yesterday I went to a local salvage store.  This place is messy, unorganized, overpriced, and the help is often just plain surly.  Things are piled on top of each other and you get the feeling....dump or store...they don't care.  But, every so often I go in just to look.  There piled in a corner was a grubby, old medicine cabinet.  It caught my eye because at 28" x 30" it was fairly large...and it had all of its original parts (albeit, under many layers of gross paint).  It needed a lot of work and they were asking $ I walked on by.  But on my way out the front door, I saw a sign advertising a 50% off sale starting today.

I woke up this morning and remembered the sale.  I told myself that if.....after I went to get my coffee....and I drove over there....and it was still there.....and it was, in fact, 50% off......I was allowed to buy it.  Sure enough, this morning there it sat.  So, for $40.13 I am now the proud owner of a new medicine cabinet.

It will be months before I get to working on my bathroom (and the exisiting horrific, yet oh-so-large medicine cabinet).......but its hard to pass up a deal :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Snow, Again

I'm in a cold frame of mind.  It snowed here yesterday.  If I wasn't so cold, I'm sure I'd see the humor in the fact that I wore winter gloves yesterday to mow my lawn.  It was 80 degrees here two weeks ago, which makes this all particularly cruel.

Seeing as how I had to haul out my winter blanket last night (can you even believe it?)......and its pretty common for people of old houses to ask what people would have used on beds in a Bungalow (or older)........I thought I'd write about Hudson Bay Point Blankets.

The Hudson Bay Company was chartered by King Charles II of England in 1670.  The company finangled the right to exclusive (fur, etc.) trade in Canada.  The company discovered that the native Indians prized the company's point blankets and would trade them for beaver pelts.  The points (or stripes on the blanket) indicate the 1780's price to be paid in beaver pelts....and today the size.  (note: the info. regarding the bever pelts is taken from HB materials that comes with each blanket, although I note the HB online FAQ sheet says the bever pelt story is false.  Seems the company needs to get their story straight :-)  The original colors of scarlet, green and blue were introduced to meet requests by the Native Americans and voyageurs for bright colors.  The white background allowed them to be used in hunting in winter without scaring away to prey.  The history is much more detailed than the basics I cover here.

You will find the blankets in a variety of museums.  Admiral Byrd's expeditions to Antartica and Mount Everest included point blankets.  Charles Lidbergh wore a point blanket coat on his flight to Europe.  Gold miners used them during the Klondike gold rush.  Blankets have been salvaged from wrecks on Lake Superior.

The blankets are made from wool and processed in a way thaat causes the woven wool to shrink to a very tight weave and then the nap is hand brushed.

My grandparents had Hudson Bay blankets in their 1920-30 house.  My father remembers my grandfather buying a blanket for a hunting trip and ultimately the family log cabin.  I love the history and I love how they look on almost any type of furniture.  I discovered a site that has some other family blanket stories....and where you can add your own story.

LL Bean has been selling the blankets since the early 1920s.  Woolrich also is licensed to sell the blankets in their stores.  The blankets aren't cheap....but will literally last 100 years (and possibly a few years at the bottom of Lake Superior).  The Hudson Bay Company has a very helpful FAQ for owners and collectors.

Ok, off I got to get a nice steamy latte.........

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

No Man's Land

My backyard is fenced in. The PO owner added the all accounts for her dogs.  On the north and east sides of the yard a hedge is enclosed in the fence.  On the south side of the yard there are two rows of lilacs on the other side of the fence.  The lilac bushes are very tall....very tall.  In the Spring it is nice because the lilac flowers spill over the fence into my yard.

I've never been sure whose lilac bushes they are....mine or my neighbor's.  They seemed pretty far outside of the fence to be mine, but then again I can't imagine how the fence could have been built to include them (there is also a huge oak tree smack dab in the middle - but that's another blog for another day).  I was hesitant to ask....because there is also a fairly big pile of leaves from years gone past laying in that no-man's land that I really (really) didn't want to be responsible for.  So, whenever I cut flowers.....I did it on the sly :-)

The bushes on all sides of the yard were quite tall when I bought the place.  And as I worked on more pressing issues, they grew even taller over the past two summers.  Last summer it was to the point where I had total privacy in my backyard (which was nice), but almost no sunlight (which was not so nice).  My then-bf cut down the hedges on the north and east sides to fence height - which was quite a job.  However, I didn't want to step on my neighbor's the lilacs were left alone.  They now are about 10ft tall, and I have plans for a garden that will need to see some sun.

Just so happened by neighbor was outside in his backyard today (he has an awesome garden every year) working.  I decided to broach the topic of the lilacs.  Much to my relief.....he was wondering the same thing.  We agreed that he would handle the row on his side.....and I'd take the row nearest me.  We decided on fence height....after they are done blooming.  Yea!......some more sun for my backyard!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Nancy Drew

I wish Nancy Drew was my friend.  She was a wiz at solving the original bungalow mystery.  I'd like to invite her to my house.  I suspect she could solve a few of my bungalow mysteries.

~What is that brown paper bag type paper on the walls in the guest room closet under the paint?

~Why is there a security sticker on the top pane of the window in the attic?

~Was there a wall sink in the bathroom originally?

~Why are some of the plaster walls in the house randomly smooth while others are bumpy....even though it appears that the plaster was never repaired?

~What's up with the creepy amount of blood-red painted woodwork I have been discovering as I have been stripping paint?

~What is under that hollow sounding, concrete covered, patched area in the basement floor?  Please tell me no bodies are buried there.

~Why didn't they use a corner wall sink in the kitchen?  I love the old sink, but the corner wall sure takes a beating.

~Why does the coat closet have different baseboard and toe shoe than the rest of the living room?

~Where was the oringinal stove located in the kitchen?  I see where the vent pipe went...but based on the phantom lines in the plaster, it looks like there was some type of cabinet directly below the vent. 

~What are those phantom lines on the floor in the basement that I stare at for hours?  A canning storage area, a second work bench, a coal storage area (although I think that's what the other closet was)...?

~Why does the office/bedroom have different wood trim around the windows?  It appears to be the same era as the rest, just has the beveled edge.....

~Where are those damn bats getting into the eaves?! 

~What did the upstairs look like before it was refinished? 

Monday, April 25, 2005

Color my World

Paint by number wallpaper.  Its a bit pricey at $99 a roll, but I need to find a place to use this.

Hey, I can start a paint by numbers theme......

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Habitat for Humanity

I posted a month or so ago about signing up for a Habitat for Humanity stint.  In the past I've volunteered one day at a time, but this time I figured I'd get a wider variety of assignments if I signed up for a few days in a row.  As I mentioned in my last post, it's a great way to learn house-type skills.  In past years I have shingled, put on siding, and applied stucco.

Well, I just finished my three days this afternoon.  I am weary to the bone, but as usual had a ton of fun!

Thurday I worked on a 4 unit townhouse building that was part of a multi-building complex.  Very impressive buildings (some in craftsman type design).  Excellent views of the downtown skyline from the top floor.  The other volunteers were a hoot, and we spent much of the day laughing while we did our work.  The guys I worked with were very patient in letting me try all of the cool power tools :-) (this included a sawzall - sigh).   We worked on trimming and filling in some of the framing....putting shingles on the roof.....general site clean-up.  And digging and hauling dirt to fill in the foundation (OMG) and to shore up the scaffolding.  One of the unit's future owners was there working with us, but we didn't get a chance to really meet him.  The buyers spend in the ballpark of 400 to 450 hrs working on Habitat houses (theirs and others) in order to qualify.  I got home and went to bed at 8:30 that night.

Friday morning I woke up and wondered what on earth I was thinking for signing up for three days in a row.  I'm not a morning person to say the least.  But, once I got up and going....things were fine.  Second day was at a new location.  A duplex.  Some of the same guys that I worked with on Thurs were there, so once again they let me do some of the fun power tool type stuff :-)  We worked most of the day on installing Anderson windows, which was very fun.  Then I spent a bit of the afternoon sweeping up the two units.

I'll admit that I pretty much thought I was going to die when my alarm went off this morning at 6:30....but hauled myself out of bed.....stopped for a latte enroute.  Today, some of the crew was finishing the roofing.  I ended up on the site organization team.  Dirty, grunt work...but we were busy all day.  One other guy had also volunteered for the full three days and we comiserated. 

I ended up chatting with a co-volunteer and it turned out her father is the future owner that we had seen on Thurs.  It was fun to tell her that I worked on his house...and what had been done to it recently. Later in the afternoon, I ended up talking to another guy who ended up being the future owner of one of the duplex units.  I showed him the windows that I had installed and took credit for sweeping out his unit :-) He and his wife (and 4.75 kids) were very excited to move in. It was fun to see who you were working for....and I think he had a good time seeing who actually worked on his house.

So, now I am sitting here pooped and trying to figure out which pizza place delivers.  I'm tired, have a bunch of black and blue marks.....but the start of a nice tan :-) If you haven't volunteered before....I highly recommend the experience.  Fun, fun, fun.  I'm calling again next week to set up a few more days with Habitat next month.....

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What a Deal

Had an excellent suggestion made by a reader in response to my post regarding purchasing a compost bin.  Ribonribo commented that many landfill areas sell compost bins at reduced prices.

So, given that info., I did a little research.  For those of you living in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey or Washington county you can buy bins at a 57% discount - $30 (this includes a bin and a scrap bucket).  You order them online and then pick them up at designated county sites.

For Henepin County here are the pick-up details.   For you other counties, you might want to ask when you order.

Sigh - a much better deal than what I got :-(

Monday, April 18, 2005

Maxed Out

I'm a little maxed out on the house restoration thing this week.  I'm taking a  brief respite from all things house.  Only thing on my list even remotely house related was to pick out paint.....

for my toenails and fingernails.  Project finished and they look quite nice :-)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

One Step at a Time

I'll start off by assuring you I am not a mean person.  I'm not really sure why this article struck me as so funny this afternoon.  The article is entitled "Killer Bungalows."

Maybe it struck me as humorous because I had a recent brush with the same topic  and it was easy to picture myself at the bottom of the stairs wedged between the final step and a door.  I could see my obituary........"killed by her bungalow....may she rest in peace." 

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Please, Don't Eat The.....Tulips

I'm ticked.  Really, really ticked. 

It's raining outside today, but I ran around to the back yard to return a tool to my garage.  As I ran back for my front door, I saw them.

There laying on the ground were the heads of all of my tulip flowers. The tulips I was so excited to see last week.  The squirrel that lives in my backyard had chewed the heads off just for sport.

He has crossed the line.

Friday, April 15, 2005

AOL Readers

Welcome AOL readers....and holy cow, there are a lot of you :-)  I got a short little email today from AOL indicating my blog would be on their pick list for a few days. 

Quick tour of the highlights.  Pictures of the house (subject of this blog) are in the StuccoHouse website. 

Also, if you are a fan of old houses....and like your blogs collected in one have to check out

And while I have your attention, if anyone can tell me how to add a page banner..or underline links on AOL.....I'd be forever in your debt.


Its amazing how totally motivated I can become to do house stuff when I have taxes to do and a deadline looming over my head.

In an effort to avoid doing my taxes and writing out that damn check, yesterday I fertilized my lawn.  I am new to this whole lawn care thing and I must admit my operation is a bit basic.  I have a (new) fertilizer spreader, one hose, one sprinkler and a push reel lawn mower.  So far, so good.

I also weeded my existing herb garden and the flower beds.  I noticed an azelea plant that has not flowered the entire time I have been in the house, has buds and looks ready to bloom.  And a few of my tulips are in bloom.  Of course, I am taking full credit for this :-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Compost Bin

Spent about 3 hrs this afternoon (when I was supposed to be working and doing my taxes) tracking down a compost bin.  Who knew they were so hard to find?  All I kept hearing was "nope, we don't carry them, but you can build your own." 

This is where the distinction between "can" and "want to" comes into play. Yes, given enough time and motivation......I probably could have built my own.  Possibly even in this century.  Put in all practicality, if I ever was to get to actual composting.....I needed a plastic one (that can be sprayed down with a hose) that snapped together.

Whew, finally found one at Smith & Hawkins.  It is now nestled into my backyard.  I even threw some old leaves into it for good measure.  Now I need to read the instructions (I am a city girl - this composting thing does not come naturally to me).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Yahoo!!  I just checked my seeds and the cabbage and thyme have sprouted!  I'm obnoxiously excited about this.  Now the pressure is on to keep them alive until planting time. 

Kitchen Ceiling

My kitchen needs a lot of work.

For the most part the room is 1924 original.  There were some ugly prefab oak cabinets installed on one wall, but they are now long gone.

What I am left with is a room that is in some desperate need of sprucing up.  The cabinets need to be reshellacked.  Walls need to be wallpapered and repainted (paint and wallpaper already purchased).  Trim needs to be replaced in areas where it is missing.  The dingy-oh-so-attractive accoustic ceiling needs to be replaced.  1980's fixtures need to be replaced (already purchased).  And the floors need to be refinished.  Eventually a matching cabinet will need to be added to one of the bare walls.

First things first.  I decided to start from the top down.  A few weeks ago, I tested the ceiling for asbestos.  It's hard to tell how old it is, but it has been painted many times and is about an inch thick.  I've never seen anything like it before.  Tests came back negative.

So, we spent some time at Menards researching options this past weekend.  Menards was not my first choice, but after contacting a number of tin ceiling companies by phone I was left somewhat frustrated by their lack of customer service.....and reluctant to do business with them only to find myself midway through installation with a problem....sitting for hours in phone hold hell.  So, this brings us back to Menards.

Here are the options:

1.) Real tin ceiling.  Pros:  it's historically accurate.  And as much as I try to not to be obsessive, this appeals to my purist side.  Cons:  It is the priciest option at $4.25/sq ft.  It also is the most hassle to install.  Special order.

2.) Press & Stick Thermoplastic Tin Replica.  Comes like tin sheets, but is high-impact plastic.  Truth: This one isn't going to crack it for me regardless of its pros.  I just can't bring myself to hang something with "peel & stick" in its name.  I just can't do it.

3.)  Armstrong's Tin Tile.  I initially poo-pooed this one, but it has been growing on me.  They are lightweight ceiling tiles with a tin-style design stamped on their surface.  Pros:  Easy to install.  Painted they almost look like the real thing.  Fire retardand.  Easy to replace.  Least expensive option at $1.27/sq ft.  Cons: Not tin.  Disappoints the purist side of me.  Rationalization:  I could actually get the ceiling done using this route.  And as my mom pointed out, if it turns out I don't like it......I can easily pull it down and put up the real thing in a year or so.        

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Rust (again)

Nothing glamorous today.  Painted the interior of my monster bathroom medicine cabinet (again).  It had started to rust (again).  Used rust proof paint (again).

This is truly a case in point - you really do get what (the previous owner in this case) you pay for.

I saw a double, vintage style, wood medicine cabinet in the Van Dykes catalog that may accommodate my need for storage and replacing my current cabinet.  More on this debate later...... 

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Books, Books & More Books

Unfortunatley, I already own most of these books so this little deal comes too late for me.  I was reading a magazine yesterday and ran across an ad for the Archtiects & Designers Book Club (the print ad in Old House Interiors had a few more books). It appears to be a Doubleday company.

3 books for $1.99 & s/h each and a promise to buy one more in the next year.  They carry Nash's Renovating Old Houses,  Powell's Bungalow,  titles from Taunten and many of the other old house standbys.  Two years ago I paid $32 for my copy of Nash.

Many of us end up buying these books, so I thought I'd share :-)  Heck, I may even give this a try.......

Friday, April 08, 2005

Theme Walks

I live in a city filled with old houses.  Victorians, bungalows, tudors, foursquares, cape cods and ranches.  For the past few months I have been taking daily "theme walks."  I choose a topic to focus on for the day and walk a few miles paying special attention to that detail on the houses.

For example, today was mailboxes.  I walk up and down the streets looking at the mailboxes and collecting ideas.

My house needs a new mailbox.  Right now it has a wooden little "mail house" attached to the stairway railing.  Both thr railing and the mailbox were added by a previous owner.  It doesn't go particularly well with the house.  I would really like to have a mail slot that drops right into my house and I even have a spot where it would conceivably work.

So, for the past year or so, I have had my eye out for a 1920's style mail slot.  Surprisingly, they are hard to find.  I can find the big, shiny brass slots but they seem out of place.  I've seen a few reproductions, but they are unimpressive.  I'm looking for the solid (cast iron?) old style that has "letters" or "mail" stamped on the face.

Last year I put out and all points bulletin to everyone I know.  Please, please, please keep an eye out for an old mail slot.  Much to my excitement, one person delivered for me.  A nice big (not shiny) mail slot with the word "letters" imprinted on the face.

Then I made my sad discovery.  There are two types of mail slots.  One appropriate for a storm door (no flap) and one appropriate for wall installation (has a flap or spring that keeps out the weather).  I had the kind intented for a storm door.  Sigh.  I'm toying with the idea of using this storm door slot and adding an interior mail box like I had in my former condo (see picture above), but I'm not overly enthusiastic about this idea. 

So, once again this leaves me walking through the neighborhood trying to get an idea of what I can do about my mail...... 

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I am determined to have a big vegetable & herb garden this year.  Last year a combination of man & nature rooked me of my harvest.  This year I am older & wiser :-)

I've learned that one should plant their gardens in the own back yard.....and believe the weatherman when he predicts a hard frost, even if it is Aug.  I have an empty freezer and a stack of canning jars ready to go.

So, with much optimism I started a huge bunch of seeds yesterday afternoon.  Basil, zucchini, asperagus, peppers (all kinds), cabbage, rosemary, thyme and broccoli.  I also found some rhubarb starters (not the technical term, I'm sure).  I figure our growing season is so short here anything I can do to get the upper hand will help.

I've also been scoping out my back yard for the best place for a big garden.  Turns out the best asthetic place for a garden is not the best growing spot.  In the photos, I'd like to put the garden on the right of the fence gate, but this area is shaded by a big oak tree.  So, I am now considering putting the garden straight up from the garage.  I know its still a little early, but I picked up a shovel, marking paint and some Round Up at Menards.  I am ready to go.

Last year I did have a very sucessful herb/tomato garden on the side of my house.  I plan on expanding that a few feet too.  Can one ever have enough pesto?  I'll move the tomatos to the back yard.

Next for

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I'm a bit of a snoop.  I like to see what the interior of other people's houses look like.  I think I picked up this habit going to open houses when I was looking for my house.

This website specializes in an few neighborhoods of Minneapolis that are chock full of bungalows (and tudors & foursquares).  Some good.  Some bad.  I periodically check it out to see prices and, well, snoop.

This week there are a bunch of interesting bungalow photos........ 

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


It was all just fun and games until I realized I actually would qualify for a mortgage on a few of these slices of paradise.

Aren't there just some days when you are really, really tired of stripping paint, reglazing windows and ripping up old carpeting when owning your own private island would sound pretty wonderful?

Monday, April 04, 2005


Daylight savings - yeah!  Allergy season - Boo!

My excitement over finally seeing daylight for an extended period of time was tempered by allergy season also appearing with a vengance.

I had big plans for getting a lot of house stuff accomplished this past weekend.....most of which were sidelined while I felt crappy due to allergies.  I got by relatively easy last year, but this year is already indicating it is going to be very harsh.  I took shots for many years....then sublingual drops.....but have been lucky enough to be able to get by with just meds for the past few years.

I decided to spend my weekend doing some Spring cleaning.  Oprah did a show a while back on cleaning your house.  It was a good reminder.  Each Spring I wash my walls down with hot Dreft water.  They may be unpainted, patched and/or cracked....but, by George, they are clean.

I also have a major "thing" about dust mites.  They freak me out.  They also make me sick.  My pillows were about up for replacement, so I drove over to the Land's End outlet in St. Paul on Sunday.  In the back clearance section I was able to find 2 top-of-the-line primaloft pillows and a pillow-top matress pad :-)  All on clearance....with an additional 30% off with my Lighthouse Club Card.  Total price = $45.

For anyone else suffering from allergies in an old house, this link may be very helpful.  I love their mattress & pillow covers.

....and, of course, there is always Allegra.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Slow Progress

As promised, here is a photo of the mostly refinished door of my kitchen chimney cabinet.   It turned out quite nice, I think.  The photo is about halfway through the refinishing process (the inset panel still needed a few coats), but shows the end color.

I stripped two layers of paint off of it.  This doesn't sound like much work, but the first layer of paint was a bear to get off.  The wood turned out to be birch, as I suspected.  I then used amber shellac in a 2# cut adding multiple thin layers (4 or 5).  When dried, I hand rubbed down the shine to a nice warm glow.  The hardware also shined up well.......even though I didn't remove it for fear of the door becoming misaligned.

Obviously, I still have the rest of the cabinet to strip.  I've been putting this off in hopes that the weather turns warmer and I can do this nasty business outside.  I also need to cut new shelves for the interior (it had been converted into a coat rack inside).  I'm going to paint the interior a cherry red....and continue shellacing the exterior.  I've also had my eye out for a cute crocheted lace design to crochet for the edge of each shelf showing through the door. 

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