Category Archives: house

The Couple That Hangs Together…


You know that saying that goes, “If you really want to get to know someone, travel with them?” I’ve got a new one for you: “If you really want to know the state of your relationship, wallpaper a bathroom together.”

I know, your first question is probably, “Wallpaper? Isn’t that completely out of style?” Well, actually no. Wallpaper is enjoying a moment right now and there are a lot of very cool patterns available.

Our house was built in 1950 and at that time there was such a building boom that tile manufacturers couldn’t keep up with production. Instead, they made “tiles” out of the new wonder substance called plastic (also in horrid colors but that’s another story). When we bought the house the bathroom walls were green plastic tiles halfway up and the rest painted yellow. Obviously that had to go. So, when I was pregnant with our second child, I popped off those awful tiles and scraped off thick layers of mastic as best as I could, which left the walls a bit of a mess. They either had to be wallpapered, drywalled over or have a skim coat of plaster applied. Wallpaper was the cheapest option.

I put up a beautiful striped wallpaper with a border at the top that went with the rest of the house at the time. That was 25 years ago and the wallpaper no longer goes with the rest of the house. Plus, I was sick of it.

So, thinking that I still remembered how to hang wallpaper, I found about five patterns that I liked and C and I agreed on one called solitude.

I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the pattern on the paper was an offset pattern (meaning that you will waste a good deal of paper making the pattern match). C removed all the cabinets (which I painted) and hardware from the room and I scraped off the old wallpaper and conditioned the walls for the new paper.

We knew that when you hang wallpaper the first piece you hang should be on the wall that is the most seen and completely plumb. This we did perfectly. Then we began hanging the rest of the room and got about halfway around and realized that we probably also needed to restart on the panel next to the first one and proceed the other way so that the end of the project (where there is always a mismatch of pattern) would be over the door and hardly noticed.

If you’ve never hung wallpaper I will tell you NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER attempt to wallpaper a bathroom for your first wallpaper job. It’s just too difficult. Besides the fact that bathrooms are generally small, they also have lots of things to maneuver around. Add to that walls that are completely out of plumb and you get THE TOUGHEST WALLPAPER JOB YOU WILL EVER ENCOUNTER. And that is why all the wallpaperers I called wanted $1,000 or more to do the job.

But I thought that since I had done this once before that I would be fine. And we mostly were, except for places where we weren’t and I’m not going to point them out because when you come to our house you’ll just look for them.

In a rush to finish, I decided to cut the last four panels for the job all at once. I thought I was meticulous at cutting them because they all matched, except I measured the length of them perfectly but didn’t measure the proper length from where the pattern matched so they were all a foot too long at the top and too short at the bottom. We had to shut down work until another roll of wallpaper arrived.

The new roll of wallpaper arrived and C cut it all because he knows how to be patient with cutting and not mess it all up. He drew the plumb line so I could keep the paper straight in spite of an inside corner that was over 1” out of wack and I hung the rest of the panels.

So the wallpapering is all done, but I still have some painting and fine fixing to do, but the bathroom is usable and the house is less of a mess.

Here’s the point: though working in a space so small we were almost on top of each other, making mistakes, having issues with hinges and hardware, shelves, medicine cabinet and the new light, not to mention the mess that extended into three other rooms of the house we did not scream or threaten, insult, scowl or threaten to divorce. In short, we just forged ahead and figured out how to make it work. Together.

To me, it is absolutely a testimony to us as a team. Clearly it would have been a lot easier to hire someone to do this work, but doing it ourselves made for a much better life experience. And now we have another $1,000 for a well-deserved vacation.

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Filed under advice, communication, family, house, manners, marriage, renovation

Don’t Know Whether It’s Close to Godliness, But it Sure is Easier to Find Stuff

it’s not quite new year’s eve but still the time for cleaning out some of the cobwebs. for c and me this was literally the case last week.

the refrigerator started acting crazy in a way that indicated something amiss with a computerized part, and then it fulfilled its lifelong dream of becoming a child’s toy. luckily, we have a second refrigerator and full freezer in the basement, so at 10pm we began dragging food from upstairs and stashing it downstairs. oh, and we also have a wine and beer refrigerator upstairs, so we stashed the juice and milk and leftovers for breakfast in there. we felt just a tad bit embarrassed that we have so many refrigerators.

you know that when faced with the opportunity to cull what’s in the refrigerator and clean the actual refrigerator itself you must take it, bedtime or not. ugh. apparently we are huge fans of sauces and condiments. and of freezing various items that would be used to make delicious stock if we got around to making stock instead of buying it.

a new circuit board and $350 later, our main refrigerator was happily working again and we were faced with the task of re-establishing order inside the now squeaky clean box. sounds easy, but proved to be a challenge. should the eggs stay on the second shelf or get moved to top shelf where they would be less likely to be jostled? should the jams and jellies stay together in the doors, or can they be split up since they don’t all fit in the doors? does the peanut butter have to reside with the jams and jellies or can it go next to the olives and pickles at the back of the shelves? and where exactly do you put 4 tall containers of juice and milk when the shelf only fits 3? most importantly, we now have an uncluttered spot for the cocktail glasses in the freezer.

there is advice on this topic but we have too many things that just don’t fit where they’re supposed to go. granted, it would be easier to go with the same old ways, but it seemed fitting to use the opportunity to reconsider the configuration and use the space the way the designers intended. but, often designers are idiots and old habits die hard.

by the way, i got to thinking that it would be nice to have a phone app where i could scan the barcode or enter in when something was put in the fridge and have it remind me to throw it out. of course there are already a number of apps for that. really. i’m not going to use any of them because i’m married to a pharmacist who checks dates much more often than i ever do.

just a day after the great refrigerator escapade, we had new carpeting installed, so all that cleaning, organizing and culling had to start all over again on a much larger scale. first, we had to move most of the furniture and i had to vacuum and dust behind the heavier furniture that hardly ever gets moved just to fool the carpet installers into thinking that i clean like that all the time. we found an earring i’ve been looking for waaaaay under the couch. unfortunately, i tossed its mate out thinking it would be hopeless to find the missing earring. back to one now. i’m not tossing this one out though because i’m not really sure that i tossed the other stray one. i’m holding out hope.

next, we had to clean out two heavily used closets. it’s amazing the things you find hidden inside closets, things that seemed so important at the time and are now just an annoyance, like the old throw pillows i was going to strip and recover to match the new bedding and furniture. nope. not going to do that ever. why exactly did we have three brush attachments for the small vacuum? my guess is that we couldn’t find the first one and bought a second one, then couldn’t find the second one and bought a third one. now we have extras and i’m tempted to toss two of them out but as soon as i do…

then there were the three old american flags stashed at the bottom of the coat closet behind the winter boots. you know you can’t just toss an old american flag out in the trash, right? i wish i didn’t know that (and now you wish you didn’t know that too). an american flag has to be disposed on in a proper manner, which involves burning or some kind of ritual gunplay or something. in fact, there’s an entire code for flag behaviors.

point is, there are flag collection boxes somewhere that i can’t remember, the flag store will take them for disposal but it’s always out of my way and we no longer have a boy scout in the family to make to take them to a meeting so the old flags become their problem. so, we still have three old american flags but they are no longer in the closet because they’re by the back door waiting to be properly disposed of. i’m considering hiding them in a bag of old clothes for goodwill and passing the problem along to them. or, burning them in the backyard firepit while singing the national anthem or maybe american the beautiful since that’s more in my singing range.

so, the carpet is in and the bottoms of the closets are neat and clean for now. i’m trying to ignore the upper shelves since i’d have to decide which and how many sets of sheets to get rid of and how. based on the weather of the last week, it’s going to be a long winter so i have plenty of time.

meantime, i feel more clearheaded already. as long as i don’t go near my basement.

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Filed under cleaning, laughs, repairs

terrible tips and tricks

every time the economy gets bad, the percentage of money saving tips and tricks explodes.  here we are again, in the middle of a particularly tough downturn and every print, electronic or tv magazine is doing segments on how you can efficiently use common household items for multiple uses or turn roadside finds into chic décor.

no, you can’t.

i recently read an article full of tips that were the most insane, and in some cases dangerous, ideas i’ve ever come across.  for your safety and for the sanity of a nation, please read the list of actual tips below and, remember the words of dwight schrute from the office, “whenever i’m about to do something, i think ‘would an idiot do that?’  and if they would, i would not do that thing.”

i am not kidding, these are real tips that were published. there were 101 of them.  they were almost all bad and these are some of the worst.

idiot tips and tricks

fly away curtains?  no problem, just slip a butter knife into the hem to use as weight.  (i guess they thought it was okay since they specified butter knife)

no bulletin board?  hang a sheet pan on the wall and use magnets to hold up your papers.  (is there a shortage of cork or bulletin boards?)

mismatched stemware?  turn them upside down and us them as candle holders.  (first all, get over your need to have matching stemware and second, can you not see how unstable that is?)

no place to hold your stationery?  use a cake pan with a lid.  (there are no drawers or cabinets in your home?)

no slippers?  use old plastic shopping bags.  (kind of lends a whole new meaning to bag lady)

no shaving cream?  use olive oil.  (why do you even have olive oil in the shower?)

dirty iron?  clean the bottom of the iron with salt.  (no, buy something called “iron cleaner” or get with the times and quit ironing)

no place to store hair ties or clips?  use an old toiletpaper tube.  (stop it.  you’re a grown up)

no camera case?  use a plastic soap holder.  (let me know how that works out in the shower)

no eyeglass case?  use your winter mittens.  (stop being so cheap)

no key chain?  use a binder clip for your keys and also a handy money clip.  (if you have to resort to this, you have no money to put in the clip)

no trivet?  use a mouse pad.  (yeah, especially the ones with the plastic film on top)

old eyeglass case?  use it as a manicure kit.  (because you’re using your winter mittens to hold your glasses)

iron in a pinch.  use your hair straightening iron.  (hope you’re not in a hurry)

slippery juice glasses?  slip some rubber bands around the glasses so your kids can get a better grip.  (and because they would never think of taking the rubber bands off the glass and snapping them at one another)

no travel pill case?  use a contact lens case.  (then put your contact lenses in your toothbrush holder, your toothbrush in your shaving kit, your razor on your shoe and don’t forget your camera in your soap case)

no ladle?  use an old ketchup bottle for your pancake batter dispenser.  (remind me never to come over for pancakes at your house)

no packing peanuts?  use real popcorn.  (because you don’t realize that warehouses have rats)

and the absolute worst of all:

dirty floor and no mop?  stick clean maxi pads on the bottoms of your shoes.  good for cleaning the floor and getting exercise too.  (at least they specified clean maxi pads)

okay, the economy might be bad, but that’s not excuse for being just plain stupid.

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wolf in sheep’s clothing

every street i’ve ever lived always had one house that was perpetually for sale.

you know what i mean.  the one house in the neighborhood that just can’t get itself settled.  there’s always a string of owners who perpetually work on the place, decorating, redecorating, renovating, gardening and generally over-updating.  the place seems like it’s always looking over its shoulder for the next best thing.  it’s generally the house that someone once paid too much for and everyone after that continued to pay too much to justify the price that the first person paid.

the houses on our street are all the same cape cod style, all made of brick, some with front porches, some with back, every one with a large picture window facing the street. it’s a dead end street with a park at one end and easy walking access to nearby amenities.  because the houses are cape style (one bedroom on the ground floor and two bedrooms upstairs) people tend to live in these houses for a very long time.  even during the roaring real estate days there wasn’t a whole lot of movement on our street.

it’s not a roaring real estate kind of street.

the perpetually-for-sale house is a cape that’s ashamed of being a cape, one that halfway tried to become a colonial by slapping a dormer on the back and half of one on the front.  the dormers made it think much more of itself.  the dormers make it embarrassed by itself, increases the longing to be something else somewhere new.  the perpetually-for-sale house doesn’t want to inhabit a little dead end street with a park.  it wants to live in the exburb with a german car in the driveway and a large themed flag in the front of itself. It longs for attention, to be at the center of style.  it pulls off the masquerade long enough to lure in another buyer.  buyers yes, actual lifers, no.

there is a dwarf weeping cherry and a sculpted evergreen in front garden instead of sturdy azaleas, reliable boxwoods or a slow growing dogwood. style without soul.  the resume looks great, live in the house and the story changes.  there are odd leaks, moans from too much renovation, marble where there should have been wood, sculptures where there should have been sinks, saturated colors that force the house to think it needs botox to keep up.  the windows are perpetually shaded so the inside won’t have to mingle with the riff raff, cringe when it sees the street where it actually lives.

this house is the reality tv house on the block.  the one that brags and rants, argues and over represents itself.  it gets away with it for awhile, but the kind of person attracted to the house is also the kind of person who easily moves on in search of the next best thing.

there will be a new resident in the house, but the house won’t really change.  i give it four years or so before it’s up for sale again.

 

 

 

 

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’til death (or wind damage) do us part

i’ve got trees on the brain.  not only because spring has sprung and oh my, how beautiful it is.  just a scant few years ago i could only point and say, “ooooo, pretty” at the spectacular show.  now (after due diligence) i can tell the difference between the blooming display of a plum, redbud, cherry and tulip tree.  normally (unless you’re in the landscaping business) this means nothing besides ‘ooooo, pretty’, unless you have to replace the giant maple in your backyard that fell victim to a windstorm. 

it’s a bigger deal than you might think. 

a tree, unlike a shrub sticks around for a looooooooonng time.  you have to make a commitment to a tree.  none of that ‘let’s try this’ of an annual.  you need to plant a tree, you’d better think long and hard about how big the tree is going to get, whether it can survive/thrive in your soil and shade/sun conditions and frankly, whether you can stand to look at it for the next 20 – 30 years.  face it, some trees are just ugly, some too finicky and others smell really bad. then there’s the whole raging debate about planting specimens that are not native… it can be exhausting. 

because the exiting maple was about 75 feet high, it lent cool shade to the backyard not to mention screening from the neighbors.  it also sucked all the nutrients out of the soil and made it hard to grow much in the yard (at some point we just reclassify weeds as indigenous ground cover).  no matter what we plant, it won’t replace the shade, but we will be able to get some degree of screening from the neighbors.

besides shade, screening, heartiness and lack of stinkiness, requirements were also three seasons of good color.

after consulting with our landscaper, the choices were narrowed to (drum roll, please) fringe tree, red rocket crape myrtle, redbud forest pansy and kousa dogwood.  (feel free to consult google)

the dogwood was rejected out of hand because we already have a dogwood in the front of the house.  (i like variety. and C and i planted that dogwood ourselves not understanding how heavy a tree is and how big a hole you have to dig to plant a tree and without a garden cart to drag the thing from the car to the hole and having to use l’s tiny plastic wagon which bowed under the weight).  the fringe tree is nice, but it’s a slow grower and more like a large shrub.  that left the redbud and crape myrtle.  both are hearty, beautiful bloomers, good fall color, fast growers and can be bought in 6 foot heights (and could easily add another 2 feet in one growing season).  almost instant screening.  still, neither one would ever fill up as much space as the old maple.  (thankfully we have another huge maple on the other side of the back yard)

i know, this is far too much discussion for something as simple as replacing a tree.  but really, we’ve all seen properties where there’s a haphazard approach and it looks like a mess.  i don’t like messes.  not to mention that the point is that we thoroughly enjoy our back yard and use it extensively throughout the year. 

so here’s the plan, the redbud in the middle flanked by a crape myrtle on either side.  they’re not an 80 year old maple, but it’s something we can live with for the rest of our lives.

 

 

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life from both floors now

C and I are now greeting the morning from one story above where we had been for the past two decades.

we own a cape cod style house, where there are two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and one bedroom and a bathroom downstairs.  when we first moved in, we only had one child, so the arrangements were perfect.  we took the large master bedroom and l got the cozy bedroom across the hallway all to herself.  the downstairs room became a den/office/guest room.  then we had E.  our master bedroom was large enough that we had plenty of room for E’s cradle right next to the bed.  when she got old enough, we moved E across the hallway into the bedroom with her sister, L.  little kids fit nicely into a little room.  a few years later J came.

at one point there was a bed, a crib and a cradle all in one bedroom.  the kids didn’t seem to mind.  (maybe L did, being the oldest…) it wasn’t great when we were trying to get them to go to sleep (oh, and there are a few embarrassing stories about three kids in a room that i’ll leave that for another day) J was rapidly outgrowing a cradle though.

we had to make the big move.  nope, not a new house, but C and I downstairs, two girls in the big (master) bedroom and j (being the only boy) in the small bedroom all to himself.  of course, that necessitated a new family room/office and a room for the kids and… we’ve been very good at playing tetris in the house.

but now, L’s married and E’s in an apartment.  J’s still in college, but he’s living in an apartment too.  there is one bedroom set up for anyone who wants/needs to move home, or anyone who wants to visit.  (I emphatically say now to our children that you are always welcome back home!) (there’s still another bedroom upstairs too, waiting for sleepovers with grandchildren)

so C and I finally bought the king size bed we’ve always wanted and moved back upstairs to the master bedroom of the house.  in fact, we’ve taken over the whole second floor of the house as our master suite since we made the smaller bedroom into a dressing room.  and, of course, we’ve got the brand new bathroom to enjoy up there.

can you hear the ahhhhhhhhhhhhs?

it’s funny you do what you have to do and you get used to what you have to get used to, and then…  I never realized how noisy it was downstairs.  the view from the downstairs bedroom was lousy and the closet was too tiny for one, let alone two.  we lived with clutter because we didn’t have another choice.

upstairs is zen.  no clutter.  serenity.  quiet.  views of the treetops.

we enjoyed the crowded, noisy house and now we’re enjoying the peace.

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the week of things not working and people not working things properly

we’ve all had the kind of week where all things mechanical are angry, possessed, uncooperative and downright surly.  of course, it would (in some cases) be the fault of the mechanical object and in some the human operator.  and in some the fault of the stars of http://thereifixedit.failblog.org/

 so the copy machine at work decides to jam, then expel a piece along with the jammed papers, which in turn fractures another piece (plastic of course) which hides in another area that stops the copier from working entirely.  bottom line: copy machine does nothing but scream (yep, literally a loud scream) when asked to make copies.  even when it’s politely asked.  even when it’s kicked (which, btw is what the technician did when he showed up to fix it.)  (it still didn’t work)

technician finds the shards of broken plastic, puts the machine back together (and presumably apologizes for kicking the poor thing) and gets it working again.  

however, the air conditioner (which hasn’t worked properly since they came and did maintenance on it in february…hmmm, think that might have been the issue?) labors to keep the office at a sweltering 80 degrees.  yet, the repairmen continue to diagnose the problem as human error.  as in humans in the office have too many lights on, have a vent closed in a hardly used room that’s freezing all of the time, have thermostat wars, etc. etc. any number of issues that do not address the fact that an air conditioned is supposed to condition the damn air.   their attitude was that pretty much nothing was wrong with the system (which was working fine before they replaced whatever was necessary to replace in the dead of winter) that educating dumb humans couldn’t fix.  

which bring me to the stupid human trick of the week.  notice the picture illustrating one company’s version of properly installed plumbing. 

three years ago we had new solid surface countertops and sink installed.  the sink began to commit a slow suicide by cracking and looked terrible.  no problem, said the company, you have a 14 year guaranteed.  they come to replace the sink.  somehow they didn’t consider that replacing a sink would involve plumbing. 

okay, so i’m just a dope when it comes to some things, but even i know that if the line says “cold”, you have to hook it up to the cold pipe, thus forcing you to hook the hot pipe to the hot.  ummmmm, not so fast.  apparently, since the word was cold instead of ‘frio’ (which i googled found out is the spanish word for cold) the guy was clueless.  then i watched him take the pipe outside and cut off a 2 ½ inch piece and toss it on the driveway then proceed to stick a piece of rubber to connect the two pipes and use hose clamps to hook the whole thing together.  even i knew that couldn’t be right.  

i spoke to the installer’s supervisor who said to me when i questioned the patchwork hookup,  “they sell parts to do that, don’t they? so, it must be okay.”  well, there you go. 

so the next time something breaks, fix it with whatever you feel like and expect it to work. 

btw, we hired a real plumber to fix everything properly.  and the air conditioning company stopped back and work and installed a new valve on the air conditioner that was working just fine (except for human error). so now it works.

 

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