Monday, January 5, 2015

The View From the Hill

When the outside looks like this,
it is so good to have an inside that looks like this:
Mmmmm, butternut squash soup.  With every vegetable I had in my fridge.  It's not finished yet; I'm going to puree it and add a block of cream cheese, browned sausage, and fresh thyme.  Whatchu got cookin' over there?  Any beautiful amaryllis in the crowd?  Hey, how come I never see amaryllis gardens except in green houses??  Right???

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Floors, or How To Do Hardwood the Hardest Way Possible

Before we bought our new/old Farmhouse, I spent a good bit of time looking for advice on how to do this whole buy-a-house-and-move thing.  One piece of advice was to put up curtains before you do anything else (for privacy, I'm assuming).  Another tip was to implement a landscape plan before the ground freezes (do it first thing and enjoy mature trees and bushes the rest of your time in that house ==> makes sense).  Other people said you ought to start with a house-wide smudging and spiritual cleansing (...).  For us, though, we determined that the first thing we'd have to make happen was refinishing the upstairs hardwood floors, which includes all four bedrooms and a sizable landing/hallway.

For one thing, the finish had worn away to bare wood in many places in just about every room, not to mention sections of deep gouges and rough sock-catchers scattered liberally throughout.
For another thing, the coloring of the continuous hardwood was sort of wildly different from one room to the next, and none of the trim work matched it.  One room actually looked like they spilled the stain in the center of the room, threw up their hands, and gave up.

So my goals were simple: re-color all of it and protect it with a good topcoat.

Commence the angst.

I wanted to know the wood species.  Don't ask me why I thought this was so important, I just did.  And I couldn't figure it out, which totally depressed me because I felt like that was something I should be able to just tell.  And then I decided to pull off all the baseboard trim.
Who uses 18" nails for baseboard trim??
Overkill, I tell you!!  My poor, uncalloused, lily-white hands!

I also wanted to know what kind of topcoat the floors currently had...again, why would this matter if you're going to strip and re-stain it anyway?  Well...
It turns out the original topcoat was shellac.  Shellac can be stripped with denatured alcohol.  I figured if I just stripped it chemically, I wouldn't have to sand it (sanding shortens the life of the floor).  Oh, and it turns out the floors are all antique heart pine milled from the property by the original owner/builder of the house in 1911.  Be still my heart!  So then I spent, oh, a week trying to chemically strip the floors.  I got through 3/4 of one room.

It turns out that stripping shellac with denatured alcohol is tedious, time-consuming, and doesn't reliably take you down to bare wood.
Also, if you hold your cup of stripping agent too close to your face, you get a little tipsy after awhile.  So it was back to sanding for me.  With a palm sander.  Because have you read any of the personal accounts of using a rented drum sander?  You won't be able to control it, you'll put un-fix-able gouges into your floors, you'll reduce the life of your floors by a third!!!  The horrors!  So, yeah, palm sander.

In one of the four rooms, the color was already what I wanted (looks like there used to be carpet in there), so I just wanted to sand off the finish that was in bad shape, patch in the color, and re-seal it.
But this looked so incredibly bad, I had to reassure myself with a little test patch in the corner.  See the top two boards?
Whew.  Much better.  Maybe this will work out after all.  (Big shout-out at this point to my friends from used-to-be-down-the-street...Lynn, Amara, and Josiah came out and helped me stain two of the rooms!)

I ordered my shellac (yes, settled on shellac) from, which sounds like a totally shady operation, I know, but it turns out they're very knowledgeable, helpful, and reliable.  And I'm now a big fan of button lac, which is a very hard shellac that comes in the form of buttons that look like hard candy.  You pound the crap out of the buttons, throw the pieces into some denatured alcohol, and let it dissolve.  Then, I'm assuming you can apply it the same way you apply polyurethane on a floor, with a lambswool applicator on a pole, but having never worked with shellac before nor applied any finish whatever on a whole floor, I wasn't confident that I could pull that method off and make it look good.  So I brushed it on with a 2.5" brush.  Because I'm cautious to the point of masochism.  (Btw, if you're going to do it this way, again with the holding the cup of alcohol too close to your face during might end up tipsy while you're trying to work.)

Before and Afters, anyone? Before:

And this is that room I was particularly worried about:
Isn't it beautiful??

The color is not as even or fluid as I had wished, but with the shellac down...
...I just can't feel that this whole process has been anything but a great big success!  And the greatest, most major thing is that the floors are now 100% protected.  AND (one of the huge bonuses of using shellac), spot touch-ups are going to be seamless!  Which means this floor should never ever have to be resanded ever again (unless someone wants to change the color, I guess).

So lessons learned:
Don't chemically strip the floor.
Drum sanders are not as hard to use as they would have you believe. If you're confident with a palm sander, you can use a drum sander.  Go get the drum sander.
Don't stress about the wood species.  Either it'll sand easy or it'll sand gummy...either way, just get on it.

And finally, write the blog posts as you go!  It'll be much easier to remember what you wanted to say!  Sigh.  Never probably gonna learn this one.

Lots of projects still to do; one of the major ones will be cleaning up and reapplying the baseboard trim!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Moving Update

An awful lot has been happening around here.  We spent a chunk of last week in Pittsburgh...which is its own post that may never happen, but long story short: my mother-in-law Kathy had a stroke, spent way too long in the hospital, and is now finally recovering in an intensive therapy unit.  It's kind of a long story.  I'm SO glad we got to spend that time with her, even under such sad and scary circumstances.  The therapists say she'll be swallowing on her own (and drinking Pepsi again) in a week, which is perfectly amazing given the week she's had.

Today is September First, and we are officially out of our old house.
Our first house.  The house I moved to immediately after the honeymoon.
It was old.  The courthouse had it as being built in the late 1800s, but they had all the houses in the area as being built then, too...when a fire destroyed everyone's records, they reissued records that were all given the same date.  We don't know how old the house really is.
It doesn't really matter, though.  I mean, I know I laughed at the wavy floors and awkwardness of this old house (there was a door inside the kitchen cupboard, I'm not even joking, there was half of an exterior door cut off and made a part of the inside back wall of the cupboard, why don't I have a picture of this).
The spiders in the basement were enough to keep me out of my work space a good quarter of the time.  Another quarter went to the frigid temps down there in the winter.
I learned what a "hard winter" is in that house.  We bought a car together in that house.  I learned to cook, used lots of power tools, and paid off my student loans in that house.
We built some stories in that house.
And we made a lot of applesauce.
And zucchini bread.
And while this new house (where I'm sitting right now) is perfect and amazing and we know exactly how old it is...I'm going to miss that little house on Mudlake.

Maybe someday I'll tell you about the new house, eh?  Actually, I'm supposed to be studying for my upcoming upgrade training'll definitely get an update (because I'm a procrastinator).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bought It!

Picked up the keys this evening!  We'll be moved in by the end of the month!  YEAH, BABY!

Friday, August 8, 2014

We've Signed!

Today (now I guess it's yesterday) we signed!
See? See?? That's a folder! There's papers in that folder!  That we signed!
Tomorrow we send a lot of money to some people, and on Monday -
- we get keys!  To our own house!  Our Own House!!  On Monday!

[wipes a tear] [resists all garage sale signs for like ages] [growls because I'll still be on night hitch on Monday]

Hi, Krystal!
You've been a great realtor (all year)!  I'll buy you some ice cream!

Everybody!  We have over 7 glorious acres of mostly woods and a 20 foot tall swing! Come visit!!!! And help us move!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Cookbook Stand, part II

I said before that I was making a cookbook stand.  When I walked away from the project at the start of my work hitch, this is where I left things:
 Ok, a couple things here: one, this thing needs a topcoat of some sort; two, isn't there supposed to be a center support across the back of the stand?; three, oh dear, if I continue as planned, this thing won't lie flat when folded; and four, why didn't I pre-finish the pieces before assembly??

Big Ol' French Tart

Rememberhow I'm learning to cook?  (again?)  Dave brought me home a huge clamshell of strawberries during my surgery recovery, and I. made. something. wonderful. With the help of Julia Child, of course.  And some advice from my Dave.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Cookbook Stand, part I

Recently, you know, I had surgery (I still don't know how to say that without it sounding like "darling, I simply had to do something about these wrinkles!"  It was actually a benign nerve sheathe tumor near the base of my neck that they removed, btw).  As I got to the end of my official convalescence (which was about 3 weeks long), I was super antsy.  I'd go to the store and just wander around.  I pulled a lot of daylilies.  I started cooking more.  I started cooking out of cookbooks more.  And what does a cookbook want?
A stand, of course!  

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Little Green Post

 While Mom was in, I mentioned how much I'd like to clean up my big shade garden.  Someone at some point planted orange daylillies in there...and those suckers grow like weeds.  In big packs.  Towering three feet tall.  These had escaped the garden border and were making for the hills.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Dave just recently got me a very nice present.
Like my nesting doll measuring cup?  That wasn't the present, but she's cute, right?
 I feel totally inept in the kitchen.  And with just I can't eveneven finish that sentencecan't he two of us here, and neither of us being really all that snooty when it comes to food, well, there isn't a whole lot of need for real live cooking in this house.  So if it's dinner time and I'm home alone, I am totally not above pickles and peanut butter for dinner.  Maybe I'll go all out and fry an egg, but really, why bother.

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