Category Archives: D.I.Y. House and Home

Almost to The End of Rot

As a follow-up as to why our house is slowly becoming one with the earth, I am now able to announce that we have dug, and drilled, and sawed, and unwedged some very scary stuff out from under the house. One huge mercy is that what we thought was a broken pipe is nothing more than an unconnected air-conditioner drain. That should be piped and draining away from the underneath by this next weekend.

Once the siding, and then the tongue-in-groove cypress wood beneath was cut and pulled away, more rot was uncovered at all the corners. The giant timbers holding up the outer shell of the house were so rotten that they turned to powder when touched. It was disconcerting.

Here, we had to take off about five feet by three feet of wood to expose the rotted boards in order to pries them away.
Here, we had to take off about five feet by three feet of wood to expose the rotted boards in order to pries them away.

I’m typing this as the saws-all is biting into my home on the ground floor just beneath my computer desk. As the grinding burr of metal ripping into hundred-year-old wood continues, I’m trying to hurry and finish this new post.

Lights are blinking. The battery backup is beeping. This may mean that a power line has been compromised. Oh no! The worker is asking my husband where the breakers are. I better exit! – to be continued.

AND . . .

Here it is a day later. The wire to the computer had been cut.

The worker was able to tape the wires together so the computer works for now. Electrician coming.
The worker was able to tape the wires together so the computer works for now. Electrician coming.

I have a battery backup surge protector. It has proved invaluable in this house.

While tearing out boards a mouse’s hoard was uncovered. Or it might have been a rat’s hoard. There was lots of fluffy bits of insulation, scraps of paper, sawdust, gnawed pieces of electric wire, and a 1966 penny.

The rotten wood extended up the corners of the house along the west side and in the front.

Here you can see that the corner is missing.
Here you can see that the corner is missing.

I called a termite inspector. According to him, our house did have a serious termite problem at one time but not anymore. There are no active termites, another mercy.

Note in the pictures the lovely new 6″ X 6″ X 12′ beams supported by lovely new piers. The shiny metal sheets are to protect against future termite invasion. Here, imagine music in the background. It is the hallelujah chorus!

The Underneath

Cover of "The Underneath (Ala Notable Chi...
Cover via Amazon

There is an excellent book called “The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt about some animals that learn to sacrifice and survive together underneath. This isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we, here at our house, have got to learn to survive despite what we have UNDERNEATH.

When we first contracted our contractor, George, to do the major renovations on our house I distinctly remember telling him that I wanted to make sure everything underneath the hundred-year-old pier and beam house was good – meaning no termites, no rot, and leveled. He hired a company to come in and replace rotted beams and level the house and they assured me there were no termites.

A year later we had suffered through a pretty severe drought. There were cracks running up and down near windows, doors weren’t shutting correctly, and the kitchen terrazzo tiles have broken into pieces. Well, we decided, houses settle. Houses settle. It must be the drought.

One day the dog managed to squeeze under the house to chase a not-belonging-to-him cat. He came out soaking wet and muddy head to toe. It hadn’t rained in months. That was the first clue. Something was terribly amiss underneath.

But times were not good. Other emergencies with family and rent houses came and went. The underneath had to wait. I withheld my worries from the family because they seemed trivial compared to the failing health of loved ones and the busted pipes at rent houses.

Then this year came and with it an amazing soar in home prices. Time to sell the extra properties. We put the gorgeous Victorian gem on the market at a moderately higher price than we expected. Within four hours we had a bidding war and a signed contract for way over the amount we had asked. Wow. We sold one of the rent houses. We did not do so well there but it was outside the city and we didn’t expect to, but it sold, and that was the amazing part.

So, I mentioned to my husband that I was worried about the underneath of our house. I have an excellent handyman who despite his severe fear of spiders said he would help me clean out the old insulation from underneath and check for rotten beams. The first thing I asked him to do was to take off the skirt boards from around the outer perimeters.

We found rot. A lot of it.SAM_0429 SAM_0432

There are piers that look like a little kick will topple them.SAM_0443

Then under the house we found missing piers.SAM_0468

Weird wires.SAM_0461

And then yesterday we found the drip.

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When water is run inside the house it becomes more like a stream. As a result there is a bog under the house. It doesn’t run out from beneath and across the yard and down the road. No. If it did we would have noticed and done something about it before now. The drip is only enough to keep it a wet mud-pit. Only enough to get those middle piers to slowly sink down creating major fault lines in our walls and tiles.

The plumber is coming tomorrow. After that we’ll need an electrician, then the termite inspector.

Fingers crossed we don’t have to deconstruct the house to get to the pipe that is the culprit in all this.

And Kathi, we have a lovely Calico cat underneath. She is happy under there. The dog is too big and bulky to squeeze under easily. But if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have found the problems in order to fix them. Hooray for the beasties!

The Best Friends a Person Can Have

Today was one of those fine days when everything worked well together and I had the opportunity to go out with friends from Sugar Land. We had a lovely meal at Paulie’s on Westheimer. Paulie’s is well-known for their hand-made pasta and other authentic-tasting Italian delights.

Afterward we went on a close circuit of sights. First, the Guild Shop on Dunlavy is rated the best second-hand shop in Houston. I like it but I have another favorite. The thing about the two thrift shops we went to today is this: They have seriously discounted, real antiques. Take my word for it. You will see the same things at the antique shops five blocks away on lower Westheimer for five-times the price. I bought some designer sleeveless shirts for a dollar. I witnessed a lady buy a Louie Vuitton vintage purse. It was $230. I’m pretty sure you would have had to pay about $1,200 for the same bag about five years ago. I have a friend who has one that is over thirty years old. I hear they hold up well. The Guild Shop has everything. I mean it.

Next we went to the Bluebird Circle shop on Alabama. This one is my favorite thrift shop. I think it feels more organized and neatly laid out than the Guild shop. You can really see things here. I’ve gotten some fabulous chandeliers here in the past. I’ll include the pics of the two of them.

Shopping at these two thrift shops was a huge bonus during our renovation of our two historic homes.SAM_0427 SAM_0424

I saw some antique scales today. I’m going back for them. They are too cool to leave for long. The price goes down over time but the chance is that someone else will get them. It happened with a table I saw that would have been perfect for my son’s house. He wanted to wait for the price to go down. Needless to say. It got sold.

After the thrift shops we went to BlackSmith, a coffee/pastry/sandwich shop on lower Westheimer. We had the homemade biscuit with creme fraiche. Oh. My. Goodness. Don’t tell a soul! I don’t want word to get out and then there really would be nowhere to sit. I loved this place. Can’t wait to try other things on the menu.

Then we all ended up back at my house. My pals came in and I realized with something akin to horror that the house – though I had picked up and straightened before I left – was something close to a disaster zone of untidiness. In my absence the family had cooked lunch and eaten and left me the dishes to prove it. But I have the greatest friends in the world. They didn’t seem to mind. What more can anyone ask?

Okay, you know who you are!! Thank you for a wonderful day out. LOVE YOU!!!

Hands, Hands, Fingers, Thumbs!

Do you know that children’s book? It is a rhythm and rhyming book and that’s the title. It starts out “Hands, hands, fingers, thumbs, dum, deedle, dum, deedle, dum, dum, dum. And it goes on from there.

We’ve had our own version of this in real life this week. First the grand girl got sick. I thought it was just a fever but she got sicker and sicker. No runny nose, no pulling at the ears, no other symptoms until I saw her throat while she was crying. It was bright red. That can’t be good. Then her mother began to get a sore throat. A headache. Spots on her hands. SPOTS ON HER HANDS???

They got worse. Spreading to the soles of her feet and it hurt to walk, she said. Then we noticed the spots on  Cora’s toes.

My daughter went to the doctor and the doctor said “No MORE Monkeys jumping on the bed!”

Wait! That’s another book. Gack! Too many rhymes and songs these days going through my head.

spotty hands
spotty hands

Okay, so the doctor said, “You have ‘hand, foot, and mouth’ and it is highly contagious, for two weeks.”

My daughter is home from work. She feels miserable “It feels like all my nerve endings are on fire.” The baby acts like she feels great, except she doesn’t want to walk if she can beg a lap or a hip-carry. Awwww.

spotty feet
spotty feet

I feel great. So far. But if you don’t see me at the Funnel Tunnel dedication ceremony tonight. I’ve got the “foot in mouth”.

Blessings.

A Fun Funnel on Montrose

An Fun Funnel on Montrose. Y’all I’ve added another blog about my neighborhood! I’ve finally figure out how to do this and can now post my neighborhood news here and there. Press the above link to find out more and see the new site. Today’s update is about the new art installation on Montrose Blvd. I think you’ll like it.

Here I am talking to the artist, Patrick Renner.

The artist
The artist

This Week of Renovating

The bathroom vanity before
The bathroom vanity before

The other day I was driving West on I-10, my thoughts ranged from the mundane (how was I going to find the time to stain the floors of the Oldcastle house) to the odd (I love renovation. Why didn’t I do this full-time?).

I’ve discovered laying glass tile is a breeze. If they weren’t so expensive I would plaster rooms with them. Rooms! At the Oldcastle house I put glass tile around the bath vanity, including at the floor around the vanity because the hole that we filled in with cement was filled too high to put conventional tile on. So here you see the dark tile around the new vanity.

SAM_0339

Sure, I could begin a small renovation business. I had just installed glass tiles and grouted them in the master bath of the house.

They looked perfect. I had designed several of the new elements of the house from the cabinets (wish they were all white, though) and the bathroom vanities. I had added a light where there was none to create a dining room area. It was fun. Just wish I wasn’t using our money to do it. How much more fun would this be if it were someone else’s money? I could do wonders for people looking to change their old and drab bathrooms and kitchens.

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We had already been approached by two neighbors who were interested in purchasing the property. So I knew things were going to be okay with it.

Kitchen almost done.
Kitchen almost done.

We had established that this week we would be putting up a “for sale” sign. Finishing touches, completing the punch list, that’s all we have left.

Then my mother-in-law called. She had blood in her stool A lot of blood. She wanted a ride to the doctors. My husband took her, after a consultation with the doctor, they had her at the hospital in fifteen minutes. Her blood-thinner levels in her blood were at the stage where it was surprising that she had survived. She was bleeding internally. There was fluid around her heart. It didn’t look good.

First night in the ICU she called my husband at 2 AM and told him if he didn’t get down there and get her out he would find a dead mother in the morning. We spent time with her the next few days. Every day and every night it was a new conspiracy theory. For instance the hospital staff was conspiring against her to keep her in bed so they could take more of her money. And the electronics in the room were making the clocks and her watch jump ahead every few hours so that it always looked like 2 AM so she would remain confused. The scary one was that no one was visiting her. And who was I to tell her different? We wouldn’t take the time to come visit. We weren’t caring enough to make sure she was fine. Okay.

My sweet, dear, beloved mother-in-law had gone “around the bend” in a big way.

In order to show her that we cared I resorted to bringing her a pile of get well cards from her loved ones – i.e. all of us – with notes and pictures, vases of flowers (fake because “real ones make me sicker”), photos of us visiting when she was too asleep to know we were there and making her drink water (“I don’t need water. Everyone makes me drink water. It’s just a trick.”)

The renovations and the rest of the world had to come to some sort of agreement with timing.

Last night, after several nearly sleepless nights we figured she was calmer. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we took the phone away from her. So we planned to sleep. Then the phone rang at 1AM. This time a neighbor across from the Oldcastle house was calling to the report the garage door and front door were open. We asked him to please lock the house up. We rose early to drive over to see what damage had been done. Nothing. Everything was as it had been. Strange.

Then it hit me. I forgot the fundamental rule of property recently abandoned by its occupant.

Change the locks.

This wish for renovation work full-time must have been the thinking of a brain high on paint fumes.

Happy Anniversary to Us

I’m trying to think back to when we were first married. We were so young. We thought we were so old. Thirty two years ago today we were married. It has been an interesting journey.

inches from the dashboard
inches from the dashboard

He admitted that if I hadn’t said anything, he wouldn’t have remembered. That would be a first. He has always been the first one to say it on the day of. He has always been the one to remember. So let me tell you why this year is different.

We are trying to get two houses on the market this week. Houston is experiencing an amazing seller’s market but we really can’t know that for sure until our houses sell, right?

One house is the one where the renter left in the middle of the night. The neighbors told me about the commotion waking them, and wondered why she would do that to me. I found out that she was gone on the first of the month when I told her I was coming to get the rent so she wouldn’t have to mail it. I have always had a good relationship with the renter so I was puzzled as to why she would move without notice. I found out the real reason a week later when Aaron “Rents” pulled their van into the driveway. They were looking for their furniture. which hadn’t been paid for. Okay. I get it. The renter stole the rented furniture. She plotted it well. I remember how she called me because of a leak under the sink fifteen days before she disappeared. I had it repaired immediately. Later I wondered why she didn’t take that opportunity to tell me she was moving. It was because of the plot to steal the furniture, yet  she wanted to leave the house in reasonable repair. Well, I say reasonable repair without detailing the holes in the walls and the unreasonable layer of in the kitchen. There are great globs of white paint spilled on the hard-wood floors, deep scratches where something has been dragged across the wood and patches where it looks like water sat for some time. Today I discovered a layer of gunk around the baseboard. What is it? I don’t know. I think a nice thick coating of dark floor stain is in order.

The picture is of my husband while we are delivering a window from Home Depot to the house. It hardly fit in the car so we have the seats scooted as far forward as possible, the seat backs are nearly jacked-knifed into the dashboard. This is immediately after our anniversary dinner. Needless to say this is quite dangerous.

The second house is a sweet little gem in the heart of the city (Houston). The front yard is in a horrible way. Probably because I’m a gardener and can’t bear the weeds creeping from one end of a flower bed to the other. We’ve had renters here, also. They are busy guys who don’t know too much about gardens, I suppose. Details of garden mess? There are trees that have come up as volunteers – from birds planting them or squirrels forgetting where they put their stash – they’ve come up inches from the pavement so they have to be removed. It’s a shame when you can’t get a nursery-bought tree to grow but there are the wild birch, pecan, and camphor seedlings doing so well they must to be uprooted. The old shutters have finally shuffled off their earthly coil, which means they are crumbling to pieces and I can no longer glue and tape them together. The dust must be power-washed off the exterior of the house. The porch paint is chipped. That is all. The work must all be accomplished on Friday, that is the day after tomorrow. Yikes.

Then my husband’s mother has been in and out of the hospital twice since the first of May. They can’t find what is wrong with her. She has a low-grade fever and doesn’t want to eat. Then they found fluid around her heart but determined that it was a result of the vague inflammation that can’t be found. Zounds! What to do? What to do?

The grand girl isn’t feeling well, hasn’t been all week. Her temp is up and she is coughing at night.

This is keeping us from being current on birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries at the moment. So the husband is forgiven for forgetting. Plus, he is doubly forgiven because he quickly rallied and gave me a great gift card and took me to Carrabba’s Italian. It was scrumptious.

Please forgive us both if we haven’t been keeping up very well with you and yours. Happy birthday, Happy Memorial Day, Happy Anniversary, and cheers!

In Case You Were Wondering

Melencolia I. Print of Albrecht Dürer
Melencolia I. Print of Albrecht Dürer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These past few weeks have been challenging. Sometimes I feel like Mighty Mouse trying to save the day against crazy odds.

Most of the time I think I’m more like Wile E. Coyote and life is a rent house full of those tricky anvils ready to fall on my head when I least expect it.

A few weeks ago one of our erstwhile renters decided to duck out in the middle of the night, leaving quite a bit of damage behind. It’s all good. We had her deposit. Okay well, her deposit covered the cost of the paint and sheet-rock mud.

So this is the thing. My husband wants to sell and I agree. But the place was a mess. So we gutted the kitchen, somehow scumming past the giant, dead or dying Palmetto bugs (they resemble giant cockroaches) and bundles of human hair stuck between the stove and the refrigerator to decide what we were demolishing. All the lower cabinets, and the breakfast bar-top in the kitchen had to go, maybe the bathrooms needed a serious makeover.

When the lower kitchen cabinets were removed we thought now would be a good time to install a water line to the refrigerator’s ice-maker. While unscrewing the fitting, the pipe broke. Water spewed. Rush outside to cut off water. Water had already been cut off. Quick! Find buckets. Found. Whew! I guess all the water in all the house drained down to that one pipe. We took in what other damage was evident then. The black mold on the sheet-rock from behind the cabinets was overpowering. We tore the offending pieces out. The insulation behind it was made up of tiny Styrofoam balls. They poured from the walls and floated across the floor. After sweeping them up a hundred times – most of them ended up in a garbage bin. Water line is now repaired, replaced pipe, refitted new insulation and sheet-rock.

We decided to gut the bathrooms. Taking out the sinks we discovered a giant depression in the cement foundation under the two of them. What was the purpose of this? It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. We had to buy cement and fill in the depressions so a new vanity would fit in the place of the old ones (one of them we are making a pedestal sink to give an impression of more room.)

At this point we decided to tackle taking out the breakfast bar.

The breakfast bar is a layer of formica coated wood about 58″ long and about 15″ wide. Mark, the handyman, took a crowbar and hammer to it. It didn’t budge. I had a sledgehammer and I suggested that Mark use it. He was willing. I figured he would be. What man doesn’t want to use a sledgehammer? No, the bar still didn’t budge. Mark noticed the tiny dimples along the top and began slamming his claw hammer into them because he said, they were the nails holding the thing down.

There were twenty nails along the 58″ breakfast bar. It took about an hour, with much sweat, and a few choice words to get the wood to budge. By then the brick along the front of the bar was cracked and shaking with every swing of the hammer. Finally, the last nail was pried loose and the bar tilted up and with some effort was torn away from it’s sixty-year-long mooring.

So if you were wondering what happened to the blog all along these past few weeks, this little renovation project is one reason for the delay in my adding a new entry. The other reason is that during this time my mother-in-law was in the hospital briefly. She is fine. We don’t actually know what is wrong or why it happened.

Onward and upward we strive forth through the sea of tiny Styrofoam bits!

Two (or three) Mighty Mice to save the day!

Collection Renovation

Picture 024
Picture 024 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last year I added all my vinyl records to my computer with an ION turntable. Most of the records I’d kept since I was 16 so there were quite a few. The job is complete. Now I’m wondering what to do with the turntable. My son taught me how to sync all my music to something called “Google Music Manager” which is in the CLOUD. All my documents and photos are also automatically synced and saved in Google Drive which is also in the cloud. Pretty exciting stuff that is. Now when my computer catches fire, or implodes in some way half expected every six months, it doesn’t matter! Whee!

The second job I set out to do in 2012 is complete now, too. I added all my audio cassette tapes to the computer with an ION tape converter. Life is amazing. I got rid of both my vinyls and my cassette tapes. I’m free! You would understand my elation if you were to glimpse the normal state of my work/art studio/study. I have a sign that says – This Mess Is A Place. It is what it is. I’m working on it.

My next state-of-the-world job is to convert all my slides to the computer. I have all my grandfather’s slides. He hand painted four-inch by four-inch glass plates with most of the stories of the Old Testament in pictures, and Pilgrim’s Progress in pictures. He was a missionary in South Africa where he would go into “the bush” to present the stories to the African people(Zulu). They loved him. It was illegal for him to do it (Apartheid) but there was nothing that quite defined him as much as the word ‘determined’. There was no electricity so he took a hand-cranked generator. The slide projector held the slides two at a time. One slide would be slid in front of the light, which cast the image upon the screen (a sheet). Then the slide was pulled out the other side as another slide was lit up. He had the glass panes converted to 8mm slides in the seventies. The glass slides were then sent to the Emmaus Bible College library.

Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the best books in the world for understanding life. Next to the Bible it is probably one of the most important books in the world. My favorite part in the book is the Slough of Despond. Pilgrim falls into it. I can tell you, I’ve fallen into that slough a few times, too. We used to live in a part of the country where swamps and wetlands were not uncommon. Sloughs (pronounced ‘slow’) are where extra water drains from the swamp or river when there is a lot of rain. So the slough often prevents floods. The thing about a slough is this – it’s dangerous, full of quicksand, or in Sugar Land full of quick-mud, which can be just as bad. Sloughs don’t look dangerous. The grass grows lush and green, the ground looks flat and safe to walk on. So in the book Pilgrim throws off his burden of sin to step forward toward the Celestial City. But that isn’t how it works. If you think you are making life easier by getting rid of stuff, there is always more and sometimes worse stuff to take its place. Christian (Pilgrim) falls in the slough up to his neck. Sometimes I can’t get away from feeling worthless, dejected, and stupid and I must cry out for help. Pilgrim cries out for help and he is rescued.

I could then skip ahead and talk about Castle Despair and the monster named Depression but I think you see what I mean. Read the book. There are newer versions that aren’t written in old English. There are picture versions. I will soon have one on my computer. I will likely publish it here so be looking for it! Meanwhile, on to getting set up to do it.

Eventually I want to check out how to convert paper files to the computer. Think of the room from getting rid of file cabinets! I’m a writer. I have file cabinets!

Thing is, I know that none of this is going to go without a hitch. There might be a slough or two. I’ll keep you posted.

Then I hope to learn how to convert VHS to DVD – and get rid of more dust collections.