24 Fu/Return

The week of Christmas began with my house a wreck. The work week prior was very hectic and the weekend immediately prior spent in Columbia diverted all my energy and attention from housekeeping. Not that it was all that difficult to keep me from cleaning….So, after getting home last night, I immediately changed the catbox and did the dishes. Thus, justifying a deserved evening of rest. Before the festivities began this week, we spent some time (very little time) organizing a couple of the side projects for the mid winter restoration cycle. The 2 I picked were Side Project #5, the brass pan light fixture, and Side Project #7, the Crystal Olive Stove. My original intent was to have the stove professionally restored but it didn’t make it to the top of the project funding list for 2003. I’ve brought it in the house and plan to cleanup the rust and continue the disassembly. The bulk of the work will be refinishing but the most technical work will be reburb’ing the gas valves. Who knows, the whole shebang may make it to Georgia this summer for “real” restoration.

The brass light fixture was chosen because it’s an easy project to work on inside the house. Last winter, we stripped the 3 layers of paint from it and started the process of removing the tarnish. Latex paint applied over brass creates very dark and deep tarnish on the surface of the brass. So far the fastest way I’ve found to cut both the paint and the tarnish is rust remover with phosphoric acid. Soaking the brass parts for a couple of hours cuts all the paint which can be rubbed off with a green scrubbie. Another hour or so in clean solution removes the tarnish and leaves the brass with a matte finish. Final polishing with Brasso makes the pieces shine.

DeShawn and I were both pretty exhausted from spending the Christmas holiday in Columbia. He got to spend 2 nights with his mother, racked in the new toys, and got a lot of attention. While driving home last evening, he abruptly ended our conversation by saying, “I think I’m going to sleep some”, turning his head to the side and expeditiously falling to sleep.

The origins of my fatigue come from having worked a bit on Carole’s house. Two weeks ago, the electrical circuit powering her furnace went bad, most likely by effort of the squirrels that we cannot keep out of her attic. The squirrels, while guilty of the wiring fault, cannot take responsibility for the furnace being on a shared circuit instead of its own. Consequently, there were 2 electrical issues that needed attention: find/repair the fault in the original circuit and, put the furnace on its own circuit/breaker.

The electrician that Carole called rigged up a connection to the furnace with a surgically altered extension cord, running it out of the attic access door, down the hall, and plugged into a bathroom wall socket. Except for the fact that the furnace was generating heat, the electrician and the squirrels had about the same appreciation for electrical safety. Although the electrician promised a return visit to square things away, as of Christmas day, Carole had lived with the rigged system for 2 weeks.

Carole’s house on Maple street is an old farm house and built like a barn. The foundation was originally fieldstone columns, there was no subfloor, and the roof rafters/ceiling joists are spaced at 36″ centers. The attic is very spacious but difficult to get around in because of the wide joist spacing. While scoping the electrical work in Carole’s attic, I discovered the icing on this particular Christmas repair cake: one of the roof rafters was split and sagging. Needless to say, Wednesday before Christmas, I bought all the supplies I needed to do both the electrical and the roof rafter repairs.

Split rafter in Carole’s attic

Old man in the attic

The rafter repair was more fun than work. The hardest part was jacking the split rafter to eliminate the roof sag. After getting it stabilized, I sister’d a 2×4 to the rafter using 4 carriage bolts. Did he say 2×4? Yep, like I said, Carole’s house was built like a barn: the roof rafters are 2×4’s. Old fashion 2×4’s, but 2×4’s nonetheless. The sheet tin roof is nailed to purlin strips across the rafters, there is no decking under the metal.

The electrical work was more problematical. For sure, I’m not an experienced electrician. In truth, the only electrical wiring I’ve done is on 118 Henry Street. Over half the 6 or so hours spent on running the circuit to Carole’s furnace were spent figuring out which circuit had gone bad, where the fault was, and how to run the new wire. It’s field experience that speeds up these parts of electrical repair, experience that I’m still accumulating.

In the end, we got the furnace properly connected, put in an attic light (looking forward to more time in the attic), and found the fault in the other circuit. Things are stable and safe, but the next round is re-wiring the kitchen and hallway to replace all of the bad circuit.

Random notes about Carole’s house that we discovered this weekend:

1) The original ceilings in all the rooms are beaded board and still in place. The drywall ceilings are fastened directly to the beaded board.

2) The carpet in all the rooms is glued to the original floor boards. The boards are pine and not tongue in groove. The carpet can be removed, boards taken up, subfloor put down, then the floor boards re-installed flipped over. Both of this discoveries bode very well for continued restoration on her old house.

3) Finally, there is no evidence of leaks thru the metal roof. Always a good thing in an old house!

Too much XMAS

Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earle Keen, Jr.

We spent most of the weekend getting ready for Christmas. No real restoration work has happened at 118 Henry Street for almost 3 weeks. The annual end-of-year slump is definitely set in. The early darkness of winter days transforms the usually energetic DeShawn and myself into old bears. By the time we get home during the regular work week, get supper done, and calm down a bit, we’re both ready to climb in the sleeping bags and go to bed. Consequently, the weekend’s daylight feels short and, oh so, fleeting.

Our cyber-friends over at the Brickman House describe a condition they call the “18 month syndrome” that pauses house restoration. The syndrome affects weary old house restorers when they realize that they have to actually live in the spaces they are trying to restore. Subsequent to the realization, efforts, thoughts and money are re-directed away from demolition/construction and acutely focused on comfort/livability. We see variations of the syndrome occurring at other members of the house restoration cyber community.

After a summer’s energy of work, there are a couple of things that can neutralize some restoration momentum and ferment the “18 month syndrome”. Take for example, our cyber-friends at Enon Hall. Nothing less than a hurricane halted work in less than 24 hours time. After facing the devastation of flood waters and many, many trees down, they’re starting to recover in time for holiday preparations. It’s truly heart warming to see the efforts they are making to raise their son contrary to the overweight, overstimulated, overconsumptive lifestyle that seems to be, all too, common these days.

If a hurricane can’t stop work on an old house then, at the Worley Place, surely the delivery of a new baby boy can. The new addition, by all signs their first child, will most certainly fuel the need to live in, rather than work on, the house.

For us at Henry Street, the annual slump should mitigate by the end of January. By then, we will be sufficiently tired of winter to the point that we will re-start work on the house out of stir-crazy. If the past 2 year’s history is any indication, work will probably resume on the side projects first. For now, however, DeShawn and I spend our evenings lazing about, waiting for bedtime while drinking hot herb tea, reading books and discussing the marvelous things he makes from Legos.

DeShawn with Lego creation, $10 Christmas tree, and heart pine floors

We’ve got our first ever Henry Street Christmas tree. For $10 at the Dollar General store, we captured a 32″ tall tree. After a frustrating morning finding a tree farm and then being turned away because we wanted a small tree, Carole suggested the Dollar General for a fiber optic based, artificial one. Tiny strands of fiber optic cable are interwoven in the foliage. A light embedded in the base fills the strands of fiber with changing colors. The resultant effect is shimmering colored lights moving over the entire tree. We set it on an upside down brass flowerpot in the living room front window. It looks great from the street at night!

Carole and DeShawn made candy cane reindeer for his class at school. They made about 20 all told, using the candy canes as bodies, glue-on eyes, and brown pipe cleaners for antlers. We’re going to take them on Friday, the day of their Christmas play at DeShawn’s school. While they were birthing the reindeer, I made out the Christmas cards and went over our gift list.

All in all, a most pleasant sort of anti-house restoration weekend.

Thankful for What You Have to be Thankful For

We were supposed to go to Middendorf SC today to celebrate the holiday with Carole’s maternal side of the family. The first time I met Carole, she told me that her people sprung from the dirt at Middendorf. Turn off SC 1 at the remnants of an old store to reach the farmland that the Catoe’s have occupied and worked since well before the Civil War. Most of the living Catoes of Jean’s, Carole’s mom, generation were born within 200 yards of the little brick church at the front of the acreage. The cemetery between the railroad tracks and the church is populated by Catoe’s from several past generations. There was a time when Carole’s father said he wouldn’t be put to rest in that cemetary with all them Catoes, but I think he’s mellowed and relented that position the last few years.

A gray, windy November day like today set the stage for my first trip to Middendorf. Carole and I had been dating just over a year. She was anxious in all senses of the word to show me off to the extended family. We spent most of the time, except eating, outside, in the side yard of Aunt Delores’ and Uncle Stanley’s (past on) house, directly adjacent to the cemetery. Many of the old men related by marriage, not blood, to the Catoes, loitered out there with us, away from the heat and activity inside the house. Including Duecey, Carole’s dad. My father died on a cold, cloudy November day like that first trip to Middendorf. I guess that why my memory of that visit is dominated by the thoughts of Duecey silently crying as he and Jean walked thru the graves in the cemetery.

DeShawn is sick. That’s why we didn’t go today. For the second time in as many weeks, I had to pick him from school early and take him to the doctor. As of right now, we don’t even have 24 hours of antibiotic in him, so he’s still feeling clammy feverish. Carole’s making Thanksgiving for us here. We’re still functionally stove-less, she’s using the grill I refurb’ed for our Hillarity get-together. Stuffed chicken breast, raw broccoli and carrots, rice and dressing will be followed up with “worms and dirt”, gummy worms in crushed oreos. We’re to use the white-washed table I rescued and some antique high back chairs Carole bought for dining room furnishings in, what DeShawn calls, the “green room”.

Our little Thanksgiving, 2003

Speaking of, the soiree we held in conjuction with Chester’s Hillarity Festival was quite satisfactory. With minimal preparation, Carole, DeShawn, and I entertained a dozen or so invitees. Mostly from our pool of friends and family in Columbia, and my son, Ben, from Charlotte, everybody got a chance or two to visit the festival going on a couple of blocks from the house. The weather was prefect autumn with clear sunny skies, about 68 degrees mid afternoon. We setup a table by putting together a 100 year old door from Carole’s house and a couple of metal saw horses next to the refurb’d grill. I spent every bit of the daylight outside except for the nickel tours of 118 Henry Street. Since most of our contact with friends and family occurs in Charlotte and Columbia, DeShawn was particularly impressed that folks were coming to visit us in Chester.

Ben and Liz, my twins, visiting during the Hillarity Festival

This past weekend, contact with friends and family was in Columbia. Last week was DeShawn’s 4th birthday, so we went to Chuckee Cheese with him on Saturday. Of course, he had a big time, though, my suspicion is that his current illness may have originated there. The little party in Columbia closed a week of small celebrations for him. Prior Saturday, his mommy gave him some presents. Tuesday, his class at school celebrated. Tuesday evening, we had supper with his Uncle Ben, who gave him several presents. Wednesday, his actual birthday, he and I went to the movies.

While in Columbia, I spent some time with Duecey and Jean. Because of helping Carole with her plays, I’d been neglectful in regard to visiting them. We had some high quality time just sitting in their living room, talking. Duecey gave me some old window sashes he’d collected. These windows have become the latest side project at 118 Henry street. I’m going to do some basic repairs and replace the panes with mirror glass. With the sashes turned upside down, the sash lifts will act like coat hooks. Hopefully, the rebirthed windows will find appropriate homes in an entry hall or mudroom somewhere.