Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Holidaze

The end of the year and 
the end of the holiday season is nearly upon us.
Thank God.
It's been fun,
but it's been hectic and crazy
and I have a lot of stuff to do around the house.
Like putting in a ceiling in the dining room.
And painting.
Lots of painting. 
We were lucky enough to receive some gift cards
that will go a long way to purchase drywall and paint 
and electrical wire
(because the ancient knob and tube wiring is getting replaced this weekend).
So stand by.
There's plenty more to come.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Night the Angels Sang

In July of 1914,The Great War began in Europe.  On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the various powers to hold a Christmas truce, asking "that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang."  The hope was that during this truce, negotiations could happen that would end the conflict and bring peace to Europe.  But the Pope's plea was dismissed by those in charge for fear the troops might mutiny and refuse to fight.  Despite this, something miraculous happened.

Front Page, The Daily Mirror January 1915

On Christmas Eve, a night that was moonlit and frosty according to accounts, singing started coming from the German trenches: "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, Alles schläft, einsam wacht..." The tune was familiar and the Americans joined in singing "Silent Night, Holy Night".  Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade documented the experience:

"First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war."


Thus began the unofficial Christmas Truce.

Areas along the Western and Eastern Fronts experienced this Christmas miracle where troops on either side of the conflict laid down their weapons and embraced each other simply as fellow human beings.  They sang carols throughout the night.  They met in the area between the trenches known as "No Man's Land" and shared drink, food and smokes and carried out the solemn task of burying the dead.  There were even thrown together pick up games of soccer played.  In some areas the truce only lasted through Christmas Day and in others it extended into the New Year.  The Great War raged on for 4 more years with small moments of peace happening between the trenches, but nothing ever again to the scale of the Christmas Truce of 1914.

So what made me bring all this up?  So far, we think we have dated our house to 1914.  And I, being the sentimental person that I am, I began to think of all the things our house has seen.  And yes, I am personifying a house, but I believe houses have souls.  With all that living going on inside you for so many years, how can you not? But I digress.  Our house was built or was being built when WWI broke out in Europe.  It was there when this truce happened.  It was a witness to a miracle where men allowed their innermost desire for peace shine through during a time of great conflict.

So I ask you, please, to share this story this year.  Drown out the media and the politicians.  Teach your kids that peace is possible, that getting along even if you don't see eye to eye can happen- has happened.  That it really can be as simple as "Love Thy Neighbor"

Belleau Wood by Garth Brooks
Christmas 1915 by Celtic Thunder

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

History of Silent Night

Many years ago, I was a college student taking a course in German.  At the time, I already had 4 years of German instruction and was almost completely fluent in the language.  So, what happens when you take a course in college where everyone else but you is a beginner? You get special projects from your professor (especially when your College German professor is friends with your high school German teacher who knew exactly how well you could read, translate and speak the language).  So around Christmas, I was given the task of translating the history of the Christmas Carol "Silent Night".  The history behind the song has made it a favorite of mine during the holiday season.

 In 1816 in Mariapfarr, Austria, Joseph Mohr, a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church, penned a six stanza poem that later became the Christmas carol.  No one knows what his exact inspiration of the poem was, but many speculate that his walks through the countryside to visit his grandfather served as his muse.  When he was transferred to Oberndorf in 1817, he took the poem with him.

Fast forward to Christmas 1818 at St Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria.  The church's organ was damaged- some say mice damaged it, others claim is was rust- either way, the organ was not going to be operational in time for Christmas.  So on Christmas Eve, Joseph Mohr went to the church's organist, local musician and schoolteacher Franz Gruber to ask him to write a melody and guitar accompaniment to his poem in order to play it that night during the midnight mass.  That night, with the church lit by candles, the two men stood in front of the church and sang the hymn with guitar accompaniment. Some time later, the local man who repaired organs, familiar with the song, took a copy of the music and lyrics to his Alpine village where two well known families of singers heard it and were so impressed they included it in their holiday selections.  Today the song has been translated into 300 languages and dialects all over the world.

Personally, my favorite is the German version with acoustic guitar accompaniment as it was played nearly 200 years ago in a candlelit church in the Austrian Alps.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Living Room Transformation

This past Saturday, we painted.
Here is the before photo
back before we pulled up the 1970's red carpet
and before we removed the drop ceiling.
Here is the room after the carpet was removed
and revealed gorgeous 100 year old hardwood flooring.
Then we removed the drop ceiling
which revealed that drywall had been placed over the existing plaster wall.
But only up to the spot where the drop ceiling started.
Eventually we will have to rip everything out
because right now, the trim is either flush with the drywall
or the drywall sticks out past the trim.
But for now, we added drywall to the 12" space.
Another pre-drywall photo where you can also see the large
water stain on the ceiling and the nail holes from the drop ceiling brackets.

Finally we got the drywall in place and put on a coat of joint compound 
and sanded everything down.
I'm pretty sure this isn't the White Christmas Bing had in mind.
Finally it was time to start painting!
A BIG thank you to my cousin and aunt
who came to help us out.
We managed to get the the walls in the living room 
and hallway painted
along with most of the trim in the living room.
We wouldn't have gotten so much done without their help.
I'm also not above using child labor
despite those pesky child labor laws.
Of course this kid typically does about 10 minutes of work 
and then needs a 15 hour break.

And finally
the basically finished living room.
You can't tell, but there are touch ups needed on the windows behind the tree
and the other 2 windows not shown need trim painted.
However, I'm running out of time
so painting is on hold until after the fast approaching holiday season.
The hubby is happy that we can set up the new giant TV
and last night we moved the couch out of our bedroom and into the living room.
I might not be painting,
but I see a lot of furniture moving and cleaning in my very near future.
(and hopefully we can NOW decorate the tree!)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Open Sesame

The other night I was working on taking down curtain rod brackets
(there were 6 on the door)
and I also started messing with the hardware on the transom window.
I let my hubby know that I was able to get the latch to move
(it's caked in years and years of paint).
That's all I wanted to do at that point, 
but he insisted on trying to open the window.
Luckily, it opened with minimal use of a hammer
and no shattering of glass.
This weekend we will be painting
and hopefully finally being able to finish decorating for Christmas.
I just can't wait to be finished with drywall spackle dust for a while.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interesting Finds

When you're rooting around a hundred year old house, you're bound to find some interesting items.  Because our house hasn't seen any renovations since about 1972, we find some neat things.  Or rather, I find neat things, my husband doesn't always agree with how "neat" my finds really are.  For example, I came across this old Black Flag insect sprayer in a wood bin I asked to keep.  My husband said it was trash and he was throwing it away.  I said I was cleaning it up and displaying it in the laundry/mudroom.  Gives credence to the whole "one mans trash is another woman's treasure".
  Last night, the hubby and I despite saying we were tired and going straight to bed when we got home) ended up working on the doorways into the living room and kitchen.  Originally there were doors on each room off the hallway.  The doors are gone and we wanted the doorways to be slightly wider so we removed the 1x4 along the inside of each entryway. When my husband pulled off the first piece, I noticed the nails looked a little funky.  Upon closer inspection, I realized they were nails made by a blacksmith.  Pretty awesome.  Even the hubby was excited about this find.

Behind the wood we pulled off, we found ancient math.  You know, the math they did where 1,220 + 240= 1,460  and no little drawings were needed to figure it out.  There were no paragraphs needed to explain the little pictures used to answer the problem either.  It was just math. (In case you're wondering, I hate common core math).  Part of me hates the idea of covering this up, because in a few years, no one will remember what simple math looked like.

In all my cleaning and pulling down of ceilings, I've also found some newspapers from August 1960.  There is mention of JFK when he was a Senator and a half page ad from the electric company telling people how wonderful it is to have a house run entirely on electricity (it even has examples of local families and the amount they pay a month for electricity).  And late last night while working on smoothing the trim in the hallway, I discovered that there was once scrollwork on the steps similar to what I found along the top of the stairs.  I'm hoping I can find the pattern through the paint and be able to redo the scrollwork by painting, but it wasn't as easy to see on the steps downstairs as it was on the area by the upstairs hallway.
I'm sure there will be a ton of other things we come across.  I'm hoping for some money in the walls or something along those lines.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Between ripping and scraping floors
and spackling drywall,
we have managed to try and prepare for the coming holiday season.
We have a tree.
Apparently our eyes were bigger than our living room
because we got a 10'5" tree 
for 8'9" ceilings.
But with some trimming and finagling, 
we've managed to get it inside.
It currently has half the lights on it
(we used 600 I had to buy more) but no ornaments yet.
Though I think the galvanized tub as tree skirt looks fabulous
even with no other decorations.
(I was pleased to find a use for the tub we purchased and used as a cooler for beer at our wedding).
We're steadily getting things prepared for painting this coming weekend
and slowly getting ready for Christmas.
 Though once Christmas comes and goes, 
I might sleep for a week straight.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Red Door

This is the front of our house.
I want you to take special note of the front door.
In case you can't tell where it is,
it's on the left- the only thing without black shutters.
While you're checking it out, 
take notice of the blank white area above the glass on the storm door.
That's where the transom window was/is.
I was pretty bummed out thinking 
that the transom was gone and covered up.
So imagine my excitement 
when my husband figured out 
there was just a board tacked over the outside of the window.
Still, the door isn't very attractive.
It was too plain.
The house had zero curb appeal,
so I opted to go bold.
I went red.
This is the final color
and the screen door has been removed.
I still need to sand and paint the trim, 
but I'm loving the red door.
My husband, who actually doubted me,
likes the red door.
The neighbors like it, I think.
My dad hates it.
red doors carry some meaning.

 In the Old Testament in Exodus chapter 12, God tells the Israelites 
to slaughter a lamb on the 14th day of the month at twilight,
and smear the blood of the lamb on the top and sides of the doors.
This same night, the Angel of Death 
would go through Egypt killing every first born male,
but the Angel would pass over those homes with blood on the door
sparing the first born.
Today many churches have red painted doors to signify this covenant 
between God and the Israelites
and also as a symbol of the blood Jesus shed.

During the Civil War, 
homes that were a part of the Underground Railroad
often painted their front doors red to let escaped slaves know it was a place of refuge.
It was also use as a sign to weary travelers
that the dwelling offered a comfortable place to stay.

Luck and Energy
The Chinese consider red to be a lucky color
and paint their front doors red at the start of their new year.
In Feng Shui practices, a red door signifies the "mouth" of the home
which allows chi ("life's breath" or the energy that binds life together)
 to be drawn inside  

So, seems my choice of color has nothing but positive meanings behind it!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dining Room Floor

Here is the dining room floor
after scraping all the adhesive off
and cleaning up all the mouse poop, mouse carcasses 
and the old ceiling tiles.
There is a large stain over by the windows that will hopefully 
be sanded out.
My husband thinks something was spilled there at one time, but
I'm pretty sure there might have been a dead body there back in the day.
It isn't the most attractive floor, 
but it's usable until we're ready to rent the sander and refinish the floors in the downstairs.
We peeked under the carpet in the hallway upstairs and discovered
it too has adhesive.
Luckily, we know what to do and use.
I'm not being compensated for telling you how great Goo Gone is, 
so believe me when I say, this is the way to go.
We tried another, harsher, adhesive remover
that was recommended by a salesperson at a large hardware type store.
We took it home, 
had to open all the windows and turn on fans just to prevent us from dying from the fumes
and then read that is can't be used on more than 1 square foot of area
and can't be used on floors.
Plus, in the area we used this other product in,
the finish was taken off the wood.
Goo Gone has a nice citrusy smell
did the job
and didn't remove any finish.
Also, it takes off Christmas Tree sap.  
So if you're faced with the daunting task of removing adhesive from carpet, 
go with Goo Gone and a scraper and some elbow grease.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Evils of Flooring

Our flooring removal extended beyond the living room.
The next carpet on the chopping black was the dining room carpet.
When we removed the living room carpet, 
we revealed gorgeous 100 year old hardwood floors
with minimal amount of wear.
What would the dining room reveal?
It revealed that someone actually glued, 
yes, GLUED,
carpet to the 100 year old floor.
The end result was a sea of black padding
stuck to glue
stuck to the hardwood floor.
I think whomever decided back in the day 
that gluing anything to hardwood was
the best way to go
should be strung up and whipped.
Our only option was to scrape off the adhesive.
I'll share more on that process later.
We also needed to remove the linoleum in the kitchen.
I had peeked under the linoleum in places and knew
the hardwood was under that too.

the hardwood did not extend the entire length of the kitchen.
As it turns out, the original foot print of the house
ended where the plywood subfloor starts.
So the area where my husband is standing is all part of an addition.
There is a header beam in the ceiling that confirms this.
So, even though the hardwood in the kitchen is in really good shape
(better than the living room)
We can't use it.
The new addition's flooring was made to be level with the existing floor
so to try to add hardwood to match would be impossible as it would be higher than the existing floor.
So, we're back to the original idea of the black and white tiles.
I can't even tell you how upsetting it is for me to cover this floor
(especially after complaining about other people doing it). 
But the addition left us no other alternative.
(Unless I convince my dad or my husband that we should pull up the old flooring, lay subfloor and put tiles on that and save the hardwood for another project- like using it to make a kitchen counter top.  But My chances of that are slim to none)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Lies Beneath

Last night we had high hopes of getting started dry walling the one foot space between the ceiling and where the drop ceiling was in the living room.
That didn't happen.
Instead, the hubby and I opted to clean out the drop ceiling in the kitchen.
That might seem like a weird project, 
but we discovered that mice have spent years living above that awful drop ceiling.
We want to be able to start using the kitchen downstairs
(since the one upstairs is the size of a very small bedroom 
because, well, it used to be a very small bedroom)
but the thought of mouse poop hovering above our heads (and food)
wasn't very appealing.
So we ended up taking down each tile, brushing it off, vacuuming the drop ceiling tracks and tops of the cabinets and then replacing the tiles.
Be thankful I didn't take photos of all the dead bodies lining the kitchen floor.
Once that job was finished, 
Big E wanted to find another job to do.
(he wanted to listen to the Redskins game 
and could only do that on the radio downstairs)
So he decided to start pulling down the pressed cardboard tiles we found
under the drop ceiling in the dining room.
On a side note, in the above picture you can see the crazy contraption
that was built to support the ceiling fan.  
It was moved from the center of the room to about a foot and a half off center
(it will be going back where it belongs).
I also noticed a weird coloration on the ceiling and thought it was concrete.
Turns out, at some point the dining room ceiling was wall papered.
It wasn't the most attractive wallpaper I've ever seen,
but I do think it was pretty cool to find it.
Big E tore off a couple of chunks for me to save.
It reminds me of a brain.
While pulling down the ceiling, 
we found a few mouse nests made from insulation that we can only speculate came from the attic.
There were also more bodies.
Hopefully, we won't find any signs of live mice now that we've cleaned those areas out.
And if some show up, 
the cats better take care of business.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Most people like surprises, 
at least the good kind of surprise. 
In a hundred year old house, there are surprises- some good, some not so good. 
Finding the original plaster wall in bad shape beneath the ugly wallpaper paneling in the kitchen?
Bad surprise.
Finding original 100 year old hardwood under living room carpet in good shape?
Good surprise.
Photo of the scroll work
Another good surprise was discovering some interesting indentations on the wood running along the bottom of the railing along the upstairs hallway.  
I've been up and down the steps tons of times and never noticed anything.  
Then one evening, the setting sun hit that section just right 
and threw enough shadow to pop out the indentations.  
Originally there appears to have been some scroll work on the wood 
that was painted over many times.  
Eventually someone removed the scroll work 
(yes, I'm screaming and sobbing inside as well), 
but the layers of paint left the impression.  
My plan is to use a pencil to rub the edges to make them stand out and 
take the time to paint the curls and swirls so they can be seen again.  
It won't be the wood scroll work it was back in the day, 
but at least the shape and decor can be salvaged.  
It's little discoveries like this 
that get me excited and give me the motivation to poke around and find more surprises.
I'll be sharing them all,
no matter how unpleasant
(finding mouse poop in the drop ceiling in the kitchen and realizing it's been used as a stealthy mouse superhighway? BAD surprise. Especially when you have it nearly dumped on your head.
Excuse me while I go shower in scalding water and bleach)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tear Down This Wall!

President Regan  said it best:

Last night the house settlement was completed,
and it was time to tear down the wall.
While not as significant as the Berlin Wall, 
the wall of paneling that separated the upstairs from the downstairs
needed to come down.
The wall was simply two pieces of paneling.
The railing for the staircase is behind the wall in the above photo.
In the next photo, you can see the other side of the wall
showing the railing.
 This is the doorway to get to the downstairs of the house.  
My sister refers to it as the Alice in Wonderland door.
In fact, when she first saw it she wanted to know where the magic mushrooms were she needed to consume in order to shrink small enough to fit through.
 You can clearly see the resemblance.
Seriously, normal things don't fit through it.
Like lampshades, shop vacs and laundry baskets.
Even my husband has to turn sideways to get his shoulders through.
So once we got home from dinner,
the demolition began. 
This is the view from the bottom of the stairs now.
And the view from our hallway.
I had to halt demolition because it was a school night
and I had just put the Brat Child to bed.
These "studs" need to be cut to remove them safely and
without damaging the railing
(I have threatened certain death if that railing is harmed in any way).
It's strange to see so much light in the hallway.
And the cat is enjoying the new set up.
Already he found he enjoys sitting on the railing and looking into my bedroom.
Without my glasses I was certain a short little man was looking at me from the hall.
Scared the crap out of me.