Garden Update: Early-July

Main view of the garden
Generic garden shot

Just a brief update about the garden, as it’s been a few weeks.  We’re making more progress getting the concrete bricks lined around the plot(s) and hope to have most of them surrounded in the coming days.  Brooke picked the peas and dug up the carrots a few weeks ago and planted more corn in its place.  However, the rain over the past few weeks has been ridiculous.  Literally, 4 in of rain fell in 2 hrs one night last week, leaving a lake where the new corn was just about to come up in the garden.  Thankfully, it looks like at least some of the sprouts survived and we’ve got plants coming up…

Also, the green beans and soup beans are coming up well, with buds on the green beans already.

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From left-to-right: green beans, pumpkins, broccoli. Soup beans in back.

In the middle of the shot above, Brooke’s got some pumpkins growing.  After the massive rainfall, they actually took off surprisingly well. She’s got 6 pumpkin plants in right now, and obviously they won’t be making much for awhile.

Broccoli!
Broccoli!

This is probably the most success we’ve had with broccoli.  We tried it in Iowa and got a little out of it, but the heads we’ve got right now are already looking larger than we remember from before.  It’s a bit late for broccoli, we think, so we aren’t sure we’ll actually end up with anything, but it looks good, at least…

Tomatoes!
Tomatoes!

The tomatoes are coming in pretty well, too.  Really, the one side is taking off, while the other (in the back) is moving a bit more slowly.  The ones in the forefront were in the ground sooner and were also larger when they went in, so it isn’t surprising.

More impressively, this is the first time we’ve successfully grown tomato plants from seeds.  Brooke got them started on our back porch months ago and they’re doing pretty well!  We’ve also got flowers on at least one plant.  I suspect we’ll have them showing up on more soon.

Raspberries and blackberries
Raspberries and blackberries

The berry bushes are moving slowly.  We don’t expect to get much out of them this year, though at least one bush has already produced some berries.  We put some mulch around them to make mowing a bit easier, as they’re taking their sweet time in betting big enough for me to see, but they’re moving along.  Next year, perhaps…

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes

The sweet potatoes are also going a bit slowly.  We don’t really remember how quickly they went last year, but by the time we moved from St. Louis, it was like they’d taken over our garden.  It feels like they should be further along than they are, but oh well…they’re doing something…

Probably enough for now.  Hopefully by the time we get back from our vacation, we’ll have something to harvest!  …more likely, we’ll have tons of weeds…

The Music Room

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When we were looking at this house, the main level had an interesting floor plan: it was very open with doors between the living room, the dining room, and this “extra room” that had a fireplace.  It was referred to as a “den” on the listing, though its bay window provided enough light that “den” didn’t seem right.
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This room also had some “extras” to it, specifically some additional woodwork that was not original to the house.  They made up a bench, a toy box, and a series of “cubbies” that you could stash a variety of trinkets in.  They didn’t look all that great to us, nor did the aged wall sconces, many of which didn’t work.  When we had the electrical re-done, we kept the sconces next to the fireplace, but had the others disconnected.

We decided to christen this space “The Music Room,” as we needed a place for all our musical instruments to go.  The guitars would go up on the walls, the drums would be put, er, somewhere, and we’d also put the kids’ downstairs toys (i.e. everything that isn’t in their rooms) in here.  Generally, we thought it would make a good play space for kids and adults.  But, the wallpaper and extra wood had to go.
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Brooke decided my Spring Break was a good time to get this started, so on March 13th, she took a day off of work and took a crowbar to the wood shelves.  We found red paint on top of old layers of wallpaper behind them.  Also, some plaster started to come along for the ride.  Lastly, the floors were covered in dirt, much of which we ultimately couldn’t remove (without taking a sander to the floor…).

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The wallpaper was hit-or-miss in its removal.  We had a series of metal scrapers to use, as well as a spray bottle of dilute vinegar to loosen up the layers of wallpaper.  And by “layers,” I mean four.  Oddly, there were two layers of the same wallpaper

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…the same wallpaper, mind you, that was lined up and matched.  Very weird.  You can tell how dark that outer layer was, likely caused by decades of cigarette smoking.  These outer layers weren’t all that much trouble, but the layers beneath this were more challenging.  In total, it took a few weeks to get all of it off.  We worked our way along the larger sections as best we could in the evenings, but weekends ended up being best, as scraping on the walls of the house tends to get a bit noisy when the kids are in bed.  I stopped jogging in the afternoons after 3:00 so I could come home and keep working on it before picking up the kids.6

Ultimately, the walls underneath weren’t in terrible shape.  We couldn’t remove the painted-over sections that were behind all the wood additions, as they were effectively sealed onto the wall.  Brooke used a “screen mesh-style” sander to smooth everything out as best as possible.  She also used a mix of plaster and joint compound to fill in the various holes in the wall.  In the pictures above and below, you’ll see circular patches where a wall sconce used to be, that Brooke filled in with either plaster or joint compound.  It just depended on how large the patch was.
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We tried to be somewhat careful about the woodwork that we wanted to keep, so Brooke made sure to use plastic tarps to cover the fireplace and other sections of the room.  The existing wall sconces didn’t put out much light, so we had to rely on them in the evenings, as well as a portable light fixture we brought in from the garage.
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Eventually, after all the patching was done, we took primer to the walls.  Lots of primer.  Especially in these corners, where we were trying to cover up the red painted-over sections of the wall.  We spent a few days priming to make sure we got good coverage.  Brooke also had some plaster to fill in at points, so we had to prime over that, as well.10

Brooke wanted to do most of the detail work…though, I was up on the ladder more.  Getting around that bay window took some extra effort, as the wallpaper was somewhat difficult to remove.
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The space above the fireplace cleaned up pretty well.  For some reason, it seemed like the paint roller wasn’t working very evenly, though we never figured out why.  It seemed like the previous owners played with joint compound a bit more than they should have, and laid wallpaper on it before the compound had finished drying.  There were a few spots on these walls that featured near impossible-to-remove sections of wallpaper…12

Finally, after about a week of priming, we put on the paint.  We went with a color that would be similar to the old color, but a bit brighter.  We also chose a color that was approved by the National Historic Registry, so it should be a color that was somewhat common at the time this house was built.13

Brooke spent a good afternoon on hands and knees scrubbing the dirt off the edges of the floor.  It definitely looks way better than it did on that first day after removal of the wood additions, but it’s still pretty noticeable.  However, we’ve put some stuff along these walls, so perhaps it isn’t that obvious.  When we have these floors refinished someday (after we don’t have a 1.5-year-old dropping things on it all the time), it’ll finally go away.

Also, notice that corner in the picture above.  That was one of the worst spots, where Brooke had to put a few layers of plaster and joint compound to fill in the gaps.14

The color during the day looked quite a bit nicer than it did at night!  Brooke also made some lace (and later sheer…) curtains to go over the windows.  In the picture above, they aren’t all around the windows yet, but the window facing the porch has it.

Also on that porch window, you’ll notice the toybox is still there.  That’s a pretty functional piece of woodwork that we keep toys in, and can eventually hold blankets, pillows, and whatever else someday.  Though it doesn’t match the rest of the wood in the room, it still fits the space pretty well.

The last thing to go up in the corner pictured above was the guitar holding system.  We looked into a few options but decided to get the slatboard music stores use to display guitars.  The main reason was so that we could add and remove guitars from the wall without tearing holes in it each time.15

The guitar display worked out pretty well, we think.  We primed and painted the panels the same color as the wall and positioned it at a level high enough to keep Calvin from it (for the most part…).

…also, we don’t know where that purple bin is going to go, yet…but it looks hideous and out of place in that room.  It’s got all of Meg’s craft stuff in it right now, so we need some kind of replacement…
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Here’s more of a “wide shot” of that section of the room, now with the sheer curtains over the bay windows, a bench Brooke picked up underneath the windows, the rug we used to have in the living room and moved into the music room, and the various instruments.18

The last section to finish was the fireplace, which involved finding something to go above it, and finally replacing the functional sconces in the room.  Brooke picked up the new sconces last week and we made my Dad install them on Mother’s Day (because it was Mother’s Day…so, Mom couldn’t do it…).

We couldn’t decide what to put above the fireplace, but Brooke found this canvas print that seemed to fit the vibe and color scheme we’d set up in the room.  We may eventually replace it, but honestly, it seems to fit pretty perfectly right now, so I suspect we’ll keep it for a few years.

That’s it!  Long process, long post!  We don’t really have anything else in mind for upgrades on the house in the near future, though sometime this summer, I’ll likely get started on the kitchen, which needs a serious fix-me-up…

The New Garden

A wide shot of the garden area.
A wide shot of the garden area.

When we were looking for houses last summer, the building itself definitely caught our eye, but the extra lot next to the house was the real selling point.  If we weren’t going to live further out in the countryside, we’d at least like to have the space to grow a metric ton of produce and still have chickens like we’d had in St. Louis and Iowa.

We tried killing off some of the grass over the winter by covering patches of the property with large tarps, yet all that seemed to do was store leaves, sticks and live grass for the spring.  In the end, we ended up borrowing our neighbors front-tine tiller and renting a rear-tine tiller to get a bit deeper and pull all the sod off.  Though we’re still dealing with some grass trying to reclaim their previous home, the tilling generally worked alright.  We’ve currently put in two plots: one larger, the other smaller.  Next year, we’ll add another plot that’s the same size as the larger one, but for now, we figured we should start with something manageable.

So far, Brooke has planted peas and carrots, with radishes yet to go in this weekend.  We didn’t have much luck with peas up in Iowa, but we’re hopeful that planting them a bit earlier will make a difference.

Ultimately, we’ll put corn, green beans, soup beans, tomatoes, and peppers in the ground between the two plots currently dug out.  A third plot will go in next year, but more on that in a bit…

Spinach and lettuce in the cold frame.
Spinach and lettuce in the cold frame.

Brooke also set up the cold frame we picked up at an end-of-the-season sale in Iowa, this time with lettuce and spinach.  We tried putting herbs in it in St. Louis, but didn’t find much success.  I think we got a little lettuce out of it, but probably not much beyond the paltry salad or two.  Based on our current trajectory, I think we’re off to a better start…

Blackberries and raspberries.
Blackberries and raspberries.

As I said, we’ve got two plots going right now: one larger, one smaller.  The larger one will be replicated next year, giving us two of the same size.  The smaller one, however, will live on its lonesome, and in its twin’s place, we’ll put in some bushes.  That is, we already have put in some bushes, but more will likely grace that location in the future.  Currently, raspberries and blackberries are already in, some of which we may already harvest by the end of this year, yet we suspect it won’t be until at least next year when we start getting enough to write home about.  Ultimately, we’ll probably put some hops there and maybe some other bushes.  Brooke also has some blueberry bushes to put in, but we haven’t decided if they’ll go in this plot, or if we’ll put them somewhere else.

We haven’t picked them up yet, but we’re also planning on putting some fruit trees closer to the road, at the far side of the first image posted above.  Cherries, apples, and quince are currently on the docket, though we may add another (pears?).  I’d never heard of quince until last year, but apparently they’re a fruit you wouldn’t necessarily want to take a bite out of, yet they have high concentrations of pectin, meaning that you could add quince to your preserves to somewhat naturally produce jellies and jams, among other things.  Seems interesting, at least, and they should do fine in our climate.

Other than that, I’m all for adding more garden space.  The more the merrier.

Less space for me to mow…

The Bathroom

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This post has been “in the making” for, well, months.  When we first moved into this house last August, we knew that the upstairs bathroom was probably going to be the first thing set for a “re-fit.”  Largely, this was because the toilet (pictured above) had to go.  It must have been one of those top-fill types that used to have the tank suspended high above it, yet no such tank existed.  The toilet actually flushed just fine: you just had to fill it by opening a valve inside the tank, effectively rendering it useless to our 4-year-old (and a hassle for us).

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The rest of the bathroom was “fine,” at best.  Tiled all the way around.  Nothing too offensive.  Everything else worked fine.

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So, we got a new toilet.  One that flushed.  And filled.  Of course, in doing so, we lost some tiles behind it.  As we clearly couldn’t leave it like that, Brooke started looking into replacing those tiles.  As she tried removing a few of them, they started crumbling all around her.  To make matters worse, she removed the towel rack from the bathtub area and found that the lathe behind it was wet, suggesting that the grout had to go.  Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned “crumbling” part, re-grouting wasn’t a viable option.

So, I came home from work one day to see much of the bathroom looking like this…

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…minus the ladder, of course.  I came home in the middle of this debacle.  You can see some of the less-broken the tiles in the sink there.  Brooke did nearly all the tile removal and I contributed by hauling tiles and debris outside.  The wallpaper came down remarkably easy (though unsurprisingly, as the humidity in the bathroom made it pretty loose).

As you can tell, the plaster underneath the tiles came along for the ride, while the plaster behind wallpaper was mostly unscathed.

DSC_0094A similar story around the bathtub.  Firstly, we had to solve the tub problem so we could actually shower in this bathroom (it’s the only one in the house).  We grabbed some moisture-safe drywall and put it up where the tile used to be.

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Next, we had to replace the tile, or at least line the tub with something more water-resistant than drywall.  After looking around online a bit, we settled on fiberglass sheeting.  As you can see in the picture below, we got it done in time to give the kids a bath.

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It was a similar story across from the tub.  This time, however, no fiberglass was necessary, so Brooke just used joint compound to merge the plaster and drywall, plugging a few holes in the process.

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Not all that attractive, we know, but nothing a coat of paint (or two) can’t fix.

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After filling in the gaps and patching the ceiling a bit with plaster, we primed the walls in preparation for paint.  We decided to go with a brown-ish color, as it seemed to go pretty well with some of the shades in the floor.  In the end, we think it came off pretty well.

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Finished product in the tub!  We added an organizer to the corner and put in a new mirror that didn’t look like it was from the 1940s.  We’d still like to replace that pedestal sink sometime, but for now, it’s functional.

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The wall across from the tub looks better with some paint, right?  Brooke put up a rack of hooks for all our towels to go on.  Nice and accessible from the shower.

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The finished corner.  It’s probably worth scrolling all the way up to the top to compare these images, as we think it looks quite a bit better.  New towel rack, new toilet paper holder, some shelves above the new toilet, and the lack of tiles.

It isn’t perfect, though.  The wall under the window there is a bit rough, as it’s still the original plaster and not drywalled.  We may add some trim there eventually, but for now, it’s alright.  I also need to remove the paint on the wood frames, the doors and the window, as I suspect they’re laced with lead, but that’s a job for another time.  Perhaps this summer that’ll get done.

Much better than we found it, though!  That’s the most I can ask for.