The Case of the Living Room Bookcases

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I painted the living room!

“But wait, didn’t you already paint the living room?”

Yes, but this time I finished painting the living room. Almost.

Last time I painted the living room I only did 3 out of the four walls. The wall containing the fireplace, built-in bookshelves, and two small windows would have to wait until I could find time to fill in all those tiny nooks and crannies with three different colors of paint. But this weekend Mr. Fickbonne was out of town, and I’d just finished two huge freelance editing projects, so I had the time to paint to my heart’s desire! I popped in an audiobook (The Monuments Men) and got to work.

First was the prep work. The bookshelves had been painted in place at least four times, judging by the layers of different paint colors. Ah, the joys of owning a century-old house! I felt a bit like an archaeologist as I pried them loose from their case–oh yeah, the hardware had been painted over too, so getting them out involved a hammer and flat-tipped screwdriver–and the decades were revealed. Among the ill-advised colors were the shiny black and matte Barbie doll pink I’d seen by removing other hardware around the living room. But also revealed was a diarrhea-esque brown and a light teal that reminded me of hospital corridors. Awesome.

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I dumped all the shelf hardware in a bowl of linseed oil for about 24 hours until the paint softened enough that I could easily pry it off. The shelves themselves I sanded down a bit using my trusty orbital sander. It was hard enough to get them out of the case that I didn’t want to have to hammer them back into place. Also (and not that I’m positive this will ever happen) if I ever want to move them around I want it to be easy and tool-free. So sanding off a couple layers of paint seemed wise.

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I then had to tape the glass in both windows. Usually I freehand my edges while painting (because I like to live dangerously), but the windows have such narrow strips of wood between the glass that I didn’t trust myself not to get paint just everywhere.

I hate taping. It takes for fucking ever.

The wall above the fireplace I painted Behr color Parchment to match the rest of the living room. The windows, mantel, and trim I painted Behr color Frost. I was very pleased with the contrast. The walls, light as they are, are now noticeably NOT white in comparison to the trim. I then painted the backs of the book cases Behr color Dolphin Fin, which I regret. I wanted the grey to be a few shades lighter than the grey of the fireplace, but when all was said and done the backs of the bookcases are in shadow, and it just blend in with the white of the bookshelves during most times of day. So I might re-do the backs of the bookcases in a slightly darker grey to make the contrast more obvious.

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But that will be a project for another day! Because this project took me almost the entire weekend, between prep work, waiting for paint to dry, and clean up.

I discovered while attempting to replace the bookshelves that one bookcase is about a half inch wider than the other. I was baffled–baffled!–as to why some of my freshly sanded and painted shelves did not want to fit into their bookcase and some did. But I was tired, ok? Don’t make fun of me.

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So there it is, the almost finished living room paint job. I still have to paint the baseboards and trim around the door and windows the same Frost white as the rest of the trim. But I think I can knock those out in a couple of twenty-minute painting sessions over the next few weeks. Or maybe I’ll wait another few months. Who knows? It’s my living room I can do what I want! The important thing is that I am slowly but surely eliminating all of the awful, cheap, spray-painted off-white crap paint from my home. Here’s a before and after:

The built-in bookshelves that sold the house.

The built-in bookshelves that sold the house.

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By now you’re all probably tired of staring at the same side of my living room. I promise the bathroom remodel is aaaaaalmost done and you’ll be able to see it soon. Pinky swear!

Garden update: we have too many zucchini send help

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I’ve been flooding social media with pictures of my home-grown vegetables all summer, but I figured it’s time for a formal garden update here at ye olde house bloge. So here’s what the garden looks like right now:

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I KNOW, RIGHT? As you can see, the zucchini plants are bigger than the dog. Compare that to how it looked in my update on June 14th:

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That’s what nearly two months of tender love and care will get you: enormous goddamn plants and more vegetables than you know what to do with. Behold the kale:

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Peppers the likes of which the world has never seen!

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And the tomatoes. OH SUCH TOMATOES!

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So all in all, this year’s gardening experiment has been a success. The lettuce and spinach have run their course, and it’s too scorchingly hot out to successfully plant new seeds. The radishes and carrots are also just about done for the year, but the corn has yet to begin. The zucchini started fruiting with abandon a few weeks ago and six loaves of zucchini bread, four bags of frozen zucchini, uncountable pounds of zucchini rice for lunch, and every imaginable use of the stuff in stir-frys later and I’m about to admit defeat. The tomatoes are about to kick into overdrive, and I couldn’t be more excited to make the summer’s first batch of homemade marinara with my girls. The sugar snap peas were a bit of a disappointment, as they never really produced enough to be more than a little snack whilst weeding. But the cucumbers… oh man the cucumbers. I hope y’all love dill pickles, that’s all I’m saying.

We’ve decided to build at least two more beds for next year. Things are a little crowded in the tomato bed, and I’d like to spread things out a bit and try a few more species next year. I also need to do some rearranging based on the size of plants and their sun and shade needs. Overall, I’d call this scientific experiment a success.

What would YOU pay for an antique doorknob?

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When we moved in, our guest bedroom had two big problems: the doors. Yes, “doors” plural. It’s not ideal having two doors into what is technically a bedroom, but since it also doubles as an office and we mostly keep the doors open for easy access to the back hallway, it’s usually not a problem. But the house had settled at some point in the last hundred years, and so neither of these two doors closed.

When we moved in, Ben and his dad spent two days sanding down the doors so they would close into their frames. With time, perseverance, and enough sawdust to build a sandcastle, they eventually got it so that both doors would close. But then we ran into another problem: one of the doors was missing its doorknob.

No problem, right? Doorknobs are cheap and easy to install, right? Wrong. We were so terribly, terribly wrong.

For you see, a hundred years ago doorknob technology was very different from how it is now. And as a result, all the doorknobs in our adorable old house are antique, and the doors are cut so that they will only work with antique doorknobs.

We scoured antique shops for antique doorknobs to no avail. Well, there was some avail… but we decided a $300 doorknob from the antiques dealer in our neighborhood was ludicrous. So we stuck a hook-and-eye clasp on the door so that our house guests could have a little privacy and forgot about it for months.

Then I had an epiphany: our house is full of antique doorknobs, and we don’t even use some of them. Case in point: the basement door has almost never been closed during the whole time we’ve lived here. Its antique doorknob was doing us no good. So I removed the doorknob from the basement door, careful to keep all the parts in the right order.

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I had to clean it up a bit (there were spider eggs in the central piece), but the mechanism was perfectly sound and ready to go. Then it was a simple matter to reassemble it in the guest room door. The door had been shaved down so much that the central piece stuck out into the doorjamb a bit, but this doesn’t seem to affect how the door closes.

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Voila! Repurposing and recycling like a boss. This project made me take a close look at all of our doorknobs, however, and I’ve decided that they could use some sprucing up. Some have been spray-painted (THE HORROR) and others are just scratched and covered in a century’s worth of hand grime. So I’ll be researching the best ways to strip and refurbish antique doorknobs. But that’s a job for another day!

Flypocalypse, 2015

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We’re living in a horror movie. The house is full of flies.

No seriously: the house is FULL of flies. We’re not sure where they came from, but leading theories include:

  1. We didn’t take the trash out before leaving town to go camping for a few days.
  2. A mouse has died in the walls.
  3. Leaving the back door open to let in the cool air in the evenings has been a terrible idea.

Either way, they have found some way to breed in the house like… well, like flies. It’s been about four days since we first noticed the infestation and since then drastic measures have been taken. By “drastic measures” I mean Ben has become the Fly Samurai and is running around swatting them by the dozens with a rolled-up magazine. While he gains great satisfaction from this method, it leaves something to be desired. For one thing, it’s wildly inefficient. For another, it leaves dead flies and smears of fly guts on the windows and windowsills, and we’re almost out of Windex. Occasionally opening the windows and shooing them out works too, but is also not as effective as desired. Fortunately most of them are in the basement, but going down there is like entering the killing floor.

It’s clear this war will be won not on the battlefield but in the situation room.

I gathered my finest tactical minds to address the problem (read: I Googled some stuff). This much became clear: I would need to engage in biological warfare to lure my enemies to their deaths by the dozens. I would need… HOMEMADE FLY TRAPS.

My weapons of war:

  • Several flat-bottomed Tupperware containers
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Honey
  • Lemon-scented dish soap
  • The patience of a Buddhist monk
  • The ruthlessness of a Mongolian warlord

I combined the vinegar, honey, and soap about an inch deep in the bowls and placed several on windowsills around the house where the flies seemed to gather most frequently. The vinegar and honey combine to make housefly crack, and the dish soap breaks up the surface tension of the liquid. So any flies attracted to that sweet nectar of life will slip beneath the surface of the liquid and drown. Slowly. Agonizingly.

I put the fly traps out two days ago. In that time I have drowned probably forty flies. It was terrible and mesmerizing. I had to make new traps after dumping out the old ones. Because I don’t believe in grossing out unsuspecting readers, I will include a single picture of a fly trap about ten minutes after I set it.

Catchin' flies with honey... and vinegar.

Catchin’ flies with honey… and vinegar.

Gross and satisfying, right? I’m hoping the problem will clear up in a few days and we won’t have to call an exterminator.

Anyway, I think what we can all learn from this is that you neither catch more flies with honey than vinegar, nor more with vinegar than honey, but with both. (I crack myself up.)