Month: March 2014

Early Stages of a Garden

It’s been a cold, long winter in New York City. Yesterday was the first day of spring. Next week, we will likely be smacked upside the head with a Nor’easter once again. I am so done with the Polar Vortex.  This time last year, I was already playing in the dirt. This year, however, I’ve been keeping my excursions outside to a minimum. A winter person I am not.

We spend a ton of time outdoors during the warm months, and while our back yard has been presentable(ish) over the past 2 summers, a big overhaul was always part of the house master plan. At some point. In the very very distant future.

Backyard2012

Backyard in 2012, our first summer. The big bushy plants to the right are tomatoes. It was a fantastic year for tomatoes.

Backyard2013

The backyard in 2013. The fence was replaced and we built a planter/retaining wall to compensate the height difference between our yard and the one behind us. It was a terrible year for tomatoes.

3/4 of the way through this particularly harsh winter, our garden redo got bumped up in priority, courtesy of the water that came gushing into our basement during a rain/freezing rain/snow/rain event. We realized we needed to pay some attention  to the garden drainage and the pavement that is not sloping away from the house quite enough. Oh, and the holes. There are holes where the coal chute joins  the house.  Because, why not?  True to the old adage of “project begets project,” we figure we might as well go the Full Monty on this. In addition to the must-do-to-keep-the-basment-dry (re-sloping the surface closest to the house and installing French drains  throughout the yard), we’ll be doing a fair amount of cosmetic work, too. Woo hoo landscaping!

FloodedBackyard

This is what happens when it rains: the water has nowhere to go, so it just hangs out.

Puddle

This is actually really close to the house. Not good.

About 4 months ago, we had preliminary plans drawn by a fantastic landscape architect (aka, dad). The design calls for separate living areas in our compact yard: seating under the grape-vine (new arbor, pebbles underfoot), a grilling area and eating area (both paved with reclaimed old pavers), as well as shrubs and perennials evoking a Victorian garden.

Garden Board

The design, along with some of the materials and plants. Yep, I do suck at Photoshop.

To put the design into practical perspective, I ventured outside today and drew it in chalk, making some changes along the way. I think I worked out most of the kinks (and found a dead bird along the way).

Chalky

Pardon the ugliness, but the garden is still asleep.

Dad says good garden design has a bit of mystery drawn in. I don’t think he means all the blank spots on his sketch, but rather that one should not be able to see everything all at once, that one would wind their way through, and discover new areas. That is easier said than done with a back yard that measures about 40 feet x 18 feet. Dad proposes a complete re-think of how we use the space. The table will move to the back of the yard, where the vegetable garden is (at some point, it will get sanded and slathered with Tung oil – yep, on the list). The area beneath the grape-vine will get fine gravel, and will house a seating area with custom-built wooden benches. We’ll reduce the hard surfaces of the yard (which will also help with drainage), and use reclaimed old brick pavers as our main surface material.

Salvage Pavers

Sweet old brick pavers. How I love thee!

It all sounds fine and dandy. Once reality sinks in, including carrying all this stuff through the house, I’m sure it will be a different story.

Lost & Found: toy gun

Pocket doors are a great place to find things. Usually it’s overgrown dust bunnies, but every now and then a more interesting find awaits. Our house has 6 sets of pocket doors: one on the garden level, 3 on the parlor and 2 on top. The first set of doors, off the parlor entry, has a musty smell problem. When temperatures rise, an odor that can best be described as “old house funk” wafts from the crevice between the walls. It’s not terrible, but mildly unpleasant.  In an attempt to make the smell go away, we decided to clean between the walls. Using the vacuum cleaner and a long hose, this thing appeared:

Toy Gun

Having the vacuum hose clogged by a gun-looking object is a bit of a scary experience. Luckily after a closer look, we realized it’s just a toy. There are no markings on it to indicate who made it, but it seems to have been  mass-produced. Here is a photo of the other side, which got a bit rusty:

Toy Gun rust

Lost & Found: Mad Libs with “Use At Your Own Risk” bottle

In the process of restoring our house, we have found quite a few random items hidden in the nooks and crannies. While I’m still holding out for a stash of money in the floor boards, each new find is super exciting because it provides clues to the previous lives of those lived here before us. To catalogue what we’ve found, I’m going to take a page from Throw Back Thursday and post one item per week (yes, I know today is Tuesday). Here is the first one:

UseAtYourOwnRisk

“Mix half and half with bottle _____  CAUTION. This product contains _______ which may cause skin ____ certain individuals and a ______ test according to accompanying directions should first be made _____ product must not be used for ___ing the eyelashes or eyebrows. To do so may cause blindness. Use at your own risk. Contains 2 fl. oz. READ DIRECTIONS.”

This is the bottom of the bottle:

BottomOfBottle

I’m not sure what mysterious substance was in this bottle, but I’m leaning towards some kind of hair dye product. What do you think?

Soap dispenser


Soap dispenser box

You know when you buy stuff and stash it away for future use, then you forget you bought it until you come across it years later? That is exactly that happened with this liquid soap container. I purchased it years ago, well before we bought the Pink Lady.

Glass soap dispenser2

Growing up, these were the standard soap dispensers in Brazilian public restrooms. While going to a public bathroom was a gross experience, getting to use the soap dispenser was something I always enjoyed. Yes, weird child I was. Anyway, this thing mounts to the wall, and when you want some soap, you flip it upside down, while holding your hand under it. Gravity does the rest and flips it back to its upright position.

Glass Soap Dispenser

Pretty excited to find this (again). It will eventually be put to use in our powder room. Not totally period appropriate, but making an exception on the account of nostalgia.

 

A plan of sorts

IMG_2072

We’ve been in the house just under 27 months, at that point where things just drag on. The initial steam wore off and we got used to camping in our home.  No oven? No problem, use the toaster oven. No direct access to the back yard? No problem, climb down the fire escape and use a rope and pulley system to lower a picnic basket.  Resourceful as it may, the McGyvering is getting old. It would be lovely not to have to step over tools or construction supplies on our way to the bathroom.

To shake out the moroseness, we came up with a 1-year plan of what we’d like to accomplish between now and December 31st (actually this is the bare minimum I’d like to see done so that I can continue to fake it as a quasi-legit grown up). The list is divided into 4 major categories: Spring, 1-Day Projects, Anytime and Oh-God! It breaks down like so:

1-Day Projects. This includes the small annoyances that we put up with so that we can focus on “the big projects.” I decided that if we can tackle some of the smaller things, the overall DIY mood may improve.

* Coat Closet – make parlor floor coat closet a bit more functional/less gross. Give it a good cleaning, paint walls, install shelves for shoes.

* Living room fan – remove ugly ceiling fan in front parlor, which we don’t use anyway.

* Fix old lighting fixtures purchased at salvage shop. Buy globes that fit

* Remove stupid little add-on wall in parlor floor hallway

* Linen closet – turn old roof access ladder closet into linen closet. Clean and patch walls, install shelves.

* Closet of doom – clean out room of all its contents.

Anytime projects. These projects are not weather dependent and can be done at anytime. Got some time? Great, get some of these cross off (at least that’s the idea)…

* Living room fireplace cover – strip paint, put it back in its original place (remove existing cover and take to Build It Green)

* Basement Cement Slab – The removal of the old asbestos tiles in the basement left the floor bumpy. Needs a layer of cement on top

* Closet of doom: demo dry wall and assess plumbing

* Top floor rear mantel – finish stripping

* Fix plaster in garden level vestibule.

Spring Projects. These are important for a variety of reasons: moisture control, rust prevention, general safety,  and saving the brownstone from one more freeze-thaw cycle under all that paint.

* Complete façade stripping project

* Front & Rear hatches (replace)

* Stoop railing – finish stripping, paint

* Raise grape arbor to create enough space for seating area beneath

* Back yard drainage project

* Source of water for backyard hose

* Stoop – repair steps

Oh-God! Projects.  These are the most daunting projects on the list. The stripping of the façade should probably be in this category, but I remain deluded determined that “it’s no big deal.”

* Bedroom woodwork – sand and oil

* Bedroom ceiling – finish spackle, add moulding & trim

* Bedroom walls – strip, fix cracks, prime and paint

* Parlor flooring – replace cheap-o stick on parquet with actual flooring

* Fix plaster under stairs, fix squeaky stairs (the plaster is helping this along by falling off in chunks – yippie!)

* Closet room – fix plaster

* Closet of doom – fix plumbing

* Parlor woodwork – strip (muppet flesh paint be gone!)

And that’s about it for the year. I’m hoping things get it done, because there is a ton more where this came from.