Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Did!

Wooo Hooo America, I love you!

May we all sleep well tonight. I know I will.

Friday, October 03, 2008

While I do not doubt her commitment to Sparkle-Motion

I sure as hell don't want her a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Oh! And her bangs need cut!(as a Pittsburgher would say)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

One More - About that Sofa

This is the sofa that I talked about "deconstructing" in my previous posts. I guess it's about time that I posted the evidence that we were actually able to get it back together. I have photos of it in different stages of dis-assembly too - but right now I don't see a point in posting them cause what I hoped would later be a helpful "how to" has turned into a cautionary "please don't ever attempt this without a professional".

It was a LOT of work. Too much work and way too much anxiety to be worth it. The only reason we even attempted it was because there was absolutely no other way to get this sofa into this third floor apartment. None. Trust me - we considered everything. And what any sane person with a few dollars in their pocket would have done is buy one of those affordable sofas that are designed to break down into pieces that can be transported up narrow and winding staircases. Or not rented an apartment that was so aggressively inaccessible in the first place.

So, why did we go to this extreme? Because my terrific and very young friend from work finally managed to land her first apartment. She's mature and responsible beyond her years but has had a difficult time finding a landlord willing to take a chance on her. So although this apartment was pretty dismal and inaccessible it was affordable, available and most importantly close to work. She didn't have an extra dollar to buy furniture. It was this sofa or nothing. It was a generous donation from a Pittsburgh Freecycler. As was most everything you see in her apartment. If we had failed to get this sofa back together properly I wouldn't have known how to live with the shame. So please - don't take such a risk if you don't really, really, really need to. It took many hours, much cursing, eyerolling, sighing, time-outs, and bloodshed. Yes, it's back to good as new - but as I warned my friend - it belongs to the apartment now.

Here are a couple more pics of her place. Excuse the camera phone quality. I'm thrilled with how her kitchen turned out. When we first arrived every wall was stark white - the tiny countertop was stained and scored, the greasy wooden cabinets were hanging off the wall, and there was an eyesore of a hot water heater to the left of the stove.

We cleaned the cabinets and painted them, sanded and painted the countertop around the sink, built a cute little island/counter with storage space inside and covered two bi-fold doors that we picked up at Construction Junction for a song with striped wallpaper to serve as a screen to cover the ugly hot water heater. A donated pine lingerie chest was painted black and white and awaits a microwave on top, but the drawers are adding much needed storage space for small kitchen items and a stash of Ramen Noodles. Her kitchen is now clean, bright, functional and totally reflects her taste. Thanks to Pittsburgh Freecycle, co-workers, and a couple hundred bucks spent wisely at Ikea and Construction Junction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

About that sofa...

Two days ago I announced our intention of dismantling and reassembling a sofa. Wow... In case you've been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to find out how that went - I won't leave you hanging any longer.

This is NOT a project for the faint of heart. While I've read that there are several companies in the NYC metro area that can do this for you in a matter of an hour or two for a couple hundred bucks, it's really not a quick job if you don't know what you're doing. And we didn't.

We carefully removed the fabric covering from the bottom of the sofa and then from the backside. I think we hoped that at this point the "secret" of deconstruction would simply reveal itself to us. Um... no.

So we spent a couple of hours removing the arms and the upholstery that held the arms on even after the nails and various sized staples were removed from the wooden frame. We banged apart nicely glued dowels and drew a curious crowd of spectators.

Finally - we had the 44" wide sofa in enough smaller pieces that we could squeeze it up the 27" stairwell of the third floor walk up.

Then it got tricky! LOL

I am greatly relieved to report that after several more hours of work and enough staple scratches to look like we were in a death match with a pack of feral cats the sofa body is back in one piece and seems no worse for wear.

I took some photos - admittedly less than I'd planned to - and will upload them later. Bottom line: Would I attempt this again? No freakin' way!

We were very lucky that we didn't turn a perfectly good sofa into a piece of trash. This is one of those things that in my exhausted and bloodied opinion is best left to trained professionals.

And in case anyone is in the sofa market - Bauhaus doesn't skimp on the construction. At all...

Oh, and one more thing - the public voting portion of the True Value contest ends today. Please toss me a vote, if you wouldn't mind. I'll be forever grateful!

Peace out! :o)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dismantling a Sofa

That's going to be the big challenge of the day. No, I've never tried it before and frankly the thought is making me feel a little queasy - but, I don't think we have a choice.

A very dear young friend of mine has just landed her first apartment and it's lovely. Or at least has the potential to be lovely. It's spacious and has plenty of natural light and a nice view. The trouble is that you need to climb two flights of narrow stairs to get to it. Twenty-seven inch wide stairs!

My first reaction to the the "how are we gonna get anything up here?" question was to think "Fire Escape!" But no... The fire escape - while more open - is narrow and rickety. Yeah it might hold up long enough for a 100 pound girl to run down it in case of fire but I don't see two adults carrying a sofa at shoulder height going up it without an ambulance on stand-by.

So, after thinking about ropes, hoists, boom trucks and a whole lot of other stuff that simply isn't going to work - we're going to try to take the sofa apart and put it back together. Apparently this is a pretty common thing to do in narrow stairway plagued NYC - and there are scores of businesses there offering this service. But, not here in Pittsburgh as far as I can tell. We're on our own.

Here's the plan: Carefully remove the fabric from the underside and the back of the sofa, look inside to see what we can cut and then re-attach to get the back away from the seat and "wing it". I'll take lots of pics to share the experience with you later. Please wish us luck - we're going to need it!

Monday, September 08, 2008

You May Be a Do-It-Yourselfer If...

Originally uploaded by gimbler
Someone describes themselves to you as a painter and you assume they're a house painter. Even if they've arrived at the job with no coveralls, tarps, ladders or buckets.

I forgot, much to my embarrassment, that there's more to the world than scraping off and applying wall and trim paint to walls and trim - there are actual artists out there. And the young man who had arrived on a bicycle with a backpack that I so boldly offered to "help paint" while we were waiting for the Obama Headquarters in Homestead to open was that other kind of painter - an artist.

Isn't that portrait phenomenal? And the man who painted it in a few short hours was very gracious about my mistaking him for a house painter.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Price is Right?

No, I'm not talking about the TV game show - I'm talking about Craigslist and Freecycle. Love Freecycle! When something has got to go, it's been my experience that someone on Freecycle will come and take it off your hands lickety split.

Same thing with Craigslist - as long as it's free! Whenever I put anything free on Craigslist it's gone within hours - sometimes minutes. But, when I have something I'd like get a few dollars for.... the hemming and hawing, the coordinating and logistics. Holey Moley! With the exception of a couple of "construction/material" items - (which I guess us DIY types know how to jump on a bargain quickly!) - the hassle has made the transaction almost not worth it.

It makes me hesitate to post anything that I'm not willing to freely give away.

How does your experience compare to mine? Is it me? Does anyone have any tips?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

There's a Glitch in the Matrix

Okay... My black cat came to the back door with some kind of spider-webby mess on her back and haunches. I wouldn't let her inside because I knew she'd head right to my pillow with that crap all over her. So I wet a paper towel, went outside, scolded her for getting into something nasty yet again - and started wiping her off. She resisted just enough to save face and did her typical affectionate meowing "rollover". After I finished cleaning and petting her I sat on the back steps watching her and our male cat Rodney play.

It was while I was sitting there watching that MY black cat came running around the corner and up the steps. Yep - I just cleaned off and scolded a complete stranger of a cat. Who looks and acts identical to mine.



Apparently we have four cats. I don't know how or when this happened. But, last night after I posted this entry the "strange" cat came to the back door TWICE to be let in. Curious, hubby let her in. She's obviously familiar with the place and with our other pets. In fact the only one of our pets that didn't appreciate her presence was our own black cat. I don't know how many times we've let her in not realizing that she wasn't our cat - but her doppleganger. And in a two story house with a basement and three "free-range" cats I suppose it wasn't hard for a "duplicate" to slip by as long as she and our cat didn't turn up in the same room at the same time. Freaky...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Today's Agenda

Originally uploaded by gimbler
Because I work in retail my weekends start on Monday. Today is my "Sunday" and tomorrow will round out my three day holiday "weekend", and bring my personal summer vacation to an end.

I haven't picked up a paintbrush, hammer, drill or pry bar since the first week of July. After tomorrow that all ends and we're back to stripping paint, hanging cabinets, building storm windows, stripping floors..... sigh...

But today, TODAY - I'm going to float in our teeny tiny pool, relax in the shade with a book, and then take a nap on the porch swing. I will try to resist the temptation to check in throughout the day to see what bizarre new allegation is surfacing on the Sarah Palin soap opera, but I will tune in to F/X at 10pm to catch the season premiere of my favorite TV series - "The Shield" .

I'm looking forward to today, and I hope your day - wherever you are and whatever you're doing is at least half as enjoyable as mine promises to be.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Whoa... That was close!

Turns out that thirty six hours of indecision was long enough to take the decision out of our hands. Someone jumped ahead of us on the road to crazytown - the house down the street is already under contract. Someone is getting a terrific bargain. Or soul sappingly deep money pit.

We hope they're "owner/occupants" and have what it takes to put this 140 year old gem back together. Most of all I hope the first thing they do is rip that goddawful porch enclosure down. I've wanted to do it ever since we moved here. It's one of those things that can bug you - like a big fat white head that needs popping - I have to keep my hands in my pockets to keep from crossing the street and picking at it.

HandyKid, who is actually more mature than me when it comes to stuff like this, seems okay with it. Something about "for the best", "timing", "cash", "priorities", yadda, yadda, yadda...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are We Crazy?

After fourteen months of back breaking, budget busting work we finally have our home in pretty nice shape. Not "done" mind you, but at a place where we can live comfortably and do the rest as time and money allows.

So what are we thinking of doing? Seriously thinking of doing?

Buying an even OLDER, even WORSE house than ours was when we got it! Arghhh... My palms are beginning to sweat just typing this.

Okay - here are the details:

I conned convinced my early 20's son, hereafter referred to as HandyKid, to move to Pittsburgh with us earlier this year and help us with some projects. It's been great. We've got a lot done and it's a nice arrangement - all living comfortably and not in each others hair at all. Honestly, I wouldn't mind if he lived with us forever. We've got the space. It's not like we're tripping over each other.

But HandyKid, quite naturally, longs for a place of his own. Somewhere to swing a sledgehammer with wild abandon. And who can fault him for that? (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.) And right now there's a mess of a house available, right on our street, for a probably never to be seen again bargain basement price.

So what's the problem? Well, hubby and I have already thrown every cent available at our current house and HandyKid has next to nothing to start with. Even if he can arrange financing for the purchase the house is going to need tons of work and even more tons of cash to get it up to snuff. It would be a long term project. And I'm scared. On the other hand, at least he'd have the advantage of being able to continue to sleep and shower here while his plumbing, wiring, plaster etc are in a total state of disarray. An advantage that we didn't have last year.

And he wouldn't have to re-purchase all the hand and power tools we've already invested in...

Is this a good idea? Or are we just flirting with disaster (again)?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Confessions of a Pack Rat

Originally uploaded by gimbler
I daydream of a clean clutter free home. Where everything has a place and is in it's place from the basement to the rafters. But, in my heart of hearts I know that it's never going to happen - it's too far from my nature.

I don't have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I have a pack rat who sees some unrealized potential in every piece of junk on one side and a Cleaning Demon on the other who wants every square inch of space to look permanently "staged".

My pack-rattish-nish gets too much positive reinforcement for me to ever really tame it. I can't even count the number of times I've thought I needed to buy or make something to suit some purpose and then found that all it really took was a trip to the basement and a sharp eye to turn some old thing I had no use for into exactly what I need.

Like the other day when I carried an old milk-glass vase of cosmos and dahlias into the bathroom and put them on the vanity. Oh, they looked nice there - really they did. But, they blocked the toothbrushes. So I moved them to the other side. Too near the soap dish. Blocking the cotton swabs. Gonna get knocked over... That's when I noticed the unused space on top of the cold radiator. What I need, I thought, is a little shelf to sit on top. I have lots of scrap wood... I could whip something up... paint it white... or maybe black... Do I really have time for this now? I just want to set this vase down and get back to dead-heading and weeding.

A quick trip to the basement, a narrow eyed scan of "THE WALL OF CLUTTER" and there it was - a dented old Ikea metal file box - with a LID. That lid looks about right. Let's try it!

Vindication is hers - Pack Rat scores! Then rubs Clean Demons nose in her victory reminding everyone within earshot how this moment would not have been possible if we'd listened to Clean Demon. Poor Clean Demon - she wins the occasional battle, but she's never going to win the war.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Loving the Floating Deck

Backyard "after" 2
Originally uploaded by gimbler
Sorry - we didn't take any "during" photos. This thing came together so quickly any pictures would have been a blur of action anyhow. Okay... I exaggerate. But, not by much.

We found everything we needed to make this deck - from design, instructions, shopping list and price estimate at deckplans.com. Sure, almost any home improvement store, large or small will help you design your deck in order to better sell you their products. But, will they let you make endless modifications without losing patience? Are they available at 3am when you're suddenly struck with inspiration and longing? I think not!

We built on a slope and over a former above ground pool depression in the lawn without the back breaking and time consuming task of digging holes or pouring cement. Deck Blocks Rock! You can change your mind... move a little to the right, a little to the left... Then just plop your 40 pound hunk of block down and level it out. Easy Peasy!

The instructions on the site are quite easy to follow, but just in case here are a few things we did to make it go smoothly for us. After we laid out the four corner blocks for the 10'x12' main deck we laid the two 2"x6" x 10' frame pieces on the ground, evening up the edges and screwed on all the galvanized joist hangers at once. Then we attached those to the 12' long pieces to make one big rectangular frame that we lifted in place and rested on the corner blocks. After that it was a breeze to set the rest of the blocks.

We cut the 4" x 4" post for the corner blocks first and when we got the frame level we started laying the 2" x6" x12' joists into the joist hangers, but not screwing them in yet. We just set them in place one by one to measure how tall the 4" x 4" needed to be cut in order to seat in the deck block and support the joist. After they were all cut and set in place it was time to toenail the joists to the 4" x 4" posts and screw the joists into the joist hanger and end boards.

It was so fast and easy and the results were so solid and pleasing that before we knew it we were building another multi-level deck down behind that little red tree you see in the background.

Last summer our back yard was a no mans land of mud, weeds and ankle twisting holes. We spent as little time as possible in it. Now we spend as much time as we can out there.

Thank you deckplans.com!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Becky Puts Out

Originally uploaded by gimbler
Becky the Shasta Daisy, that is! She puts out blooms all summer long.
A perennial that blooms like an annual - does it get any better than that?!?

My grandmother, the ultimate gardener, turned me on to Shasta Daisies. They were her favorites. I have to admit that they were not mine while she was living. Maybe I was too young to appreciate them fully, preferring more colorful flowers. As I've matured so has my taste and I'm turning more and more into my grandmother with each passing year. Becky Shasta Daisies are now MY favorite.

I've come to appreciate the phrase "fresh as a daisy"! How could I have once not loved a flower with a bright, perfectly symmetrical yellow center surrounded by petals so white they're practically blinding? I dunno... The folly of youth?

The "Becky" daisy is a relative newcomer in the Shasta daisy world and in my opinion is the best you could possibly hope for in a daisy. In fact it was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2003. It asks for nothing except sunshine and in return it produces profuse blooms between mid June and September. But, does it give up in September? NO! This plant keeps blooming, if not as heavily, right up until frost.

It grows about three to three and a half feet tall and needs no staking. The leaves are lush and green, it's flowers upright and proud on long stems perfect for cutting. It's one of those plants that lets you fill a vase without robbing your garden.

I love her...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sweat Equity - a surprisingly nice fragrance!

Originally uploaded by gimbler
So - where'd we go? What did we do? LOTS!

We refinanced our house for a sweeeet lower interest rate and learned while in the process that our house, in less than one year, had appreciated more than 30%!

:::: takes a bow :::

How did that happen, you might ask? With real estate values flat-lining or sinking across the nation? Well, for one thing we're in Pittsburgh - and Pittsburgh never experienced most of the "bubble" that was happening elsewhere. According to Citibank we're in a "neutral" zone. Yay Pittsburgh!

Now on to explain how we added value. You've already seen photos of what we did inside. Nothing really that major - switching out a sink, some light fixtures - replacing trim, painting, adding a 2nd floor laundry - patching holes. The usual "we bought a fixer-upper" stuff. And sadly most of it I think cost us more to do than the "return on investment" so far. But, that's okay cause it's our home, and we love living comfortably in it.

What really knocked the appraisers socks off and gave us a lot of bang for the buck was what we did outside. And comparatively it cost us very little. In fact I think in terms of equity we may have doubled to tripled what we spent. It has been a LOT of work, but oh so worth it - dollar-wise and enjoyment-wise.

When you last heard from us a bitter (to me!) Pittsburgh winter was coming to an end. Our yard was an inhospitable nightmare that I knew we couldn't ignore for another summer. So, the minute the sun came out so did we. And I'm sorry I didn't have time to talk about what I was doing while I was doing it, but I hope you'll understand that the work we were doing literally consumed every waking moment that we weren't sleeping or "working for the man" between April and July. (I've spent August just enjoying the fruits of our labor!)

First we knocked some stuff off of the ole New Years Resolution list and moved that silly hose bib. Then we tore all the rotting wood out from under the front porch and the off railings. (Tip: It's always more than you think!) Then my son and I scraped every square inch of peeling paint from the porch floor and repainted it. We hung a porch swing and I made some cushions for it. While I had the sewing machine out I made some cushions for the radiator bench. (It's awesome!) Found a rocking chair on Craigslist and another on clearance at Michael's crafts and painted them black to go with the new railings.

Replaced the rotted porch skirt with nice new lattice, and the board under the top step (that was home to about a million carpenter ants) with new wood and trim.

Had five yards of mulch and garden soil delivered and carried it up from the alley one bucket at a time in order to create a new flower bed.

Built not just one - not just two - but THREE decks! Okay - so one of them is really small - only 4' x 12' and might be considered by some to be part of a multi layer deck - but, not me. I built it separate and I want credit, dammit! lol

We put up a privacy fence along one side to block the neighbors chain-link fence and their pool. Who wants to sit on their new deck sweating their butt off staring longingly at the neighbors while they splash around? Not me, I assure you!

After learning that we could still hear them and that that was just as torturous we bought a little pool to cool off in from Target and honest to goodness I'm enjoying it as much (if not more!) than I did our in-ground 18 x36 from two houses ago.

It's tucked tastefully down a slope practically out of view and not taking up any of our precious little yard space. We have a HUGE parking area between the alley and the retaining wall and steps up to our yard and since we don't normally need to park like six cars it's a much better use of the space. It's like reclaimed! Woo Hoo!

Oh, and before I forget - about that "nice fragrance" - in addition to the swell new equity, and having a yard that feels like a mini-resort - it smells WONDERFUL out here. Especially the pretty flowers like the one in the pic above. It's some kind of African Gladiola (I'll have to look it up) and they've been blooming non-stop for the last eight weeks. Their fragrance is heavenly!

-Update -
Since I spent all afternoon uploading pictures maybe I oughta post a link, huh? If anyone is interested this is the entire history of the yard - from the first time we saw it in April of 07 through today.

A Perfect Home

Originally uploaded by gimbler
In 1830 it was a snug little collection of modest one and two story frame dwellings whose white-washed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of of rose vines, honeysuckles, and morning-glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds, touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old fashioned flowers; while on the window-sills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss-rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house front like an explosion of flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the posts and boxes for a cat, the cat was there - in sunny weather - stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat - and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat - may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title? - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

The above is one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite writers and I am reminded of it every time I find one of our cats stretched out enjoying the "amenities". Too bad they refuse to be captured on film in these totally relaxed and vulnerable positions. Still... I can feel the evidence of " perfect title" reflected in my own heart wherever I find them lounging.

Please forgive my months of absence from blogging and forgive in advance the flurry of posts I feel coming on. We've been VERY busy and there's much to tell.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pay It Forward!

I've been recovering from the worlds longest cold and haven't done much of anything around here since making an upside down curtain/shade for the bathroom (see my last post...) So after a few days of not even turning on the computer, as all my energy has gone into making it through the work week I settled in tonight to do one of my favorite things - reading houseblog after houseblog to see what everyone else has been up to.

Housebloggers are inspirational! Funny! Profound! And very human. I'm at least an hour into reading when I hit one of my favorite blogs, ThirteenEleven and see that the post is about one of my favorite people - Sandy!

I see that Sandy has given Jenni at ThirteenEleven an Excellence Award! And it makes me smile! Isn't that just like Sandy? To do something so sweet and fun? She's everywhere! She's friendly and she's almost like a glue that helps bind us into a community of friends who've never actually met, instead of just a collection of people with similar interests and experiences putting our stories out into the ether.

So, of course I had to head over to Sandy's to see who else got an "E" award. Oh. My. God.


Can you believe it!?!? I'm so touched, and thrilled, and flattered, and, and, ... just plain grateful! Sandy, you've once again made my day!

The thing about this award is that it was bestowed on Sandy with the condition that she pass it on - and she has. And now, as a recipient of an "E" award it falls to me to pass it on as well, to 10 more bloggers. Isn't that just a fabulous opportunity?

Thank you again, Sandy for not just making my day but for giving me this opportunity to hopefully make someone else's day.

I want to think about my list of "E" bloggers and make it in my next post. But, I also want to take this chance to commit to something else - to be more like Sandy! I want this honor to serve as a reminder to me that I shouldn't need to be prompted to take a moment to offer someone a kind word. I can do it... I think nice things and often appreciate the stories and advice that others share - surely I can take a second or two to say so.

Sandy, you're a gem!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Don't snicker...

Originally uploaded by gimbler
Some of us are severely window treatment impaired. Handbags and window treatments are the bane of my existence. So, please keep that in mind when I tell you I'm actually quite pleased with this. Oh, I may look back in six months and realize it's a terrible monstrosity - but, in my cold medicine addled mind, (and my general failing in the window treatment dept) this feels like a success this morning.

Since moving in last spring the bathroom windows only adornment was a white vinyl roller shade. In all these months I have not been able to find what looked to me like a good curtain or valance option.

Then inspiration struck! Or was it codeine? Matters not - what's done is done... I took a piece of fabric that I thought looked pretty and a can of spray adhesive and permanently wed the fabric to the roller shade. I left a few inches of fabric loose along the bottom so that I could gather it up to look more like a balloon style shade. A balloon shade that ROLLS! LOL

Trouble was the white vinyl underside of the shade showed at the top where it was rolled up. Luckily there was a scrap of fabric about 8 or 9 inches wide left over from trimming the edge of the shade. I "Sitch Witcher-ied" it into a long tube and now it's an overly wide "valance" that covers the top of the roller. I suppose I could have moved the hardware in an inch or two on either side - but that would require tools and I'm just not up to tools today. I'm not even up to sewing and it's a wonder I didn't burn myself with the iron! Speaking of which - the black ribbon trim that is pretending to gather the "curtain" is ironed on too. And no - the iron didn't melt the shade. Not that I thought to test that out in advance...

The cute little pull ring? It's courtesy of the lid to my husbands Mr. Peanut jar of peanuts. (I really should remember to go put some saran wrap of something over his exposed peanuts!) I popped the metal center out of the yellow plastic threaded ring and wound black yarn around it.


Then I stepped back and realized the fabric pattern was upside down...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Potties -or what's in your basement?

I mentioned "Pittsburgh Potties" in my previous post and a couple of people commented that these open toilets in the basements weren't exclusively a Pittsburgh phenomenon. Some Jersey foursquares and Baltimore rowhouses feature this "amenity" too!

So, being curious and easily amused - I googled up "Pittsburgh Potty" 337,000 hits! One of which was a post by Steel City Experiment, where I snagged the above pic. (I hope Katy doesn't mind!)

So I'm wondering - just how widespread is this basement potty thing? Do you have one? Have you seen them in your city? Please check in. Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Which reminds me...

Aimee at Aimee's Petite Maison is doing a fun and generous giveaway for a Solay Salt Lamp. All you have to do to get into the running is post a comment on her blog by March 17th stating why you'd like to win it.

I commented half jokingly that living in Pittsburgh, I could use some negative ion cleansed air.

Half joking... Which reminded me that I've been intending for a while to blog something about the soot covering our house.

Native Pittsburgh-ers like to talk about how much cleaner Pittsburgh is now that the steel industry has largely been replaced with medical industry. Uh huh... Pittsburgh still ranks number two in the nation for worst air quality. You may have come a long way, baby - but there's still a long way to go.

Which brings me, finally,back around to the topic at hand. Our sooty stones. Which I love. Decades of soot and crap have fallen out of the sky and covered our sandstone (limestone?) with a patina that ranges from lightish gray on the more protected areas, to a deep velvety black on the more exposed areas. It's given the facade an almost verigated appearance.

One of our neighbors, and a couple of co-workers, noticing that we are "fixer-uppers" have suggested that we have our stones cleaned. We're about as receptive to this suggestion as we were to the mover who suggested we enclose our front porch to increase our first floor living space. No.Freaking.Way.

I don't care how many buildings downtown have been given a "new lease on life" after having their grimy history sandblasted or power-washed away. It's not like we have some weird love of grime. But, we do have a love and respect for history. I know this house wasn't built to look this way, that the steel mills down the river changed it from it's original and intended form, but neither of us want to "restore" this aspect of the house.

It's late and I'm not even sure how to articulate my feeling about this but I hope I can make it make sense to someone besides DH that the sooty layer on our house should remain, like a testament to what made this city what it was. Like a tribute to the men and women who lived and toiled in this gray polluted city where the mills followed the men home from work, covering their homes, their gardens, and their families with black reminders of the blast furnaces. Where no shopkeeper or executive could find complete exclusion from the price being paid by the men in the mills. To enjoy the commerce, to profit in this economy they too would have to bear the stains of the product making it all possible.

In our basement we have what is commonly referred to (at least by local realtors) as a "Pittsburgh Potty". Most older working class houses here seem to be equipped with at least a toilet in the basement. Ours has a shower as well. We've been told that these were considered a necessity earlier in the 20th century. So that the men, returning home after working a hot, dangerous, back breaking twelve hour shift, covered with soot and scale could clean up and change their clothes in the basement so as not to ruin the family floors and furniture.

So, no... we're not going to come to this town like a couple of johnny-come-lately carpetbaggers and wash what are now "our" stones squeaky clean like nothing ever happened here. It would feel disrespectful, I think. Besides, to our eyes they're lovely just the way they are.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Let there be light... and VENTILATION!

vent fan
Originally uploaded by gimbler
No, it's not a UFO, it's our spiffy new bathroom ventilation fan, disguised as an art deco style (imho) ceiling light fixture - and I LOVE it! The fan is so quiet I can barely tell when it's running. Plus it moves twice as much air as our previous crappy little fan with no light, even AFTER we removed the TWO birds nests from the ductwork. (Which my very handy son smartly screened off so we should have no more birdie builder issues in the near future.

Other things around the ole foursquare are moving along nicely too. I just haven't had a chance to blog about our progress the last few weeks. Perhaps because I've felt too self conscious to sneak away from the actual work to sit down and write about it. Handy-kid is a real work horse and I just didn't know how to say "Excuse me from this messy task - I feel the need to blog".

But, he spent the night out with friends last night so I thought I'd creep in here before work and post a brief update.

The fireplace facade is finished, the replacement trim is done, but could probably use a little sanding and another coat of paint, three Billy bookcases with extension shelves have been assembled and now have glass doors - (less dusting, yay!) and oodles of little incidentals have been wrapped up.

The next focus, inside anyway, has got to be fixing that Texas sized and shaped patch in the stairway.

We've had two nice spring-like days in the last week and when the weather really breaks I want to be ready for planting and deck building - not still eying Texas, you know?

Happy Friday, everyone - have a great one!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Waiting on my personal "Take Home Handy Man"

I'm off from work today and had big plans - BIG I tell ya! But, I got sidetracked early on with a photo organizing project and now I don't feel like I have a big enough chunk of uninterrupted hours to get much accomplished. That, combined with today's cold damp weather is really draining any enthusiasm I had when I woke up.

My "handyman" son is moving coming back from Jersey for an extended (hopefully permanent!) stay on Thursday so I don't think a wasted day will set me back much seeing as how we're going to have an extra pair of hands soon. Ironically, I've already "lent him out" to our neighbors for the weekend. He doesn't even know yet - HAR! But, I feel like it's the least I can do - volunteer someone else's labor and skills - to make up for pulling a big hunk of plaster off their wall a few days ago.

Nice people... They only asked for my opinion on whether to patch or tear out. Oops.

Maybe I'll just take a nap and leave well enough alone for the rest of the day.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

We're Back!

With a cool new fireplace face-lift/makeover to "show and tell"!

While waiting for the arrival of our new Macbook I had some time to knock at least one goal off of the New Years Resolution list. Not only did I finally make a decision about what to do with the fireplace - (cover it up!) but, I think it's just an hour or two from being a finished project.

The 1950's stone facade was like a big black eye (to me) in this 1920's colonial-ish foursquare. With the somewhat unexpected expense of the new computer I realized I wasn't going to be chiseling this stone off in hopes of finding buried treasure any time soon. What if it's just an awful gaping hole underneath? I'd be stuck looking at it for a long, long time. I just couldn't do it. And I couldn't look at the gray stones much longer either. So, for about a $100 worth of lumber and tile this is the solution I came up with. If it's temporary fix, no big loss. If it turns out to be permanent I think I can live with it.

The tiles are two inch tumbled slate, I used black grout, a birch plywood for the face and trimmed it out to the bookcases I built earlier this year and now they actually do look "built in". Sorry for the crappy photo. I took it with my phone.

Now on to making a decision about the bottom of the hearth... more tiles or white wood? hmmmm...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Technical Difficulties

Just in case anyone thinks I might have fallen off the face of the earth I wanted to make a quick post: My computer is dying a very noisy and painful sounding death. I can use it for about 10 minutes before the fan starts making an awful racket and I have to shut it off. So for now I'm trying to save what little time it has left on this earth for important things like online bill payment.

On the home improvement front - my mission to Jersey was successful! My super handy youngest son came back to Pittsburgh with me for a week and we made up a deck plan, a materials list, priced it all out and are ready to go as soon as weather permits.

In the meantime he installed some much needed under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen and I hung the TV on the wall in the living room. What a good move that was! It helped immensely with our space issue and I'm now finally satisfied with the furniture layout. If I'd known what a difference it would make I'd have done it months ago.

Hope to be back soon with a new computer (oh, our poor practically non-existent "budget"...) and more updates on the progress we're making on our American Foursquare.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jersey Bound...

American Foursquare will continue to be MIA for a few more days. I hope to return early next week and if everything goes right I'll have a strapping young handy-man in tow. (My youngest son). Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

DIY Copper Vessel Sink

Taking a break from re-arranging furniture and thinking back to a fun project from our last house.

I mentioned before that our last house was new construction and boring. Re-doing the kitchen ate up the lions share of our budget and there was VERY little left over to change the builders grade fake oak and beige laminate vanity in the downstairs powder room. Oh how I hated that tiny featureless room. Oh how I longed for a copper vessel sink...

These photos were taken last year before we moved, but this project was actually completed in 2001. Back in 2001 I couldn't find a copper bowl sink for under $800.00. Definitely NOT in the budget.

So, I made one for about $25.00!

We found two old copper bowls at an auction and managed to snag them both - just in case the first try didn't work. It did - so the bowl itself cost about $17 and I still have the other one (with no hole in it!)

We tore out the original cabinet and replaced it with a small old washstand that I think we picked up at the same auction. It was in terrible condition so I didn't have any qualms about drilling holes in it.

What I did to make this sink was to cut a hole for the drain. You can buy a drill bit for this and probably make it an easy 2 minute job. I cut mine by perforating a circle using an awl and a hammer, snipping it out, then dremeling the edge smooth. About a 1 hour job.

I went with a larger kitchen sink drain assembly because it had more surface area and I thought added stability. (That and the silicone caulk between the bowl and the vanity top.) Plus - it looked kinda cool, imho.

copper bowl sink

Then there was the issue of getting a faucet tall enough to reach. I couldn't afford those either and wasn't up for running plumbing through the wall for a wall mount fixture - which also wasn't in the budget.

I remembered an old oak box I'd been carting around for years that had no particular purpose. Aha! I lucked out - it lifted a standard faucet fixture to just the right height. So, I attached it to the vanity top, drilled some holes, and used flexible plumbing hoses to hook it up.

The chrome and white porcelain faucet wasn't exactly what I wanted and I probably could have spent a few extra bucks for a rubbed bronze, but it was okay and kinda helped tie the white toilet with chrome handle back into the room.

This little "make do" setup turned out to be the most popular feature. My son's girlfriend used to say that it looked like our water was coming out of a box. Everyone who saw it had to "test it" by turning the water on watching with amazement. Our realtors took turns, turning it on and off and laughing like school kids.

The rim of the bowl wasn't thick or rolled - it had a kinda funny little crimped edge. Some glass mosaic tiles from Michael's Crafts finished it off nicely.

The towel hook was free - it's actually a broken candle sconce that I found in the parking lot of a T.J. Maxx.

On a scale of 1 to 10, for anyone with very basic plumbing skills, I'd rate this project about a 4 on a difficulty scale. The most time consuming part of the job was finding the bowls. Putting it together took probably a few hours.


Originally uploaded by gimbler
"Harmony, proportion, or uniformity between the parts of a building and its whole." - oxford university press - architecture and landscaping

It was chilly in Pittsburgh last April. In fact I remember that every day we spent in Pittsburgh from our arrival in late February through till April 20th something fell out of the sky every day. Rain, snow, little pelting pellets of ice... something.

It wasn't until we stepped into our current home for the first time that I realized I'd been sort of holding my breath since our first trek up Sycamore Street (which is really more of a treacherously steep goat path than a road) on the day we arrived.

We'd looked at probably a hundred houses by mid April, but knew in an instant that this was THE ONE. It needed more work than many we'd looked at and our realtor had forewarned us about the fiery HUD hoops, but damnit - for the first time in two months, as I stood in that entryway I felt like I could BREATHE. Not just shallow strained little survival breaths either. I'd never read "Waiting to Exhale" but I finally understood the concept.

When we took all of our measurements and went home to our rental I made little snippets of graph paper furniture to arrange on our graph paper room grid. Hmmmm... This was going to be a challenge.

And it is.

I've come to understand that one of the best features of our house, it's lovely soothing symmetry is also one of the biggest drawbacks when it comes to furnishing.

The wide doorway from the entry to the living room (that I'm measuring in the pic) is centered perfectly with the fireplace on the opposite wall. The front wall (with the radiator cover/bench) has a large bank of three windows - and they line up, again perfectly, with the wide doorway to the dining room, which in turn lines up with the dining room fireplace, flanked with built in cabinets on the back wall. If you're following this you can see what I'm saying right? It's a house of "focal walls" and doorways that can't be obstructed.

Two days ago I bought a set of two small chairs and a matching side table. I thought they were small enough to fit - (hell, they came in one box that I could lift by myself!) - and help with our lack of seating. Ummm... no.

After getting a little worn out shoving furniture around I googled up some online furniture arrangement sites. Value City Furniture has a pretty nice one. Unfortunately all it could really help me to do was confirm the futility of fitting what we have into our space. Maybe it could save someone else out there some grunt work.

Me, I'm not quitter so I think I'm off to play "ring-around-the-rosy" with the actual furniture once again - much to the cats chagrin. Surely there's some super secret creative solution to this puzzle.