Saturday, October 31, 2009

Um.....In case you were wondering...

We still are alive, well, and surrounded by uncompleted projects. That little apprentice I wrote about oh so long ago made an appearance. Funny, as I glanced at some of my last posts and I saw I was hunting for gates. Ironically, that was sort of a recent occurrence around here too as that was Glenn's very last house related project-installing gates! Go figure...

Things are more than a bit different around here. Outside of our son's arrival the related big news is that we are a single family two flat. Huh? You might say. Basically, our perfect tenants moved out at the end of December just as our apprentice moved in. Amazing, once a little baby appears how a single unit seems all the more 'cramped'

So, after some deliberation, we decided to live in the whole house at least for now. We haven't decided if we are going to go through a conversion, just finish off the 2 flat and rent both units, or finish off the 2 flat and sell.

As for house projects before this revelation-we added molding to our son's room. (I sanded and painted when I was 41 weeks pregnant with some delightful photos that I'm not sharing with everyone). Childproofing has been a big focus as our son is quite the active guy. Glenn recently exchanged a window for a door in the playroom attached to our son's room.

It's nearly impossible to get anything done around here with a little one at our feet. We are looking forward to putting him to work as soon as he can.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Ahh...Chicago apparently needs bricklayers

Last year, we had the issue with the gates. This year, we are in the neverending search for someone knowledgable about brick and old homes to make some deperately needed repairs, to no avail. We began the search in earnest last year with no success. Our first lead ( a recommendation from a friend) never showed up. Neither did anyone I called. Fine.

This year rolls around, and we hire a chimney company to install a chimney liner. I asked this company if our chimney was in good condition-yep, sure, fine. Fast forward to the completion of the work, and our neighbor tells us that brick has been falling from our chimney for months. (there's a locked gate there so we couldn't see).

I called 6-7 places to see about getting someone out for an inspection and to do repairs. Only one guy showed up who gave us a really vague estimate that he took from looking at the street (never went on the roof to see the top of the chimney). The estimate said basically he'd repair a small area only (with no description of what this area is). We received the estimate in the mail.

We end up getting a lead on a union bricklayer who moonlights on the weekends. So, he comes out, and points out (1) the chimney cap is cracked and mortar, not concrete, so must be replaced (2) a portion of our parapet wall needs to be rebuilt (3) there are some issues with the coping tiles that need to be fixed (4) he'll repair the HOLES in the side of our house. We are excited because he really seems to know what he's doing, and repairs are on their way.

He disappears.

So, now back to the drawing board. The irony in all this is we had a very good mason back in 2003, who disappeared. We then had our parapet walls rebuilt in 2005 by someone recommended by our roofer. There's clearly a parapet wall problem-so we can't go back there.

I really don't know what to do. I don't want to just drop money on "work" that will need to be redone if we ever find anyone competent. But, even finding a potentially bad contractor is impossible. People always wonder why we do work on the house ourselves-we have such a disasterly time finding competent contractors that it becomes "easier" for us to study how to do something and do it ourselves.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We're Adding an Apprentice

We've been awfully quiet around here-and I apologize. A lot of the quietness surrounds the most prominent project we've been working on- our apprentice. (We've also had a wonderful vacation and some illness).

Anyway, we've decided to follow in House in Progress's footsteps (or should I say blueprints?) and will be adding a new resident to This Old Chicago 2 Flat. As a result, a lot of our time has been filled with probably the most mind numbing of all our research- the analysis of all that baby gear and decisions. Should we spend $100 or $2000 on a stroller? (no worries there-but if you haven't been stroller shopping you should go-amazing how advanced they've gotten in the last 20 years!) How to navigate in a BPA world? How hungry can I really be in one day- and how long between eating does it take for me to get ravenous?

Despite all that, we have done some blog worthy work around here which I need to write about- Glenn a few weekends ago installed new back doors (screen doors to come), we got a new chimney liner, we did some summer planting (due to travels, illness, etc. spring planting didn't happen), and most recently we shut down the big condo development on our back porch.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The buffet project

After what seems a fairly long hiatus, we have started a pretty significant project of stripping and repairing our built-in buffet outside our bedroom and bathroom. Once you start living in a home that has ongoing work, after cleaning up from a project and making rooms look liveable the cleanness acts as a permanent psychological barrier to beginning any future project which might descend the house back into chaos. Well, this time around, after we covered the furniture, moved bookshelves and removed books, and did a lot of prep for repainting our living room, I thought, now's the time for the buffet!

The buffet suffered from perpetual filthiness. It's been a bit of an embarrassment that it's lasted this long before serious effort. (actual living space was always more important for us). Repeated times before I thoroughly scrubbed the buffet to have it remain looking filthy. It really needed a new coat of paint-which required a fair amount of prep work. In some places, the paint had chipped down to the wood revealing a coating of about 1/8 inch.

The second problem was the interior of the buffet. The back was the original plaster wall which was in disrepair. It looked really bad. Then, there were the shelves. They suffered from the perpetual and neverending filth problem, but they also seemed split and cracked. They also were tiny and hard to get to.Buffet plaster

Buffet shelf plaster

The third problem is some broken exterior molding. When our mason installed the exterior vent for our bathroom fan, some brick fell down and broke 2 pieces of curved molding. We will need to replace these pieces.
Now, onto the work!

I used a heat gun to remove the paint. It was really thick so took a long time. (quite fun with a window open when it's snowing and 15-not the optimal time for work!). It was a slow process. Since most of the buffet has vertical surfaces in a finished area of the house, I preferred to use the heat gun. Stripper is just much more of a challenge on vertical surfaces. Plus, there's the risk of stripper migrating to the finished floor. The down side with the heat gun is the fumes. I had to wear a respirator plus keep the window open.
Here's the buffet in progress, after one long day of stripping:

Buffet stripping in progress

I also removed all the doors and drawers to be worked on separately. (note do not ever paint hinges!!!)
Now, after completing the paint stripping, and waiting for sanding:

Buffet stripping after day 2

I also was able to knock out most of the shelving.

Next on the agenda? (1) finish the stripping with the heat gun (2) remove damaged molding (3) remove remaining shelf and chisel out bottom splintered shelf (4) work on plaster back of buffet . (I'm thinking for this, we'll just cover the plaster with painted hardibacker. If there's clearly crumbling plaster though, I'd like to take out the broken pieces).

We will use citrus stripper on the drawers and the doors. For the crumbling shelves, I think we might just change them out with new shelves. The original plywood is in bad shape.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Flooding and a Multi-pronged Hunt

When last I left you, we were returning from vacation to water in the basement. Not to disappoint, this past weekend, the flooding got worse. Basically, an inch of water throughout much of the basement. We were running out the door, when our tenants sent the casual e-mail, and we had to investigate. The fact that we have tons of belongings in our basement did not help matters. But, eventually, after 3 hours, with the help of a broom, 2 wet vacs, fans, etc. we were able to get most of the water out. (we used the broom to push water to the sump pump) We still need to move all our belongings and thoroughly dry them/toss etc. That will be a longer process. (and I don't know how exciting to write about).

We were already immersed in one hunt, but besides for the water source-we are back on the contractor roulette wheel.

Now, our first hunt of the weekend concerned paint. As I've written before, we painted our dining room, then, were planning on painting the living room the same color. We had a big flooring project, and took out radiators to be painted. Prior to reinstalling the radiators, I got another gallon of paint to do touchups. Which, actually didn't match. This weekend, we tried to go back with the original quart container and have Home Depot just use the same formula on the quart can. Well, they couldn't do that because (1) a gallon formula would be different and (2) the base apparently changed-which is the issue. (I don't know why a gallon formula wouldn't just be 4 times whatever the quart kind was). So now, we need to try color matching. Fingers crossed on this. (I'm trying to figure out who would be best with this).

Added to the hunt is a preliminary search for a waterproofer. We'd also like to get a structural engineeer out because we might as well have one assess the waterproofing issue, and while
(s)he's at it some other things around here such as what kind of load our roof can take if we added a green roof, which is on our wish list. Contractors just make me really nervous as they provide possibly a huge price tag, and risk. Yes, getting things done is magnificent. I love having someone else come in and give them a few days-massive progress. But, we've had contractors that we really thought would do great fail miserably and there's nothing more frustrating. There's the added thing that I like when contractors come in and do improvements, not just maintenance sort of things.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

We've been on our Christmas hiatus where all extra time was spent on all holiday happenings...a quick summary.

We started by hosting a total of 10 for Thanksgiving, due to Glenn's sister getting a kitchen redone (the normal host). After basically wrestling Glenn's mom for the turkey, we kidnapped it, and were able to cook it for dinner. We also made crustless quiche and crudite (appetizers), mashed potato casserole (yum!), waldorf salad, my mom's rolls, broccoli puree, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. Glenn's family brought stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and creamed onions.

After Thanksgiving, we jumped into Christmas prep. Glenn had to work his real job a whole bunch in December, so I largely did most of the decorating. We were excited to use some solar lights for the first time this year. (which, oddly enough have an "on" button that took a bit to find-I had assumed poor sun was hindering the charging and lighting for a bit).

I really like how our outside came. But here are some decoration photos.
(the above photo shows the solar panel for the lights.

Our Christmas tree. (we have 2 angels that are currently MIA) Since we already have 2 we weren't going to buy another. Hopefully they'll appear next year.

Our tree

We have a little niche in our hallway which, at this point, has a sole purpose of displaying another tree.
We also did the wide amount of shopping, and card mailing. Oh, and baking! We always do a ton of Christmas cookie baking and distribute the cookies to friends and family. This year, we had 10 kinds of cookies.

We had bourbon balls too...but I must have taken the above photo before we added them.

Oh, and we hosted glenn's family again for his mom's birthday and brother-in-law's birthday. On that day, I had the idea to have our niece and nephews over early to help decorate the sugar cookies. Unfortunately, while this seemed like a good idea (and they did do a great job), our yield from sugar cookies was seriously compromised due to kids and adults alike siphoning them off.
For Christmas itself, we headed to Stowe, Vermont where my little brother lives and works. As a professional chef, he didn't have off any time around Christmas so we all went to him. He has a cathedral ceiling so opted for the 15 foot Christmas tree. (no, that is not a mistype-I did say 15 feet). Since he lived in the land of Christmas trees, it was a whopping $25! For prospective, my mom, brother's girlfriend, and I are all posing in front of it.
Stephen's Christmas Tree

Back in Chicago, we celebrated Christmas with Glenn's family yesterday, January 1. Some gift highlights included, Glenn's pipe wrench ornament (I couldn't resist! We do so much radiator work-that this is perfect-I give him an ornament each year that represents something we did together.) Pipe wrench ornamentWe also gave Glenn's mom a bag of silver bows which were a surprising hit. (she is quite vocale about saving bows and in December commented on how silver bows were so hard to find, so we gave her a bag that we found 75% off at Target-she was quite thrilled. who knew?)

From a weather standpoint, I've lost track of our snowstorms. It snows, warms up, snows, warms on and so forth. Since returning late on the 27th, I've already shovelled twice. As I write, it is 4 degrees, (much colder when you factor in windchill). Sunday, it is supposed to be 55-go figure. I see from our google hits that we are getting many hits for unfreezing pipes. Best of luck to anyone in that predicament.

Hope your new year has started off well and you had a wonderful holiday. Our near term house projects involve taking our house back from the holiday.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Our latest concrete project

Of course, despite the November date and Thanksgiving fast approaching, we have decided to add another project to our "get done before frost" list. We are in the process of repairing our front step. The prior owners at some point patched the front step. However, they did not do it right-opting for quickness/ease over longevity. As a result, last year, the patched piece finally gave way.

This time around, Glenn used rebar. This past weekend, he drilled holes in the step, glued in rebar cut to fit, then wired the rebar together.

The epoxy takes 24 hours to dry, so we had to wait until this coming weekend to pour the concrete into a form (to be made). We can pour concrete as long as it is 40 degrees (and not currently raining). We are hoping that this weekend that will be the case.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Bulbs and Thorny plants

I finally got around to planting them. This year, I opted for just digging out (with Glenn's help) a whole section of the garden and planting the bulbs in rows. In so doing, we uncovered previously planted bulbs in various stages of grown. (crocus' and some mystery bulbs-perhaps daffodils). I opted to just add the old bulbs back in with the new.
I hope waking them from their slumber didn't mess them up at all.

I tried to plant some more bulbs in with the ivy. The ivy grew in too much though so it was basically impossible. I think a couple were just planted perhaps 4 inches (instead of 6) down. I'm hoping they still bloom. All in all I planted 100 new bulbs in our front yard-a mix of purple hyacinths, red tulips, snow crocus', dwarf iris, and tahiti double blooming daffodils. The crocus' and dwarf iris' are very early spring blooming. I think I read somewhere there's a possibility of them blooming in February! I'm really looking forward to that.

I also planted a barberry bush-a plant to hopefully deter possible plant or other thieves. At the very least, it should maybe hurt any intruder.

I bought the barberry bush before I started the massive fence project. For a couple days, it was sitting in my front hall. Promptly, it seemed to die. (shriveled up leaves). I brought it outide thinking it needed sun and water. I watered. and watered. and watered. A week goes by-nothing. I, of course, think it's dead, but I leave it there, hoping it would come back to life. (and I stopped watering it). And it did!! Leaves started sprouting up all over. I decided to plant it in hope that in its new home, it will be happier. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
The rose bush I bought, on the other hand, seems to be struggling a lot more. It has black spots on the leaves so I'm not planting it. Right now, I'm trying to figure out if I could winter it indoors, or if it's a gonner.

For good measure, here's a picture of the two boxwood we planted last week. One of my 2007 summer goals was to plant items in this section of the yard that would have some seasonal interest. In prior years, outside of the sleeping sedum, we just had the mulch to attract and attention. (now it's cocoa mulch). I still need to come up with a more complete landscape plan for that area of the yard. We'll see next year.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Off to the Market

Kane County Flea Market, that is! Saturday, en route back to Chicago from visiting friends in Milwaukee (we found out that this was even less en route home than we thought), we thought we'd stop by the Kane County Market. We had heard good things.

The Flea Market happens the first weekend of every month in St. Charles Illinois and attracts sellers from all over. (The ones I noticed included Minnesota and Wisconsin, at the least). The market was much larger than we anticipated. Countless times we would say, oh, lets go down that row, (expecting a quick turnaround) to find at the end of the row basically another football field full of vendors. (or so it seemed). In our quick little "run through," we were there for 3 hours. They have a combination of sellers out in the open, inside permanent buildings and underneath large tents. The permanent buildings are usually used for the county fair, and include names such as sheep 1, sheep 2.

I'm sure that every month the sellers change a bit. This time around we saw a bunch of jewelry (some older and vintage coupled with newer stuff), vintage light fixtures, tools, antique hardware, stained glass, garden planters and decorations, and random older items (such as vases, knick-knacks, dishes, toys (beanie babies and antiques), and cash registers). Pretty much everything. Sprinkled in with all the vintage sellers, were (1) food vendors (including baked potatoes, popcorn, hotdogs/hamburgers, ice cream, apple cider and apples); and (2) newly made items including dog treats, sweaters, garland and Christmas decorations, quilts, among other items.

There were a number of furniture vendors including some antiques, antique furniture that had been refinished, new furniture, and a personal favorite, new furniture made from reclaimed wood. There was a fair amount of furniture that looked to be well made, but very affordable. It seemed like a great place to go if you needed to get something solid. We saw a mahogany table, with 6 chairs for $200.

Before you go:
1. Make sure you bring a vehicle appropriate for your purchases. If you are looking for furniture, a truck or van would be a great idea. (and we saw a lot of them in the parking lot).
2. If you think you may buy something, bring a shopping cart. We saw a number of people with the folding shopping carts you would see in the city. (clearly they had come before) It makes that puchase decision all the easier.
3. Wear comfortable shoes.
4. Have an idea about what you want. There's a lot of ground to cover in a relatively short time. It would be a lot easier if you knew that you wanted a nightstand, or something to put on your living room wall, or vintage toys. It's hard to look at everything at once. I saw a lot of "neat" items that I didn't have a place for.
5. Remember it's a market not a brick and mortar store. That being the case, haggling is the game. Sure, a lot of items have prices but unless it says "firm price" it isn't.
6. The Antiques Roadshow advice. (I remember this from an episode they had showing how to navigate a flea market). Talk to the seller-get a sense of what he/she is saying is true, and whatever he/she might know about the particular item. Buy what you like and don't necessarily buy what you think you can sell to make money. Sure, there are those finds-hidden in the rough items that will sell big at auction. However, there are a lot of items out there that you may think would be worth money, but aren't. If you are looking to really make money, know what you are buying.

Oh, yeah, we didn't get anything. We didn't know enough about stuff we may have been interested to know if items were reasonably priced and are stuffed to our gills in our house as is. We weren't opposed to getting anything-just nothing jumped out as a "must have this." (plus, that long walk back to the car didn't encourage us to buy anything). But, we had fun, and that's what's important.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween in Chicago

Our Halloween, despite its irritating beginnings, was overall just what Halloween should be. Then, we heard of an absolutely horrendous ending that saddens and angers me.

The Trick or Treaters started late, but ended up coming out in droves. The vast majority of them said "trick or treat" and wore a costume (and were overall polite). Our first 10 kids at 4:45 were not in costume, and included a parent not in costume expecting candy. (Um..nope) One little princess (probably around 5) came with a lunch bag that was ripping apart, so in addition to her treat she got a plastic bag to help her through the night. Our tenants took over around 6 while Glenn and I left for dinner in Greektown. One bonus this year is that they were able to lock the gate when they ran out of candy. (4 costco bags, not bad). Yes, we still had one year olds (but they had costumes, so they got candy). It was a bit stressful trying to give them something that they might be able to eat. (solid milk chocolate it was)

Now, for the horrible sad news that I was confronted with before bed time last night.

From the Chicago Tribune website:

Pregnant Woman Fatally Shot While Trick or Treating with Kids

followed by:
Car Pelted with Eggs, Angry Driver Shot

It's been a touch week particularly for women in Chicago. We also had a woman with a 2 week old and an 18 month old fatally stabbed in her apartment in Aurora; A mother of 3 jogging in the Sauk Village Forest Preserve who was beaten, had her throat slashed and died; A wife of a police Sergeant in Bolingbrook disappeared. (He's claiming that she left him for another guy. She's his fourth wife. Both wife number 1 and wife number 3 died in a bathtub. (both deaths were deemed accidents). I hope he's telling the truth and she did leave him. Time will only tell. This is just one week, only in the Chicago area. Horrendous.

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