Quick Fixes

The backyard and porch projects have eaten up almost all of our "Make The Manor Perfect, or at Least Structurally Sound" budget so for the next few months we'll be focused on smaller things. Here's my current list:

Better lighting.

Almost every room in The Manor needs better lighting, but I'm going to focus on the kitchen, the master bedroom, and my sewing room. With winter's early sunsets fast approaching, these are the places I most want to brighten in the evenings.  

Wall art. 

It's been 18 months since we moved in and while I'm still terrified of the plaster walls, it's time to move past the fear. I'd like to start a gallery wall in the entryway, as well as get a few things up in the guest room.

Painting the barn and storage buildings. 

Okay, this one is actually a job I'm saving for Bill. Although I'd my goal is to get the job done by winter I might have to get out there and help. Ideally I want ask of the outbuildings to be blue with white trim. The first task is finishing the trim on the chicken coop and fence to make sure that were on the right track. (The Tiffany Blue is currently looking VERY bright but Bill will kill me if I change my mind. So I need to be sure before risking my life with another set of color swatches. 

Seeding the stable area.

We had to get our house appraised for some paperwork last month, and the appraisal assistant was from Kenya. As we were walking around the yard, she mentioned that the stable area looked like the backyards in rural Kenya, with chickens and goats running freely around. She meant it nostalgically, but when she said the words "with lots of scrub" I realized that we needed to reseed the area.

The vision was a continuation of the backyard, with regular grass (and the occasional weed, sure). Instead, we have a partially seeded area that is pretty rocky and filled with weeds that are approaching my waist. The goats are shirking their "eat anything and keep down the brush" responsibilities, so it's imperative that we get this problem under control before next spring.

Unfortunately, we'll probably have to keep the chickens locked up in their run for a couple of weeks to give the seeds a chance to root and grow before the seeds are set upon as tasty morsels. I am normally against restricting their space, but if it means a more aesthetically pleasing yard, lock 'em up.

Things we will not be doing: 

  • Anything more to Sarah's room, until she learns some self control and stops writing on the walls and furniture (including the antique dresser I bought and painted for her -- yes, she is lucky to still be alive and kicking). Her brother went through a similar phase at the same age that seemed to last about a year. Maybe next fall we can revisit painting the walls, recovering the armchair, replacing the carpet, and restaining the bedframe.
  • Dealing with the heating situation. After dealing with the frigid temperatures in The Manor (particularly the kitchen)last winter I would have sworn in my life that we'd have a proper heating solution in place by this October. (Probably gas fireplace inserts in some of the existing fireplaces, which were designed for coal.) But the price tag is pretty steep and we've blown or budget on other stuff. So instead I'll probably just wrap myself in blankets and drag a couple space heaters around with me. 
  • Fixing the columns out front. While this is soon going to become a serious problem, the $50,000 to $60,000 it's going to cost to completely replace the rotting columns just isn't practical right now. We'll probably aim to replace one each year (starting with the one in the worst shape) and spread the project out over four years. Keeping our fingers crossed that they continue to hold up until we can get to them. ##loadbearing 

So, dear reader, what home improvement projects are you planning to tackle over the winter? Any particular projects that gives you nightmares? I have a recurring dream where I'm standing on the front porch watching the columns disintegrate before my eyes, but am helpless to move before they squash me like a bug. Good times. 


Recent Happenings at The Manor

I'm writing to you from Thailand, where the weather is hot and muggy, but who cares when you have a gorgeous private pool at your villa to relax in?

Remind me to tell you about that time I decided to go skinny dipping, but locked myself out of the hotel room and had to wander around the resort wearing only my sunglasses and a smile, looking for a staff person to help me get back inside. Actually, please don't remind me.

But I digress. I realize that I haven't updated the blog in a while, and since I have a spare afternoon before my final meeting tomorrow, here is a quick update on late-summer happenings at The Manor.

The goats are getting too big for their britches.

While they will follow Bill sedately into the barn at night, I end up wrestling them towards the barn door and then re-enacting what I can only imagine is a scene straight out of the Three Stooges as one escapes while I shove the other inside, repeat ad nauseum. It is slapstick comedy at its finest. I loathe slapstick comedy.

The chickens are happy (except when the goats are playing in their coop).

We're now reliably getting about 5 eggs a day (or about 3 dozen eggs a week). You might think that's a lot, but when I tell you that the kids can easily gobble down 5 eggs at sitting EACH, you understand why I am hoping the flock increases their production even more. (And I've learned a valuable lesson about choosing chicken breeds -- while I love our Asian Blue chickens, their layer/meat combo status means that they are big (and therefore eat more feed) but don't lay as frequently. When they do, however, they are GIGANTIC.

We removed the sacred flagpole.

I don't even want to mention this one, lest we incur the wrath of the local garden club (which put up the flagpole in honor of one of their members). But from the moment we moved in, I wanted it gone. First of all, it lacked the proper lighting due the American flag when flown at night, and there was no way I was going to take that baby down each sunset and raise it back up each dawn. I love America, but I got no time for that.

I also didn't want to install extra lighting -- it's hard enough for me to sleep at night with the streetlights, let alone with an upward-directed spotlight right outside my bedroom door. (Somehow I can easily sleep in the middle of the day with the sun directly on my face, but at night I like total darkness...)

TL;DR: we relocated the flagpole to a fellow citizen, with only a minor incident when he joked that he was going to fly the Confederate flag and I almost had to run him over with my car.

We have a new addition to the family.

After test driving eleven foster kittens in July (including a round of fleas!) we kept the best one. Daisy 2 (named after my childhood cat Daisy) has quickly become a favorite with everyone. At just over two pounds, she rules the roost.

Before I go, a few additional photos of the resort at Koh Samui... I'm already nostalgic...

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Porch Renovations: The Reveal

So, a couple of months ago I shared our plans to demolish an exterior staircase, restore the master bedroom balcony, and repaint the porch. (Cha-ching!)

Well, here's the update.

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No more John Deere Green Porch! I'm almost certain that it's not the original color I choose (it's much closer to the Steel color than the warmer Stone color that was our first pick), but it's grown on me over the last month. For one thing, it meets our #1 criteria: the extra grit provides enough friction to keep us all from a nasty death-by-slipping. The only downside is that you can really see the various droppings from the nesting birds in the eaves. This just happens to take place immediately adjacent to our front door, which is pretty gross. Another reason to hate birds...

... Not that I Need Any Encouragement.

While the porch color is definitely the thing I notice most often, the side of the house also looks quite different. The staircase leading from our master bedroom (on the second floor) to the porch below is now gone, and we have a complete balcony again.

And Now We Have a New Death Trap.

Eventually, the second floor balcony will have a rail around it -- similar to what you see on the main floor. We're having a bit of trouble finding railing that is period-appropriate (and buying it new is prohibitively expensive), so for now there is no railing at all. Just stay away from the edges and you'll be fine.

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The two photos above are from the balcony. They don't do justice to the size of the space -- you could easily put a dinner party out there. But maybe not until we get the railing up.

Prefer a video version of the balcony tour? Your wish is my command.

Next Up: Swapping out a Window for a Door

With EIGHT exterior doors, you might think we are crazy for adding another one. And, in general, you are right. If anything we need to be closing up the doors.

But in this particular case, we want to take out the window (the far left one in the photo below) on the side porch and install a set of double doors that go straight to the guest suite. 

That way, guests can enter their own space directly from the front porch, without having to walk through our entry way (via the front door) or through the backyard (via one of three doors on the ground level). We think it will provide a nice bit of privacy for both us and them.

And finally, one last look at the side porch -- this view is  straight from the front of the house. You can see one of the stairways down the basement (yet another exterior door!), as well as the lovely space to set up a couple of rocking chairs. Can't you imagine sitting in the shade with a mint julep in the summer, chatting while the kids run around in the final rays of sunlight? 

While I'm Gone

Note: this post was scheduled for mid-October, but I got distracted and here we are six weeks later. Just pretend that you're still getting ready for Halloween and we'll all be good.

I'll be away from The Manor for the next two weeks. While I'm gone, the most extensive changes to date will be taking place.

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 You can see that Emmie is very excited about the plans. So excited that I found her nibbling on the drawings shortly after this photo was taken.

You can see that Emmie is very excited about the plans. So excited that I found her nibbling on the drawings shortly after this photo was taken.

The first major change that we're making is to the wrap-around porch that covers three sides of our house. Right now it's a very bright "John Deere green" -- clearly not a historically-accurate (or aesthetically pleasing) choice.

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The larger problem, however, is that it is a death trap. As soon as it gets a bit damp it becomes slick. The first hint of frost, snow, or ice and it becomes an ice rink. We've already had one semi-serious incident with a 6-year old and a goose-egg head injury. With winter fast approaching, it has become our top priority. 

The contractors will grind down the existing concrete paint, then paint back another version--this time with a grit mixed in that will provide some necessary traction. So it's a 2-for-1 benefit -- we improve the safety of The Manor and upgrade the color to something less neon.

We're going to try the "stone" color (top row, second from the left). The contractors will spread a gallon of it and we'll get to check our assumptions. If we like it, they'll proceed. If we hate it, we can pick a second option (probably "steel"). 

Of course, it can't be that easy. We also have an exterior staircase on the side of our house that needs to be removed, and it has to be done before we can fix the porch. So begins the second half of our major project.

First, some background: When the house was a school, it needed lots of egress routes for the students. So they turned a balcony (from a room that is now our master bedroom) into a stairway down to the main floor porch. The placement was a little awkward, and the bottom half of the staircase covered the window into the guest suite's entryway. 

So, we are taking down the staircase and returning the balcony to its former state of glory. It will run the entire length of the house, with a door from our master bedroom. I hope that we'll eventually put some outdoor furniture out there, so that we can sit out and enjoy the early morning light. 

The project ain't cheap, and we're getting our first real taste of the money pit that is an "old, charming home."

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And the project price doesn't even include the porch railings (the contractors are still looking for historically-appropriate pieces from salvage stores), which are likely to run us another $3,000 - $5,000. Ugh -- my stomach heaves every time I think about it.

Hopefully, it will be completed (or nearly completed) by the time I return. I've left Bill with strict instructions to document each stage of the project so that we can share it here.