February Slump

The month of February brought two major snow events to The Manor (and seven days of closed school, plus multiple delayed starts). Between the miserable weather and a full week of stomach virus, I haven't done much around the house. 

This weekend, I did manage to complete two projects, while BIll began another. Let's start with me.

Reusable Paper Towels

I saw this tutorial on Pinterest, and thought it would be a great way to use up some of my fabric stash. And who doesn't like the idea of using fewer paper towels?

I used diaper cloth for the backing, which has an absorbent white cotton weave that should hold up well over time, and will take repeated washing with hot water.

I opted to skip snaps/velcro, since the diaper cloth has nice "grip" and holds on well when wrapped around the tube. Besides, I was never going to snap up 15 towels each time I ran a load through the laundry.

Spring Dresses

I've continued my crusade to fit out Sarah's spring wardrobe with handmade pieces. I lucked out with a 3 for $5 pattern sale and stocked up on a variety of new dresses and separates. The one I whipped up today is actually a shirt, but turned out to be tunic length. (We'll add some leggings under this one for "real life.")

The pattern photo shows a much more ruffled panel, and so next time I'll add more width to the fabric to make more substantial gathers all the way around. (There are virtually no gathers in the back at all.) Still, Sarah is pleased with the result. 

The back buttons up, which is a cute way to add a little personality with contrasting colors. I also opted for contrasting top-stitching.

Next up, I'm going to use the same pattern to create a bubble dress -- I've always wanted to try one and finally thought to look up a simple tutorial. I can easily use the bodice of this pattern, which fits well now but also has room to grow, and play with the bottom sections -- adding more ruffles, a bubble bottom, or a proper skirt length. 

While I've been sewing, Bill's decided to tackle a totally different project...

He's decided that The Manor will be greatly improved by fixing up the trim throughout the house. The previous owner was a bit slapdash in throwing a coat of paint on the doors, trim, and paneling, and it shows. 

We're starting with a single transom window over the master bedroom doorway. This is a test to see how long it takes to strip the old paint (and the best way to deal with lead paint layers), whether we can strip and re-use the old hardware, and whether our finished product actually looks better than what we started with. Keep your eyes peeled for another post from Bill detailing the process.

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. 

New Water Heater!

This week we finally had our new water heater installed much to Jennifer's delight.

 It took three of us to get it down the basement stairs and I had a small panic attack when it looked like it wouldn't fit.

It took three of us to get it down the basement stairs and I had a small panic attack when it looked like it wouldn't fit.

We went with the heat pump water heater which has three efficiency settings depending on the temperature in the room.  Since our boiler is in the same room, we should be able to use the most efficient setting the entire year.  It has the added benefit of acting as a dehumidifier in the summer which is great for the basement. 

Summer Lovin'

The spring is the busy time of year for me at work, and things won't slow down until the beginning of July. I'm out of town for about half of the time, and that leaves Bill in charge. He's actually very good at it (although we part ways when it comes to preferred style of folding clothes), but I know he's happy when I get back -- if only because he can sleep in while I get up with the kids in the morning.

Anyway, I'm here for a week before taking back off for Toronto. And it's my turn for an update on the house. Here's 5 things that have happened.

We're moving forward with the electric heat pump water heater.

That's right, option #3. Yawn. This does not interest me in the least, except that in a couple of weeks we will no longer have water leaking all over the basement. I'm sure Bill will jump in with photos and all of the details once the parts arrive (it is a special order). 

The stovetop is broken.

Sigh, the front right burner is non-functional. Yes, there are three additional burners, but come on! 

The dishwasher is leaking.

Yep, the fun just doesn't stop. And not a little leak -- imagine buckets of water pouring out all over the floor. I think it's just a loose seal (I jammed the rubber strip back into place and that seemed to solve the problem for the rest of the cycle, but I'm not holding my breath.)

The internet won't reach our bedroom, and is only working intermittently in my office and craft room.

We have what seems like dozens of signal boosters and modems and internet paraphernalia positioned around the house, but it's not enough. Bill has to go downstairs and camp out in the breakfast room when he has internet-intensive tasks to complete. Nothing says "I successfully work from home" like a card table set up in an empty corner of the house. 

I finally got new office space.

When we moved, I had to give up my very lovely, very functional office. Beginning three days ago, I have new office space -- just two miles from home. It's perfectly located, right downtown near the water and only a block from the main drag with restaurants, the farmer's market, and a cute coffee shop. Internet is being installed this week and I hope by Friday to be permanently installed there.

Of course, it does come with some drawbacks. 

 Yes, those are two baby opossums. And yes, they appear to live in the window well next to my desk. 

Yes, those are two baby opossums. And yes, they appear to live in the window well next to my desk. 

What will the next few weeks hold? Will I call animal control to have the vermin removed, or will I learn to love my marsupial friends? Will Bill have to take a night shift position at the local gas station to pay for our new water heater? Do the stove top and dishwasher malfunctions mean that I win the contest for most-prioritized major renovation project?