About life, dreams, and old houses

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2015-05-14 18.34.08


I should remember to file my old bills away. I should not forget my nieces’ birthdays. If I could I would travel the world, visiting little communities off the beaten path. If I had loads of time, I would update this site more often. Life is filled with shoulda-woulda-coulda’s. And life is busy.

My mom passed away in November. It’s been almost nine months now, but I still find myself calling the house phone and expecting Dad to pick up and, after saying hello, pass the phone to Mom. That doesn’t happen anymore. He answers. Only him. (and sometimes the dogs say “hello.”) That breaks my heart even now when I think of it. It feels so weird.

Mom would tell me to “keep my chin up” and keep on going. She did for years after her parents died within a couple of years of each other. She would also remind me who “my people are,” those strong Scots-Irish who settled the mountains of Tennessee and carved out a place to raise a family what was considered “The Wilderness” at the time. She was so proud of those roots, of the legacy those strong men and, especially, women. So, I’m raising my chin even now, just so she can see I listened to her.


The dreams of those families is what inspires me to keep on working on this old house. Someone dreamed about living here over 150 years ago. (Actually, it was built by a local mill owner for his workers to live in, but I digress.) Someone lived and loved here, raising generations of children. They added a porch, and a bathroom (then two more), and put toys in the attic. They walked to church and school (several of both were very close to this house) and shopped at the local market.

I imagine a young girl sitting on the front porch swing dreaming away a hot summer day. Did she imagine that one day her home would be in the hands of a couple who want to make it lovely again, who are willing to get down and dirty to make that happen? Did she imagine that we would find (perhaps) her little brother’s steel toy truck in the wall (so that’s where it went!) to display on the shelf? Did she think that we would wonder which one was her room or why did they put that wall there? I doubt she would have, but maybe.

Old Houses

Nowadays, we’re plugging away at one task after another. I came downstairs one weekend morning and my husband was sitting on the couch scribbling something on a ledger pad. “What’s that,” I ask. “Just a few things we need to do around here,” he replied, barely looking up. Three pages…….let me repeat that…….THREE Pages………..THREE PAGES later, he hands me his to-do list.

Now let me explain something about my husband. He is a fixer. He is a do-er. He is a “it’s going to be as close to perfect as possible or we’re not doing it” kind of guy. Dress right dress. (Former military, don’t you know?) He looks at a problem and break it down into its many smaller tasks and sort and divide those even further until it’s a manageable problem. Forest, meet trees.

Me, I see a list three pages long and start hyperventilating. All I see are thousands of marks on yellow paper. Trees, meet forest. Needless to say, I kind of freaked out. Then the voice of reason filtered in saying that we didn’t have to do it all at once. There’s a lot to do, yes, but after closer inspection, I realized that E had divided the tasks into rooms. They all may have similar needs, but chopping it up into rooms helped. (To me, it seems a lesser problem if he divides it by rooms for me than if he sorts by tasks and then by rooms. After 31 years, he knows this.)

Now we’re pulling wire to add lighting to the finished attic rooms and nailing up tongue-and-groove ship-lap to close over where the garage windows used to be. (He cuts, I nail.) Next, some bead board sheets are going to be installed on the attic room ceilings and the rooms painted. (I get to use a paint sprayer! Good? Bad?)

Next up, repaint our bedroom and bathroom and tile another 2 bathrooms and ………. are we really done?!??! We’ll see. With old houses like this, there are always problems opportunities to tackle.

We’re living the dream……..in an old, well-loved old house.

Note: I’m related to the Walkers in East Tennessee through my mother’s kin. The Walker sisters, distant cousins, were a tough bunch. The remained in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park until their deaths in a tiny cabin that still stands. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters went to school in a one-room schoolhouse in that part of the Smoky Mountains.

We miss you, Mom.



About decks

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Have you ever looked at a deck or porch and thought “what the heck?!” We had a side porch/deck like that. Until recently, that is.

A little backstory…Before we bought this house, the previous owners installed a small (8′ x 10′) deck off the side door. It covered what remained of a wide concrete stoop, 4 steps. Rather than removing the steps, the builder nailed the boards that covered the steps into the steps. As a result the boards warped over time, so much so that we couldn’t open the door to the kitchen. Ed took up the boards, cut off the warped parts and laid them back down again, revealing the top concrete step. We put a thick rubber mat in the space until we could redo the entire thing. Besides all the trouble with the top of the decking, the entire structure was never secured to anything but the concrete blocks it was set upon. No ledger board, nothing. So it leaned and canted in several different directions. On top of that, the railings were installed incorrectly (pre-formed rails made for a totally different application.) And they weren’t high enough to meet railing codes.
That’s what we started with when we decided to renovate.

Wendy's House....Houses in Mass 002A

We had to remove the decking to reveal the joists and discover just what we had to do.

The concrete steps that were left behind. No joists were used to support the boards closest to the house. The depth was more than the thickness of the boards hence the bowing.

After removing the decking and the bad joists

Jackhammering the top few steps revealed a cavern of concrete and rubble!! Ed rented a hammer drill from a local hardware store. Not something we keep on hand and it’s not a job Ed wants to do for a living. Makes me respect those guys on the highway even more!

It took a long time with a drill hammer -- a small version of a jackhammer -- to bust up the top couple steps.

The concrete steps were formed around a pile of rubble stones and chunks of concrete. What a mess!

Now we had room to install new, solid joists. We used metal holders, galvanized screws (not nails) and installed the boards, covering the remaining steps.

open deck revealing new joists and old joists

New solid joists placed over the remaining steps; other joists repaired.

Then we found the rotten posts.

Rotten posts

Rotten posts

Replacing the posts. Ed was able to remove some of the carriage bolts (some posts were just screwed in with huge screws, not bolts) and had to cut out the remaining wood so that he could refit the new posts. Those were bolted to the joists and then the remaining deck boards were screwed down.

Resetting the posts



The beginning of the railings. … and the finished product. These are at the correct height. The rails are 2x4s screwed onto the posts. The 2x2s were screwed onto those. We used deck boards for the top railing. They’re smooth and just the right width for a beer or glass of wine. Or a flower pot. 🙂

Decking and the beginning of the railing

finished rail

Remaining chores:

  • Add a post to the right of the new deck, more for asthetics than anything
  • Replace the stringers and steps. We bought some grooved stair treads for the steps that are already grooved for water/weather.
  • Replace the lattice to keep out the skunks.
  • Build a platform deck to the right of the original deck. It will be one step down from the current deck and will cover the graveled area.

More pics to come.

Lesson learned here: Don’t hire a doofus to build a deck.

About TVs over mantels

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We decided a long time ago that we wanted to put our flat screen television over the fireplace in our front parlor. To date, we’ve had it on a stand/entertainment table in the smaller sitting room. The overall situation was not great: it was too crowded; the sound was bad; we had to sit too close to the TV; the room felt really, really small. So, when we were redecorating the parlor this summer (We didn’t blog about this one. I might post a few before and after pictures, though.), we removed the circa 1930s mirror off the wall above the mantel. That began our next, as yet undefined, project.

Behind the mirror were no less than two layers of wallpaper. One layer seemed to be part of the wall itself. A kind of wallpaper board, if you will. It was hideous. Surrounding the mirror, were small lengths of quarter-round trim. We left that in place.

Our new project — cover the space above the mantel, install something that would support and, ultimately, hide the TV — began in November. Here’s what we did:

1. After taking down the mirror and revealing the awful wallpaper, we built a box out of good quality plywood and cut out the holes for the cabling to come.

The cables will go thru those holes, punched thru the wall, of course.
The cables will go thru those holes, punched thru the wall, of course.

2. While I was painting the installed box, Ed got to work on the space for the “bookcase.” There was a little door in front of it that had been painted shut. We had to remove that, some old wood, and install new electrical in there.

Wood box View 2

This will become the "bookcase" where the peripherals will be housed.
This will become the “bookcase” where the peripherals will be housed.

3. Punch the holes for the cables from above and for the peripherals which will be housed in the new space. Hole drill bits are a wonderful thing! To keep the cables together, Ed used a cable pipe behind the TV to route them where he wanted them to go. It saved a LOT of time and trouble when dropping the cables from the TV to the bottom. No scrambling to catch one, etc.

Cabling "tunnel"

Note the way the wall was built in front of the chimney.
Note the way the wall was built in front of the chimney.

4. Build, paint, and install the bookcase.Yay for nail guns. That made this part go really quickly.

Peripherals' "bookcase"

"Bookcase" backing

All nice and neat.
All nice and neat.

The finished project parts 1 and 2. Part 3 (the cabinet cover) is yet to happen. We’re still looking for that perfect painting or pair of shutters or something. We have a few ideas and will install those later.

Pending: trim around the box to the left
Pending: trim around the box to the left
We're leaving it open as you would with most cabinets of this type.
We’re leaving it open as you would with most cabinets of this type.

This whole thing took us a little over a weekend. It would have gone more quickly, but we ran into a snag with the electrical. Ed was able to fix that, but it took longer (and caused a lot more frustration) than we’d anticipated. As all DIY projects seem to do!

I’ll post an update on the cover of the box when it happens.

Happy DIY-ing!

About garage windows and siding

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Our home, while 150 years old and going strong, has a semi-attached garage that is much younger. Our best guess is that it was built sometime in the middle of the 1900’s. The base is poured concrete while the first few feet of the walls are made of cinderblocks and bricks. Typical construction for the time. While it’s not large, there were five windows on the lower level! (There is an attic with two small windows, one on each end.) Add those up, plus the space that the garage door takes, and you have little to no room to really hang or store anything. Wall space is at a premium. So, Hubby decided to take out the single-paned glass windows and replace them with studs, insulation, and siding.

Siding was an issue. We know that this house was sided in the last 10 years or so, but had no idea re the manufacturer, installer, etc. Hubby took a piece off the house and asked our local Harvey Building Supply. The clerk knew right off what color we had on our house in spite of it being several years old and even knew the “wood” pattern that was stamped on it. Wow! We ordered one case of siding (appx $230) and had it delivered that week.

Original window

This is what all the windows looked like before starting the project. Siding and flashing removed, windows still in place
This is what all the windows looked like before starting the project. Siding and flashing removed, windows still in place

Here’s how the plan was to go (and Hubby and Sons stuck pretty close to it!):

  1. Remove flashing and siding around the windows.
  2. Remove the window sashes. A sawzall works great for this process. And only a few windows were actually broken.
  3. Install studs in the hole that was created.
  4. Cover with plywood, foam insulation, and siding.

It was actually an easy project. The guys did run into a few hitches that slowed them down.

  1. When it’s really cold outside (average temp this week was 20 degrees F.), you can’t just saw or cut siding. It shatters. Old siding, new siding; it didn’t matter. We lost quite a few formerly salvageable pieces of the old siding when this happened.
  2. No two windows were installed the same. Imagine that! Sometimes the flashing was easy to remove and it was a quick job to get the window out. Once or twice, it was a bigger ordeal than it should have been.
  3. This is really a two-person job. While both boys are home, Hubby wanted to take advantage of the added help, but they sometimes got in the way of each other. So they rotated “inside garage” projects as a means of warming up (a little) and preventing added grumpiness.

The old siding pieces — those that were salvageable — were moved to more visible sections of the garage exterior. Only one side is really visible to anyone (our side neighbor), but we wanted to spread it around as much as possible. The new pieces were used to help create that staggered look, when possible, and to fill in the other spaces. The one case of siding was just enough for this project and for a few repairs we need to do later. We anticipate that a year or so of weather will help “even up” the colors. Again, none of this is visible from the street, so we’re not overly concerned.

Plywood insert 2
Inserting the plywood backing.
Plywood insert 1
A view from the inside. Checking the fit. The studs still need to go in first.
Side 1 nearly complete. Side 2 siding and flashing removed
Side 1 nearly complete. Side 2 siding and flashing removal.
Window removed, siding nearly complete
Removing old windows, flashing, siding
Removing old windows, flashing, siding
Side 2 windows removed
Side 2 windows removed
Siding and flashing removal. Windows in place.
Siding and flashing removal. Windows in place.
Removing siding, flashing. Windows still in place
Removing siding, flashing. Windows still in place
2014-12-29 15.33.55 (2)
The sunset seemed to spotlight the differences in the siding, and we ran out of “old” pieces that we could “weave” into the space.
There is a variation in color, but this is the only side visible to anyone (side neighbor).
There is a variation in color, but this is the only side visible to anyone (side neighbor).

On the inside of the garage, we insulated between the studs before sliding Hubby’s workbench back into place. We didn’t bother with covering it yet. We know that we will be pulling all the other boards off the walls (recycled from a now-demolished front porch, we think) and insulating behind them later. That’s another project for a warmer day, inside or not.

Now we have a garage that has three full walls of potential storage as well as the attic above. It’s not insulated and we’re not bothering with the windows up there. Whatever ends up there might just stay for, well, ever.

As we enter a New Year (2015??! Already?!?!) we want to wish you all a year of blessings and safe DIY-ing. Be careful out there! (And be sure to share your projects with us!)

Happy New Year!

Wendy, Ed and the rest

About structure and posts

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First an update on the garden … The veggies (toward the back and left side) are doing very well. The other flowers and plants are slowly perking up and blooming.

2 garden

Now to structure and posts: While I’ve been stripping wallpaper in the parlor,me Ed has been digging holes in the basement. No, it’s not a made-up chore to get my husband out of the way, as fun as that sounds.  He’s prepping the cellar floor for our next big project: redoing the posts and joist system under the floor. (See previous post re the joists’ problems.) The supporting posts under our house were put there before 1) a cast iron tub was installed into a bathroom behind the kitchen, and 2) a laundry room complete with a W/D connection was built behind the kitchen, and 3) a wall was removed so the kitchen could be reaaranged for all the above. The joists are showing the stress in their cracks and splits. The posts, made of bricks from the East Brookfield Brick Works, are crumbling from the damp and the stress and just old age. (We’re saving those we can for a new walkway in the front yard….later.) We plan to rebuild the joist system, reinforcing some stringers and installing a new cross-support beam (four 2″ x 12′ x 16′ beams sistered together into one huge beam) or two before we’re done. The posts are the first step.

Water damage from a century of being a water wick...
Pic #1

Water damage from a century of being a water wick… Ed has dug out the dirt and concrete around the current posts. One sits on a HUGE rock. The consensus from friends and relatives and internet forum posters is that he digs a ditch around the rock and incorporate it into the new footer that he will pour. It’s hard to tell with these pictures, but the depth from the top of the concrete to the bottom is about 10″. The rock takes up the greater part of the space.

Brick dust from one of the two support posts.
Pic #1
big rock
Pic #2
footer 2
Pic #3
Pic #5
Pic #5

When we bought this house the inspector told us that one day very soon we would need to replace the original brick support columns. The basement had been so moist for so long that the mortar was gone and the bricks had wicked in too much moisture. His bet was that it would just fall apart when the pressure was relieved. He was right. (The gravel to the right in picture #5 is part of the French drain system that Ed installed in the past year or so.)

Pic #6
Pic #6
footer 4
New Footer!

Now the post is removed, the footer poured and set. The new post will be comprised of cinderblocks. Now we have to wait until the footer sets. Tell us what you think about the project so far! Happy renovating!

About gardens

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I love gardening. I cannot say that I am the best at it, but I enjoy getting in the dirt and seeing what I can create. (Hubby will say that I have a black thumb. I don’t think it’s black. Dark brown, maybe, but not black!) And I love to wander around gardens. My favorites are those at Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.

My dad’s father and stepmother (Papaw and Ella Mae to me) lived about 30 minutes away from us when we lived in the South Knoxville (TN) area. I grew up going to work in Papaw’s garden nearly every weekend. We planted potatoes, onions, cantaloupe, beans, tomatoes, peppers, lots of corn, okra, and so much more.

Papaw would sit in his basement living room and while there was still snow or frost on the ground, spend his winter planning what he was going to plant the following spring. He loved the dirt. He spent hours pouring over almanacs and seed supply magazines. He would go out in the spring in search of the best manure to add to his dirt. (There is a story about when Papaw spread a liquid “fertilizer” all over the front yard the morning Ella Mae was to host her Sunday School class for lunch. He was in so much trouble!!!! The entire neighborhood stank!) He’d stock up on seed potatoes, tomato stakes and onion sets long before he could plant anything. Papaw just loved gardening.


I didn’t realize it at the time, but he and Ella Mae taught me so much about gardening and patience and faith. You cannot plan a garden that is nearly an acrea and a half without lots of patience and even more faith — faith that God would bring the rain and sunshine in the right amounts (and keep away the bugs!) and patience waiting for the plants to do their thing. It was fun watching all those seeds come up, changing into recognizable leaf sets of cantaloupe or potatoes or corn. To this day, I can drive by a farm and pick out most if not all the sprouts coming up through the ground.

For all the life lessons, though, I did not like working in the garden. We planted. We weeded. We hoed. We watered. We picked. We shelled or husked or pickled. And we did it over and over and over again. THAT was not the best part of it all, but it was a lesson well-learned. I now know which veggies are best canned or frozen, how to string green beans into leather britchesor peppers into ropes. Mom and I made hundreds of jars of jams, jellies, and butters from the blueberries, blackberries, apples, and strawberries we picked. We jarred honey from our beehives. We pickled cucumbers (lime, dill, bread and butter), beets, and okra. We made soup mix to can or freeze for that cold winter’s day when we were craving fresh vegetables. Our pantry was so pretty and colorful with all the jars of newly preserved fruits and vegetables lined up in rows.


In spite of how much I didn’t like the work of gardening, I really enjoyed the results. And I began to miss it. When we were stationed in Germany, I begged our landlord for a little patch of dirt for a small garden. Her garden was all neat rows with brick paths and not a plant was out of line. Mine was a bit more haphazard — I was planting with a toddler! — but we enjoyed watching the peas and tomatoes grow. It was fun to get back into the dirt. Over the years, as we’ve moved from place to place, I’ve attempted gardening in containers or in a small plot of ground. I haven’t tackled a larger garden in quite a while. I’ve missed it. Hence my big flower bed this spring.






I planted the garden with lots of lobelia and impatiens. I can’t wait for them to fill in. Along the left side and the back, you will find some veggies: tomatoes — Big Boy(tm) and a bushy cherry tomato — cantaloupe, peppers, and peas (on the trellis). I didn’t pick up specific companion plants for my veggies so I tried to keep enough space between them and the flowers. I’m interested to see how well everything does.

Do you have a garden? Tips and techniques? Please share!

Happy growing!

About rocks and walls

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[I have to apologize for the lack of posts over the past few months. Traveling for the holidays (all of us), a new job (me), and the horrible winter we had has put us behind on some of our projects. It even got too cold in the cellar to work!]

“We need to get rid of the rocks in the basement,” he said. “We’ll build a wall and a garden bed,” he said. “It will be fun!” he said. HA! Because of the excavation hubby has done downstairs for the French drain system, we have lots of rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Big ones and little ones and round ones and weird square-ish ones and …. You get the idea.

Rather than trying to figure out a way to move these things off our property all together, we decided to create a wall, a BIG flower bed (oh, goody!) and a path from the driveway to the front steps.

Note 1: The original path to the sidewalk disappeared when the new septic system was put in a few owners ago. The sidewalk went away when the new road was cut in because of ADA laws or something.

Note 2: We do not have outside access to the basement except by small windows. Everything we put down there goes thru the house and down the stairs or thru the little windows. It’s worked so far. This is not a difficult project, just time consuming.Ed keeps pushing rocks out the window. I load the wheelbarrow and roll it to the front yard and dump it. Then we sit down and try to put together the puzze that is a rock wall.

Note 3: The rocks in New England are HEAVY! I’m talking granite and quartz and whatever else the glaciers couldn’t grind up and spit out a few years back. I’m used to flaky shale and limestone in the South. And red clay. I digress. This exercise has become, well, my exercise program for the spring. So long, Planet Fitness and the treadmills. Now it’s “bend the knees, grab the rock, put in the barrow, boom!” (I think there was a cartoon along those lines once. Anyone?) No wonder there are rock walls everywhere you go. Folks didn’t want to move the rocks too far. (By the way, someone once told me that they “grow rocks up here.” Sure seems like it when the frost heaves them up.)

Along the front side of the wall, we plan to add the walk and then steps to the driveway. (We got it rebuilt last fall. So easy to snow plow now!) We’ll fill in behind the wall with dirt and plants. Can’t wait to do that part! Here is the job in progress. We’ve added a bit more and to the length and breadth of it. I’ll update the pics as soon as I can.

After putting down a weed barrier, we added a little bit of dirt. Well, approximately 2 tons of it. Some came from the cellar as fill dirt and then we bought 60 bags of topsoil from Lowe’s this weekend. Why the bags, you ask? Because we don’t have a pickup truck, just a GMC Envoy that hauls like one. 🙂

front yard