Tom Silva Didn’t Mention That

If you have read my prior posts, you will know that I have been grappling with trimming out my not-so-recently installed living room windows. Having posted my shame, I have been determined to finish the project and post the stunning results.

It began well: The Guy offered to help, and I had watched a This Old House video that filled me with confidence. I have a fondness for Tom Silva that borders on worship, and he had shown me the light. With a scribe, my compound miter saw, and a little “elbow grease” I could totally do this.

When I set about measuring my own actual windows, my confidence evaporated. My windows looked nothing like the tidy mock-up in the picture. I was looking at three generations of window frames: the original, the frame for the hideous aluminum insets in the 70’s, then the new wood inset I had installed.

The new window was not flush with either the wall nor the old frame. The old frame was not square. Or plumb.  All versions I created with my cheap pine mock-up boards left a 1/2 inch gap created by the difference in inset between old and new frame. Furthermore, my sill would not be fit  into a recess- which meant it had very little support underneath.

This is what I was up against:

After (I am ashamed to admit) a complete wallowing breakdown where I cast myself as old and helpless and forever living in a partial remodel, I rallied. With the help and moral support of The Guy,  I studied the pictures in a Trim book, measured, and made a plan that included buying a couple random trim pieces to test a solutions to The Gap.

The Guy showed Mother Theresa level patience and kindness at the big box store as I re-figured and second-guessed myself and waffled on options; I did eventually actually buy some hemlock trim. Once home,  we cut sample pieces of the possible gap-fillers. One didn’t end up looking like filler, but like a nice detail around the window. Things were looking up.

I re-watched Tom and figured out how to scribe the sill. Using my jigsaw, I cut the penciled lines and was thrilled like a kid at Christmas when it fit neatly to the wall and window.  The additional piece I bought for under the sill as support also worked and looked like it belonged.

Just when it looked like this task was a one after-nooner, I got to the top of the first window and found that I had another unseemly gap: when you look up, you see an uncovered space behind the trim. The new window is plumb, but the 100+ year old wall is not, so the top of the window is recessed deeper than the bottom.

After much head scratching and a trip to Mr. Plywood, I have a solution. Now I need a new dose of motivation and a free weekend day. Oh – and a rasp. Tom Silva definitely didn’t mention that.

Unboxing the Past

Since I moved into the Pink Palace roughly two years ago, my garage has been filled with boxes. Most of them came directly from the basement of the house I  rented for the first year after my divorce, unopened there or here.

Packing for the end-of-marriage moving day was done in a hurry, amidst the worst emotional turmoil of my adult life. Usually a well-organized, careful packer (a mover once complimented me) I just threw things into whatever box was handy. I didn’t clean or cull, just dumped anything in the house that I had defined as “mine” into a container, shoved them into the u-haul, and that was that.

In the following year I acquired some used furniture, new bedding, and rugs for the hardwood floors. I opened most of the kitchen boxes and a few books, but the rest stayed in the basement, awaiting a “permanent” home. Once I had one, I dumped the boxes in the garage and set about remodeling. I did one garage cleanout, but still didn’t have enough emotional distance to really dig into the boxes from 10 years of marriage.

Today dawned gorgeously: sunny and brisk, with leaves drifting from trees and a forecast for a rare dry day. Inspiration took hold, and I plowed through box after box.  Photo of the pricey cherry dining set I left with the ex? Gone. Little gifts I have no use for but saved for sentiment? Gone. Old boxes of pens and pencils, toys my godsons long ago outgrew, books I bought but never read? Gone, gone, gone.

When I came across a wedding photo or momento of my ex-husband, I smiled at the captured good memories and paused to hope he is happy. And meant it.

I found three calculators, two bike bells (neither ever installed), a huge  box of gauze bandages I can’t for the life of me account for, my favorite childhood ragdoll, and bungee cords. Lots of bungee cords. Large, small, red, blue, orange.  Apparently my life has required a lot of flexible tie-downs over time. Seems right.

I left kites on the steps of a neighbor with kids, and Dr. Seuss books on the porch rocker another uses with her infant. I put out a “free” pile of design magazines, complete with the magazine holder, and was pleased it disappeared in under an hour.  I donated old bifold doors and light fixtures to the Re-building center, and clothes, bedding, dishes, and toys to Goodwill.

The last effort was a scary one: the top of the garage came with large full garbage bags of… something. The house has a peppered history of shady tenants, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wrestled my configurable ladder into the long version and climbed up. There were more bags than I expected. Some were translucent, and a mass of greyish stuff showed. “Oh, please don’t be pot, ” I said aloud.

I nabbed the closest and dropped it off the edge. Tufts of fluffy grey matter huffed out a hole as it landed, and I realized it was bl0w-in insulation. But it was used: there were chunks of lathe poking through other bags. (Really it was easier to load it up a ladder to the garage loft than get it to the dump?) Still: not pot, not nasty mildewed clothes, just insulation. .

So, no more ghosts. No wondering what is in the boxes, or left from renters of years past. Only things that I can use, now, in this house and this life. And a whole lot of bungee cords.

Where There’s Smoke…Alarms

This house was built in 1888, so one expects a series of problems, degradation, and mishaps. (Check, check, check.) But the most challenging and annoying part of the Pink Palace has been, without hyperbole, the smoke alarms.

The house was a low-income rental for 20 years prior to me buying it from the community development organization. The ceilings were swiss-cheesed with multiple generations of smoke alarms: hard wired, battery only, ancient, new: a veritable “Smoke Alarms through the Ages!” exhibit.

The very first day I spent in the house, I entered to a sharp beep on a regular interval.  I strolled through my new domain following the sound, which led to the back of the house. There were three likely candidates within three square feet.

I had come prepared. I had batteries. I pulled up the encrusted ladder and changed the  first. The alarm let out an ear-drum splitting scream when I pulled the battery, but seemed pacified by the new one. On cue the chirp repeated. I moved to the second, changed the battery. Still with the chirping.   I moved to the third smoke detector and found it was hard-wired. Opening it to find the battery backup set it off, and I could not make it stop. New battery, reconnected, cover on: nothing stopped the screeching.  In a fit of deafened desperation, I ripped it out. Nerves jangled, I climbed off my ladder with the alarm body trailing severed wires. And: “chirp”.

I craned, I strained, I crouched, I climbed. It was slowly driving me mad. How many places could something hide in a tiny empty house?! A final desperate search discovered it,  shoved into the back top shelf of a cabinet above the water heater, behind a collection of burned-out light bulbs.

I have repeated versions of this process now every few months. I found an alarm on the back porch.  I discovered that two alarms were perfectly positioned to go off every time I open the oven door during baking. There was a smoke detector inexplicably leaning in the outer ledge of a window.

Last night I returned from a late dinner date to two unusually agitated dogs. As I brushed my teeth, something started to work my nerves, too. Slowly I recognized it: a high-pitched keening coming from outside the back door. I flung it open and listened. It was a smoke alarm. “Please” I whispered to the universe. “Please let it be the neighbors house”. But it was clearly coming from my garage. As the dogs leaped and pawed with their muddy feet in the pouring rain, I shoved open the garage door and was deafened by the alarm, not chirping but fully sounding. There was no smoke, no fire, just dizzying noise.

I groped along the wall for the light switch, but first my shin came in contact with the spikey pedal of my housemate’s bicycle. It fell, I staggered, the dogs started barking, and my next door neighbor opened his door and snapped on the porch light. The time was roughly midnight by now, and he called out over the barking to ask if I was responsible for the noise and if it would stop soon.

I found the switch, and after shoving aside boxes and another mystery bicycle, I found the offender lying on the garage floor under garden tools. I have no idea how it got there. It was a 10 year version with no removable battery cover: in fact, it said “Do not open, return for repair or replacement.  Radioactive material inside.”

Ignoring the neighbor mouthing at me mutely from his porch, I calmly carried the caterwauling device inside, wrapped it in foil and a plastic bag, pulled a framing hammer from my tool caddy, and pounded it into shards.  It let out a final distorted wimper of a beep. Hammer in hand, I addressed the family of remaining alarms: “Let that be a lesson for you all!”

Windows to the Soul

I am writing this because I am not trimming my windows. The living room windows that were installed in early summer, the windows that have been on every weekend’s to-do list for months, the windows that still have the Jeld-Wen logo plastic on both sides to compensate for the lack of blinds or curtains. Those windows.

I haven’t trimmed them because I don’t really know what I am doing, but budget and pride has prevented me from hiring it done. Mostly pride, truth be told. I said I was going to do it, I bought the saw, I’ll be damned if I hire it done now. But I haven’t started because of fear: I will botch it, it will look amateurish, I will get part-way done and then (horrors!) have to admit defeat and hire it. So, not starting is the obvious choice.

How often in my life has that been true? The business ideas I never act on, the books (yes, more than one) started but never completed.  I have changed careers many times. I have a closet and garage full of half-completed and abandoned hobbies: I have knitted 1/3 of a sweater, made two batches of hand-made paper, collected tiles for a mosaic never realized.

It isn’t fair to only list the failures: I have made more than a dozen lovely little dish cloths with my knitting, kept with Martial Arts for 10 years before an injury took me out, stuck with a marriage for as long and fought hard before leaving in deep sorrow. But fear, of failure or of success, does stunt my accomplishments. That and a confusion between what I think I should do and what I really want to do. I think I should be handy enough to trim the windows. But what I really want is for them to be done so I can do the pretty part: pick fabric and furniture and make the space comfortable and mine.

Perhaps instead of focusing on the should, my planning in the future can include more honesty with myself about what I want and have the skills and interest to complete.  But first, something must be done about those windows, staring at me through cataract eyes with a look that says: “You should have trimmed us by now.”Image