Life is funny. Sometimes it seems like things are moving along at the speed of light, and at the same time, other things are barely moving along at all. Welcome to buying a house and trying to move, with a full-time job, during a pandemic and racially-charged, nationwide protests (which I 4,000% support). What a time, right?
This past weekend, we officially moved from the old place to the new place. Make no mistake, I still have a ton of work to do at the old place to get it cleaned up, and I still have a few things there that need to get moved, but we slept at the new place on Saturday and tonight I cooked some food in the new place's kitchen (been living on Imo's since Saturday, which isn't the worst thing ever), so it's official: we're here.
Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day and getting moved out of the old place meant I really didn't get to put much time into the new place over the past few weeks. Moving all the wood shop tools, moving some of the reclaimed lumber I've been hoarding, moving furniture...what a fiasco, 1 pickup truck load at a time. And then, moving out of one place is just the tip of the iceberg; all the stuff then has to get set up - or in my case, about 10% set up - in the new house. Getting the internet hooked up, trying to find specific items transported in any of 42 identical giant plastic containers, going to stores to stock up on stuff for the new place...it all takes a silly amount of time.
And then there are the dogs.
Although Freckles follows Roscoe everywhere and does everything he does, they are totally different dogs. The best way to explain it is like this: if you were a cowboy (or cowgirl) and had a herd of cattle to drive across the Rockies, Roscoe is the dog you want helping with the effort. He's not particularly fast anymore but he moves at a nice steady clip. He always wants to walk in front and lead, and no matter how far off the trail he gets, he always finds his way back, usually better than I do. He is ultra protective of his people and animals, requires zero leashes, is startled by nothing, and his once youthful exuberance has given way to the wisdom that comes with having been around for quite a while. "Dependable" is probably the best way to describe Roscoe; he's the dog that you'd want helping move the cattle.
Freckles, on the other hand, would amaze the cattle with her athletic abilities, do some puppy stuff to entertain everybody, and then legit try to eat every last member of the herd.
Roscoe has handled the move like an old dog. At almost 11.5 years old, he's pretty content to lay around on the couch, or the floor, or pretty much anywhere. I can leave him alone and pack things, or unpack things, or work in the new place's yard, or whatever, and he's fine doing his own thing. He's been involved in several moves before, he knows the drill.
Freckles, at not quite 9 months old, has more energy than Roscoe and I combined, and pretty much exists within about 3 inches of my feet, anywhere and everywhere my feet happen to be. She slows me down a bit, either because I'm tripping over her or she's letting me know that if I don't play with her, she's going to destroy a blanket or a pillow the next chance she gets. But I know that one day - hopefully not anytime soon - she's going to outgrow the puppy stage, and then she'll get to a point where she's seen and done so many things that not too much excites her anymore, and ultimately she'll be just like Roscoe is now, old(ish) and slow(ish) and not always wanting or needing to be by my side anymore. So, I've been pretty good about taking a break from unpacking stuff or continuing the yard cleanup effort or getting generally prep'd for the real chaos - the rehab - that's about to unfold to play with Freckles and do my best to keep her entertained.
I have about another 10 days of chaotic moving-related stuff to deal with, and then...it's on. Or however much "it's on" my wallet will allow for at the moment. The yard will always be a work in progress, but with a little grass starting to grow I think I can set that project aside for the time being and focus on big project #1, gutting the basement. It's about 1,300 sq. ft. of "finished" space, which isn't a huge thing to tackle, but the logistics of getting all of it out of the house and into a dumpster are pretty terrible. As not exciting as a basement demo might be, given the funk and mountains of mouse excrement down there, now that we're living here full-time...it sort of needs to happen ASAP. Plus, opening up the basement will let me know the condition and layout of the building's MEP systems, which may help guide decisions that need to be made about how to go about rehabbing the main floor.
After that, I'm going to buy enough scaffolding to erect about a 20' tower and get to work on the outside of the house. Before it gets cold, which will get here faster than I want it to, I'd like to repoint as much of the parapet as I can, and redo as many of the windows as I can, but those are projects we can talk about down the road.
Until then...I need to finish moving, and finish making the house livable/tolerable, and probably take a couple half days off to go swimming.
Watering The Grass
My initial plan did not include laying down grass seed.
But after trimming all the trees, and after clearing 99% of the vegetation, and after pulling up 90% of the buried rocks, I decided to put a decent raking on the yard. Why? Scope creep.
Long story short, being nose-to-dirt while pulling up all the rocks made me realize that there's a fairly thick layer of leaves, halfway decomposed, covering the entire yard underneath all the weeds. And with all the massive trees in the yard there won't ever be a leaf shortage, so I decided that to let the ground breathe a bit - and maybe have some non-weeds grow - I needed to get rid of the leaves.
While raking, I switched from the leaf rake to the hard rake (what's the official name for those? If the flimsy rake is the leaf rake, what is the rigid rake called?) and then realized that whatever the ground cover (weed) was, I could eradicate all of it, easily, with the hard rake.
So I did.
All of a sudden, I had a yard that was mostly bare dirt.
Yada yada yada, I needed to throw down some grass seed.
So I did.
Of course, if one throws down grass seed, one must water the grass seed.
So I went to the store I hate going to and I bought a hose, and a sprinkler, and all kinds of lawn and garden nonsense. It's been a long time since I made those sorts of purchases, and I was halfway excited to buy that stuff.
I took all of it over to the rehab, hooked everything up, turned on the hose bib...no water.
No big deal I thought, the previous owners probably turned off the interior shut-off valve to winterize the system. I had seen that shut-off valve in the basement, but just barely; it's located above a suspended ceiling and sort of tucked behind a "finished" wall. From the floor, I could only see the handle of the shut-off valve, not the piping.
I went to the basement, turned the valve handle, started to open the valve...and I instantly heard running water. Inside the house. Hitting the basement floor. At the shut-off valve. Not good. I closed the valve.
Obviously there was a leak, and a big one at that. I grabbed something to stand on so I could stick my head up in the ceiling and behind the wall to inspect the situation. This is what I found:
The valve was in a tricky spot to get a pic, so I was flying blind; apologies on the sketchy focus.
Anyhow, the "leak" was actually not a leak so much as a completely missing pipe on the outflow side of the valve. Awesome.
The crust on the valve indicated that a pipe had been there at one time, so I started poking a hammer through the finished basement wall (it's all getting demo'd, I just didn't think I'd be starting said demo just yet) to find the hose bib. The goal was to trace the line - if any existed - from the hose bib back to the shut-off valve so I could figure out what I'd need to make things right.
A little hammering and prying and cascading mouse poop later, I was staring at this:
Let's save a discussion of the litany of construction sins shown in this pic for another day. As for the plumbing situation, sure enough there was a pipe that at one time connected the shut-off valve (upper left side of the pic) to the hose bib (right side of the pic, next to the window). I don't know how it came loose - soldered joints don't usually just pop free - but it did. And it was just hanging there.
I cut out the existing valve and replaced it, after waiting forever for the water to fully drain out of the system, with a new shut-off valve. Then I cut out about half of the old dangling pipe because the piping from the valve back upstream was pretty rigid, and I was going to need some slack to get new pipe in to connect the valve to the hose bib.
Keep in mind, this entire space is going to get demo'd, I've already had 2 mouse mummies fall out of the basement ceiling, and this plumbing was in some tight quarters.
Short version: the immediate goal was to make water come out of the exterior faucet, not set world records for clean, legit plumbing work, so...I resorted to some slip-together plumbing components, which I'd never do if I were doing this for real. But they work, usually, and in this case were the simplest solution. I also added a little pipe clip to thwart any ideas the new pipe gets about replicating the actions of its predecessor and literally falling apart.
I cautiously turned the water back on. Everything held. No leaks (not counting the hose bib, but at least that leak is on the outside of the house). I reconnected the hose and sprinkler and...
...I watered the yard. It's a super minor thing, and really may not even make any difference in terms of getting grass to grow this time of year...but I was pretty excited about it.
Now, I have a new decision to make: go ahead and finish tearing out the entire "finished" basement, which I was going to do before too long anyhow, or stick with the original plan, buy some scaffolding, start working on the masonry around the parapet, and save the basement demo for a rainy day (couple weeks, really)?
This past weekend I had a mission, and that mission was to get all the rocks and masonry debris picked up out of the yard. I did, and did not, accomplish that mission.
On the one hand, I moved a LOT of crap out of the yard. Bricks, half bricks, pieces of an old, busted up concrete slab, foundation stone, pavers, and what I initially thought was some kind of flagstone-esque rock, I moved a lot of all of it. In the process I broke a rake and damaged a wheelbarrow.
On the other hand, what was visible on the surface only represented about 25% of the debris that needed to be removed; every time I randomly stuck a shovel or pick in the yard - almost every single time - there was the unmistakable 'clink' of metal on rock. The amount of stuff that was buried was insane. The argument could be made that some of it was used, at one time, as bed/plant edging and walkways, but it also looked like somebody was in the demo business and needed a place to dump things from time to time. Over the years, a lot of that stuff wound up buried, or covered with ivy, or just became part of the "landscape". Needless to say, I still have some digging to do, and rocks to unbury and remove.
I got started on Friday afternoon, and much like clearing all the vegetation, there was no real strategy other than picking a spot in the yard and getting after it. Where I started, by the ash pit, most of the stuff in the ground was brick and small, irregularly shaped rocks. From there I worked my way east and wound up by the green shed.
It looked like there had been a walkway of sorts at one point leading to the shed, consisting of large, flat stones. I didn't care what kind of rock they were, where they came from, or what purpose they served; I just wanted them out of the yard. The shed will go away soon, and while I'm not opposed to stone or brick walkways, I want to blank slate the back yard with some grass, and then do with it what I want (including the construction of what will be deemed "The Southside Home For Wayward Chickens"), not settle for the mess that the last person left me.
Anyhow, I was in a little bit of shock over just how much garbage lie under the yard's surface, so I wasn't paying much attention to what I was digging up; I was just pryin' things outta the ground and chuckin' 'em in the wheelbarrow and dumpin' 'em in a pile over by the garage as fast as I could. So all the big, flat stones that appeared to be some kind of walkway, I just assumed they were flagstone, or something like flagstone.
Saturday morning I picked up where I left off Friday over by the shed. What had started out as a single layer of big flat rocks turned into multiple layers of buried, big flat rocks, and my wheelbarrow loads quickly went from mixed stone and masonry to consisting, exclusively, of those big, flat rocks. Or what I thought were rocks.
After moving a couple wheelbarrow loads Saturday morning, my big debris pile started to fall over and as I restacked some of the fallen stones, one of the stones I grabbed appeared to have something carved or engraved in it. I was moving faster with the stones than my brain could keep up with, and it was already about 400°; it didn't dawn on me to further inspect the stone with the engraving until 2 of the next 3 or 4 stones I grabbed to restack had similar markings.
I stopped what I was doing, caught my breath, and cleaned off the 3 engraved stones as best I could with my gloves. As I was doing that, I started to realize that all the big, flat stones were a little too flat to be natural, and they were all fairly uniform in thickness, another unnatural feature. I also discovered a few pieces that had some kind of mortar on one side, which I had mistaken for natural rock formations. After studying the engraved stones a bit, I realized that they weren't stones at all, at least not natural stones.
What I had in the back yard was precast, cementitious "stones", once attached as a veneer to the front facade of a building, which can commonly be found on homes in Lafayette Square or any number of north city neighborhoods. In other words, it's old, old stuff.
I wish I knew where it came from, or what building. And only a few pieces had the engraving, so there weren't too many clues there. I'm still planning on throwing it in a dumpster at some point, but I thought it was a pretty cool find, or at least more interesting than the random bricks, foundation stones, pavers, and old concrete scattered throughout the yard.
Tree Limbs & Chimneys
I filled up the yard waste dumpster last weekend, but if one stomps enough on the yard waste in the dumpster, a little more room can be freed up. So I've been stomping and refilling and stomping and refilling, but I think today was the last day I could get away with that.
Truth is, with a little more time and a different time of year - when the trees aren't full of leaves, super thick, and borderline impossible to see into - I probably could have filled up a 40 yd. dumpster, the trees are that overgrown. But knowing that I only had a little room left and another couple days of the rented dumpster, I wanted to make sure I did one more round of tree-trimming up on the roof, cutting anything I needed to cut but didn't get to the first go-round.
When I first started doing some preliminary work in the yard, the roof was a catastrophe. There are 5 trees, 3 large ones and 2 medium-sized ones, in close proximity to the roof; all 5 had branches growing into the house's walls, and all 5 had branches hanging over the house, mere inches above it. That's a recipe for a litany of bad things, ranging from holes in the roof to clogged gutters to having lots of critters essentially living on the roof. A few weeks back, on a cold day apparently, I maxed out my little 16' extension ladder, climbed up on the roof, and cleaned it off.
If the ground below when I was done trimming branches and brooming acorns off the roof was any indication, I put a solid dent in what needed to be done.
On the most recent venture up to the roof, I wanted to cut anything I might have missed the first time, and tackle a few additional limbs I left in place previously. It had been pretty windy the first time I was up on the roof cutting limbs, and I didn't see any reason to tiptoe out to the roof's edge and do some risky stuff just to cut a couple limbs when there were about 8,000 limbs that still needed to be cut and could be reached from the ground.
Additionally, I wanted to try out the little 20V cordless pole chainsaw I was recently gifted, which turned out to do a far better job on flimsy limbs and tough angle cuts than the elbow-grease powered pole saw does. It's a good little tool to have in the arsenal, allowed me to cut some of the dead wood hanging over the house and deck.
While I was on the roof I started thinking about the chimneys. There are 2 obvious (no longer functional) fireplaces in the house's big front room, those correspond to the 2 chimneys in the right side of the pic below. In the left side of the pic, that chimney serves as a flu for the furnace and water heater in the basement.
But...every old newspaper ad I've found where the house was listed for sale always says "fireplace". Singular. Why then are there 2 fireplace chimneys? Was the ad a typo? Are the 2 fireplaces not original?
I have a hard time buying that a house this small, and built for working class people, was so fancy as to originally have 2 fireplaces, let alone with marble surrounds. It's possible, but the more time I spend inside the house, the more I doubt that the big front room's goodies are entirely original. Windows and casing? Yes. Everything else...I have doubts.
The chimney in the left side of the pic, it runs through the bedroom, which was been redone with wood framing and drywall, so I can't really trace the chimney below the roof just yet. Likewise, the basement is "finished' and I haven't torn it out yet, so I don't know what the chimney/flu looks like down there either.
But I wonder...is it possible that the back left chimney was the original fireplace, before a flu for a furnace was ever needed, and the 2 in the front room were added later? That seems a little crazy, but somebody went to the trouble to remove at least 1 wall in the big front room, and whoever did the work did a pretty good job of hiding the fact that a wall was ever there.
I wonder what's hiding behind the drywall in that bedroom...could there be a fireplace?