the best part of upstate New York

One of two lilac trees we have

To me the best part of living up here is the land.  It is healthy, vibrant, rich with color and wildlife.  We have loads of birds, squirrels, ground hogs and even deer in our back yard.  Everything has been lush this year, especially flowers.  Our lilacs actually gave me sneezes this year and I have never had allergies.  Right now the hibiscus and tiger lily are in full bloom and my raspberries are just starting to show berries.  I’m hopeful that my lemon and quince trees will do well for me so that I have more fun stuff to can.  (I learned how to can jam last summer and can’t wait to try a load of new fruits this year.)

Still has spots!

Last week we had an amazing treat in our yard.  She visited for quite some time before the creaking of us in our house, running from window to window, scared her off.  I hope she visits again, though.  It isn’t the first time we’ve had deer in the yard, and I sure hope it isn’t the last.  But, I’ve been told I’m not allowed to feed them. 😉


Gardening at 60 West Main

Overgrown house

So remember when we first moved in and we had to cut back everything in the yard, by a lot?  I can refresh your memory by sharing some old photos of that late summer 3 years ago.  When we first looked at the house, the yard hadn’t been mowed. . . and then it was over mowed.  Everything in the mower’s path was shorn down to the wee bits of root.  But the vines attacking the east side of the house grew up onto the second story wall and chimney and covered part of the roof.  The back yard had a large overgrown raised bed and trumpet vine was (and still is) everywhere.  We spent most of our time in the house that first summer cutting things back and just piling at the curb.

Front porch before painting

Each summer since, we have continued to prune and pay attention to what is growing.  Apparently, our house used to have a fabulous garden and it is still evident.  There are mature quince, lilac and hydrangea.  The rhododendron are huge in front and the cypress border is overgrown.  There are small patches of flowers, that are coming back better every year now and I’m anxiously tending to them to see what comes up every spring.  Though I haven’t created any beds of my own until this summer, I’ve been quite pleased to see how a little pruning goes a long way.

First garden bed

First flower bed all grown

We had a great spring for cleaning out the yard and we were able to rake out a lot before the growth started.  In that time, I planned and prepared my first bed.  I pulled everything out over the course of a month of weekends and planted raspberries, french lavender and a small boxwood.  I trimmed back the Japanese quince that was already there and mulched everything.  Then I put in some ground cover flowers, lobelia and phlox, both purple.  So far the raspberries have grown magnificently and I’ve picked a handful this summer, even though they weren’t supposed to fruit until next year.  The ground flowers are weak, but the lavender is quite happy despite Will picking all the blossoms.

Since I worked on this bed, I’ve been planning and plotting what else to do.  For most of the garden, I’d like to plant self-maintaining flowers, fruits and even vegetables and ground cover.  We’ll see what I can learn and come up with.  I’ve moved some hosta out from under the immense trumpet vine in the back and planted it under a flowering tree out front where it will make a nice bed once it fills in.  In another few weeks, I’ll plant some bulbs for the next spring and then I’ll let it be.

West side of 60 West mainOn Bill’s end, he has a new trimmer and edger.  So he has happily kept the little grass we do have in a neat few squares in the front.  Weeds can look quite nice as ground cover if they are mowed and trimmed. 🙂  Eventually we will plant some real grass, but we don’t want to use chemicals on what is there.  And, we’re debating on how to replace the slate sidewalk out front that is desperately cracked and falling apart.  So, it might be a while on that front.  In the meantime, the beds and pruning will just have to do.

What we’re working on now

Living Room with completed fireplace

As you can see, having a busy one year old has slowed down our progress.  Not only that, but we are a bit wearisome of plastering.  So, we are moving on to other things, smaller tidbits and outside work now that the weather is getting really nice. We finished up the light fixture and fireplace in the living room.  Bill had to rewire the light from its original 1890’s work and we polished it nicely.  I stenciled the ceiling and we hooked it up.  Next, Bill fitted cherry moulding onto the mantel to fit it around the pellet stove and put it into place.  All complete, whew.  The only thing needed now in there is floor refinishing.  We are looking into hiring someone to do the floors.  Not that we don’t want to do it ourselves, but we want it done really well and rather quickly with a little one.  It will be easiest to have them completed while we are on our winter vacation in December.  So, we’ll see.

I mentioned above that we have been aching to get to some outside work.  The past three summers at this house has seen us weeding, mowing, pruning and clipping desperately to get back to some sort of semblance of “trim”.  With over 15 years of almost no yard work outside, we’ve had a lot to combat.  This weekend, we started really digging into a flowerbed.  As this is the fourth summer we have lived at 60 West Main, we really want to plant a few things permanently, and I have been dying to have berries.  I love the idea of an edible, renewable garden, that attracts bees and butterflies.  Though I know little of gardening, I am starting somewhere to make this house beautiful on the outside and easier to maintain.  I started on a bed in the backyard, as it gets a lot of sun and I think it makes the most sense for edible plants.  Though the front yard needs work, too, I just needed to work somewhere that I walk past regularly.  And, I like to sit on the back porch in the evenings with Bill.  The whole yard will one day be a lovely garden, I’m sure.  Once the baby is up and ready, he will be outside with us, in a sandbox or pool, or digging for worms.  I look forward to doing that all together.  But honestly, a weekend with Bill in the yard was just what I needed.  You can see here how much we had to weed and de-rock.  And, there were a few wires to pull.  One wire goes under the entire yard to electrify the garage.  The other wire dead ended somewhere, but we believe it had originally lit a small raised bed that we pulled out at the beginning of the first summer.  I have a lot of weeds to pull out to complete this bed and a Japanese quince to trim, but I’m looking forward to planting raspberries and lavender here.  Possibly some flox and some bulbs of some sort, too.  We’ve been building a great compost pile for the past 2 years, so I’ll have some natural fertilizer.  Now the task will be to keep Heidi from digging.

First garden bed

Next on our list is to refinish some indoor furniture pieces and complete a set of bookshelves.  Really, the books are the only things standing in our way of putting a floor in the servants’ stair closet.  I’ll fill you in more on that project down the road.

Just a few pics

Fall 2009

So, it is way past time to catch you up on all the house doings. The house is readying for a winter season. We have already had a first snow fall and a few hundred trick-or-treators. 🙂 You can see how far we have come in 2 years from the before and after shots of our house in the fall. I still have a lot of gardening to do, though, to give our house more street appeal and just to enjoy our little yard. We were lucky that there was so much mature foliage upon moving into this place, but I still have yet to learn what everything is and how to care for it. There are some huge lilac trees in the back, along with five quince bushes, blackberries and loads of flowering bushes that are new to me. Our priorities have been the inside for obvious reasons, but I’m looking forward to plunking the baby down in a sandbox in the spring and beginning the huge process of creating flower and veggie beds.

Fall 2011

On the inside, we have finished plastering and painting the living room.  It is a soft green right now, but completely the wrong color.  You might wonder how that happened, considering that Bill and I are both painters and I chose these colors eons ago.  Well, metamirism would be the answer–how the light and setting have effected the color.  (Did I spell that right, Bill?)  Painted on a small swatch held up next to the other palette, the color looks marvelous, but once painted on the whole surface of the room, it looks to bright and to blue.  So, I’ve got some faux work to do to correct it, along with another full room of stenciling.  It has to look Victorian, match the dining room and work well with my furniture and hallway plans.  So, pics of the bad “Green” to come.

Below you can see how the plaster work came about, with plastic covering all the woodwork and pellet stove.  Since the stove is now lit and working, we had wanted to complete the painting before the fall season.  The room is still empty, we’re using the dining area as a living room space.  Bill is working on the mantle, refinishing it and getting ready to build an upper mantle to work with our mirror and the cherry moulding.  We’ll wait to do the floors until the baby has worn them down to a nub riding toys and what not across them.  Possibly by Christmas, we’ll move back in.

Ready for priming

Refinishing the Cherry Storm Doors

Luckily, the original solid-cherry storm doors were both intact and still in use protecting the front doors of the house. The front doors are solid cherry as well and need refinishing however are in much better shape being protected. Being well covered by the large front porch had the storm doors in relatively good shape although the finish was practically all gone. The cherry had a very heavy “patina” on it that needed to be sanded off before any accurate assessment of the doors could be made.

Unfortunately, there was some ireversible damage to one door due to a dog or two that appeared to try to paw his way into the house several times. By the size of the scratches, the dog was big and claw-marks ran deep … too deep to completely sand out but not so deep to give up on these beauties! Neighbors tell us that previous owners had several large dogs. Our mailbox is at the sidewalk becasue the dogs were allegedley sgressive.

The hardware was not very special although the hinges did have nice finals on the pins. They were at one time copper plated. Someone had painted them and it would appear that the paint was strong enough to attack the thin plating and reach the steel … causing major rust. Not really a big deal. We’re very fortunate to have much of the original hardware in the house and for what is either missing or absolutely must be replaced (like the rusty hinges) there’s Van Dykes Restorers!

One Clean and One tarnished Door Knob

Van Dykes is a pretty decent resource for anyone in need of hard to find replacement hardware and fixtures. They have very reasonable replacements, many perfect matches, for Early American, Victorian and Golden Age homes. They have added more Arts and Crafts style items too.

But I digress and am not endorsed or compensated by VanDykes so back to the doors!

The door knobs seen in the picture are recycled from an old door we found saved in the garage. Karyn cleans them with fresh lime juice and salt! They come out very nice … not looking brand new and artificial but very much improved and authentic! These two will be repurposed on the storms after refinishing.

You have to love sanding if you’re going to refinish wooden items or do any serious woodworking. Lucky for me, I love sanding! It’s both therapeutic and extremely rewarding. Karyn loves vacuuming like I love sanding. They are similar in a way, both create newly cleaned surfaces however my sanding always requires vacuuming afterwards!

Before and After
Shown here in the image captioned “Before and After” you can clearly see why sanding is a love of mine. after sanding the doors with three subsequent grits of sand paper (120,180,220) I then applied one coat of Red Oak Minwax Stain. Allowing the stain to dry for 48 hours, I followed with two coats of semi-gloss Minwax Helmsman Spar Varnish. The results are quite nice and the varnish will last a solid 2 decades outdoors, likely more considering the porch protects these doors very well. Modern Spar Varnishes are very flexible yet wear-resistant and have UV inhibitors in them causing them to outlast older formulas.
Here I am in the garage with the window inserts for the doors.
Window Inserts

The glass and frames were in decent condition only needing sanding, stain and varnish. This picture was taken about 3 weeks before my father-in-law cleaned out our garage. If you saw the after pictures of the garage, you know he actually vacuumed our garage leaving it practically clean enough to live in! Now I know Karyn’s love of vacuuming is genetic 🙂

Hung in their final place, the front doors are now well protected. Next spring I will need to refinish the front doors (as you can see the actual front door on the right is not as nicely finished as the newly refinished storm door on the left) but for now, these storm doors enhance the appearance of the front of the house nicely!
Refinished and Done

Master Bedroom. . . part 4

It is long overdue that I catch all of you up on the house work.  We have been working, but there aren’t a lot of photos to show for it.  So, I’ll catch you up on what I can.


Two cars fit in the one car garage


First, here is a shot of our newly re-organized 2 car garage.  In the last post, I wasn’t able to show how we could park everyone in comfortably.  We’ve spent a few days organizing and hanging tools to make room for everything, so I needed to share.  It’s a tight squeeze, but in the heart of winter,  might pay off to keep the cars snow free.

Now, on to where we are with the bedroom.  It’s now day 19 of the Master Bedroom work.  And, Bill is sanding as I type.  The plaster is almost complete, we’ll need a few touch ups right before priming.  The room is chalk white, except for some of the pink trim showing.  If the floors looked good, the room would be pristine.


King of plaster!


Bill will be finishing the sanding today and we’ll start priming.  We’re using a shellac primer, which allows us to paint over the old trim, the plaster, anything raw like wood, and have completely even coverage.  It’s beautiful stuff.  Once the priming is done, I can spend the week painting the ceiling and walls!!!  I won’t tell you the colors I’ve chosen yet, to share the surprise in the photos yet to come.

We will still need to touch up plaster in the “nook” and then in the closet.  We’re lucky to have a rather large closet in such an old house, but it certainly isn’t big enough for the two of us.  We’ll remodel it so that Bill has lots of room for  work clothes, and I’ll inherit the armoire that he is currently using.

The “nook”.  It is a small “room” off to the left side of the master bedroom, about 7′ x 8′ with a window and a cabinet built it.  Originally, it could have been a dressing area, or a place for a crib.


Master Bedroom floor plan, (each letter is a window)


Sometime since 1894, someone put a sheetrock wall between it and the main bedroom, with a window and door opening.  We left the sheetrock to divide the spaces, as ideally down the line we’d like to make a second full bath in that space (if the plumbing allows.)  I’ve put in a quick floor plan sketch so you can see really how the room is laid out.  (Technically, we don’t have a fireplace in the bedroom, but the chimney runs up through the side wall.)

Lastly, once the painting is done, I’ll stencil and we’ll do the trim.  But, we will also do the floors in this room to complete the whole thing.

The middle of the room is bare wood flooring, as in, never been touched with any sort of finish.  The outside, around the trim has a 2′ painted perimeter.  Clearly, a carpet was in the room, and everything not covered was painted brown.  The upstairs hallway and small back bedroom are the same.  However, the painted area is a mess, and we’re going to sand, condition, stain and finish the wood to protect it and make it sharp looking.  If we felt we could maintain an original oil and wax finish, we would.  But, we don’t really need more upkeep on this house than we already have.  I’m aiming to get started on the floor before Thanksgiving, but it will depend on how quickly I can get the painting completed.

I’m off to help Bill clean up sanding dust, hope you enjoy the update!

Been a while. . .

Hi All,

We haven’t forgotten about the blog (or the housework), but early September has been a busy personal season for us.  My parents came up from South Carolina for a visit and Bill had a work weekend with the local arts festival, Colorscape.  So, we have been puttering around getting a few smaller projects done here and there, and my dad really helped us out with cleaning the garage.

The pile we made from the previous owners' stuff

As I mentioned eons ago in one of my first posts, Bill and I had to clean out the house when we moved in.  Up here in rural New York, it is quite common for owners to move out of their house and leave a LOT of stuff behind. . . like old paint and doors, or sometimes furniture and trash.  The pile that we moved out of the house had 5 mattresses, at least 3 old carpets, a baby bed, a box of hymnals, loads of wire hangers and just a lot of junk.  The pile was the size of a large dumpster, but, we ultimately had a lot more to go.

The pile -- complete with mattresses. 20' x 8' x 5'

Since that first week, we’ve been taking trips to the dump to get rid of other stuff.  But, mostly, we’ve been stockpiling the garage with all of this so that we could take it in one big trip (or 5 trips, as we only have a station wagon).  With my parents help, we took 4 carloads to the dump last week.  And, we put another 2 loads on the curb for freebies.

Another rural NY anomaly is free curbside consignment.  Anyone can put almost anything at the curb with a “free” sign and people will stop to gather in the treasure.  Within an hour we had gotten rid of old plywood, broken book shelves and stacks of unused shingles.  The only thing that has remained are some buckets of broken bricks.  It’s truly amazing what people will pick up.  I think my parents were astonished at how easy it can be to “get rid of” clutter by just putting it on the curb.  Really, I’m astonished by it, too.  But, we live in a deprived area of the country.  People are resourceful here, and it is a gift to share what we can’t use.

Garage, pre-cleaning. I took this the week we moved in, before we touched the yard

After the dump runs, my dad removed several old shelving units and swept out the whole building.  We are left with a very clean garage, in which we think we can actually park both cars.  It is labeled as a “one car” unit, but it is quite wide, so maybe we can get both cars inside for the winter storms.  We still need to hang the tools and clean out the garage attic.  Yes, there is a garage attic, but there is no hurry.  Right now, we can use the space a lot more easily than we have for the past year.

Cleaned out garage, with room for more than one car!

So, I think most of the big dump runs are behind us as we won’t need to tear out any more sheetrock or shelving.  But this house holds surprises at every turn, so we’ll keep you posted.