Of Duct Tape and Driveways

When I undertook to renovate my 1892 home back in 2005, I thought I’d budgeted for everything. It turned out that I didn’t have budget for replacing all the studs on the second floor (ancient roof fire), digging-out a brick septic tank (hazardous material removal), and a fourteen-month delay due to living next door to the President of the City Council’s brother (inexplicable retraction of building permits, corruption, secret meeting violations, etc.). At the end of the project, I was left with several hard-rock choices. I chose not to renovate the original bathroom; not to repair the destruction of the driveway caused by excavation; and not to replace the original front door which is custom built, hardwood, and leaky. I also chose to use cheaper cabinets in the kitchen and use built-in-place Formica counters rather than the soapstone of which I dreamed (I am a Chemical Engineer by education…I just really wanted them!).

So, ten years in, when cracks appeared in the new portion of the basement, I girded myself to tackle the first of these delayed projects, and the most expensive. I have a Michigan Basement…but my new construction was lower than that. Michigan basements are high, due to the high water table, half-way above ground with windows. I added a small portion to the basement at the back of my house to move the staircase and add a living space that can be used as a bedroom. I also got lots of closets, and a small room that I’ve used to store many of my books on metal bookcases. It also houses a sump pump. After ten years, I discovered that the floor had cracked and water was pushing its way up into the space.

I immediately implicated the damage to the driveway, just adjacent to the sump pump, to the damage to the basement floor. I called my contractor and had them replace my driveway and deal with all the water-drainage issues. This included not only the driveway drainage, but the drainage from half of my large roof. Everything was draining to a single point next to my house where the damage had occurred.

A week and many thousands of dollars later, I had a lovely new driveway. A storm hit, and all the water, now diverted to the other side of my driveway, was easily absorbed into the ground rather than back into my house. I thought this was success…but a few days later it dawned on me to check out the water situation in my basement. Sadly, not only was it still wet, it seemed worse than before!

I met with my contractor to finalize the project. I showed him my wet basement space. I stood there as we brainstormed what the problem could be. We both agreed that the driveway project had been much needed and had been successful for the most part. Then the sump pump kicked in and my contractor exclaimed, “did you see that?!”. No, I hadn’t, but it turned out that when the sump pump kicked in, a leak in the piping gave way to a solid squirt of water back into my basement!

My contractor is sending over someone to replace the leaky fittings…but in the meantime I took a scrap of duct tape from my younger daughter’s craft supplies and a used, one-gallon, zip-top bag, and taped a make-shift water shield to the leaky fixture. My basement is now dry. No longer does half the water that hits my roof plus all the water that hits the driveway dump towards my basement…and no longer does my sump pump pump a fraction of that water directly back into my basement.

I know I needed to replace my driveway, but I am still left thinking that the immediate crisis was actually fixed for free…

Find the Joy in the Journey…have a sense of humor, it always helps!

Getting Back on Track with Both Health and Hearth

I feel as if these last three and a half weeks have been a time of getting out of step with my life, but in retrospect, it’s really just with my health goals…which says a lot about how important one’s health is! Since I finished the 5k on Thanksgiving, I haven’t been on my treadmill or run outside again until this morning. I came down with a sinus infection just a few days later and it has lingered until just a couple of days ago, basically draining any physical energy I might otherwise have had.

But, last night I slept 10 hours and only woke up once with only about an hour of fitfully trying to get back to sleep. That’s the best sleep I’ve had in years, frankly. And oh how good it feels! Then to get back onto the treadmill and not to have lost a whole lot of ground there, felt great!

Another set-back has been my decision to get my chimney brought up to code so that we could use the fireplace and so that I wasn’t heating my entire town through the open flue. Well, to back up a minute, my house is approaching her 120th birthday and nothing, absolutely nothing, ever goes as planned when you mess with this fine old lady. Even so, nothing could have prepared me for the eight-day saga that ensued when we started down this “one day” project.

When we moved into our house, 19 years ago, one of the big projects my husband took on was stripping and re-finishing the mantel. It had at least ten layers of paint on it and as they came off, some beautiful carved detail emerged. With dental picks, he carefully dug paint out of the details until it was completely clean. He spent many hours sanding the stripped wood, and ultimately refinished it back to its glorious, original state. The tile surround and hearth are dilapidated, worn and chipped. It will be another project altogether to pick something new and hire someone to install it. In the meanwhile, I decided to have the chimney brought up to code.

When I recently hired someone to sweep the chimney, it was in the vain hope that it would be deemed safe and that we could use the fireplace during the upcoming holidays. I was very disappointed, although not too surprised, to learn that the chimney had multiple things wrong with it, including things that should have been fixed by our builder in our renovation 6 years ago. I finally decided to have the chimney company back to make the repairs, a one-day job, I was assured.

That first day, a Saturday, I figured I’d set the tree up and maybe do some baking while the chimney was repaired and hold off until Sunday to do my Christmas shopping. Well, first they found big globs of old mortar in the bottom half of the chimney, so power tools were employed and soon my living room was filling up with dust. So much for putting up the tree or baking in the adjacent kitchen.  By late that afternoon, they had found new globs of mortar in the top of the chimney…work that had recently been done, but apparently not well. They couldn’t reach down far enough, so went off to get more tools. When they returned, they still couldn’t reach the spot, so they said they’d return on Sunday at 11.

That second day, I got busy with my younger daughter cleaning out her clothes closet and drawers. At about 1 o’clock, I went to find my cell phone and saw that the chimney man had called and wasn’t coming…I’m afraid I got a bit despondent what with still fighting off the sinus infection, having a home full of mortar dust, and not being able to put up my tree.

The chimney work continued on Wednesday, when they determined that my chimney was too narrow from the roof to the fireplace to slip the 8 inch liner into place. A decision was put in front of me to either skip the liner (and not have my chimney up to code), or to break into an adjacent flue to make space and add a second liner for the water heater. They offered to do the labor for free for the second liner, so I went with that option.

Friday came with a lot more dust…this time they put up some plastic sheets to at least contain it a bit, and they finished up the dust-producing portion of the job. On Saturday they easily dropped in the second liner, hooked up the water heater vent, put in the damper, put up squirrel cages and capped the flues. Finally, after 8 days, the work was done! I got up as much dust as I could, dust mask in place…but I think it will be a while before I can work it out of all the nooks and crannies, not to mention the walls, ceilings, and light fixtures. Of course, I lit a fire that first night…and found that despite the new flue liner, the chimney smokes a bit.

Now that what started out as a small job and mushroomed into a mess is over, it’s time for me to reclaim my house and my health. Today, my son is putting together the Christmas tree and soon Christmas will seem a little more real as my family gets to spend more time together in the coming weeks than we’ve been afforded over this busy year.

Find the Joy in the Journey!

Taking Back The Butler’s Pantry…or, De-Cluttering Project #4

I’m a bit tired of my lack of progress lately, and my set-back on the weight-front due to my recent business travel, so I decided to attack some low-hanging fruit and de-clutter my butler’s pantry. My house, which is approaching its 120th birthday, wasn’t designed for modern life…meaning it originally had no plumbing. The original kitchen is now a bedroom, and what was undoubtedly the original butler’s pantry, was the first bathroom. When we bought the house, it had a narrow, galley kitchen parallel to a stairway to the basement. The original entry to the basement had been from the outside, but it had been bricked over to create a foundation for a poorly-built back room to the house. From the basement, you could still go through the “outside door”, but it led to a small storage space that we took to calling, Injun Joe’s Cave, alluding to Twain, of course.

From the galley kitchen, you could enter a square hall with four doors…one to the kitchen, one to the dining room, one to the downstairs bath, and one to the downstairs bedroom. When we renovated, we decided that the bath belonged to the bedroom and that neither bed nor bath ought to be opening up to a hallway off of the dining room or the kitchen, so we added an addition to the back of the house and now the guest bed and bath have a greater air of privacy and the rear stairs have a proper path from basement to attic.

In closing off the doors to the bed and bath, and extending the space across where the stairs had been, we gained a nice little area for a butler’s pantry to join the kitchen and dining room. In researching butler’s pantries, I discovered some interesting facts. The word pantry, comes from the French word for bread, pain, and was the place for storing bread. The larder was where one stored meat, and the butt’ry was paradoxically not the place to store butter (that would be the creamery) but the place to store spirits…the barrels’ “butt” ends recommended the name. A butler, is as you would imagine, the man in charge of the accounts, and in some estates, the butler slept in the pantry with the keys to all (in particular the butt’ry) since he was entrusted with the lot.

Well, my house has nothing so glamorous as a series of storage rooms off of the kitchen (but if you want to see an amazing, American example of estate storage rooms, check out Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello), but I do have a butler’s pantry for the simple fact that it is the passageway that connects my re-located kitchen back to my dining room.

My butler’s pantry is a set of lower cabinets topped by a layer of drawers, with a counter. Above, I have some pretty cabinets with glass doors designed to look old, by using glass with bubbles and other “defects” to make it look more appropriate to the age of my house. At first, I wanted a “quick hit” and just cleared off the counter. Here you can see that I made a huge difference in this one-hour project. The piece of art is one my older daughter made in school and which was in that messy “before picture” hidden inside a box. The wine rack is new, one that I “earned” by eating frozen, diet lunches for about six months!

I was really pleased with the results, but when I looked at the upper cabinets, I saw such a mess! So, I spent many more hours cleaning out the upper cabinets, washing the shelves and glass doors, and cutting shelf liners to protect the 16 shelves. My younger daughter, whom I’d cut off from the TV, decided she wanted to help and she hand-washed the contents of the shelves. The results were sparkling!

It turned out that by grouping the contents by height and use, I was able to much better utilize the space. I even made room for my wine glasses, tea cups, and the few bar items I have in the upper cabinets. So, now I know exactly where all the pitchers and vases are, where the soup tureen is, and where my kimchi pot is! This also freed some space in my kitchen for other glassware, an unexpected bonus.


This project turned out to be a more work than I thought, but wow, what a difference! Now I feel ready to entertain and use my butler’s pantry to serve dishes instead of an embarrassment, cluttered and junky, to hide.

Find the Joy in the Journey!

Related post: Butler’s Pantry Take Two