Category Archives: Life in the Crooked House

Succumbing to the Repo Man

I had goals of fiscal responsibility. Finance the renovation completely out of pocket. And when that failed, pay off the credit card while it’s still interest free. And when that failed, transfer the balance. It seemed like my scheme to give the banks $0 of interest payments was gonna work. And then I had to take my car to pasture. Camden Iron and Metal gave me 8 cents a pound for it, or $269.

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This time around I wanted a small car that would fit down my street and it had to be a hatchback. I got a shiny red one in honor of the old car.

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And so, another credit card. And all this was still fine. Yes, I took a vow of poverty, but I was making it work. That is until I saw what I owed the IRS.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Anyways, they’ve taken the car back. And to cover depreciation, they came for my personal property. Thank God the couch doesn’t fit through the door. I at least have some place to sit.

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Well, I’m sure eating crow now. That’s what I get for thinking I could be debt free AND enjoy the trappings of a middle class lifestyle. From now on I’d better just let it show that I’m house poor. At least my parents are letting me borrow their Lexus.

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Baby’s First Christmas

 

This isn’t what I meant…

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No, 2016 was my first time hosting holiday dinner, so I feel very grown up!

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And I decided to pretend to be Italian because I live in South Philly (even though my part is more southeast Asian than Italian now). I went all out and served the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. What is this? Catholics believe that you should strengthen your faith through self-deprivation by not having meat on Fridays or the eves of religious holidays, and Italians made a tradition of following the letter of this rule by preparing the most over-the-top decadent seafood dinner humanly possible. I made baccala, salt dried cod with tomato sauce, and lobster bisque. There was a pack of stuffed clams in my freezer after I got them on sale at Aldi 2 months ago, so I finally used them up, and my dad made seafood pasta with a white wine broth, one of his signature dishes, with 4 more kinds of seafood. Some people said that’s cheating but we say close enough. I did follow the rule that Italians really care about and made about twice as much food as we needed.

Then there’s a little Crooked House inside the Crooked House now – my roommate made one out of gingerbread! I said she should have printed tiny little political statements for the rainbow candy in the windows but we’ll call it close enough. She wanted to build it to be broken open like a piñata but she forgot to bake a roof so she just

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And because this post is a bit of a catchall, I’ll show you a renovation-related gift I gave my parents this year. Their house was built really nicely in 1951. Alth0ugh it’s kind of nice to have a newish house that was built for TV’s and not for a kitchen maid, theirs was sadly built with flush doors and ordinary looking hardware. Then around 1990 (I think) someone downgraded the doors to the flimsiest hollow paneled doors I’ve ever seen. But at least they don’t have a faux woodgrain embossed into them. My dad has been very slowly replacing them with solid (veneered, finger-jointed pine doors. And by slowly I mean about one door every 5 years on average. Remember, solid pine doors are $60 more than the cardboard ones, so if you have a large house with any upgrades at all and you have these doors… I won’t say what I’m thinking. I’m nice like that. (This is their hallway by the way.)

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Back again to door hardware because it’s the most important thing… they still had the flimsy circa 1990 Kwikset knobs even though the house had nice doors for the first time. They can’t have awesome vintage hardware with skeleton keys like I have, so I sought out the best modern hardware I could find. I happen to know that my mom loved the circa 1930’s Georgian brass knobs in my back bedroom.

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And so when I was deciding between plain enough to be appropriate for a postwar house and conspicuously fancy, I went with the Waverly handleset from Emtek.

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I got them 3 so they can have good hardware in the downstairs hall. That covers what other people see at least. The tragedy of having to buy these new might preclude ever getting them throughout the house but that’s life.

Parties > Pigtails

So yeah, I had a party! I had a post drafted about it but it was boring, so here’s the tl;dr version. I invited 120 people on Facebook. I panicked. I cooked for 30. 15 showed up. It was nice. I think the Crooked House could accommodate 20 or 25 comfortably for this kind of party, or 10 for a sit down dinner. Here’s the living room at the end of the night, still messy after an hour of me and the roommie washing dishes.

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Now on to the light fixtures (and yes, you just saw one of them.) Remember the cute little pan light for my bedroom? It had non-original shades and there was an odd gap between the shades and the bells that cover the bulb sockets.

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I figured out that it had been a bare bulb fixture and that whoever redid it in the 80’s discarded the bobesches and clamped on globe fitters. Once I saw this I wanted to turn it back, but was nervous to buy bobesches online sight unseen. It also shorted out because the paper insulaters around the bulb sockets are gone, the polarity of the wires is backwards (which is fine as long as I know) and my lighting circuit has a ground fault interrupter breaker.

Then my flashy chrome chandelier needed a longer center wire and a new chain and canopy.

Anyways, I went to The Antique Lighthouse in Fishtown. They had brass bobesches that looked good to me. They’re a little too big but they screw on the bulb sockets and I don’t think anyone will notice that I cheated. The lighting shop is attached to a metal finisher, so they also polished and lacquered them to match the refinished fixture. And they replaced the insulators and fixed a crack in the ceiling canopy. So now it’s up and working!

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Rewiring the other chandelier was gonna cost me a lot more and I balked. They sold me 10 paper insulators and good chain and I decided to tackle it myself. Luckily, the wiring was in good shape so I didn’t have to fish anything, just put on a new center wire. I bought a ceiling canopy online. It’s not perfect. The canopy is kinda flimsy and the Irishman cut the drywall too big around the electrical box. But it’s up!

 

and boy does the room look more finished with it.

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Also, my fears about this not fitting in with my décor were completely baseless. I feared that it was gonna look oddly flashy but it turns out to be pretty understated. Trading in the country dining furniture for Danish modern might make it fit a weensy bit more too. Like I said before, it was made to have 30 crystals hanging from it and though I’m curious to know what that would look like, I’m not too eager to spend a lot of money restoring a feature that I may not even like. The stars are a garland my roommate had that I hung from ornament hooks through the holes for the crystals.

So this means that the pigtails are gone and every room in the house is now outfitted with presentable lighting. Except the 2 bare bulb fixtures formerly in the basement that are up in the bathroom. The price was right. Maybe I’ll find a suitable replacement soon?

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Yes, I’m blogging about Christmas decorations

And they no longer include that shabby faux holly wreath I used the last 3 years. Most of my stuff came from my paternal grandfather, which means it hasn’t seen the light of day in 15 years.

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My roommate and I got really lucky and scored a huge Fraser fir that’s not overwhelmingly wide. Most of what’s on it is either nutcrackers (because my family collected lots of them for me when I was a kid), awesomely mottled old glass ornaments, or things my aunt crocheted. Well, it would be nice to say my aunt but actually a lot of them came from my mom’s ex mother in law. And she was better at it than my aunt.

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I’m loving the retro look. In fact I’d have recreated this picture if I could. “What else did we get?” is definitely the real meaning of Christmas, right? Cue my mom scolding me for being a cynic. That’s my dad on the right.

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But I’d totally have gone for a sparse, irregular tree and loaded it with tinsel if there were any of those to be had. The one I got was less than 2 blocks away and I’ll call it a find. I’d definitely, definitely put out those cars too! Sadly, they’re long gone, and the repurposed tree skirt doesn’t cover the OSB  backing for the tree stand (definitely a my dad job). But that’s okay because I have Victorian toys to hide it! This stove is the best.

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And a crèche. There’s a nicer one from my other grandparents but I like this one because when my mom was little she thought Joseph was ugly and had Mary run off with the blond shepherd.

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And, drumroll please, I decorated the basement. This might be ridiculous but again it’s a memory from my grandfather’s house in my early childhood.

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He built the tables with gas pipe legs (way before it became the cool bloggy thing to do) and wired C6 bulb sockets into it. But the vintage Plasticville houses have little melty marks on them from the heat of those old fashioned bulbs, the colored lights he used look weird, and the wiring is in a terrifying state. So we redid it with some (free!) LED lights. My favorite piece is the Plasticville Frosty Bar, possibly the most 1950’s thing I’ve ever seen.

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Now a bit about my grandfather’s house. He wasn’t vain about it like the rest of the family. It was plain, smoke-stained, and filed with unfashionable mid-century modern furniture. (Don’t ask how little my parents sold it for.) And our friends knew his house for having no rules. We could use the swivel chair as a tire swing, make clouds with Grandma’s powder puff, make mud and rivers in the garden, put clothespins in the dryer… he didn’t care. He used to make me sandwiches of Spam Lite fried in bacon grease with Velveeta and yellow mustard. And while there was a procedure to getting the ornaments dispersed just so at my parents’ and grandmother’s house, we did whatever we wanted at Grampa’s. I made one spot look bad on purpose and he didn’t let my mom fix it. And, he used the blinker bulbs in his lights. Because my dad uses a lot of lights strung into neat horizontal rows, this gave his tree an effect of horizontal bands blinking out of sync with each other and the tree looked like a spaceship. It was awesome.

And if this story was special enough to you, the house can be yours!  Remember, you’ll want red linen countertops on knotty pine cabinets and Lane Copenhagen furniture  for an historically accurate look. But skip the carpeting; the refinished floors are definitely an upgrade.

A Large Decluttering Fail

I was all ready to write something boring about getting rid of stuff after a few triumphant rounds to Philly AIDS Thrift and assembling shelves in my basement. I mean, remember my parents’ basement? Not like this you don’t.

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And I did a decent job clearing out mine.

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More organizing will be needed. I put all the miscellaneous hardware and tools from 3 years of remodeling into one box of horrors. Then there’s another box of things I’ve been too lazy to file! Luckily I have filing cabinets, and these really great tobacco cans with really great labels. You know I put the maroon one where it shows on purpose.

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And Saturday I loaded up some fluorescent lighting my dad gave me from his hoard and that mini-fridge that kept my beer cold through the remodel and went to the ReStore. I didn’t think that stuff was a good fit for Philly AIDS Thrift. They priced the fridge at $20, or $5 less than I paid for it. I guess that’s fair.

But while I was there I decided to poke around. I’m not looking to buy any more stuff ever again, but you never know. And among a whole lot of mediocre furniture, gasp. This would be great for someone to have. But not me because I don’t need dining room furniture.

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I should check the price though. I mean they must have someone here who knows enough about furniture to price this. And I choked.

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So I started pacing. The idea of not getting this bargain was stressing me out. Should I start buying furniture to resell at a profit? I called my dad but he was not on board. But there was an extra 10% off on big furniture that day and I had shrink wrap at home and it’s not that far and then this happened.

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Yes, I went to the ReStore to divest myself of a refrigerator and some odd building materials and when I got home I had 2 dining room sets.

The good news is, my roommate didn’t want to kill me. My parents don’t want to kill me. The 2 Couchsurfers who were staying with us while this was happening thought it was a good idea. The room does look a whole lot airier now. (And the table doesn’t look skimpy in real life.)

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Does anyone know anything about Vejle Stole & Møbelfabrik Furniture? I found maybe the same table online at over 20 times the price I paid for the set so it looks like I was not an idiot for doing this. Plus this table gets super long with leaves that stow inside it while they’re not in use. And with a little less of Nana’s stuff in the room there’s room for her nice plant stand down from my bedroom. Now can I keep house plants alive?

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And the down side. My parents’ basement again.

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But there’s something you can do to help. Buy our stuff! Yep, the table is already on Craigslist. And yeah, again, I’m happy about this.

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So How’d That Beer Tour Go?

I bet you want to know how the tour/party went, but first one of the last things I did to clean for it. In contrast to what I talked about hearing from my steps last week, the steps themselves wasn’t white enough. It used to be a thing that everyone would scrub their marble steps every week. (This photo is Baltimore, whose rowhouses are an awful lot like Philly’s.)

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The plan was always to start this tradition back up after I was done lugging building materials in but… that never happened. Anyways, my mom had bought me Comet cleanser ages ago, but I wanted Bon Ami. Not because it’s any better or anything but remember that big photo of my great-great grandmother?

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Well, she lived about 500 feet away and she used Bon Ami. But I went to 2 stores and neither had it, so Comet it is. So here’s what I started with:

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And here it was after the Comet. Much better but some persistent black stains still ground in.

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Then out comes the Irishman and he says, “I’ll get that off for you in 10 seconds.” And he sprayed them with muriatic acid. This is NOT one of the recommended techniques for restoring historic masonry. So it was scary, especially when the marble started fizzing. But here’s the result!

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Then the Irishman did his own marble – not the original slabs like I have. This time I got a photo of the fizzing.

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And, never a dull moment, he hosed off his car just in case. THANK GOD it was his parked right here in case anything had happened! Also note his signature lack of personal protective equipment when working with dangerous chemicals.

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Then the inside prep. We took away most of the furniture. I said early on that I didn’t want my grandmother’s table because it has a leg in every spot you’d want a chair. I guess I forgot how great a gate leg table is for something like this. And the menu. My mom said that the things other people planned didn’t include enough vegetables so I made massive amounts of hummus, baba ganoush, red lentil balls, and crudités. And remember, it makes all the difference in the world to blanch your crudités. Quench them in an ice water bath so they stay crunchy. The colors are way brighter this way and I’d say the flavor is too.

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The Indonesian place around the corner (One of the places that were indispensable when I was kitchenless) provided a platter of vegetable fritters. And of course the fried food is what went. Now I’m planning every way possible to use up half a shopping cart’s worth of vegetables. And then there was how the guests fit. Definitely pushing the limits of what the Crooked House can hold. Just don’t tell the fire marshal I did this.

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Obligatory bottleneck in the kitchen. The keg was out back. Some people said my kitchen design was too closed in, but I don’t think it’ll ever matter this much again (Unless I’m a beer tour host next year).

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But all this make ahead, room temperature food (and the help of my parents and aunt) let me go to every house. Even though our visits to the houses before (seen below) and after mine were cut short.

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I should keep this entertaining thing now.

 

 

 

Of Mice and Bloodlust

I went home Monday after 4 nights with my parents. It was kind of late when I got home and I was tired so I put off unloading non-perishable groceries until right before my bedtime. And then I noticed green dust coating most of the bottom of the cabinet. It was always a little dirty – some onion skins dropped in the back behind the carousel and I ignored them, figuring they were harmless. This was obviously different, being everywhere and an unsettling color. Then I noticed what looked an awful lot like a tail sticking out underneath a bag of split peas.

As you can imagine, my bedtime got pushed back. All of my bagged and boxed food wound up in the trash or in pots and pans with the lid on. I needed the roommate’s help to lift the carousel up and clean under it. Yes, somehow the chewed up split peas made it all the way underneath.

I got to bed crabby but had a wonderful dream. In it, I got all the adult mice with snap traps, but their babies were too small. But I lifted up that carousel and found them there, huddled together. The adults were chewing up the split peas and tossing them down there to them. I smashed the whole lot of them with a dictionary. I seem to also remember chasing after them with my chef knife.

Back in the real world, I’ve had superfun outings to buy food storage canisters, mousetraps, and those electric mouse repellent things. The Irishman told me that they worked brilliantly at his house, which might have something to do with why they’re at mine now. We’ve noticed much less activity lately than Monday when it seemed to have peaked. But… the peanut butter I’ve been putting on the traps is now attracting ants! Oh joy.

All this is adding up to me becoming a lot more cold blooded than I used to be. Not that I’ll actually start running around the house driving knives after them – that would be crazy and make a wreck of the house. In the beginning my stomach would drop when I found a sprung trap. Now I find them less gross than dog poop, and I pick them up the same way. If I had another one sitting still in front of me there’s a good chance I’d pin it down and smashing its skull with a can of soup. I’d bleach the can but have no problem eating it either. And when I was in bed last night and heard a snap, I just smiled. My kill count is at 5 and is slowing down.

Anyways, I have over a dozen mouse traps out. There are ant baits next to most of them. And there’s fly tape up because apparently pests come in 3’s. This was by far my most expensive week since I stopped working on the house. But now my pantry holds more than ever, and it almost even looks good! Plus, this could be an early step toward my goal of buying more bulk food and less packaging.

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For the record, I’m not actually a sadist. I’m still unwilling to use glue traps. Hopefully there will be more to say about my house soon. At this point, it’s basically unchanged since June. Except my plants are dead. Womp womp.