Thursday, February 28, 2008


I wanted to do a slightly better job of documenting our rimlocks. We've got 2: 1 came with the house, and the other we just bought.

A rimlock (or rim lock) is a lock whose mechanism is attached to the exterior of the door. I don't know anything about the history of the rimlock--they are unknown to wikipedia, and the few mentions on the internet were sketchy and brief.

Here's our original:

Original antique rimlock

You can see that ours is missing the piece that rimlock latches into (the "catch plate"). There was obviously a place for it on the door, but the piece itself is gone. Not sure how difficult it will be to replace it.

And here's the one we recently bought:

Our RL. Co. rimlock

I don't feel entirely confident that the catch plate and lock are a match set--they're different sizes, and the ornamentation on the two parts doesn't match. Still, it's functional.

Well, sort of. Neither of our rimlocks are in working order at the moment. The house original is currently broken down into its constituent parts, and Matt isn't sure how to reassemble it. Apparently, he unscrewed what my Dad refers to as "the Jesus screw." Dad had warned me about that screw, but apparently Matt wasn't around at that moment, because when he took down the lock to clean it, he went right for that screw and the whole thing sprang apart.

The new rimlock is by the company RL. Co. (do you suppose "RL." stands for "rimlock"?--I think it's very weird that there's a period after the L, but not after the R--as thought it were an abbreviation, not an acronym.) I haven't been able to find out anything about them, though I did find our exact same model for sale on the internet at Scherer's Architectural Antiques for $90. Here's how it looks when it's all prettied up:

The same model as our RL. Co. rimlock

Here's a similar model for sale (for $175! That $22 price is looking pretty good) at Mowery Antiques:

Another RL. Co. rimlock--a slightly different model

Check out all the nifty matching doo-dads. I especially like the little keyhole frame for the reverse side of the door.

And another example, from e-bay

Another slightly different model

Ours is missing a spring to make the tongue stick out. We're hoping the locksmiths at Cothron's locks in Austin will be able to help us out. Matt tried jimmying with a spring, but he couldn't get it to work.
The un-springy innards of our RL. C0. rimlock. Needs a good polishing, too

And on a completely different note, here's Po. (It's late, and I'm tired. I can't come up with a plausible segue. We have some pictures of Po and I'm putting them online. Period.) We've been training him--he now sort-of responds to "come" and "sit." Isn't he sitting beautifully?

Po, looking demure. Check out his big galumphing thumb.

However, Po doesn't much care for flash photography.

Po, looking extremely irritated

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Buds Are Swelling, Juices Are Flowing

While I was pruning the roses yesterday, it suddenly struck me: spring is coming. For one thing, these darling little miniature narcissus (whose name, shamefully, I do not remember) are in bloom.

Pretty miniature Narcissus by the front porch

They're so pretty, I think they deserve two pictures.

Closeup of pretty miniature Narcissus by the front porch

They're planted in front of the front porch, in one big bunch. I need to figure out what the heck they are so I can buy some more to sprinkle around the rest of the yard.

We've also got a black plastic pot with a few straggly hyacinths, of which the one below is much the best.

Mystery hyacinth

We have no idea where these came from--I don't usually buy hyacinths precisely because they can be a bit whiny down here. This one certainly turned out a lovely, vibrant pink, though didn't it?

Our 'Fruit Cocktail' shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeana) are coming back in the front bed, much to my delight. I love 'FC' partly because it's just sprightly and plucky and a very nice pairing of colors, but also because it's a lot like our house overall. Shrimp plants are a very old, traditional southern plant, but this particular version, with its apple-green-and-cherry-red flowers, has a very current, even urban flavor to it. Much like our house, which is very old, but has bamboo floors and a brand-new chandelier and dinky-but-modern furniture from Target.

Shrimp plant sprouts

And on the east side of the house, the shrimp plants actually never went out of bloom, despite the 20 or so freezes we had this year. (They're right by the dryer vent.) They look like hell, mind you, but you have to admire their determination, all the same.

Shrimp plants by the dryer vent

...And of course 'Knockout' is our first rose to bud up this spring. It would be--shameless, flaunting tart. It's also hosting a couple of ladybugs--one red and one orange. (Click to enlarge, if you feel like playing Where's Waldo with the ladybugs)

Stupid 'Knockout' with its stupid flower buds

There are also some subtler signs of spring--the buds on our trees are starting to swell. The most, ah, turgid, are the pear buds on our 'Moonglow' Bartlett pear. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera to focus on the silly thing, so you'll have to imagine it. It looks a lot like a baby Bradford pear, actually, so look in any neighborhood built in the last 20 years and you should see all the pear buds you can desire.

To make up for it, though, I've got pictures of most of our oak buds below. If there are any among you who are bored by pictures of leaf buds (surely not?), this might be a good time to surf on. The rest of you, well, you're true pals.

First of all, we've got red oak (Quercus texana, rubra, or shumardii--we're not sure which, as they're all called "red oak") buds, located near our kitchen patio. Looking nice and fat, aren't they?

The smooth stems and long internodes of our red oak (Quercus something-or-other)

Then we've got white oak (Q. alba) buds from the front of the house. The leaf in the picture is actually a holdover from last year--white oaks would appear to be evergreen or, like live oaks, semi-evergreen.

The pleasingly snubby buds of our white oak (Q. alba)

And finally, the Lacey oaks (Q. laceyi). I was particularly concerned about these, because the leaves at the tips of their branches turned brown and dropped off last summer. So I'm particularly delighted so see them looking hale and lively. Lacey oak buds are more pointed, curved, and scraggy-looking than some other oaks, which I think makes sense as they aren't quite as domesticated as live oaks, pin oaks, and the like. They've got a slightly feral look to them, and if you oppress them with too much cultivation, they'll go off in a sulk and die (or so I'm told). They're in very little danger of dying from too much attention here on Avenue F.

Lacey oak (Q. laceyi) buds

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Good News! House Not Falling Down

Nice Mr. Structural Engineer

First off, the good news: our house is officially not falling down. Matt& I had noticed some new, sizable cracks in the stone facade of the house that worried us. We decided to have a structural engineer take a look and tell us whether or not the house was falling apart. The verdict: NOT falling apart!

The engineer got under the house and looked at the piers, which are stacks of concrete blocks set on a cement perimeter. He says they're holding up fine. In about 5 years, we should have another inspection to see if any of them need to be re-aligned, but for now, he doesn't recommend taking any action. He said that we should expect to see some seasonal shifting as our house is built on sand that contains a little clay. In addition, although our piers are adequate, they aren't the most stable model, which is a poured concrete pillar set several feet into the ground. Consequently, shifting is to be expected. He also said that if we did get the house leveled, we'd probably end up doing all kinds of damage to the interior. So we're going to stick with the status quo. We could, if we had all kinds of extra money, invest $12K in installing the deluxe version of cement piers, but he didn't really recommend it. Nice structural engineer. Regarding the cracks in the mortar, he just recommended patching.

I had been dreading having to take out a $10K loan to have the house leveled, causing all kinds of damage to the brand-new bookshelves, and seriously imperiling my ability to pursue any other home restoration projects or to buy a new car (the old gal has 216K miles on her--she's a good old wagon, but sometime in the next year or two so she's going to be called to the great car lot in the sky). So the engineer's report was phenomenally good news for us.

We Welcome Another Antique Knob to the Family

One of the ways we celebrated was by installing new door knobs (you should see us when we really cut loose). I installed a new exterior doorknob in our study to match the other two new knobs (in stylish oil-rubbed bronze.) We also needed a new knob for the door that separates the public part of the house (kitchen, living room, dining room, guest room) from the back rooms (master bed, mudroom, study, master bath). We restrict Po to the private part when he's unsupervised because there are fewer things for him to break back there.

So we needed a door knob. We checked out Elgin's Antique Mall today, and they had only 1 door knob set that came with the matching mechanism. Lucky for us, it came with an exterior mechanism, which is what we needed for the kind of door we've got.

The knobs aren't very nice (mis-matched brown and black porcelain), but the box is pretty awesome, and the price ($22) was just right. We need to find a spring to get the knob to work--for now, we just use the lock to keep the door shut. And we'll need to get Dad's advice on how to polish and protect the metal box. But even in the interim, it's functional and interesting. Matt's going to paint the door soon, and that should make the lock really stand out.

Stain for the Bookshelves
We've also been testing stains on the undersides of our shelves. From left to right: Red Oak, Cherry, Gunstock ("gunstock," forsooth!) and American Cherry.

We're going with (I cringe as I type this) "Gunstock," the only wood finish with the National Rifle Association Seal of Approval. Sedona Red or Red Chestnut are closer to being the actual color I had in mind, but they weren't available at either Ace or Lowe's. And as Gunstock is a little lighter, it may be better in a small room like the study. I don't know if you can tell in this picture, but all of the stains turned out a little blotchy--we may need to use a pre-stain wood conditioner to help it go on more evenly. Good thing we've gone through this extensive trial process.

We're also progressing on the porch glider. We finished painting the stand, and Matt's started bending pipes from the old hurricane fence to replace the swing's supports. I've put 2 coats of "spar urethane" (weird name, huh? Is it the urethane for protecting spars on ships, or what?)* on the stained slats. Now we just need to paint the supports, drill holes in them, and buy some special bolts with acorn nuts from Austin Bolt Co. Anyway, we're getting close.

*apparently, a polyurethane with UV-absorbers to protect against sun damage. Thus saith wikipedia. No word on the etymology. (Hah! "No word on the etymology!") The existence of a product called "McCloskey® Man O'War® Spar Marine Varnish," however, would suggest that the term does, indeed derive from nautical usage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Phlegmmy Mess

I'm just now starting to get over a rather nasty cold that knocked me out this weekend. It was a sort of jack-of-all-trades bug that started with a fever and sore throat, moved into my chest, but also found time to give me sinus hell and an odd achy soreness in my neck and head. I'm still a disgustingly oozy object, constantly hacking, wheezing, clearing my throat, snuffling, and blowing my nose. Gross.

Consequently, not much progress to report on the homefront.

However, we did buy a sample can of stain (minwax "Red Oak") for the shelves and stained the underside of the bottom shelf to see how it would look. Whoa Nelly! Too much stain! All dark and dull! It didn't look like a dark stain at all in the store, but I guess birch accepts stain really readily or something. Anyway, we're going to have to try something else.

Not much movement on the swing. We need to buy a couple more cans of rustoleum, turn the frame upside down, and spray its underside. We also need to varnish (or whatever the proper substance is) the slats. Will probably do that this weekend.

And it's rose-pruning time. To my immense pleasure, we haven't lost any roses since the last great die-off in early December. My impression is that cold weather stops this fungus in its tracks (which means it's out of commission for all of 2 months out of the year here in Elgin). With luck, the dormant period and recent rain has helped the new roses really dig in and get comfortable. I'm convinced that the one thing that fends off the fungus is a really healthy root system. Very nearly the only roses that were impervious to last year's fungal menace were the ones that came with the property.

In any event, it's time to do the annual pruning, check from incipient outbreaks, and transplant a couple of unfortunate souls that were placed a little too hastily last year. I'll have to buy a bottle of alcohol just for this pruning session--I'll want to dip my clippers pretty much between every cut to keep from spreading any spores.

I should also mention that Chuck & Ladonna came up for a visit last Tues. We took them to El Maguey to experience the margaritas in all their face-numbing strength. El Maguey was tasty, as usual. (I had the tacos el pastor. You never know what you're going to get with T.E.P. Every restaurant is different. El Maguey's version has the pork lightly coated in a red sauce, interestingly enough. It's savory and tender.) But I couldn't help lamenting the bounty of Mexican food choices back in Austin: Evita's Botanitas, with its madly un-gringofied selection of volcanic salsas; Polvo's, always a good choice for good quality Mexican staple choices; Curra's, with its interior Mexican offerings, like Cochinita Pibil; and, of course the Jewel in the Crown,
exemplary in every way, Fonda San Miguel. Fonda San Miguel is the place that proves that only a soulless dogmatist can every really, definitively, unswervingly answer the question, "red or green?" (Unless, of course, the answer is "both!") Their red and green salsas are both so good, you kind of wish your entree would never arrive. Red: smoky, sultry, plummy and fulsome. Green: tantalizing, tangy, elusive, and complex. If this were a food blog, I'd rave at length about my favorite dish, shrimp with lime-cream sauce, and their magnificent margaritas, but it's not, so I'll rein it in. In fine: Fonda San Miguel is damn tasty.

Okay, back from the digression. The really exciting news is that Ladonna had whipped up a couple of muslins (that's seamstress-talk for "mock-ups") of the valences for the master bath and guest bedroom. This is particularly pleasing because both of those rooms were decorated around the valence fabrics. So (the theory is) the valences should really pull everything together and make them look complete and polished (as much as is possible, anyway. We still have those horrible grey tiles in the master bath surround. Southern Living it ain't.) The Vests are going to pay us another visit in March, and at that point Ladonna will finish off the real things. I'm so looking forward to it. Thanks Ladonna!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Bookshelves Installed!

Our exceedingly speedy carpenter, Javier Diaz, finished our bookshelves in a week and installed them last night. They look terrific, and they're very sturdy. I'm writing this from my lovely new window seat as we speak. The style is very square and simple, which is exactly what we wanted and what I think suits the house best. He made it of plywood with a maple (or birch?) veneer, which turned out really pretty--it has rather a rather subtle, light grain. Chuck & Ladonna are coming up next Tue for a quick visit, so I'm looking forward to showing the unit off, since the Vests are essentially the Patron Saints of the Bookcase.

Next week we'll pick up some stain and varnish and hopefully get the whole thing ready to use by Sunday so we can finish unpacking our books and get that monstrous metal file cabinet out of the way.

Lovely new shelves (minus the actual shelves, which we'll install post-staining)

You may have observed, though, that the window and shelves aren't entirely square (noticeable at the top and bottom of the frame). That's because the windows themselves aren't square, which rather gave Javier fits, I think. The shelves and window seat are nice and level--the window, not so much. I'm hoping to camouflage this particular problem with curtains, a bench cushion, and throw pillows. Eventually.

Anyway, we were very happy with Javier's work, and we'll almost certainly use him a few months down the line, when the antique doors will all be ready for re-sizing and hanging. I'm so glad to have found a reliable, reasonable carpenter--such a useful person to have in one's contacts!

Meanwhile, we've also lurched forward another step towards resuscitating the porch glider. Matt scrubbed the frame with a wire brush, and then we rustoleumed the heck out of it. (If I'd had my druthers, I'd have gone with a softer shade of white, but there aren't a lot of options in rustoleum--it's pretty much Hospital White or beige.)

It's another gorgeous Saturday (probably about 71F, sun is shining, birds are twittering, really beautiful), so I felt the urgent burning need for a functional porch swing the whole time. However, we still have to
1) varnish all the wood
2) paint the underside of the frame
3) buy, cut, bend, and drill a pipe into three pieces for the swing's supports.

So we better have a few more nice weekends this year, cos the swing's got a bit more work before it'll be ready.

Rusty swing

Freshly painted swing, glowing rather aggressively in the sunlight

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Porch Swing Project, Bookshelves, and Miscellany

A New Cafe in Elgin
I am particularly pleased to note the opening of a new cafe/sandwich shop/ice cream parlor on Main St.: Cafe Nirvana (or Nirvana Cafe? not sure which). I am unhappy to report that, like every other business in Elgin, it's closed on Sundays. Apparently, while I am desperately roving the streets of Elgin, looking in vain for coffee, books, newspapers, pharmaceuticals, and antiques, the rest of the community is sitting silently at home reading the Good Book and, I don't know, tatting or something.

Cafe Nirvana (Nirvana Cafe?)

Anyway, we finally made it during operating hours, and it's really nice inside--small space, but high ceilings, lots of light, cool stone floor, exposed brick walls--just very nice and up-to-date and chic. It has free WiFi! The sandwiches and smoothies were fine, though the ciabatta was disappointingly soft (note to America: ciabatta is crusty, people. It's not Italian for "hamburger bun.") But all in all, it was a very respectable alternative to the rancid grease we've been treated to repeatedly at City Cafe. We still like El Maguey (and their margaritas), but one can only eat enchiladas so many times per month. Now we can vary it with sandwiches every now and then.

Window Work
Last weekend we finally did some long-deferred work on our windows. We scraped paint off the inside of the panes in the front of the house, which makes a surprising difference to how the rooms feel. I scraped so hard, I broke a window pane. I am Woman. Fear me. (Not to worry--I just caulked the broken piece back in place--I may be violent, but at least I'm resourceful.)

Matt & a partially scraped window. He didn't break anything.

And I used cement patching to cap the stones on the front window. When we moved in, this window had a piece of 2x4 wrapped (inexplicably) in a disgusting old pillowcase on the exterior sill. I think it was meant to keep water from seeping between the stones and the house as the stone-installing people neglected to cap this window off (unlike all the other windows).

I had assumed that the cement patching would dry to a nice, neutral whitish-grey, like most cement in the known universe. Not so. It dried to the vivid deep grey you see below. Will have to paint that some day. Not anytime soon, though.

My first stab at stone masonry

Progress on the Bookshelf Front
Meanwhile, we had a second meeting with Javier to clarify the style of drawer front we're looking for. That went great--we met him at his shop and saw more of his work and feel very good about the quality of his workmanship and his reliability. The surprise is that he's going to start Mon. and expects to be done by Friday! Yeep! I was expecting another pay cycle between now and the completion of the project. So the next week and a half shall be rife with Ramen and frugality.

This is where the bookshelves will go.

Happy Valentines to Us
Meanwhile, to keep from getting bored, we've started another project. We're rehabilitating the rotten old porch swing that came with with house. It's to be our Valentine's present to each other. It is also going to be stained red (with white metal), but that's just a coincidence. We'd still be staining it red even if it were a Mardi Gras present. I like red.

We thought, well here's a nice cheap little mini-project we can do as an inexpensive yet enjoyable present to each other. It'll cost, what, 40 bucks? We'll just buy some wooden slats, stain and varnish them, and screw them in place. Badda bing.

Not bloody likely. We paid $80 for the wood alone. And of course, once we starting really taking apart the swing, we discovered that the frame for the swing (not the stand, fortunately, just the swing) had rusted through in several placed. So there's also the cost of buying a long piece of steel pipe that Matt will have to cut, procuring a pipe bender from his work, cutting, bending, and drilling the pipe, as well as the cost of the stain, varnish, and new hardware (which we'll have to buy at Austin Bolt Company rather than Lowe's because Lowe's doesn't carry the right kinds of bolts nor wholes boxes full of acorn nuts.

So we really could have saved ourselves a lot of time and probably a bit of money* if we'd just bought a brand-new porch swing and thrown this one away. However, we used Texas red oak for the wood, and we're going to rustoleum the hell out of the metal, so perhaps we'll end up with a slightly better quality item in the end. And, you know, Al Gore would be proud. Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?

The pitiable condition of the swing--rusted and stained with algea.

Matt examines the rust holes glumly.

The stand, while rust-stained, doesn't have any holes and is still solid. Matt scrubbed off the algae preparatory to a thorough spraying.

The new wooden slats for the swing.

Shade Patio Pre-Groundbreaking
We're also getting started on the shade patio. This is going to be a long, slow process. We'll need to level the ground at least a little, put down metal edging, put down sand, place the pavers, then brush a dry cement into the crevices. Today we did a trial run of the central medallion thingy to figure out how big it will be and where the different components will go.

Here are all the pavers we've got.

A lot of pavers

And here's the central design of our patio-to-be.Trial run of the pavers

Flossie Returns
And finally, we picked up Flossie this weekend from Elgin Furniture Refinishers.

Flossie, all scrubbed and clean

Interestingly, Flossie turned out much lighter and brighter than Edith. I wonder if Edith hadn't been stained at some point, while Flossie was merely painted. you can kinda see the difference in the closeup below--Edith is in the back and Flossie's in the front (click on the pic to view full size).

Edith & Flossie

We dropped off Poindexter, too, so soon we'll be finished with all three of the new painted doors. Next will be either our 2 original doors that came with the house or else the stained 5-panel doors that Mom & Dad bought us. As the latter will be a little cheaper, which ones we start on next may come down to budget.

*Okay, maybe we couldn't have saved money by replacing the glider. I just did a quick web search, and the cheapest glider I could find was $250; the vast majority were between $400 and and eyeball-popping $1,200. Huh. Let's hear it for the Al Gore Way! Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!
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