Saturday, July 24, 2010


I had no intention of blogging from the exam room at the ER, it just sort of happened. I had never been to an ER before, but have heard about 4 and 5 hour waits to get in, so I took my netbook with me. The plan was to just use it to play cards and other games while I waited, but when I got there I found that there was a WiFi hot-spot active, so I logged on.

As it turns out, I was in and out of the building in 50 minutes. Possibly a new land speed record for an ER visit. The ER I went to was at St. Joseph hospital, here in Eureka, and I must say, despite the fact that my leg was swollen and my knee filled with puss, it was a very positive experience.

Of course, I haven't gotten the bill yet.

This thing started on Tuesday with a small pimple on my knee that was surprisingly painful for its size. By Thursday it was the size of a silver dollar, but there was no real head on it. It was all under the skin and painful when I walked. On Friday my knee-cap looked like it had a half an orange shoved under it and my lower leg swelled by about 30%. Oddly though, it wasn't as painful as it looked. I mean it was sore, but looking at it I thought maybe I was going to loose my leg or something.

I iced it Friday night and the swelling on my leg went down some. On Saturday the swelling was back. I put more ice on the leg and I put a warm compress on the knee cap. I kept this up all day Saturday for hours on end hoping I could get the abscess to pop. I squeezed so hard my knee was now all kinds of weird shades of purple, red, and blue. I couldn't keep the swelling down and the whole the was looking really nasty. That is when I decided to go to the ER.

The RN who did the triage was a nice enough fellow, but seemed like he as at the end of a long day. He had an Asus netbook similar to mine, but a different model. I think he was jealous when I told him I have a 14 hour battery life. The doc was Dr. Cordova, I think. He was personable with a good bed side manor. To the point and professional, but I never felt like cattle. The RN who wrapped my knee and gave my discharge papers was Sarah, I think. She was very pretty, which was pleasant, given what I was going through. I just wished I hadn't almost passed out on front of her. It's a guy thing.

For those of you still guessing, this was a staph infection on my knee. I did fine when the doc put the needle in my knee cap to give me the local anesthetic. I did fine when he sliced open my knee and the blood started to pour. Unfortunately, He could not slice deep enough with the tool he had. The abscess was deeper than expected. He left the room to get something to pry it open more so he could slice deeper.

It was in-between all of these little steps when he would leave the room that I decided to blog about it. That is the reason the entry is so choppy. It was kind of interesting. Each time he or the RN walked in the room I would stop writing and shove the netbook behind me. No one ever asked what I was writing.

The doc came back with what ever he needed to slice deeper in to my knee and as he started in, that is when everything got tingly and I fell back on the bed. It wasn't the pain, because after the initial injection there really was no pain. It wasn't the site of my own blood either. I've seen my own blood lots of times. I think it was just the idea of something going deeply in to my body where it doesn't belong. I looked away as he was finishing the last step, but was too late. I couldn't keep the image out of my mind of that knife going in to my knee. It was a bit much.

Of course, as I'm lying there, white as a ghost, panting, and covered in sweat, all I can think is, “I wonder if the cute RN thinks I'm less of a man for almost passing out”. It's a guy thing.

When I regained composer, I reached for the netbook, clicked “Publish”, and headed for the door. The knee is already feeling better.

ER Bound

Well, the knee ended worse that I thought. Or I sh...doc just came in. He poked and proded and is going to see if he can drain the infection. My ...He just slkiced it open...Ouch! Didn't g....He sliced me good I almost passed out, but not quite.

Visit from the Blogosphere

On Thursday I got a surprise visit from some fellow house bloggers. Sadly, I was not home at the time. I won't say who it was, because I don't want to let the world know they are not home, or at least that part of the world that reads this blog. Well, OK, that is a very small part of the world, so there probably wouldn't be any harm.

Still, it is obvious they are traveling and away from home, because their home is no where near mine. There is a good chance they have been blogging longer than I have. Along with me, they were part of that first wave of brave souls who started posting on Even though I wasn't home at the time, it was still a nice surprise to find the note they left. I spent the next hour cleaning up just in case they made another surprise visit.

In other news, work on the foyer has ground to a halt. I have been side-lined with a nasty knee injury. For what it is worth, the injury is not house related. I was able to make it to the mill on Friday to order the missing parts for the stairwell. I should have the parts in week and a half, which would be great timing if I could get off the couch and work on the stairs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Myth Busters

I have a little sanding to do around the plaster medallion and over the closet door in the foyer and then I’ll slap on a coat of primer before I move on to the stairs. The stairs are really going to be a lot of work.

Mostly it is a lot of stripping of old shellac so I can get back to a uniform surface. As you can see, there is a lot of surface to strip. Lots of cut outs and little reeded posts. In addition to that, I am missing a few pieces.

Above is a close up of one of the baluster sections from the upper part of the stairs. You’ll notice in the first picture the little finials in the circular cut outs are missing. Of the 21 originals only 5 remain. Who knows what happened to the others. At first I thought old tenants took them as souvenirs or something. Today I pried one off myself and it did not come off easy, so now I’m not so sure.

The reason I pried one off was so I could take it to the mill to get new ones made to replace the missing ones. They are inch and 7/8ths square and are 3.5 inches tall. I used a few scraps of 2X8 left over from the 2 story addition to make some blanks for the mill. I’m sure they can get wood, but I know this wood is really, really nice. Plus I get to use up more of my scrap wood and pay less for the new finals.

The other thing I’m going to have the mill do is either repair or replace the caps of the two newel posts at the bottom of the stairs. There are a total of 5 newel posts, and while they all have a certain amount of character to them (e.g. the occasional knick or scratch), the caps at the base are especially dinged up.

"Dinged up" is putting it mildly. There are deep gouges, initials carved in to them, and even a little swastika. My hope is that they can put them back on the lathe and just remove the top eighth of an inch or so. They don’t need to be perfect, because none of the others are, and the rest of the stairs has some character here and there. If they can’t fix these, then new ones wouldn’t be the end of the world. I would just need to make sure the quality of the wood meets the standard of the rest of the stairs. Second and 3rd growth redwood can some times seem like balsa wood compared to the old growth stuff.

For a long time after I bought this house, and even before I bought this one, with my last house, I spent a lot of time on several old house related on-line forums. There is just a great bunch of kindred spirits out there that could share knowledge and empathize with my plight. One of the stories that crops up from time to time is that the tradition at the end of the last century was that the builder would store the blue prints to the house in the newel post.

It was sort of a topping off event. As the story went, the placing of the newel post cap would be the last thing that would happen before all of the crews left the house. Before they put the cap on they would roll up the blue prints and shove them in the post. Of course, few are willing to pry off the cap to see in the blue prints are in the post.

Well, today I pried off the caps and guess what, nothing, zip, zilch, nada. My guess is that maybe one builder some place did this and the story grew. Or perhaps this was a real tradition and this is just one more Petch House mystery. Regardless, no blue prints for me.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Plaster & I Are Both Finished!

The plaster is finished and I am beat. I said it the other day, and I'll say it again: Skim-coating plaster is the hardest job I do in this house. It is both physically demanding and technically challenging at the same time.

I have found that it is not too difficult to do a half way descent job at it, but to really be good and proficient takes a lot of practice. On an episode of This Old House years ago they were talking with a plasterer who does skim-coat over blue board. Blue board is like sheet rock, but made to accept finish plaster. He said that a new-hire will apprentice for 2 years before they will be good enough to earn a living at it. Collectively, all of the time I've spent doing plaster would probably add up to about 6 months. I have a ways to go.

So now the big challenge is the mess. Every room adjacent to the foyer has a fine coating of dust and the foyer itself has a very thick coating if dust. I put down a layer of cardboard and plastic on the floor in foyer, so that won't be too difficult to clean. The other floors, especially the stairs need to be wet mopped before I take up the cardboard and plastic. Then of course, there is just all of the tools and other crap that needs to be put away.

I may be finished with the plaster but it is far from over. Still, it is so nice to be done with that. I can start to think about the stairs.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

E Unum Pluribus

I am primed, ready, willing, able, bound and determined to finish the plaster in the foyer this weekend. As The Universe as my witness, I will put my trowel away on Sunday!

I hope….

This really has dragged on long enough, wouldn’t you say. It was probably 6 weeks ago that I said I would be finished in 2 weeks. I swear, you would think I was a licensed contractor with the way I’m estimating this job.

Two weeks ago I tore down the scaffolding in the stairwell. I threw the small stuff and ratty plywood in the truck, ready for the next dump run. I then listed the longer 2X4s on Craig’s List and offered them up for $20. I got 2 calls early that morning. As I was about to call the first person back it dawned on me that I was far from finished. I still had to do the foyer and work on the woodwork.

The ceiling in the foyer could be done on a ladder, but when I have an ample supply of 2X4s and ratty plywood laying around, what’s the point. The woodwork is mostly low enough that I can work on it standing or sitting, but of course stairs always present unique challenges. So I de-listed the wood and built some more scaffolding.

This will help me get to those odd places on the stairs that I could normally only get to if I had 8-foot long arms. Boy, 8-foot long arms would really come in handy from time to time.

This will help me get the ceiling and high places on the wall, as well as the trim around the 2 sets of big double doors.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blast From The Past, Part 3

Psych! It is not another old, old photo. I was browsing my old photos the other day, looking for something, and I stumbled on this photo from a few years ago when I was painting the house. I blogged about house painting everyday for about 7 months straight. Never has a house painting job been documented so completely. Anyway, of all of the photos I posted on the blog, this was my favorite. And it is not completely out of context to the current project. That second story window in the photo is the window in the stairwell that I'm working on now.

Of course, we must have the before and after, or this case after and in-between because the shot with the brown paint is post asbestos siding...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Practical Psychology

Doing the practical thing is not always good for the psyche. I suppose the inverse of that is true as well, but I'm not concerned with that at the moment. After weeks of work I desperately need a psychological victory. Something that looks done even if it isn't.

The practical thing would have been to finish the woodwork before I painted the walls, but that is weeks away. It is only the baseboards that are up against these walls, and either way, whether I painted now or later, I would have masked the first few feet of wall up from the baseboard.

Yesterday I skim-coated the lower part of the 3 walls in the stairwell. I did the upper walls a week or so ago when I had the scaffolding up. As I predicted then, making the transition from where I left off a few weeks back, to where I started today, was not as easy as if I had done one wall top to bottom.

The other issue was that I was also making the transition from the old plaster to the new plaster. I had to replace all of the plaster on the lower half of the walls before I skim-coat everything. The finish plaster used for skim-coating has about 15 to 20 minute working time on the old plaster, but only a 2 or 3 minute working time on the new plaster. I don't care how much water I spray on the new plaster, as soon as the finish plaster hits it it begins to set up. Working on parts of both types of plaster at once adds another level of difficulty for someone with my level of skill.

Given all of that, the results are good. Not great, but good. I need to work on my corners and edges and I should take more breaks in between walls, as well. For me, skim-coating plaster is the most physically demanding job I do on the house. Especially the new plaster. Twenty minutes in and sweat is just pouring off of me, but I can't stop. It is not like painting or wood work where I can stop at anytime and come back to it. The end results is that the first wall looks better than the last wall.

So next weekend I will skim-coat the foyer. It is a larger space, but really has a lot less plaster than the stairwell. There are 4 doors, including two sets of double doors, so I should have no problem getting it all done next weekend. I'm going to try and get to the mill this week to see about having a few pieces of the stairs reproduced. Some parts are damaged and others are missing. You never know how long that will take, so it is best to start now. If all goes well, in two weeks I will start working on woodwork.


Not quite after, but as it sits

This shot probably best reflects the true color

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Blast From The Past, Part 2

I got another old picture from the Great Granddaughter of Thomas and Phillias Petch. This is an earlier shot than the last. Sadly, it is a very low resolution scan, so there is only this one view. It becomes pixelated when I try to enlarge or zoom in. This was a post card created by a local photographer, so we get a back and front.


That is Phillias on the front porch. The back says, “This is Phil's home and his mother. She sent me this a few days ago with one of his love letters to her when he was 7 years old and it sure is a dear

The Phil they are writing about is Phillip H. Petch, the youngest son of Thomas and Phillias. Phillip was born in 1887 so straight math says he would have written the letter in 1894, which was a year before this house was built. Really though, he could have written the letter in the house because he was born in November of 1887.

Items of note:

The house on the right in the photo is still there and looks pretty much as it did. They added some modern windows in the downstairs and an addition on the right, but other than that it is not too bad. I made an offer on that house 6 months before I bought the Petch House, but someone made an offer a few hours earlier and it was accepted. This is amazing because that house was on the market for almost 2 years. I'm glad I didn't get it.

When you compare this photo to the first photo it looks like one of the out buildings is still under construction on the left. This leads me to believe this is a very early shot of the house. Most likely the year it was built.

The paint is white with black (?) trim. I always suspected this. One of the first projects I ever did on the exterior was to repair the window sills that were damaged when the asbestos siding was put on in the 50s. Each time I stripped the paint off a sill I found black paint as a base. It could have been a very dark green. I also found this same color on the screen door I stripped. I found white paint any where else I stripped, and I found white octagon shingles inside the house used as shims for a 1920s Murphy Beds that were added. Of course, I was assured by some knowledgeable locals that the house would never have been painted white. "White!?!? Oh please!" Well, here's proof.

The gable decorations really make the house. Compare this photo to the one below of the house pretty much as it looks today. I really need to put those back. I wish this photo was scanned at a higher resolution so I could see them better. The railing over the porch doesn't do much for me. The cresting on the top would be nice to put back, but I wouldn't do it without completely stripping off the roof and putting on a new one. This house still has the original redwood shingles under the one layer of asphalt shingles.

A white - or at least non-black - dress for Mrs. Petch? Not very Victorian of her. Perhaps Thomas and Phillias were radical iconoclasts shunning the social norms of the day. Maybe it was just Phillias, and that is what lead to the divorce. Inquiring minds what to know!

I came close to getting the porch restored to original. It is hard to believe that I did more railing and trim than was originally there. Queen Annes of the 1890s were known for excess trim and over-the-top detail. I would have expected to see rails and newel posts down the steps.

This is one more piece of evidence that leads me to believe that this house was an economic stretch for the Petch Family. There is no evidence that there was carpet installed in the house. No fine wood floors, either. No picture rail upstairs. No stained glass window in the stairwell. No fence around the front. Don't get me wrong, this was and is a beautiful house with many fine amenities, but it did not come with all of the bells and whistles.

2006 - 111 years later

Monday, July 05, 2010

How I Spent The Forth

I received another generous offer from a friend to spend The Forth at a Bar B-Q on Indian Island. That is where I went last year and I really had a wonderful time. Indian Island is a mostly undeveloped island in Humboldt Bay. You are only a 2 minute boat ride from the shore, but it feels like you are miles away.

I bought a 6 pack and a bag of chips and had every intention of going out around 5:00. The priority this weekend was always the stairwell, though. I am bound and determined to get the scaffolding down. In order to do that I needed to finish a few large tasks and a lot of little tasks. Ultimately, it was the little tasks that ate up a lot of time. Because I won’t really be able to work on this area once the scaffolding is down, I had to do a lot of little things one would normally do at the end of a project. Sadly, I am far from the end of this project.

I needed to paint the walls and trim. I needed to make some minor repairs and finish painting the medallion. I needed to prep and paint the window. I needed to put on a sash lock and lift. I needed to mark the walls for picture rail. I needed to sand, oil, and shellac the picture rail. I needed to install the picture rail and hang the fixture. Finally, I needed to do touch up painting after the picture rail went on, put on a few more coats of shellac, and hang the fixture. Then I could take down the scaffolding. Oh, and I even washed the window. Eeeew!

The window proved to be interesting. Once I cleaned the thick layer of cob webs off of it I noticed that it looked like the sash were replacements. They were the correct style, but they were in too good of shape, considering they were facing south, and they lacked any hardware. This started to make sense because I always thought this should have been a stained glass window. A stained glass window in the stairwell was a staple of Queen Anne architecture of the day. There were 3 other stained glass windows in the house, why not one here. Then I remembered I had the old photo sent to me by relatives of the original owners.

Exterior shot of stairwell window circa 1915. Nothing stained about that.

Nope, no stained glass window. Another Petch House mystery.

For the medallion I needed to repair a broken corner and touch up the cherubs and foliage and maybe even hang some crystals. There are 8 little hooks on it that something once hung from. Two were missing and one had been hastily replaced with a cut off bobby pin. I fashioned some new ones out of wire, plastered them in, and headed to the craft store. I bought bronze and green paint for the touch-ups and was hoping to find some faceted crystals. I found them, but even though the selection was good there were not enough of any one type or even two types. They had two of this and one that. I then searched on-line and found what I needed, but over night shipping would have meant spending 50% more for crystals than I did for the medallion. Ain’t gunna happen.

The picture rail was pretty straight forward. I had milled it all on the router on Saturday and I just needed to do a little sanding and slap on some shellac. Then get the painting out of the way so I can install it.

Ah, the painting. My patented grab-n-go method of color selection failed me again. Oh, when will I learn! I hate choosing colors. I knew I wanted light colors and nothing too contrasting. There would be one color for the walls and then another color for the frieze and ceiling. This color scheme would be in the foyer and stairwell, and then eventually be continued in the upstairs hall.

I decided to go with Sherwin Williams Banana Cream for the walls. I had used it in the butler’s pantry and really liked it. It was not too garish, but still had some snap to it. At the last second I chose Cachet Cream for the frieze and ceiling. This decision was made solely because that is what I used to repaint the white parts of the plaster medallion.

Well, it didn’t work out. The Cachet Cream looks like an off-white in the small quantities used on the medallion, but once it was on the walls in larger quantities it took on an unpleasant orange tint. It was almost kind of a peach color. I really didn’t like it. All I needed was dusty rose trim and it would look like the inside of a cheap motel circa 1995.

Not only did I dislike the Cachet Cream on its own, but in contrast to the Banana Cream it was really unpleasant. The orange and yellow tints of the two colors did not work. Oddly enough, I was going to stick with it any way. I am that eager to keep this project moving forward and it was late Sunday and I wanted to go to Indian Island. I’m not vomiting at the site of it, so it is good enough. It successfully passed the no-vomit test. I also thought maybe once the walls were finished in the Banana Cream it would take the edge off the Cachet Cream. Any way, if I still didn’t like it I could use a different color in the foyer and when I do the upstairs hallway come up with some way to repaint the 20-foot high ceilings in the stairwell.

In the end I decided to sleep on it. By the time I finished every thing it was well after 6 o’clock. I was filthy and hungry. I’m sure what remained of the Bar B-Q by this time was crusty potato salad, gristly tri-tip remnants and stale potato chips. I took a bath and ate some dinner and made the fatal mistake of having 2 beers with dinner. By this time it is almost 7:30 and I am toast. There is no way I’m going any where. By quarter till 10 I was in bed. I vaguely remember hearing the fireworks go off.

Another holiday in The Petch House.

This morning I woke up and raced to the stairs hoping I would be seeing the Cachet Cream in a whole new light. No such luck. In fact, I think I disliked it even more and I had a few dry heaves. I decided it had to go. Fortunately, Sherwin Williams does not keep banker’s hours so within the hour I was standing in front of the wall of paint chips. I wanted something that leaned yellow and had a fair amount of white in it. I wanted color, but not too much. I settled on Lemon Chiffon and headed to the counter with my paint chip. The gal walked up to me and asked, “Can I help you”. I paused for a second or two and then in a monotone voice I replied slowly, “I’m still deciding”. I’m sure she was thinking, “Well, if you’re still deciding then why are you standing at my counter holding a paint chip”.

Something didn’t feel right, so I headed back to the color wall. I stared at the wall and mulled over a few more choices, eventually settling on Lemon Meringue. I don’t think I ever choose a color because I like it, so much as I pick the one that is the least objectionable. Picking colors for me is sort of like voting for Congress.

The picture rail will hit the 6 doors in the upstairs hall at the corner blocks.

Tomorrow the rest of the scaffolding comes down! Note that the Cachet Cream on the medallion is passing the no-vomit test. It has something to do with small quantities.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

I Say Punt

The skim-coating is done on the upper stairwell. The walls came out beautifully. Just as smooth as glass. I think I finally really understand how to plaster. Unfortunately, this understanding came just after I did the ceiling.

Since I don't do this sort of thing everyday, I must re-learn the process each time. Ceilings have the added difficultly of being over head. I just didn't get it as smooth I should have. I'm not sure whether to try and go over it again or to try and sand it smooth. I'm leaning towards sanding because I want to put on primer tomorrow.

If I can prime tomorrow then I can paint and put on picture rail mid week. That means I can dismantle the scaffolding next weekend. That would be really nice. Today after skim coating I made a lumber run to Almquist Lumber. They have a wonderful selection of wood. Many species I've never even heard of. Of course, I'm there for the redwood.

Towards the back of the second shed they always have a selection of salvage and new cut salvage redwood. The salvage stuff is just that. It has the occasional nail and comes in all kinds of odd sizes. The new cut salvage is where someone salvages an old log that was felled in the last century and saws it up. It is sold as rough-sawn lumber in full dimension. Just as in the olden days.

They had a good selection of 1X4 so I grabbed roughly 50-feet of it and headed to the register. When I got there I told the young guy behind the counter I had 3 8-footers, 2 6-footers, 1 7-footer, and a 5-footer. He tried to bring it up on the computer and couldn't find it. I said once again that it is was rough-sawn redwood from the back shed. He still couldn't find it in the system. A guy from the back office called out a few things to search on and none of it matched. I told him it wasn't marked, but he eventually hoofed it back to the shed to try and find a price.

After he came back up another guy tried to help. He has a air of management about him. That is a relative term at this lumber yard because everyone that works there looks more like they should be standing behind a saw instead of a cash register.

The 3 of us went back and forth measuring and remeasuring to try and figure out what this might be listed under in the computer. Everything here is sold by board-foot. It turns out that even though all of the boards were in the same stack I had actually grabbed two different things. The 8-footers where nicer and a little thicker than the other boards. This only complicated matters.

Finally, the manager guy said, “I say punt”. He is talking to the younger guy and he means just make something up. He points to me and says, “This guy's got better things to do than to stand around while we try and figure out what to charge him for lumber”. With that I chimed in, “Just give me a fair price and I'll pay it”.

The manager guy walked away and the younger guy typed something in to the computer. Eventually he looked up at me, and as if almost asking me he said, “$87.59”. I said, “Sold!”.

After lunch I milled it all in to 1X2 picture rail.