The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goodwill Industries, Suck My ----

As part of our ever on-going effort to find the floor, we took a truckload of old clothes, kitchen wares, et cetera to Goodwill in Russellville last Saturday.

We pull up at the drop-off door in back of the store. A very puckered lady steps out and scowls at our truck load of stuff. I can't tell if a hard-life has soured her or if a lifetime of nasty thoughts and deeds has stained her with a black, indelible mark.

"We don't take furniture." The two bar stools are the only furniture in the truck.

"What about the rest of it?"

"We can't take it, it's not boxed right so we can send it to Little Rock. And we don't take furniture." What? We've been bringing stuff here for years. This has never been a problem.

A rat of a man comes out and joins us. "We can't take any of this. Sorry, we don' take furniture."

"Well, is there anywhere that we can take it?" I try not to sound too exasperated. I mean I don't usually take donations to charities as a pretense for picking a fight.

The puckered prune sneers, "You can take it to MARVA, they'll take it."


I climb back into the truck. Scarlet says, "You'd think we pulled up with a truckload of shit they way they looked at it."

"Yeah, and what the fuck was their deal about the furniture? You'd think that’s all we'd brought. Assholes."

I drove down to MARVA. They were the nicest people. And, they took everything. We're going to take them another load next week or so.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Volkswagen, Du Kanst Mich Mal!

It was a day drifting between last summer flush and cool fall. The sunny, early afternoon was comfortable in the trees' shade, they lined the lane. I climbed into the yellow convertible parked at the curb. It was a classic design, providence and origin unknown. The long, sleek hood was too big to hold anything less than a V8. The engine started with a whisper and purred. I had to smile. I eased the car away from the curb and raced down the road. The old wooded neighborhood vanished, the road masked the lakefront, southbound to downtown. I glided through traffic, rocketing past everyone. I never shifted out of second gear. I ruled as a god among the shoddy, weak plebs of the road.

Imagine my disappointment in wakening to a much different world.

Even though one gallon of diesel will get you 56 miles down the road, I hate this car, our 1998 VW Beetle. Apparently, I am not the only one either.

As long-suffering reads will already know, this car has cost us quite a bit of money over the last eight or nine months. It got a $2500 check-up for Christmas and another $400 of electrical work after leaving me stranded during an ice storm. Then, we had another $1000 of work done this summer.

The current problem with pimple sized bit of over-engineered, four-wheeled dung is the battery won't stay charged if you don't drive it every day. There are two possible explanations for this.

One is that this is one of the endemic problems that plague the newer Volkswagens. There is so much passive-electronic crap in this car that they vampire all the juice off the battery when it's not running. Volkswagen installs solar panels that charge the battery via the cigarette lighter while they are shipped from the factory to the dealership. Prior to this, the cars were arriving at the dealers' with dead batteries. Nice.

The second possible problem is that we may have a short in the new electrical system, another endemic problem with the new VW's. Steve, our good mechanic, said that we ought to take the car back to the dealer and make them fix it. This sounds reasonable at first, but, since this nut-sucking bunch of monkeys has yet to fix the car to my satisfaction, why would they start now? Besides which, they probably won't make it right for free to and they'd keep the car for a week or more while they fucked it up in some utterly novel way. Volkswagen, du kanst mich mal am Arsh lechen!

Oh. Since we've already pissed away a small fortune on this car this year, I don't have any money to really do much about this at the moment. I'm guessing I'll have to dig out my trickle-charger and just plug the little bitch up over the weekend so it'll start come the work week.

Do you remember my much lauded Saturn, the one I retired after it lost a cylinder at 287,000 miles? It still starts the first time after sitting in the driveway for over a month. I used it to jump my "good car," the VW, yesterday morning. Again.

Anyhow, the question is what exactly we'll do with this piece of maggot eaten shit.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Off Kilter

[This should have been posted yesterday]

Nothing says back to school like a like a late model Honda Civic with "CLASS OF '08" soaped on the rear window and the front hood crumpled and tucked under the rear bumper of a black, mid-sized SUV. A scrawny boy sits stupefied behind the wheel. His face is frozen in the universal OH-SHIT look. A large, tired middle-aged woman stands on the side of the road looking at the tiny car wedged up her ass. She pulls out her cell phone and starts dialing. I feel bad for her. All she wanted to do was go to work, put in her eight hours, and go home. Instead, she got one more mess she'll have to clean-up.

The school year makes the last ten to fifteen miles of my commute miserable. Frazzled soccer-moms with their spawn in tow and newly licensed drivers clog the interstate with incompetence. It is too bad that nobody walks to school anymore.

The last day or so has been like the wreck I saw. No blood, no twisted wreckage, just off step. It has been spilled coffee on a freshly laundered dress shirt, a missing cell phone, a moth flying into your eye, et cetera. After a day of this, my calm is seriously disturbed.

I need a quiet moment, a nap, and a strong cup of coffee. It could happen, couldn't it?

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Damgoode, Jeff Trismegistus

I meant to post this a couple months back, but it got lost in our rush to prepare for our appraisal.

One night, I came home from work to find the following message on my answering machine. "Hey, I'm calling for John Ahlen. This is Jeff T[rismegistus] from high school. JP and I were talking and wanted to know what you've been up to. . . "

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with it, I graduated from high school 13 years ago. I hadn't seen or heard from Jeff since my freshman year of college. Wow.

Jeff is one of the people I'd always wondered about from time to time. I was pretty floored to have a message from him on my answering machine. I mentioned it to my sister and she said, "Jeff? You mean that fuck enormous guy, the one who broke the ceiling fan?" Yes, that Jeff. And, it wasn't his fault that he broke the ceiling fan. When you're well over six feet tall and you stretch in house with eight foot ceilings, thing happen.

Sis is right too. Jeff is a big in every way. Not only is he physically big, but he has a big voice, big ideas, and an incredible about of energy. Somehow, the combined effect makes him seem even larger than he actually is. He's like a bright light in a dark room. Your eye is drawn to it and it is impossible to ignore.

I called him back and we talked for a little. Made tentative plans to get together sometime. We talked about the Devil Queen too. He'd Googled me and found my beast; he definitely wanted to see it.

That weekend Jeff called and asked if he could come up and see the Devil Queen. He even offered to help paint. Now, how many of you have actually had someone you haven't seen in 13 years call you up and just volunteer to work on your house?

We had a nice visit. Jeff met the family, Scarlet and Gideon, which blew his mind. Apparently, I am one of those people that folks have trouble seeing as a father. It makes sense too.

Both Gideon and Scarlet decided they liked Jeff immediately. That is high praise indeed. It would be fair to say that together, they make quite the hard audience.

Since I'd seen Jeff last, he'd stumbled (literally, long story) into owning his own business. I'm not sure that I fully understand the particulars (Jeff, correct me if I'm wrong), but what started as a small production company of sorts somehow spiraled into a chain of pizza restaurants, Damgoodepies. And, there were numerous other side projects. I'm not sure that I quite figured out what the two computer programmers living in his basement were up to, but the whole notion of their being two guy and a computer squatting in his basement is pretty intriguing in itself.

Scarlet asked Jeff, "So why look John up after thirteen years? Why now?"

Jeff said that over the last few years a lot of people, a lot of friends, had let him down. He said that he was tired of trying to meet people and make new friends, so he decided to track down all the old friends he'd lost touch with over the years. Besides, he like a lot of them better anyhow.

Pretty damn cool.

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Thumbs, Not in Sphincter

Or, I haven’t been spending all of my time with my thumbs up my ass lately. Really. Sure, I know that it doesn’t look like I’ve been doing much lately. The lack of news, information, and whatnot has been staggering. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild. Visions of me, naked with a bevy of supple, young, foreign women, a case of whiskey, and a predilection for white powder must be quite distracting. I don’t know how you manage to get anything finished at work when you’re daydreaming about me. I mean what else would I be doing at the Devil Queen in the long hours of the night? Right?

Don’t fear. I’m lamentably ordinary. I come home after stopping for milk or laundry detergent. I eat an unremarkable dinner and afterwards brew a pot of coffee. Maybe I catch a catnap as it perks. After a cup or two, I take my oil paints outside and paint for thirty minutes or an hour. I pack-up under darkening skies and call my wife. After we’ve talked, maybe I call Kenny, our real estate agent, or renter as need may dictate. I load the dishwasher, drink more coffee, and work on another oil painting. Or, I install weather-stripping, paint a built-in, or something of the sort. One or two nights a week I treat myself to a stiff drink and an episode of Rome or WKRP Cincinnati. I take a shower and read a little in bed because the written word keeps the lonely man civilized in a fashion. Then I sleep for four, five, or six hours. I aim for six since it helps my keep my inner psychotic at bay. My wife appreciates it.

I am sure you’ve noted that I spend more time oil painting than getting my home-improvement mojo going. There is a reason for this. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of things we plan to hire out in the name of expediency. Lamentably this requires money.

Last week my lady friend and I struck a deal. I get to paint my amateur heart out and try to raise a respectable amount of money to get this stupid fucking home improvement project jump started by October 1st of this year or I have to get a second job. Given what my second-job options are, I’ve been painting my fucking heart out. It’s gotten off to a slow start but I’ve got the bitch on the move. I have two long-standing commissioned works to finish off (an nearing completion as we speak, sorry guys), and then I’m free to roam wide, open spaces. Artistically speaking that is. It would take more than a few paintings for me to be turned loose on the world, something I lament daily.

That is enough merde for now. If you happen like my art and have a $100 or more dollars to spare (or know someone who does), please buy my art. If not, wish me luck. The second-job field is looking pretty grim.

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What I Mean to Say

I meant to have a post up yesterday (actually, yesterday last week whenever that was), but, if you can believe it, I couldn’t write anything worth a week-old shit. Normally, finding the time to write is my problem not what to write. Tonight it came to me, why I couldn’t write. I wasn’t writing what is on my mind. It may be of absolutely no interest to anyone besides me but here it is.

The last few months have been extremely busy and difficult for us at the Devil Queen. The posting on the blog has suffered because of this. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been the only one. Jocelyn has been on vacation; Chris has been out to sea or at the office; Greg is enjoying the wide-world outside of his houseblog; Gary has been busy too; and so on it goes. And, incase anyone has any doubts there is nothing wrong with this. Do I miss having a new post every day or so? Sure. Do I begrudge anyone a life outside of his or her house or blog? No. What sense would that make?

Out of the folks I mentioned by name above, all of them beside Chris we here on Houseblogs before I discovered the site. We’ve all been here posting about our respective houses for over two years or more. I can’t help but wonder what is the shelf life of a houseblog. Enon Hall is still going strong after what? Seven years? Eight? And, while the aforementioned folks haven’t abandoned their blogs, a number of folks have.

I was very excited when I first found Houseblogs. It’s kind of like going to high school in a small town where you didn’t really fit in, and then going to college and meeting a bunch a people just like you. I guess it’s kind of funny in hindsight since there is something like 700 or 800 houseblogs now, but finding nearly fifty other people doing the same thing we were was huge. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but the first few months (or more?) were a huge how-to, home improvement orgy. It was great. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned from everyone.

But, once Gary has preached the Gospel of Shellac and you have made the Lac Bug part of your life, what more is there for you to do? Sure, there is no harm in singing its praises from time to time, but, at some point, breaking out the shellac just isn’t as blog worthy as it once was.

What makes Houseblogs so great is how much detailed, first hand information is out there: insulation, plumbing, wiring, framing, plaster, et cetera. If you need to know something about you house, chances are there is someone out there that has the answer to your question. However, after a few years of working on a certain type of house (like an 1890 Queen Anne), you probably know that majority of what you need to finish the house. The novelty wears thin and projects become routine. You no longer need to ask 20 questions before you refinish your floor or plumb a sink. Sure, you may not be a professional, but, damn it, you know what you’re doing. Well, mostly.

Maybe it is just me, but I’ve found that my reasons for reading houseblogs have changed. It isn’t so much me scavenging for how-to information now (though Gary’s chimney liners are pretty good as was the “Traditional Petch Installation”); instead, I’m reading because I want to know you are up to now. I’m reading because I’m personally interest in what happens to you.

Since my Old Regulars have been otherwise occupied, I’ve tried strolling around the neighborhood and meeting new houseblogs. I’ve met a few I’ve rather liked, but it still isn’t quite the same. I don’t know where that leaves me. The old, balding houseblog hanging out at the all-ages show trying to connect with all the barely legal houseblogs?

Anyhow, for all practical concerns, this is probably irrelevant. I should have been asleep a couple hours age, so goodnight all.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Irresistible Urge

I must be loosing my mind. What does it mean when you have a nearly irresistible urge to hurry home after work and build a dry-stacked rock retaining wall? That is a sign of mental illness, right? Maybe I've been spend too much time inside lately? Whatever it is, I may have to indulge it.

If you'd believe it, I've actually done a few things on the Devil Queen lately but haven't had enough time to post them. That is an entire post in itself.

If I have any surplus energy after digging in the earth, I'll try to get you a proper update. No rest for the wicked and all that.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Excuse 293, The Big Dig

Yes, that is right. Yet another crippled, three-legged excuse. But how easy do you think it is finding tools under that?

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Mysteries of Drylock

I still haven't made time to take pictures of the Devil Queen's "skirt" so I dug up a few old ones. Aside from the lap-siding being painted, it still looks the same. That is really sad since we enclosed the crawlspace in January-February of 2006. If you would like to indulge your morbid curiosity, here are a couple of links (Link 1 & Link 2) to the original posts.

To answer some of your questions, our crawlspace is enclosed with concrete backer board, not poured concrete or masonry blocks. Why? We couldn't afford any other option. Mr. Clow, our concrete guy, suggested using backer board since it is basically bug proof and weather proof. We spent roughly $1,000 for enclosing our crawlspace including labor. The other options we considered ran between $8,000 to over $20,000. We consider the concrete board our semi-permanent temporary solution to sealing our crawlspace. Except for the bottom couple of inches, all of the concrete board will be above grade.

Our interest in painting the board it two fold. One, it will look better painted. Two, paint hopefully will keep the board from wicking-up moisture when it rains. Periodic exposure to water tends to stain the board and it is not an attractive look. No one wants to look at an old woman who has pissed herself, right?

I'm thinking about using Drylock, a latex "waterproofer" for masonry, which is produced by a company called UGI and sold at Lowe's. From what I've read, I need to sand-off or otherwise remove any paint, dirt, etc, and then paint on two coats of the stuff. I'm thinking about spraying a bead of Good-Stuff foam along the bottom of the board where it meets the concrete perimeter foundation. I'm hoping this will keep water from getting under the bottom edge and seeping up the concrete board.

I'm hoping this will seal the backer board. What I'm trying to figure out is whether I can paint over the Drylock with exterior, waterbased paint. Or, should I prime the Drylock and then paint? Or, is just a waste of time?

As long as the Drylock keeps moisture from seeping up and under the exterior paint, I figure it ought to work. If it doesn't keep the moisture out, it's just a matter of time before the exterior paint will start to blister and peel.

Any thoughts about how well this will work? Or, do I just need to buy a gallon of the stuff and play mad-scientist?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The Happy Shub-Niggurath or The Hanged Man

As far as the Devil Queen is concerned, not much has happened. I did hook up the other sink in the master bathroom though. That drain leaks too but not as badly. And unless fighting a ongoing dual with what I suspect to be a monster wasps' nest counts as working on the house, the sink is the only "progress" I can claim. Really, it's pretty sad.

Fortunately, not doing anything on the Devil Queen has left me with just enough time to half-ass my sole contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos, the Happy Shub-Niggurath (technically is should be the Happy Young of Shub-Niggurath, The Black Goat with a Thousand Young, but bugger that).

Scarlet and I did some strategic planning last weekend too. We're trying to hire a good painter to salvage/finish the exterior paint job and a good plumber to do some remedial plumbing. We also need to have our gravel drive and parking area expanded in preparation for our covenants mandated car-storage. We're opting for a carport. And, we're going to need Kenny and Burt to come back for a couple of weeks to build the carport, do some trim work, and other finishing projects.

While this sounds like a nice plan, there is the ugly fact that we will need ass loads of money for all of this. Now, the industrious DIY'er that you are may be thinking, "Hell, you could save ass loads of money if you did it yourself, duh!" And, you'd be right. However, I have learned several important lessons about life slaving away on the Devil Queen. One of the lessons is this: you are allotted a finite amount of time in this world; it is up to you to determine how you'd like to spend it. After something like four years of indentured servitude to a house, I'd like to spend my time doing something else, and I am willing to pay for the pleasure.

Another lesson that I've learned is that Scarlet and I have a much happier marriage when we do not do plumbing together. Doing it by ourselves when the other one is home isn't much better. At this point, spending approximately five weekends under the Devil Queen plumbing together could be catastrophic. Frankly, less damage would be done to our relationship if Scarlet caught me in a compromising position with a hooker and a hash-pipe.

Yet another lesson we've learned is we're actually better at scrounging money than we are at a number of home improvement projects. It's typically a good idea to play to your strengths, right?

And, this is not to say that we're completely abandoning the DIY ethos. There are innumerable little projects that I plan to undertake in the coming months: refinishing floors, painting ceilings, installing hardware, et cetera. There is definitely more than enough fun for everyone!

In additional to all of this, we need to start planning for the holidays.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Rum Diary

Hell, I have no idea where to begin. First, I need to remind myself that I will not complain. I’ve made a vow to you, and I aim to keep it. I will endeavor to be informative. If I slip into editorializing, I’ll make an effort to vent and not whine. No one with a rock solid home-improvement woody and a sperm count to make Freyr weep would stoop to whine. No! We’ll relish every infernal moment and thank the gods of the Underworld for this opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of their wrath.

Or, this is another way of telling you that I decided to try my hand a plumbing tonight. I mean it was a pretty good day so I had to ruin it somehow, right? I didn’t actually start the evening with plumbing; I screwed up a few other things first and decided to end the evening with a spectacular show of first-class fuckery.

Well, what did I do first? I watered the garden. Sounds pretty simple, but you’d be wrong to think that. For instance, you need to water your tomatoes from the bottom, where the stem meets the earth, and not just spray the whole plant. If you spray the plant from the top down, you’ll rot the fruit. That’s right, I just had to learn that the hard-way once but not tonight. No, I got into trouble weeding the garden. I may or may not have stuck my arm into a poison oak plant. It snuck up on me. In any case, I beat it to death with a hoe and then went inside to wash off with cold water.

Why cold water? You use cold water because hot water will open up all of you pores and the plant’s oil will seep deeper into your skin ensuring a spectacular reaction. Getting into a hot tub with your wife and drinking a bottle of champagne is absolutely the worst thing you could do next to burning it or eating it. All I can say for sure is that I’ve never eaten it.

Due to Poison Oak’s evil nature, I won’t know if I’ve got a good rash for three days. So, Friday night I should know. Sweet.

After my nice, cold washdown, I decided that I’d cut out hole in the entertainment center built-in so I could thread the stereo wires up to the TV cabinet. Should be easy, right? One bloody hole 2 3/8 inches wide in which to stick one 2 3/8 inch grommet. Sure, I really wanted a nice brass grommet, but all I got was this plastic one from Lowe’s because I just don’t give a shit about stuff like this anymore. Besides, the only place I could find a friggin brass one was a shady online site that was probably a front for a Chinese human trafficking ring. So, screw that. I have enough fun as it is.

Of course drilling one bloody hole was utterly beyond me. Why? I mean you just bought the correct sized bit didn’t you? Yes, I did. The problem is the only 2 3/8 inch bit Lowe’s had was from a company called Lenox. And instead of having one glorious hole-cutting unit, you have to buy the circular saw and the drill-bit guild as two separate pieces and put them together. It’s a great idea, right? Why would anyone want to just buy it all in solid piece when you could buy two? I’ll confess that putting the bit set together isn’t too arduous of a process unless you can’t find your Allen-wrench set. I could blame their temporary loss on having our storage room dumped on us, but I can’t find it because I’m disorganized. I’m afraid it’s a terminal condition. After wasting 20 minutes digging for them, I decided to apply Blitzkrieg military tactics to my situation. I bypassed this point of resistance and moved on to a project on which I could theoretically begin work.

As you may have suspected, the Devil Queen has lingered on in a Patomkin Village state since the appraisal. That is, looks often deceive. Here is the problem with our sinks.

That is right. They don’t work. Why? They do not work because of this feed-line. We bought these faucets off of eBay and I’d say that the feeds are not standard. Aside from the freakishly small connection that is screwed deeply into the faucet’s neither-regions, there is the ½ inch connector for the cut-off valve. The problem is we used ¼ inch cut-off valves because it is a standard size. I know, we’re idiots. You go along with the herd for once and you get screwed. We should have known.

Since we plan ahead, I didn’t confront this problem until around the midnight before our 9 AM appraisal. The evil genius that I am I opted for the obvious solution. I taped everything to the underside of the vanity. Nothing says class like half-assed, right?

Now it was time to make this Gordian Knot of plumbing functional. Since I managed to fit in some fore thought, I had everything I needed for this project on hand. Here it is.

The key to making this work is the threaded, ½ inch brass adaptor. Note the “hex nut” in the middle of the adaptor. This is very important. Without this “nut” you wouldn’t have any purchase to keep the adaptor from spinning when you screw the feed-lines on to it. The idea is to screw a normal sink feed-line (1/4 inch to ½) onto the cut-off valve, connect it to the brass adaptor, and connect the freak feed-line to the adaptor and then to the faucet.

It is important to note that you should not use plumber’s tape or putty on the adaptor in this case. If you look into the feed-line’s ½ inch connector, you see a rubber washer. The idea is to seat the adaptor so tightly that it makes a watertight seal with the washer. If you use tape or putty, it may keep you from seating the adaptor. And we all know what happens then: you get a leak.

The adaptor was easy to install. It was so easy that I am embarrassed that I didn’t do it earlier. That is until I remembered the first rule of plumbing: no matter what you do or how good of a job you do, the plumbing will not work. Ever. Remember this, it is a rule to live by if you do home improvement.

So, now that I’ve got the adaptors in place, it’s time to try them. First, open the faucets. Second, pick your cut-off valve of choice (I picked cold) and turn it on. Third, watch water spray out of the connection between the cut-off valve and the feed-line. Fourth, freak-out and turn off the water. Fifth, call yourself a fuckwitted dumbass for not remembering that you only hand-tightened the connection while setting up your Patomkin Village. Sixth, tighten the connection with a wrench and try again. Seventh, listen to the air clear out of the faucet and then the water pour into the basin. Eighth, congratulate yourself prematurely for a job well done. Ninth, watch water trickle onto the floor from the drainpipe. Then cuss for as long as you feel necessary. Turn off the water and mop up the mess. See! You’re getting the hang of it. Now you too can be a DIY plumber!

Anyhow, even though I know the drain leaks, I decide to try the hot water too. Fortunately, it works. Unfortunately, it flows like it has an enlarged prostate. Lovely. Then I remembered that you should take the mesh screen of the faucet’s nozzle when you first turn on the water. This is why.

Dirt, PVC shavings and whatever else that goes into a pipe while you're building a house. Removing this improved the flow, but it was still lacking. I start fiddling with the faucet thinking that maybe it isn’t open all the way. My efforts are rewarded with a fount of water squirting out of the hot water knob. Fuck. I quickly close it and think, “Shit. I broke the bloody faucet.” While pondering this, I crawl under the sink and try to tighten the drain trap to stop the leak. No luck. I need a second person to keep the drainpipe from spinning as I tighten or membership at gym so I’m strong enough to do it myself. Disgusted, I decide that it’s time take a cold shower (see poison oak comments above) and to get ready for bed.

As I wander the house fully naked looking for a towel, I’m thinking about the hot water faucet. Maybe it’s just clogged with the same junk that built up in the nozzle screen? I wander back to the bathroom and start messing with the sink when I swear that I hear someone whistling at me. I look around and out the huge window I’m standing in front of (no window treatments yet of course). No one. Then I think I hear it again. And again. I pull on a pair of shorts and go outside. There is no one there. Great. There is a crazy person in these woods somewhere and it is me.

Just for the record, I think that I’ve got the hot water fixed so I won’t have to completely disassemble this faucet. Now I can go to work on the second sink.

Anyhow, a cold shower and a glass of rum later, I was feeling much better. Sort of.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rum Is My Silver Lining

Thank you for all the comments regarding the waterproofing of our crawlspace. I'll take some pictures so I can show you what we have to work with here. I'll have those up soon.

I have a monsterously long post that may make it up later tonight or tomorrow for sure (fingers crossed). Lets just say that I had a viseral encounter with the Devil Queen's plumbing last night which ended in rum. Yes, rum would be the silver lining for the evening. Anyhow, more later.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Sorry, short post today. I know you probably won't believe it, but I actually have a couple of home improvement projects in the works. If I hadn't run out of time yesterday, you'd have pictures and everything. Anyhow, I should have them up tomorrow (I hope).

One quick question while I have you here, have any of you used a paint-on masonary sealer/waterproofer? If so, what kind would you recommend? And, can you paint over it with a water-based paint?


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Friday, August 03, 2007

The One That Got Away

I've spent a lot of time this week cleaning the Devil Queen. Since we had to move the full contents of our rented storage room into the Devil Queen, it's been hard finding the house. It's hard to refinish a floor when you can't see it. As part of the on going effort to find those old pine floors, I've been desperately trying to get all of our books out of our 1001 boxes and onto the shelves. While doing so, I came across a box of photo albums. I'm a sucker for easy distractions, so I just had to look through them. That is where I found the picture above.

This is my paternal grandmother's family home in Kewanee, Illinois. My grandmother gave me this picture when I was 8 or 9. It is either on Tremont or Chestnut Street, but I can't remember which; they run parallel to one another one block apart so I'm not too far off in either case. I'm not sure who is standing in front of the house. It is probably my great-great grandmother. My Dad, the keeper of our family lore, is on vacation so I'll have to wait to ask him.

I'm probably getting it all wrong, but something like five generations of my family lived in this house. As a child, my grandmother spent several years living here with her extended family. She was married here in 1941. My dad remembers visiting the house. It was probably in the late 1940's or very early 1950's, but he remembers the milk being delivered door-to-door by a man in a horse pulled wagon.

I was looking for some town history online (click here for a history of Kewanee) when I found this excerpt from "Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois," written in 1885 and published by The Biographical Publishing Company of Chicago:

"The Kewanee Wagon Company is another of the valuable and thriving institutions of the town. It manufactures all sorts of road wagons, carriages, buggies, etc., and is a successor to the O'Brien Manufacturing Company, which was organized in January, 1882, with a capital stock of $10,000. The incorporators, John Chisnall, Thomas F. Chisnall, Willaim Howland, C.G. Taylor and August Grief, were all the old employees of the O'Brien Manufacturing Company, and each one of them fills his place under the new organization, not only as stockholder and officer, but as a mechanic, and in charge of some particular department of the works.
John Chisnall, the President of the company, is business manager, book-keeper and head of the wood-working department; William Howland, Vice-President, conducts the iron work; C. G. Taylor, Secretary, wood-worker and in charge of the fine buggy and carriage department, while Thomas F. Chisnall, Treasurer, is superintendent of machinery. Each man has his wages paid him weekly, and the residue or net earning goes to the credit of the company. New machinery is being added from time to time, the capacity of the concern is being increased and the undertaking as a whole is an assured success. (See biographical sketches of John Chisnall, William Howland and C. G. Taylor, this volume.)

Again, if I have my family history right, Thomas Chisnall is my great-great-great grandfather and John Chisnall is his father by adoption. John Chisnall is the one who bought or built the house pictured.

Here is John Chisnall's biography from the same book:

Since November, 1867, this gentleman has been an honored resident of Kewanee, and is to-day serving as special tax collector for the city. He was born in Lancastershire, England, January 27, 1833, and is a son of William and Alice Chisnall, who were lifelong residents of that country. The father died when a young man, but the mother long survived him, passing away in 1876, at the age of sixty-four years.
John Chisnall, the only child of this worthy couple, was educated in the common schools of England, and when a lad of eleven years was apprenticed to the wheelright's trade, which he learned thoroughly. He came to this country as a Mormon emigrant in 1831, prior to the insurrection of Brigham Young against the government and first located in Utah, where he remained until 1858, during the uprising. The following two years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, which city at that time had no telegraph or railroad lines and gave little promise of its present thriving condition. During all this time Mr. Chisnall worked at his trade. In I860 he went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he made his home until coming to Kewanee in I867. During the winter of 1866-67 he spent four months in visiting his native land. Upon his return he located in Kewanee, where he worked at wagonmaking principally until I888. Being economical and industrious he managed to save something from his wages, and this capital he invested in a lot in the heart of the city, upon which he erected a pressed brick double store building, which on account of its location is very valuable property. This he now rents to a good advantage.
In I857 Mr. Chisnall was united in marriage with Miss Ellen Sandiford, who was also a native of Lancastershire, England, and came to the United States on the same vessel with our subject in June. I831. Both are active members of the Latter Day Saints' Church, and during his residence in Kewanee Mr. Chisnall has served as pastor of the church of that denomination at this place. The congregation now numbers about one hundred families, and they have erected a good modern church edifice. Fraternally Mr. Chisnall is a member of the Knights of Honor, No. 1173, of Kewanee, and the blue lodge of the Masonic order at this place and the chapter and commandery at Princeton. He affiliates with the Republican party but has never taken an active part in politics. From 1892 with 1898 he was with the Kewanee Coal Company, and the following year was appointed by the mayor as collector of special taxes, water rents, etc., which position he is now most creditably filling. He has also served as health officer and justice of the peace since I893. He has led an upright, honorable and useful life, and is highly respected and esteemed by all who know him.

SOURCE: THE Biographical Record of Henry Co, Illinois. p 30

John and Thomas did pretty well for themselves. According to my grandmother, her mom was born "with a silver spoon in her mouth," and the family did not have to work for a living. The commercial building mentioned in John's bio was still in the family during my grandmother's early life. I'm not sure if this was the only property the family owned in the "heart of the city." Either he acquire more property or this was a very large commercial building because my grandmother said that her family owned a whole city block in downtown Kewanee.

And, of course, we lost it all. On the night of my grandma's wedding, just after she left with my grandfather on their honeymoon, downtown Kewanee burned to the ground. The property was all owned by my great-great grandmother at that time. According to my grandmother, my great-great grandmother's attorney had failed to renew the insurance on the family's property in town and it was a total loss. I think my great-great grandmother sold the remaining vacant lots. I've always thought that there was more of a story to this episode in my family's history, but I've never heard what it might be. Conspiracy? Incompetence? I don't know. In any case, all that we had left was the house.

My great-grandmother inherited the house upon her mother's death. When her husband, my great-grandfather died, she couldn't afford to keep it. I don't know when, but at some point in the late 1950's (?) she sold the house and moved in with my grandparent's in Chicago.

My grandmother took my sister and I by the house in 1985. It didn't seem to be in too bad of shape at the time. There were two big changes however. First, the carriage house is gone. Second, the entire front porch is gone. Some fugly stoop (concrete steps?) had replaced it. I haven't seen the house since, but I hope the last 22 years haven't been too unkind to it.

My great-uncle Chuck (my grandmother's brother) drew me the house's floor plan. So, if anyone out there buys the house and wants to restore it, I can tell you were everything was circa 1950. And, I don't think my family did too much to the house in their time there so it should be accurate back to a much earlier date.

I can't say that I've ever had any urge to move to Kewanee, Illinois. No disrespect to the home of my ancestors, but there was probably a reason why my grandmother and all of her siblings left and never moved back. Besides, after 20-some-odd years of living in the rolling hills of Arkansas, places this flat creep me out. However, I sometimes daydream of buying the house and restoring it just out of principle. You know, make a family museum at the very least or something like that. Utterly impractical, I know. And, I frankly don't have the fire in me or means to do it. Still, a nice thought I guess. Maybe after I get that whole book and movie deal worked out, I'll hire someone to do it for me.

In anycase, if there are any aspiring housebloggers out there that happened to have bought the ol' family homestead, let me know. My dad and I are probably the only ones left who know anything about the house's history. We'd be willing to share.


Haze and Hickories

That is right. Since things are starting to calm down some, I've started painting again. It's been a while so I'm a little rusty, but here is my most recent painting. If anyone is interested in it, please let me know since I now have a new computer and a mortgage to payoff.

Anyhow, hopefully we'll have a productive and fun weekend. I know the very idea of it is shocking. If we're lucky, I'll have some progress to show you all come Monday.

Have a good weekend if you can. Cheers.

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My newlywed sister and her husband, Matt, moved back to Arkansas this week. They've been living, working, and going to school in New England for the last 9 years or so. After work last night, I went to help them unload their moving van into long-term storage. On the way out to the storage facility, we were talking about the Devil Queen.

Matt: "So are you really thinking about selling the Devil Queen when you're finished with her?"

Me: "Yeah."

Sister: "If you do, what will happen to the blog?"

Me: "I don't know. I've been thinking about that, but I'm not sure yet. I imagine we'll get another house. I mean we've got to live somewhere, right?"

Matt: "Wow. After all that work, what will do with all the time you'll have."

Me: "I don't know. I'm sure we can find new and exciting ways to completely fuck our lives up."

Everyone: [Pause followed by laughter]

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Bay Window Room

These pictures were taken right after the appraisal. This is what the bay window room looked like before we dumped our storage room into it. A sure way to hide unsightly holes in the wall for an appraisal? Hang a picture!

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Don’t Do Anything Precipitous

I don’t know what is wrong with me lately. I have a real itch to do something rash. You know, something like leaving work in the middle of the afternoon without a word to anyone, driving to the airport, and catching a plane to somewhere interesting. Paris. Morocco. Venial. Sure, my entire life would come crashing down, but it would be a hell of a lot of fun.

At times like these, I try to remember something my father told me. “Son, don’t go and do anything precipitous.”

Instead, I find myself indulging smaller, more manageable urges: buying a copy of Orlando by Virginia Woolf and having a fruit tart and café au lait for lunch. It’s nice, but it doesn’t address my itch to roam. Like can be hard for a trice cursed homeowner.

The quiet work of steady responsibility has its own rewards: routine, comfort, and a deeply abiding sense of safety. Still, it’s a real burden too.

I think I need an exit strategy. I think I need to indulge in some well-earned irresponsibility before I’m too old to enjoy it. Give me a year and there is no telling what I’ll be doing. I rather like the idea.

Remember, the end is always near.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Categorically Unfit For Human Society, Reason 332

Here is a little secret for you. My neurosis, paranoia, and general misanthropy are pretty well known at this point, but I have a nagging, secret fear. I don’t know why it has been on my mind so much recently. Maybe it was everyone wanting to sell me life insurance when we refinanced the house and bought a new car?

Lately, I’m worried if I meet an untimely end in the near future that my soul will be trapped in the Devil Queen. Forever. Putting your blood, sweat, and tears into a house renovation is one thing, but wandering its halls until Doomsday is way too much. So, if I fall and snap my stupid head off, stop the clocks, cover the mirrors, and throw all the windows open. If that doesn’t work (believe me, you’ll know), do it like the Navaho and tear some holes in the walls and abandon the house. And, if that doesn’t do it, burn it down. Really. This house has been hell enough already.

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