The Devil Queen

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

My Photo
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!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fugly, Meet Watertight

This week's rain provided the perfect photo-op for me. On the left, fulgy, unsealed concrete board. Notice how it looks as it absorbs all that rain. And, let's not overlook the old stains too. Actually, this particular corner is the worst spot on the Devil Queen since all the run-off from the porch roof splashes up on the skirt too. Gutters will take care of that problem.

Anyhow, back to the comparison. To the right, one coat of tinted Watertight. When we are finished, there will be two coats all the way around the house. Still, with just one coat, it looks so much better. It is worth every cent.

The color used for the skirt, Clear Corona, will also be used for the porches, window sashes, and crown trim. Gotta match, right?

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When in Doubt, Buy Tools

Even though it's been over a year and a half since all of our tools were stolen, I've been hesitant to replace them. Not that we had the finest selection of tools in the world, but we had a pretty good selection, particularly if you include the borrowed tools. Loosing them was very demoralizing, and I never could get excited about spending all that money on the same tools I'd already bought. I've finally broken down an made two modest purchases.

First, I bought this at Walmart a few months back. At the time, I was looking for a compressor to use on my car's tires. It turned out that this compressor, which could also drive a brad-gun, cost just a few dollars (something like $50 verses $45) more than a strictly-for-cars compressor. The brad-gun itself was only $20. So, for around $70 I have a working brad-gun. Sure, it probably won't withstand years of use, but it'll do.

Last night I made my second purchase, a Black & Decker compound miter saw. It wasn't the cheapest one Lowe's had, it was the second cheapest at $129. My camera's memory card was full, so I had to use the factory picture.
And, I'll have to admit that while both these tools will be very useful in finishing up the Devil Queen (quarter round, trim, etc) it wasn't my sole reason for buying them. They also make building canvas stretcher for oil paintings wicked fast. I've been working on some stretchers and it was taking forever to finish; I just couldn’t' take it anymore.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Man of Many Obsessions

Weather like this, warm with bright blue skies and lazy clouds, always makes me restless. It hardly seems fall, I missed the inaugural day. I didn't even think of it until the Harvest Moon fixed its maniac orb upon me.

The problem is I am a man of many obsessions. When I was young, I thought this a great asset. As an eccentric and well-heeled great-aunt said, "You are quite a Renaissance Man." It made me ridiculously proud at the time. Now, these obsessions are a bother, a distraction. They wash over me, consume me for a year or more, and then I move on to a fresh, new something.

The Devil Queen and the attending old house fever burned itself out at last. As Scarlet said, "You're done with houses, and you've been done with them for quite a while." Three years was more than enough to sate my taste for old wood and raw work. As we creep up on Year Four in Our Time of Woe, I'm afraid this utter lack of interest will not save me.

Our collective lives are choked by this bloody queen. To win freedom, we must finish our sad showing before we send her to the gallows. And, the weather turns against us. It's rained nearly every day, excepting today, since I bought all of our Watertight. The sun sets far too soon. Halogen lamps and pressure washing are not compatible from safety's perspective. Work winds down at sundown. If it were dry and the copperheads not too inquisitive, some painting might be done.

Our to-do list doesn't seem too oppressive compared to what came before now. However, with winter marching like a bloody-minded army, our work may grind down before we'd wish.

So, our now habitual dance shall continue. The struggle, stupid and bloody, shall continue. What I'd really like to do is paint some pictures, read some books at my leisure, and go sailing.

P.S. If I ever manage to remember to down the pictures from my camera, I will post some pictures of the Watertight on the house. It looks quite good, even with just one coat.

Also, the time for the 2007 Dumbass Award nears. I fear that I am a contender this year. Hopefully, someone will go for the gold and overshadow my nomination with a orgy of nudity, urine, a Santa Claus suit and blood-thisty pets. If that seems improbable, you need to go and read the archives.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lamps for Sale

If any of you are interested, my wife and I would like to sell this set of lamps. We bought them on eBay several years ago. They are very nice and fully functional. The base and caps are made from a plaster or chalk which has been painted. They date to 1909 (see picture above). The shades are made of mica (a touch of wear on the inside, but in good shape considering the age) and the lamps have their original wiring.

The supposed appraisal value for these are $400 for the set. We didn't pay near half of this, so we'll take $150 or your best offer plus shipping.

If interested, please leave a comment here or email me at thedevilqueen(AT)hotmail(DOT)com.

Pictures and posts to come, hopefully tomorrow.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Old, Fat, Tired, and Sore

And it was still a pretty damn good weekend. Decided to forego puttying and patching the dining room floor. The weather was too good to waste. Instead, we prepped the porches, decks, and skirting for priming and painting. We made decent time, but we're nowhere near finished. We have maybe six weeks to get her painted and sealed-up before it gets too cold and wet for paint to cure. Pictures will follow soon.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

WiFi, Beer, and Urban Planning

The article below is in this week's Atkins Chronicle.

Urban planners, schmanners,who needs them anyway?
By Beckie Tyson

"Downtown Atkins has developed into an example of one of the vanguards of urban planning. Not that any high-paid urban planning consultants were called in to create a master plan for a city wrestling with urban sprawl.
What is happening is that a couple of families who love historical buildings have taken some of Atkins' oldest downtown structures and brought them back to life through loving restoration. They are now residing in what was once a commercial area.
The "new urbanisim," a buzz word in urban planning, seeks to create walkable communities within larger towns by creating multi-use communities where people can live and work and shop without burning expensive fossil fuels or emitting harmful gases into the air.
Of course, Atkins was not in any danger of developing a smog problem. Nor was it sprawling to such lengths that our infrastructure was being strained. Nevertheless, Atkins is in danger of losing its character and history as more and more businesses move to the edges of town.
Some historic buildings have already been torn down and replaced with a parking lot. Then the facility using the parking lot decided to move to the edge of town as well.
Enter Mark and Terrie Wood, who have bought several of Atkins' oldest business places and turned them into residences. They are the ones who told Melanie and Ward Young about another old building for sale.
The Youngs had started a business in Russellville and were looking for a place to relocate. Through their church, they learned from the Woods about the old Churchill Grocery building in Atkins.
Atkins businessman Larry Burris had sold the building to the Faith Harvest Fellowship. The church had visions of turning the place into a worship center with Sunday school rooms and youth facilities. However, the project was proving to be more expensive and extensive than church members had anticipated.
The Youngs made church members an offer they could not refuse and slowly started uncovering years of neglect to reveal the building that had once been an important part of Atkins' downtown.
First to be restored was the area that had housed, at various times, Churchill Grocery, a barber shop and a thrift store. That long open building, once they removed some walls, became their business office, Ultra Cad, which develops structural designs for metal buildings.
Next they set to work on the upstairs to turn it into a residence.
To learn more about the building's history, Melanie Young said they consulted Atkins natives about their memories of the old building.
"We have always liked old downtown buildings," Melanie said. "They have so much history and character. … We go to other towns and talk to their people about their old buildings."
So, what have they been able to learn about their purchase? "Not as much as we'd like to," Melanie said.
They have talked to Lissa Churchill Teal, whose father, "Ham" Churchill owned Churchill Grocery in the 1940s and early 1950s. As a toddler, Lissa lived above the grocery store with her mother and father.
Melanie and Wade have drawn on Lissa's memories to help recreate the upstairs as it might have been when she lived up there, with modern amenities, though. Melanie said Lissa's father put the plumbing in the upstairs and added wainscoting on the wall beside the staircase.
Melanie said Lissa told her a story of falling down the steep staircase which leads to the upstairs when a toddler, prompting her mother, Lucille, to insist that the family move into safer quarters for Lissa's sake.
When restoring the office area, they found an old well which they have turned into an interesting architectural detail - a fountain in the middle of the office. They have also preserved the original pressed steel ceiling, a large skylight, a cast iron pipe that serves as the drain for all the upstairs plumbing and old brick walls that had been plastered over.
Next, they tackled the balcony above the store and what was a larger grocery store in the late 1950s.
"The floor had rotted out," Melanie said.
"There were bats living up here," Wade said. He caught and removed them with a fish net.
They replaced the balcony floor with tile and had Heritage Window and Door of Russellville find windows and doors that closely resembled the original ones. They installed ceiling fans and now have a lovely verandah overlooking Avenue One NE.
Restoration of the upstairs living quarters has taken more time than they expected.
Without knowing any definite history of the building, they have followed clues to come to certain conclusions. They believe the front of the lower part of the building was built by 1910. Van Tyson, at the Atkins Chronicle, showed them 1910 city fire maps that did not show the second story. Then maps from the 1920s do show a second story.
Mary Anna Bailey, niece of E.E. Cheek, thinks her uncle may have built the second story.
The Youngs found a steel beam with the name of a company that went out of business in 1921.
Some clues led them to believe the upper story must have been a boarding house. A hallway across the back of the upper floor has what looks like outside windows opening onto it. They think the hallway was used as an entryway to get to the various rooms.
They have found evidence in some of the inside walls that point to their once having been outside walls and doorways. The Youngs have replaced all of the windows on the back side of the building and plan to keep the unusual hallway in their finished residence.
When completed, the upstairs will have two bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room, and study or library and a living room. Their bathroom will sport a claw-foot tub.
Last to be restored will be what used to be the larger grocery store. The two types of steel ceilings make the Youngs believe the front part is much older than the back part. Wade said they may turn the area into a private recreation room with a ping pong table and games. They have set up a wood burning stove in the middle of the area using what they believe was the original chimney.
"The skylight in this room (when restored) will dwarf the one in the office," Wade said.
Other artifacts found as they searched the building include a 1942 silver 50-cent piece and a WPA sign.
Until the upstairs is livable, the Youngs are living in a small apartment at the back of their office.
Experts say the new urbanism is not for everyone. Some people like to live away from the hustle and bustle of a downtown area. But some people like to be in the middle of things.
Now all we need are some restaurants with outside dining, a book store, and a coffee shop. Tommy Gillespie park can function as a town square with live musicians for people to stroll about in the evenings."

I've met the Young's once, nice folks. They're doing a good job on the store.

I'm not so sure that the city couldn't benefit from an urban planner. So far the efforts of private citizens haven't been enough to keep the city government from periodically razing old homes (sure, they needed work, but they weren't falling down) while they refuse to condemn the ones that have nearly collapsed down to their foundations (i.e. half the buildings on Hwy 64).

Also, if we're dreaming, we also need free Wi-Fi and pub at the very minimum in Atkins. A few art galleries would be nice too.

Hell, at the rate things are going, there is no telling what we might have in another hundred years!


Farrell-Calhoun Paints

These folks are great. I'm still in shock. I've become so accustom to Lowe's apathetic and marginally competent staff that receiving good service is enough to stop my heart.

Per King Streets Farm's advice, I tracked down the only three stores in the state that carry Zinsser's Watertight masonry primer. Zinsser's is the same company that produces the greatest water based primer I've ever used, Bulls Eye. Priming with Kiltz is about as effective as priming with piss compared to this stuff.

Of these three stores, two were in Little Rock and one was in Fayetteville. I scratched Fayetteville off my list since I don't want to drive four hours round trip for primer. I called Mystery Store X first.

Me: "Hello, do you carry Watertight, it's a concrete primer?"

Mr. X.: "Uhm, yeah. I think we do." Then, to someone in background, "Do we carry Watertight?" Muffled answer. "Yeah, we have it."

Me: "Can you tint it?"

Mr. X: "Uh, no. I'm pretty sure we can't."

Me: Bull shit. "Okay, thank you."

Since I trust another houseblogger more than most home improvement store clerks, I knew that the guy was wrong. And, if he didn't think they could tint it, I didn't want to even bother with trying to make them do it.

So I called Farrell-Calhoun and they provided me with a wealth of information. Yes, they could tint it. However, I should know that the tint may be a little lighter than the paint chip. Excellent.

Two days later, I finally make it down to store. I ask for 15 gallons of Watertight and slide my paint chip (from Lowe's) across the counter. "I'd like it tinted this color."

The bad news was they only had eight one-gallon cans of Watertight. The good news was they immediately found seven more at their North Little Rock store and told me they'd have them by Monday of next week.

They tried to mix a color to match the paint chip and tested their concoction on the first gallon. As I watched them tint the paint, I noticed that right under the "Zinsser's Watertight" and the logo the can's label read "TINTABLE." I couldn't help but wonder about Mystery Store X, dumbasses. Once the primer and tinting were mixed, they smeared a sample of it on an index card and blow-dried it. The colored darkened to a near perfect match as it dried.

Since I was pleased with the result, they tinted and mixed the rest of the Watertight and checked every can to make sure it matched the first batch. Then they gave me a five gallon paint bucket so I could blend the individual cans into a single batch of paint. By combining equal parts of the eight cans, I can neutralize any slight variation in tint from one can to the next. Nice.

They wrote the exact tint combination down on the index card and filed it. So, when the next batch is ready to tint, they will already have the exact formula. And, without asking, they took it all out to my car and loaded it in the trunk. I greatly appreciated this since I was on my lunch break and in a suit.

I've never received this kind of service from the Lowe's paint department. Ever. I just get teary eyed thinking about it. More people would do home improvement if everything was this easy.

I told them that I'd had a lot of trouble finding someone who carried Watertight and asked why that was.

"We don't have a lot of demand for it. It costs a few dollars more than other brands, so most people go with a cheaper option. We only sell about 20 gallons of it a year."

Aside from the fact that I've just bought a year's supply, I'm not sure what to make of this. If most people buy the cheapest stuff and not the best, it would explain a lot about the selection of products offered at the big-box stores, the tyranny of the low-brow taste (or general poverty of us home improvement types).

Anyhow, if I need anymore specialty paint supplies (or even non-specialty), I think I will be coming back to see these folks. Life's too short for shitty paint and piss-poor service.

Farrell-Calhoun Paints
401 South Bowman Road
Little Rock, AR 72211
(501) 224-2500

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spank Me

That's right. Whip me, flog me, flay me. I have been an odious homeowner. While Julian Electric was inspecting our heating and cooling system, he brought this to my attention.

That's right, this is the homeowner's version of your brain on drugs. To clarify, you do not want your air filter to look like this. Ever. First, it's gross. Second, if you leave it long enough, it will dramatically reduce the life expectancy of you heating and air unit. You know, like heroin addiction. Third, it's extremely gross.

That's right, that is a close-up of a dead bug in the air filter. The strata of filth makes a positive ID difficult. June Bug? Beetle? Hell, maybe it's an atrophied squirrel mummy?!

Life, stranger than fiction.

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You Might Ask Yourself . . .

You might ask yourself, what does a thirty-one year old man do when he is home alone night after night?
They take illicit pictures of a hardwood floor. Actually, this is old pine which would technically make it soft wood. I know, what a gripping life I lead.

Anyhow, this is our dining room floor. We're planning to spend the weekend prepping it for a good, messy refinishing.

When we acquired the Devil Queen this floor was buried under a layer of thin plywood "sub-flooring" and a some fugly laminate floor tiles. Apparently, before this atrocity was committed, someone tried to refinish the floor. They never made it past the sanding. Judging from the floor's current condition, halfway through the process they decided that the horror was too much to bear, snarled a final "O, fuck it," and threw themselves, their tortured soul and the sander out the window to the hard, forsaken ground four feet below.

Bloody and bruised yet free of their terrible burden, they staggered inside and called the first disreputable contractor they could find. "Hello, it's an emergency. I need the ugliest green floor tiles you've got, and I need them now. And, while you're at it, do you have any fugly green shag carpet to match? If so, I'd like that in the living room and hallway. Can you start today? Great. I don't suppose - hypothetically speaking of course - that you know someone who could dispose of a drum-sander, discreetly of course"

Not that you can tell, but this picture is supposed to show you how much some of these floor boards are cupping. The middle of this board is at least 1/8 of an inch lower than the sides. The flash washed it out, but you can really tell where the board runs under this threshold.

The blue tape marks where holes have been drilled through the floor. Gary, thanks again for the sack of plugs.

So, thirty or forty years later, here I am picking up where a weaker, lazier (perhaps smarter) man left off. Let the blood sport begin.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Julian electric came out today. The problem with our AC/Heat was the thermostat died. No dead central heat and air unit, no demonic possession, and no 300 pound dead beast in the duct work. I don't know what the final bill is yet, but it has to be much cheaper than an exorcism or a new unit.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Gonzo, That's What We Do

Apparently, our 2006 Halloween Sabbath was quite a success; we've been informed that we will be having another one this year. Scarlet and I weren't satisfied with the level of fear we were able to achieve last year, so we are trying to think of things we might do to terrorize our friends and acquaintances. Suggestions?

Costumes are concern as well. To further my goal of becoming the Hunter S. Thompson of home improvement, I think I ought to devote some serious time to the full immersion approach to touch my inner Gonzo. Specifically, with Halloween just a few short weeks away, I think that I will become the man himself for the duration of that one hallowed eve.

Really though, houseblogs almost have to be Gonzo, don't they? From the ever dubious source of factual information, Wikipedia:

"The word gonzo was first used to describe a 1970 story written by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied in kind to other highly subjective artistic endeavors.
Gonzo journalism tends to favor style over accuracy and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the 'polished' edited product favored by newspaper media and strives for the gritty factor. Use of quotes,
sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and even profanity is common. The use of Gonzo journalism portends that journalism can be truthful without striving for objectivity and is loosely equivalent to an editorial."

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


Just incase you're wondering, if you search Google with the keywords used in the title above, the Devil Queen is one of the top 40 hits you'll get. Just thought you should know.

My wife wants the dining room floor to be refinished before Thanksgiving since we're having the whole family, well at least 30 of them, over for the holiday. I want the dining room floor refinished by October. With a group of willing slaves volunteers, we may get it taken care of in time. Worth a shot, right?

If I (we?) accomplish this, I'd like to also refinish the floors in the main hall and the living room by Thanksgiving. That would only leave the three bedrooms to do if I pulled it off.

And, to whom ever in Detroit, Michigan, has been reading the Devil Queen archives in their entirety over the last few days, greetings. I hope you've enjoyed them.

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Ventilating One Window at a Time

I've been spending more time on my art lately than the house. I think the balance is getting ready to swing back the other way though.

The electrician still has not made it out to the Devil Queen to check on the AC so no official word on what went wrong.

While the weather has been gorgeous (minus that veiled threat of winter's imminent approach), the house stays much cooler if you can open more than one window and a screen door. Technically, you could open more but since they don't have screens this isn't too attractive of an option. Think Hitchcock's "The Birds" except with moths, wasps, mosquitoes, and feral cats. Sure, it would be pretty exciting, but I don't know that I'd call that fun.

You'd think that installing a storm window would be a quick, simple procedure. Simple, yes. Quick, no.

The storm windows we have came with the Devil Queen and they were probably installed in the 1980's. They are metal, aluminum I'd guess. They are coated or painted in a dark brown-gray which isn't terribly attractive, but I've seen much worse.

We call them storm windows, but they are a screen/storm combination. The top panel is a fixed window while the bottom glass panel can be raised or lowered over a screen. This setup negates any benefit you'd get from using the top double-hung window. And, unlike traditional storm windows which hang on brackets and are fastened to the frame with a hook or similar device, these screw directly into the exterior window frame. This is more invasive than I'd like, but they do seal well. Come January, the season of infernal drafts (remember your Dante, Hell is cold), this will be very important. I'd personally like to be able to sit in my living room without my clothes whipping about me in a stiff wind.

And, another important consideration is we can't afford to replace these, so they will have to do for the foreseeable future.

Now, there are several reasons why it's taking so long to get these buggers back in the full-coverage position.

1) They have been stored under the back porch for roughly a year and a half. The windows were custom made for the house, so you have to sort through the stack with a tape measure to find one that will fit the particular window you are covering. The widths vary between 22 inches (the three windows that make the front bay window), random 27 inches and the standard 28 inch ones.
2) Since they have been in outdoor storage, they are filthy. Mostly dirt, saw dust, and general filth but there are some suspicious stains probably left by rodents, dead bugs, living, bugs, spider webs, et cetera.
3) To clean the windows, you have to remove the lower, sliding window pane.
4) Once you've cleaned the storm, you have to clean the exterior of the window itself. This includes scraping paint over-spray off too. Here is one tip, it comes off much easier if you spray the window down with Windex first and then scrape it clean with a razor. I don't know if it is the solvent action or if it lubricates the surface like shaving cream or what. In any case, the paint just glides off.
5) Since our genius Zombie Painter #2 did such a fabulous job of painting the windows shut, I have to cut and pry the windows open.

After performing all of the steps above, I can finally install the window. If I'm lucky, there is just a little bit of daylight left when I finish.

With the exception of the storm that fits over the transom of the original back door, I have installed all the storm windows accessible from the back porch. Now, to install the remaining storm windows, the process will become even more complicated. I'll have to add the following steps:

1) Re-glaze the window panes.
2) Touch-up, paint, or re-paint the window before proceeding with the list above.

Again, none of this is rocket science, but it is time consuming and boring. I'm not a fan of either. I'll probably do Gideon's windows next and then the living room and dining room windows. These are the draftiest ones in the house, so I'd like to get them finished first.

One additional benefit to getting the storms up is that it has really cut down on the number of bugs in the house. Gotta love that.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Perfidious Fates

There is nothing in the world that I like better than coming home late at night, tired and sunburned, and finding that the AC has mysteriously stopped working. There is a sublime joy in standing in the mud, navigating a bleak, black night with a flashlight, and trying to figure out if there is anything wrong with the unit. It makes you pine for time before modern conveniences, a time before people had any reason to expect anything more than discomfort and suffering from life. If you've never been pampered, you have no idea what you're missing, right?

Maybe it is mere wishful thinking, but I think the problem is with thermostat. The display is dead. Neither the heat or AC will work. The only control that functions is the fan switch. If you switch it from "auto" to "on" it'll kick on and start blowing. I pried the face off the thermostat and found the reset button. That didn't do anything. There is a place you can put in two AA batteries to serve as what I presume to be a back-up for the thermostat, so I shoved in a couple and nothing happened.

We've had a shit load of rain this week. I guess this is to compensate for the last couple of months of drought. My guess is that:

1) the thermostat was fried by a power surge (lightning or otherwise),
2) water shorted out the line the thermostat, or
3) mice ate the wire to the thermostat.

I checked the breaker box, but none of them had been tripped. All the clock and appliance displays were flashing, so I know the power was knocked-out at some point.

The only thing in my favor (aside from the fact the Devil Queen was not full of raw sewage) was that it was relatively cool last night (upper 70's). The humidity sucked, but it wasn't too bad.

Anyhow, I'll be calling Julian Electric to come and check the bloody machine.

Homeownership, the joy of joys.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Crawling to the Finish Line

The three-day weekend was nice. Aside from catching up on sleep and doing some fancy cooking, we didn't do anything too monumental. Well, there was one exception. We actually talked about working on the Devil Queen, specifically the dining room floor. This included a brief discussion of the pros and cons to laying a new wood floor over the old pine one. Even with us doing the installation, it would cost roughly $700 to $800 for a new floor. Having Kenny do it would cost roughly $1200. Refinishing the current one with a generous amount of wood-putty and patching would cost us roughly $250 (after we decided to disallow the cost of a knee replacement as a "construction cost"). We chose the cheapest route to finished.

Lots of prep-work will be needed. Bummer. Maybe I'll start on it tomorrow?

You know me, I just can't find enough excuses for crawling around on my knees, the harder the floor the better.

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