Sunday, August 12, 2018


Last summer while playing in the dirt I planted a couple of fruit trees. They survived the winter and have done reasonably well.

The peach tree in the middle has really grown. This spring it didn't blossom much or set any fruit. I assume that's a result of the big blizzard in April. This variety is known as an early bloomer, so it is a little sensitive to late frost.

The apple trees bloomed and set fruit. I thinned the number down to 6 or 8 on each tree as a pollination trial run. The fruit was doing well on both until recently. The rightmost one got worms, so I removed all the fruit. That way it's not wasting energy on fruit production. The fruit on the leftmost apple tree still is doing OK.

The sad thing is that the leaves on both have been ravaged by Japanese Beetles. Removing them by hand into a bucket of soapy water has been working OK, but I don't think it will be manageable as the trees get bigger.

I'm considering this year an experiment on what I need to do to get a crop a few years down the road, so I'm learning a lot.

As I recall, great-grandpa Joe had an apple orchard in his yard, so maybe I'll get there eventually...

Friday, August 10, 2018

Art - 2

Earlier in the summer we took a family vacation to Montreal and Quebec City. I'd never been to either city before and really enjoyed both. The old town areas in both were very interesting with lots of history and cool architecture.

Of course, SWMBO managed to do some shopping and found these prints made by a local artist in Quebec City. Each of the prints shows a different street scene in Quebec's old town.

They survived the journey back and we had them matted and framed here. A few days ago we hung them in the kitchen.

While the frames are all the same size, it's inevitable that you can't just place the hooks at the same height. Even though I used my trusty laser level and measured everything multiple times, it's still a pain to get the cluster all hung at the same height.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tuckpointing - 2

Progress has been a bit sporadic.

Dave the mason has also been working at the nearby Commodore. When he gets stuck there he comes here and vice versa.

There were a few bricks that needed to be replaced because they were too damaged. We'd saved some from when we had the porch piers  rebuilt, but there weren't enough. The mason had to begin the sourcing effort and, like always, it's not easy.

The initial selection was approved by the HPC, but when we went to place the order it was discontinued.

After some back and forth, the HPC approved a different brick. It was the right color, but the wrong size; both in height and width. The would mean two cuts on each brick to get it to the correct size. It also means a ridiculous amount of time and labor for each brick.

So the search started again. This time they approved a brick that was only mis-sized in width. That's the easier of the two cuts, so it's not so bad.

We know we're going to need more bricks when we get to the other sides of the house, so we get a better deal if we buy a whole pallet. The extra ones will get stored somewhere unobtrusive (not on the driveway!) until they are needed next summer.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Lost History - Part 2

Life is full of coincidences. And sometimes some of what was lost can be found.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an announcement about the son of the 3rd owners and posted about it.

Last week, one of his sons happened to be in town for a college reunion. He and his wife stopped to look at the house and SWMBO coincidentally was outside. They chatted and she gave them a tour of the interior.

This was his grandparent's house, so as one might expect, he doesn't have vivid memories of many things. Likewise, there are things I remember about my grandparents' houses, but there are details I don't recall either...

He was able to share some interesting information, though. The paintings on the door of the study bath are likely not original to the house. He believes they were painted by his great-grandfather, W. B. Robertson. He shared this photo of a painted fireplace screen that he says was in the house and was also painted by his great-grandfather. The similarity to the hunting scenes on the door are striking, so I certainly agree with him.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


As the guys have been doing the brickwork in the front of the house, they've brought up some concerns with the downspouts.

The existing ones weren't really working properly and would overflow causing water to cascade down the front of the house. As a result the brick would get wet and because of the need for tuckpointing, water was getting into the wall.

In typical "while you're in there" fashion, we might as well get the issues taken care of now.

Those with sharp eyes will note the fancy new temporary downspouts. They certainly ensure that the water is routed away from the foundation...

Monday, June 4, 2018


We've had various brick work done in the past and knew that we'd eventually need to do a fair amount of tuckpointing. We'd met with various contractors over the years and we're finally ready to get started. Understanding the unique aspects of doing this with old soft brick is important and that limits the number of available contractors. As a result, we've been on the list for quite a while waiting for them to complete other jobs.

Last Thursday this pile of material showed up.

And Friday it was assembled to look like this.

The plan is to do one side at a time over the next few years, depending upon funding. The chimneys need it too, so they will need to fit in somewhere.

The bits that need it the most will get priority...

Long time readers will recall that I'm not fond of heights, so this is one of the jobs I'll leave to the professionals.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lost History

I stumbled upon this memoriam yesterday.

William Robertson was the son of the third owners of the house. We'd had some contact with him via email a few years ago, but unfortunately never had the chance to meet face-to-face.

He was acquainted with the grandson of the first owner, who kindly made the connection for us, and he shared some of his knowledge of the house with us (Fire in the Attic).

Friday, April 20, 2018


In another recent conversation with someone who was in the process of purchasing an old house, they asked, "What should I do first?"

It's typical that as a new owner you're full of energy to get started on something. I'd suggest getting the house weather tight and address any immediate structural issues. Otherwise, temper your enthusiasm and wait. Maybe for as long as a year. It's an old house; once it's weather tight another 12 months isn't a big deal.

Listen to the house.

Let it speak to you.

You will learn what it needs. It may need different things in each of the four seasons.

You will learn how you live in it. And how you'll adapt to it. Along with how it will adapt to you.

Things that you think you want to do on day one likely will not be the things you want/need on day 365. You will also figure out more about what it needs and how to structure/schedule the work so you don't have to re-do things later.

If it is a historic house you are a caretaker for future generations, not an owner.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thoughtful Restovation

I was chatting with an acquaintance recently and, not surprisingly, the topic of the house came up. Project progress and whether we're done yet are the most common conversation starters. He didn't ask this, but every once in a while someone will ask when we're going to sell and do it again. Judging by the amount of time we've taken so far, we're obviously not in it for a "quick flip".

As you might expect, quick flippers and some  of the popular TV shows about old houses aren't terribly popular on old house websites. Mostly those sites are populated with people who have a passion for preserving old houses and their criticism is of the "remuddling" decisions that run counter to the design ethos of old houses or work that destroys the house's character.

As we prepare for the upcoming tour I've thought a bit about our approach to our house. I'd classify it as thoughtful restovation (restoration and renovation) of a historic building.

Where it makes sense, we've restored things and found period pieces of hardware to replace broken or missing pieces. If that's not possible, we've sometimes found appropriate reproductions. We've also tried to keep with the style of the house and used period colors in many cases. That doesn't mean we're fanatics about originality however.

In other cases, we've renovated using modern materials, etc. In those cases we carefully considered the house and the modern way of living. We've tried to stay in harmony with the style of the house, borrowing original design cues from elsewhere in the house while understanding that it's not a museum or a time capsule, but rather a house in which a family lives.

So far, we've received a lot of good feedback that we've successfully balanced the competing forces.

Monday, April 16, 2018


Now that the hallways are done, the art gallery can begin.

It will be a process, like any other.

The first piece we hung is called "Carriage Houses of Saint Paul - II". Our carriage house is one of those featured in the collection. This is the second in a series of photographs of carriage houses in Saint Paul.

We originally met the artist as he was creating this piece. He was riding his bike around Saint Paul looking for interesting carriage houses to photograph and he stopped by our place.