Nightmare on Elm St.

The journey of turning the nightmare we bought on Elm St. into our dream home...

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Monday, July 24, 2006


This weekend marked the end of an era... the era of the ugly, nonfunctional patios and horrible rotten deck in preparation for the pretty new slate patio that goes in starting tomorrow. Aaron and I began late last week, removing plants that were good enough either to keep (my golden hosta, assorted lilies of the valley) or give away (tiger lilies, some scraggly hostas, and day lilies that wouldn't fit into the new garden plan), and cleaning out our fenced in storage area to make room for more stuff during the work. THAT was an adventure!

We've been so busy this year that we hadn't cleaned it out since last fall. Well, we've had a virtual avalanche of pine needles since then. Combine that with a big pile of rocks and a densly wooded area, and you get snakes. I was raking away happily when suddenly I saw a lot of wiggling and writhing on the part of the pine needle pile. I screamed, threw down my rake and ran across the yard so fast you would have thought that the snakes were chasing me with flames shooting out of their mouths! I kept yelling "SNAKES" at Aaron. Aaron was trying to be calm and rational and ask me questions about the snakes:

Aaron: Are you sure? How big were they?
Me: Yes, I'm sure! They were snake sized snakes!
Aaron: Hmmm. What color were they?
Me: Snake colored!
Aaron: Snake colored?
Me: Yes! You take the rake! You'll see!
Aaron take the rake and rakes for awhile...
Aaron: All I see are earthworms. I don't see any snakes!
Me: Well, they heard me yelling and decided that this wasn't a good place to live. They went somewhere else to be snakey.
Aaron: I really think that they were just big earthworms.
Me: If we have earthworms that big, then we've got bigger problems than snakes!

Anyway, we were up bright and early Saturday to arm ourselves with Gatorade, water, and beer. The beer would serve as payment for our two helpers, Jonathan, who works with Aaron and seriously came because he didn't have anything better to do. (I don't think that he had any idea what he was getting into.) And, of course, Mike, who comes around any time that we have to smash something. Aaron and I got stated around 9:30 am, at which time the backyard and porch looked like this:

Backyard before
before byard1

Deck/porch area before
before deck1

Closeup of poor condition of deck
before deck2

Aaron and I started moving pavers out systematically and stacking them along the side of the house. By the time that Jonathan showed up at 11 am, we were nearly done with the center patio. With an extra big, strong guy we were done with all of the patios by 11:40 or so. We celebrated by drinking a Gatorade, and then started tackling the porch.

We tried taking things apart nicely, but it just wasn't working for us. Mike showed up around 12:00 or so and proposed liberal use of the sledgehammer and the circular saw. This method of brute force destruction went much faster. By lunchtime (around 1:30 pm) we were well on our way to demolishing the entire porch!

Aaron uses the circular saw to cut the boards into smashable pieces.

deck cutout

Aaron tries his hand at smashing

aaron sledge

Mike, who seems to have a lot of pent-up aggression, demonstrates his mad sledging skillz for the internets

mike sledge1

mike sledge2

mike destructo

We made two trips to the dump and there are still a few boards left tht need to go! Between the two trips, we had a huge rainstorm that made the second trip a truly disgusting, smelly, muddy experience. We were all very glad to get a shower after the day was over!

Sunday, Aaron and I cleaned up the last of the debris and tuckpointed the wall behind the porch (it was in bad shape). We're very good at this now, so it went lightning fast. The biggest slowdown we faced was running out of sand! Check out our hard work...


None of that will show above the porch, so we didn't kill ourselves making it look perfect, just structurally sound was fine with us.

Sunday we also did a ton of yardwork. I trimmed back the perennial bed out front which is getting out of control. I thinned out the Mexican primrose and yarrow back in the spring and gave the extra plants away. I think that I did a good job on the primrose, but I should have been much more ruthless with the yarrow. Yarrow was eating all the other plants in the flower bed! So, I thinned it out liberally and now it looks a little more normal, plus you can see that pretty silver stuff and the St. John's Wort. The Russian sage was a similar story. I didn't cut it all the way back last fall, which was silly (although I felt like it was the first year, so I should baby the perennials, even the vigrous ones). So, I did some significant thinning of it as well, in order to rediscover my pretty pink phlox with the varigated leaves.

Trimmed up bed
front bed

The City no longer takes yard waste, and I generated a ton with all this trimming (and weeding) so Aaron and I used the big trash can that we bought when we moved in, but the city said was oversized (and ripped off all the stickers so we couldn't return it) to make a composter. I did a little internet research, and it said to cut a slot to remove the compost and drill a bunch of holes, which is exactly what we did. I filled this thing almost all the way up! Can you believe it???


I also finally ripped out the half dead pansies out front and replaced them with a few dahlias. There wasn't much to choose from at the nusery this late in the year. I didn't go overboard because I'll put pansies back in, probably in October.

dahlia bed

We found tons of bricks in the backyard... more than I ever could have imagined. We're considering using them as a flower bed edging... we'll see. As for the pavers that we stacked on the side of the house, we had many piles going all the way along the side of the house, even taller than this pile of bricks:


Why no picture of all these pavers, you ask? Because I posted the pavers (assuming that no one would ever want them, just thought that I'd give it a shot) to the Frederick Freecycle group list and they were claimed within an hour! The people who took them made a trip out on Saturday night and got half, then came back at 11 am on Sunday for the rest (there were about 300+ pavers out there). The pavers were gone in less than 24 hours! If you have extra materials you'd like to get rid of, check to see if your town has a freecycle list! I found ours on the Frederick County Landfill homepage. I've also given away a doghouse and some old rusty garden fence this way and have been tremendously pleased with the response and the politeness of the people who have picked things up. It helps the environment, saves landfill space, and helps me feel better because I know stuff is being used!

I'll leave you with some post demo pictures of the area. It will be so exciting to see things going on out there!

deck aftr

backyard aftr

backyard aftr2

Friday, July 21, 2006

Welcome Chicago Tribune Readers

If you read about us in the article in the Chicago Tribune, welcome! We feel very honored to have all of this recent media attention. Feel free to poke through the archives, and come back this weekend for pictures of our latest demolition- the backyard porch and patios!

**** Chicago Tribune Article ****
True-life confessions of the weekend warrior
Bloggers detail the good, bad and ugly of rehabbing; call it 'therapy'

By Mary Ellen Podmolik
Special to the Tribune

July 21, 2006

Jocelyn Meyer and her boyfriend, Steve Gerard, spent a weekend in late June preparing nine doors, two windows and 1,900 feet of wood trim for stripping, a minor but time-consuming task in the multiyear renovation of their North Side 1910 two-flat.

And when it was all over, Meyer sat down and wrote about it, took some photos and posted it on a Web log, or blog, that details the ins and outs of their large project and snippets of their personal lives.

For some people, the idea of rehashing a job in painstaking detail and taking photos along the way might seem like overkill. But for Meyer--who adds to her blog as many as five times a week--and a growing legion of amateur rehabbers like her, it's therapy. And she has found an audience. On average, her blog,, gets 300 page views a day.

"It brings a feeling of closure," Meyer said of her postings. "And there's that whole `let me show people what I did' thing. If you're working full time and working on your house on weekends and nights, you can't have a super-rich social life. It helps to connect up on the blog. And you're showing [your work] to people who can appreciate it."

The growing popularity of blogs has brought together far-flung communities of every ilk, and rehabbers are no exception. Blogs dedicated to home improvement and renovation have given do-it-yourselfers a way to exchange advice on myriad subjects.

But the benefit of blogging is encouragement as well as education. Bloggers say there's a lot to be said for "chatting" with others who understand better than anyone how excited you were to spend your weekend taping drywall or finding a better way of laying hex tile.

Some rehabbers start a blog to update out-of-town friends and family on the progress of their renovations. Others find them by accident when they search the Internet for advice on various subjects, land on someone's journal and soon find themselves documenting their own work for others.

Three years after buying a 1914 Craftsman-style bungalow in Chicago and vowing to renovate it themselves, Aaron and Jeanne Marie Olson are seasoned home improvement buffs. They also are dedicated bloggers and have gone so far as to establish a Web site that aggregates other renovation blogs,

(Two other blog finders to check out are and

But that wasn't their initial plan at all. The Olsons established their Web site,, within a month of buying their fixer-upper to share pictures with family members. Others happened upon it. "Most surprising to us, we'd show up as search results when people would google `noisy radiator' or `smelly basement,'" Aaron Olson said.

They've shared details on the work done on two bedrooms and two bathrooms (including one that bloggers helped redesign), exchanged comments about the paint colors they've chosen, learned how to refurbish old wood windows and found better tools to strip paint. They find the online networking a critical part of a home makeover that will take an estimated seven more years to complete.

But they are careful to sound like homeowners, not renovation professionals.

"We don't tell people how to do stuff," Jeanne Olson said. "We tell people what we are doing with our house. There are a lot of caveats. We are not contractors."

Experienced bloggers say if they want to hear back from readers, it's important to detail the work clearly but in an engaging manner. They strive for the text to be personal, rather than just sounding like a how-to manual. An entry one day might focus on dealing with an uneven bathroom floor; the next day the topic might be dealing with children underfoot or the contractor who never showed up.

The other imperative is photos, and lots of them. Before, during and after shots are common, as are less-than-glamorous shots of homeowners or contractors performing the work.

Kim Bouldin, a Nashville-area homeowner, says she likes to use a lot of descriptive text and pictures on her blog,, ranging from before and after pictures of breaker boxes to the detailed to-do list on the side of her blog, with completed items crossed off. She'll spend up to two hours a day updating the work on her family's ranch home because she's determined to keep a warts-and-all journal and how it can tax homeowners financially and emotionally.

"Renovating is not a pretty, neat and tidy process," Bouldin said. "It can get ugly, really ugly. I think readers need to see that side, too--the good with the bad. And when I'm feeling discouraged because of the slow progress or a renovating goof we made or the mess, readers, often other house bloggers, provide encouraging words that keep me going."

Her candor has paid off. A kitchen designer who stumbled across her blog sent her oil-rubbed bronze kitchen hardware for free.

Bouldin acknowledges the potential downside of blogging: getting so caught up on the computer that the blog, not the project, takes center stage. "It's easier to write a blog or read other people's than to peel paint or sand," she said. "But if you're going to have pictures of anything, you've got to do the work."

Amanda and Aaron Forster knew nothing of home improvement blogs when they bought a 1915 duplex 45 miles north of Washington, D.C., two years ago. Then they found honeybees living in a wall, and Amanda went to the Web, seeking information on tuckpointing.

She landed on a blog. "I just got sucked into this whole world, reading about what people were doing to their houses, reading their personal stories," she said.

They decided to document their own progress, and her husband came up with a name: (Yes, they really do live on Elm Street.)

They've asked other homeowners about various types of drywall and gotten tips for making wood trim. At the same time, though, the couple feels obligated to share their travails and successes with others.

"There's a lot of things I would have been too afraid to tackle before," Amanda Forster said. "I've been helped so much by strangers that I feel it's only fair that I make the contribution to someone else."

- - -

Read it and weep

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. For renovators who blog, victory can manifest itself as one less trip to Home Depot or one more project crossed off the to-do list. The agony? It's everything from smashed hostas to the exhaustion that comes with never quite being done with those projects.

Take a peek at recent posts. If you've lived through a remodel, we bet you'll relate.

Chicago Two-Flat


Jocelyn Meyer and Steve Gerard, Chicago


Please! Just don't hurt my hostas! (June 29, 2006)

"Here you see my yard yesterday. Peaceful and somewhat pleasing--a nice place to be--maybe even eat dinner.

Today the roofers came . . . and things have changed. They hurt my hostas. They thwarted some lilies, and my lawn is in tears.

As it turns out the original roof was still on the building. This is to say that there has never ever been a tear-off done. There were five or six layers of roofing on our roof. I know we did the right thing because this is way too much weight for our building, but it is not pleasant for my garden--at all."

House In Progress


Jeanne Marie and Aaron Olson, Chicago


After the baby is tucked in . . . (June 12, 2006)

"...what do DIY mommies do?

Do they get a glass of wine? Put their feet up? Read a magazine?

Not if they want handles on their built-in cabinet, they don't. Sigh."

One Woman's Cottage Life


Kim Bouldin, Nashville


Five-Day Home Improvement Marathon (July 2, 2006)

"There is nothing like the thought of company coming to get you motivated to work on your house. My mom and stepfather will be arriving either Thursday night or Friday morning and that means we have about five days to tackle a lot of projects. . . . Here is the list of things that I want completed by Thursday.

Mow the yard, weed and mulch landscaping beds, prune a few trees.

Prime and paint the gutted bathroom subfloor, make the space temporarily "cottage cozy" (a gutted bathroom cottage cozy in five days? Stay tuned...) The only working part of this bathroom is the tub, our only tub, so our guests will have to be in there.

Paint hallway and living-room floor white (yes, folks, we're living with subfloor here at the moment. I stare longingly at our beautiful hardwood stacked in the garage dreaming of the day that we can finally install it! )

Install cabinet doors

Finish putting lattice skirting around deck

Paint a small exterior portion of the house (deck area)

Clean, declutter, clean, declutter! Don't laugh, for all things are possible in the mind of a crazy woman."

Nightmare on Elm St.


Amanda and Aaron Forster, suburban Washington, D.C.


Tile tribulations (June 19, 2006)

"Tiling adventures continued this weekend. We're finally getting the planning for the weekend part of the equation down ... although I really do need the workweek in my nice, air-conditioned office to recover from our weekend warrior activities. We had all of our materials in place, as well as Diet Coke and sandwich supplies, so I didn't go to Lowe's or Home Depot once all weekend long! Isn't that awesome. I don't think that we've ever accomplished that feat before."
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Some fixes

A couple of site maintenance notes:
The OHJ post was killing my site, so I shrank the picture. If you can't read it, email me for a copy.
Lipstickface kindly pointed out that my links to her post were broken. I fixed all that in the post below. Her site is awesome- she has a lot of fascinating things to share... and she's very interested in hearing from you ranchbloggers...

Retro madness...

My blogfriend Lipstickface has found her first home, a perfectly preserved ranch. All of you ranchbloggers out there, totally check out her flickr photoset- this place is out of control! Also, she's looking for some vintage linoleum sources... I know that y'all can help her out!
Check out her post about the house toward the middle of the page (direct link didn't work) Welcome to the Atomic Ranch Who knows, maybe we'll have another houseblogger amongst our midst.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Madgame Weekend

This weekend was race weekend again, so we spent most of it at an SCCA event at Summit Point in West Virginia helping fellow blogger Mike out with his race car. Unfortunately, due to a series of small setbacks, Mike didn't make it through the race, again. We have high hopes for labor day weekend.

We're busy with community action stuff this week- trying to fight a developer trying to build garage apartments with only alley access behind our house, so posts/house progress will be light. Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Blog it to me" Editorial from Old House Journal Magazine July/August 2006

I can't figure out how to upload a pdf so if someone else knows, I'd appreciate the help. Here is the scan of the editorial that sparked so much comment recently:

Image Hosted by

Get well soon Sandy Pants, and a quick update

First and foremost, our yellow lab, Sandy, underwent surgery to repair a complete ACL tear in her left knee yesterday. This wasn't unexpected, we've repaired the right knee twice, and we finally felt she had recovered enough from her surgery in December to undergo surgery on the other leg. She's very woozy but is resting comfortably at home today. Please send love her way from all of the other pet loving housebloggers. To spare you the gratuitous Sandy Pants pics(as we call her at home, or Farts-a-lot, as Mike likes to call her), here are links for the interested of Sandy in healthier times:


Sandy and Chester

On Friday we spent a long time at Just Cabinets trying to get the pricing right for what we wanted. They discontinued some of the cabinets that we needed (office wall cabinets in 42" tall), so we ended up having to make a couple of changes to our plan (switch a cabinet out for an open bookcase- yuck, dust), and eliminate one area of cabinets (only one one side of the shop door and not both). I was extremely impressed with the patience and professionalism of the staff at Just Cabinets in Frederick, and would definitely recommend them as of right now. I'll let you know what we think when we get them in! We ended up going with Kraftmaid birch cabinets in a shaker style with a chestnut finish. I can't remember the exact style, but it is very similar to the Tuscan Shaker style that Lowes' sells. We felt better about our single biggest purchase for the basement to date when we found out that our neighbor "Hasn't slept well since he paid for his cabinets..." and "Plan(s) to sleep in his kitchen for a few weeks when it's done..." Cabinets are expensive!!!

Also on Friday, we made a visit to Hardwoods, Inc. a new millwork and wood retailer in town. This was really cool. They have tons of different varieties of wood and do great custom millwork. We're having them make our stair balusters at a great cost savings vs. making them ourselves (we had to cut some corners to pay for the cabinets, and the walnut staircase from Stair Supplies was one of the first things to go. Home Depot stocks a red oak box newel and other componets we can live with, but we had to have the 1.25" square balusters made, as they do not sell those). Here is the best part- we paid for our order on Friday, and Aaron is picking it up today. That's so much better than another millwork shop we've used before, who takes weeks to make even simple runs of stuff, and still hasn't returned our phone call about the balusters. We talked to the owner of Hardwoods about some other projects we have in mind, and he even told us that Sassafrass is an excellent subsitute for the American chestnut trim in our house (similar grain, stains about the same...). We were really happy to get this information and plan to become frequent customers.

Saturday I got almost all of the suspended ceiling components painted. I still need to sand them lightly with ultrafine steel wool and recoat them with clear protectant. Overall, it's a good match for the tiles and I cannot wait to get the ceiling installed. Saturday we also made the difficult decision not to expose the brick walls in the bathroom. It was making a lot of construction headaches for us, and I wasn't sure it was even going to look good in the end. So, we built walls on Saturday afternoon and spent most of Sunday running the rest of the supply lines and testing all of the plumbing in the bathroom. Over the next few weeks, we will be making our own Craftsman style wainscoting, mudding, taping, and painting the walls, and finishing off the ceiling in that room so that we can get the tub! Once the tub is in, the rest of the bathroom can be finished and should go together quickly. Yay! Pictures to come soon.

Last night, we spent 4 hours at a planning commision meeting to discuss the proposed townhouses being built behind our house. Our agenda item never came up, so we have to go back next Wednesday to try to finish the meeting. It was good that we went, because now we have a lot more information about what they plan to build (in addition to the townhomes, they want to put in garages with apartments above them which will face a narrow and congested alley) and this gives us more time to convince our neighbors to attend the next meeting Wed. July 19 at 6 pm at City Hall! Call or email me for details if you're an affected neighbor.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Patio Scheduled and Mad Game Demolition

I can't get the scanner to work to get the OHJ article up, but I will soon, I promise! Probably next week.

In other news, we scheduled the patio contractor... Contractor 5 starts on July 24. We are so excited, and this means that you, dear readers, will get another exposure to Mad Game Demolition as we bribe our friends with beer to destroy sh*t in the backyard. We're all very psyched to see those awful triangular patios go.

Tonight we have our meeting with the cabinet people, and hopefully I will be able to report that we've ordered our cabinets this time tomorrow. Who knew that spending thousands of dollars could be such a difficult task??? What has been your most frustrating experience with trying to order something? How many of you have had a good experience at the big Orange or big Blue box?

Finally, I'd like to introduce the newest member of the Nightmare on Elm St blog family, my friends new blog Mad Game Racing. I've referenced Mike's 1971 Volvo P1800 race adventures before, and astute readers will note that we periodically don't complete projects due to "race weekend". I've finally convinced Mike to start a blog (mostly by setting it up for him) about his adventures with his nightmare of a car, a.k.a. the Swedish Meatball, the Princess, or just plain old, the Volvo. Aaron and I will both be contributing occassionally to the blog, but almost all of the content is Mike's. If you are interested in SCCA racing, old cars, or just general silliness, you should go and check it out!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Contractors and Cabinets

Hi everyone, remember our patio contractor conundrum? Well I am pleased to say we have made a decision. It's Contractor 5. I'll let you know how it goes! Contractor 7 came in over $2000 more than Contractor 5, plus Con. 5 is doing sod, too. Yay!

Today I had the death appointment with the cabinet people at Lowes. I went in with a LIST OF THE ACTUAL CABINETS THAT I WANTED. I wanted to price it with 2 door styles and one option (glass doors or wine cabinet). I arrived for my appointment with SlowyMcPhony Face* at 3 pm, she didn't even sit down until 3:45. If you are asking why I had waited so long, it's because 1. I thought maybe I was mixed up and it should have been 3:30 and 2. It took me two weeks to get the stupid appointment in the first place. She spent the next hour and fifteen minutes typing things into her computer, filing paperwork, and answering the phone, then complaining about her clients to me. Finally she started giving me pricing options, but they made NO SENSE. Basically when I figured out about 5:00 that this was going to cost me nearly $10,000 for birch cabinets for my basement, I bailed. I remembered that last month, I'd received a faxed estimate from another cabinet company in town, and I pulled that out and started comparing. It was much more reasonable ($3000), so we ran a few errands and then went over there. They were very, very nice, very professional, and didn't talk on the phone at all when I was there. They are supposed to rework their estimate with a different door style and call me tonight with a price. I'll let you know how it goes.

*not her real name, but it should be...

"Blog It to Me... "? Oh, I'll blog it to you!

Fellow houseblog brethren, I ask you to please explain to me the point of the editor's page article in the July/August 2006 edition of Old House Journal, authored by Gordon H. Bock. This article, ostensibly OHJ's nod toward those of us toiling on our money pits and blogging about it feels a little mixed in tone. For those of you who haven't read it, it may be available on their website, but I haven't checked.

Mr. Bock starts the article off by discussing 2006 as the year of the blog, and transitioned into mentioning the NY Times and Washington Post articles. He asks why people who are "bitten by the old house blog... ...feel compelled to not only keep a running journal of their construction exploits, but also to post it for all the world to read? Is it some sort of catharsis, where sharing the tedium of stripping paint helps purge the memory? Or is it the ego boost of having your own show where an audience of thousands follows your project in installments as if it were on TV?"

Let's discuss this paragraph before we move on. How is my little blog all that much different than the articles in OHJ's magazine? Basically, we cover the same topics- a few how-to tips, a discussion of renovation and transformation of a space, and analysis of available materials and a discussion of their pros and cons. Maybe blogging is cathartic... maybe there are times that I'm frustrated and I need to write about it. But maybe working on your house isn't all about the end result, the beautiful before and after photos with the smiling couple and the bowl of fruit on the counter. It's about being dirty, exhausted, and frustrated that you've worked a solid 12 hours and you don't have a damn thing to show for it. Maybe that's what I'm trying to capture. I don't feel like it's an ego boost to have people read about it. This is a way of telling a story, regarless of how many people listen. Maybe Mr. Bock doesn't like to talk about this dark side of house restoration. Most of the homes that OHJ feature in their stories have teams of architects, contractors, designers, etc. I know many of the kitchens featured cost more than my house! Not everyone can afford that kind of work, and I feel that maybe people read houseblogs to learn about the "real story" of home restoration, and maybe get some practical lessons on how to tackle problems for themselves. Basically, I started this thing because 1. I wanted to keep my friends and family apprised of what we've got going on (and why we never call you back) and 2. I wanted to contribute, in my own way, to something from which I have learned so much, not only how to do something, but a newfound respect for my home and the others in my neighborhood.

Mr. Bock goes on in the next few paragraphs to discuss the prevalence of photographs on blogs, allowing housebloggers to display even the smallest details of their restorations. He wraps up with a discussion of trends within houseblogging, and poses some question as to whether houseblogs will stand the test of time as well as the houses they are about. It is difficult to understand Mr. Bock's overall opinion on houseblogs. Maybe it is as mixed as his article leads me to believe. At any rate, I'd like to hear your thoughts about it. I love reading about what each and every one of you are doing, and I certainly hope this article doesn't discourage would be bloggers from diving in and tackling the challenge of documenting their restorations.