Sunday, January 30, 2011

Up on the Roof

After the roofs of a few local buildings collapsed under the weight of snow, I thought I should get up on the flat portion of my roof and check it out.  The flat roof is over the master bedroom and back porch and is accessed through a little door at the back of the attic.  I've only been up here once with The Architects.

There's about 2-1/2 feet of snow up here so I think it's good I got up here to deal with it.

And while I'm up here, I thought it would be fun to show the surrounding neighborhood from this bird's-eye view.

Looking north toward the front of the house, the steeple in the right of the photo is right in Central Square where I catch the subway to work.

Off the other side of the house, looking northeast, is my old maple tree and the two soapworker's cottages that are the two oldest houses on the street, built in 1835.  They're on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is a closer look at one of the cottages and my neighbor who is also clearing snow and ice from her roof.  

This is looking east toward Boston.  Through the tree... can see the Prudential building.  This is about a block from the Boston Marathon's finish line.

This is looking south down the little alleyway where there are four more old cottages.

Finally, looking west are more houses and one of the many local churches.

I love this view but unfortunately the only place I can see it is from the attic.  It would be nice to have a roof deck or an attic hideaway one day to enjoy this scene.

Another storm coming on Wednesday.   And I'm ready.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Before and After (The Storm)

Remember this just before Christmas?

This is what it looks like this morning.

These are the side steps off the front porch to the garden gate.

Just finished my morning workout.

And here's the garden.

It's actually pretty now that the sun is out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Painting Windows

Neighbor's back door
There's not a lot of progress to report on my multiple projects.  I've been working with The Architects again to tweak the kitchen and bathroom plans.  I'll show you those plans in another post.  I've been ordering fabric samples from a variety of ebay and etsy sellers for my upholstery projects.  I get overwhelmed whenever I go into a fabric store but I want to see things in person.  I thought ordering one-yard samples would be a good way to limit my choices and see how they look in my house compared to under the fluorescent lights of a store.  And buying fabric online seems like a cost-effective alternative.

Everything here has been a frozen, snowy mess since Christmas.  We've had three major snowstorms in a row...

That's -3 F.  (-21 C. for the rest of the world)

...colder than normal temps...

 ...and there's another big storm predicted for this week. 

 I literally have nowhere to put any more snow.   I may have to attack this pile and put it over the fence into the side yard.

Since I'm cooped up inside, I thought this would be a good time to get the new windows painted.  I've been feeling a little overwhelmed by this project.  All these little panes add up to one big pain. 

142 panes.

568 little corners.

One coat of primer, one finish coat.

So I've committed to getting one window done per weekend which means I'll be done by spring.  That's two things to look forward to:  painted windows and spring.

I don't normally use tape when I paint.  I'm a very neat painter, I have a pretty steady hand and I'd rather deal with any mishaps as they happen as opposed to finding surprises under the tape when you peel it off.

I started painting by hand but I'm such a perfectionist about the edges, I was really unhappy with the job I was doing.  So I decided to try Frog tape.  I've read really positive reviews of it, so I thought it would be a good chance to try it out myself.  Taping up the edges was pretty easy but getting the tape cut at perfect right angles to fit in the corners was a real chore.

As I stood taping up all the panes of one of the living room windows, Sam stopped by to start work on the front stair railings.  When he saw me taping up the windows he said, "You should get those painter's tape corners."


"They make rolls of blue painter's tape corners that fit perfectly in the corners."  Sam said he'd never used them but he's worked with painters that really swear by them.

I don't know how many times I've been to Home Depot and various paint stores and I've never noticed them.  Maybe I just never noticed.

Have you seen them?  Have you tried them?

I went on ebay and found only one listing for them so I bought a few rolls and two days later they arrived.  Each roll of 60 corners was about $7.50

They're definitely easier and faster to stick in place than trying to cut perfect right angles with the tape.  And then I filled the gaps with Frog tape.  This must look really attractive from outside.

After using the blue corners on one window, I'll agree they work well.  They kept the paint off the glass and peeled off cleanly without having to score anything with a razor blade.  I also REALLY love the Frog tape.  It works amazing well.  On one living window which has 18 panes, I had only one tiny place where the paint bled underneath and required cleaning up with the razor blade.  Everywhere else the edges are perfect!

After painting the two big living room windows, the light bulb went on and I figured out a way to handle the corners that's pretty easy and doesn't require the extra cost of the blue corners.

Rip one small piece and cut the corner at a blunt angle and position the point into the corner on one side of the pane.

Rip a second small piece, cut a blunt angle and again place the point into the corner on the other side of the pane.

If you do this when it's light outside, you can see if you get the tape tight to the edge.  You can see here that I didn't quite get it tight on the top.  You could pull it back and try again or...

...just rip another piece and overlap it.

Actually, if you rip about a three-inch piece, you can cut the tape at an angle in the middle and have no waste at all.  I drew a line where I could cut just so you can see what I mean.  (I wouldn't draw lines on the tape.  The ink could end up in the paint.)

Ripping these small pieces and cutting the corners is something that you can do while sitting and listening to music, watching TV or watching it snow.  I'm sticking them lightly on a plastic cutting board that I'll pull them from as I'm taping up my next window.

The painted windows look beautiful.  I'm really happy with how they turned out.  

Two down, eight more to go.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mrs. Mastrullo's Hands

I received news on Friday night that Mrs. Mastrullo had passed away.
Her daughter told me only a few weeks ago that she hadn't shown her the photos I sent.
They would only confuse her she thought.  I've never met Mrs. Mastrullo
so I was a taken a little off guard when I found the news upsetting.

Photo: " Crossroads:  Stories of Central Square,"
Cambridge Historical Commission publication

Vincent James Mastrullo--"Jimmy" as he was known in the neighborhood--was the son of Italian immigrants.  He was born just around the corner from here in 1919, no more than 10 houses away.  He may have even known Mrs. Ray, the piano teacher who lived here. 

Jimmy fell in love with an old house in 1940.  The house was already 100 years old and it needed a a lot of work. He renovated the house, adding beautiful new bathrooms with clawfoot tubs and a new back porch before going off to the war.

Upon his return from WWII, he married Margaret, the sweet young woman from Nova Scotia that had been on his mind the entire time he was gone.  She was a good woman, deeply religious, and he knew she would make a good wife and mother.  They moved into the house that Jimmy had renovated and two children, Michelle and James, soon followed.  Everyone knew Jimmy Mastrullo LOVED his house but it was Mrs. Mastrullo's hands that shaped her home.

Her hands opened her pink bedroom curtains
to let in the sunlight each morning...

...and touched the pink trim that matched the
flowered wallpaper she had chosen as she
rounded the corner to her children's rooms...

...where she pulled the crystal knob on the closet
to dress her children for school. 

She opened this door each day as she
returned from the Central Square market...

...and pulled on this red crystal to light the pantry
as she prepared her family's dinner each afternoon.

Mrs. Mastrullo's hands opened this door
to the bathroom and...

...turned these knobs to draw a bath after a day
filled with cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry...

...and grasped this newel post each evening
as she climbed the steep stairs to her bedroom.

Mrs. Mastrullo's hands embraced her daughter when she went off to nursing school.  And when her son Jim chose a career as a police officer, she prayed that he would stay safe.  But Jim's career was cut short after being diagnosed with a debilitating illness.  I imagine her hands opened this dresser drawer where she kept her most precious things...

 ....where she reached for her rosary and asked for help and strength.

Despite their adaptations to the house, there came a time
when her son could no longer stay at home.

Only a few short years later, Mrs. Mastrullo lost her husband.

It was during these most difficult times that I imagine her returning to that dresser drawer for her bible or her rosary to seek strength and comfort.

When neighbors became concerned about Mrs. Mastrullo, noticing times when she seemed confused, they contacted her daughter Michelle and Mrs. Mastrullo went to live at an assisted-living facility near her daughter's home.

It was at this time the torch was passed to me to care for this old house.

* * *

As I was finishing up the exterior project on the house, the real estate agent that sold the house stopped by to tell me I MUST send photos to Michelle.  I wasn't sure how they would feel seeing their home changed so much, but knowing the real estate agent was a friend of the family, I sent off photos just before Thanksgiving.

Just before Christmas, I received a card.

Dear Steve,  Thank you for updating me on the house.  I enjoyed seeing the transformation and am very impressed with your vision and motivation.  The house looks wonderful!  My brother also enjoyed the pictures and details you provided.  

I did not show the pictures to my mom.  Her dementia has progressed and these would only confuse her.   

My dad loved this house and when he was healthy did a lot of work on it himself.   My parents would be pleased to know you care about the house as much as they did and would be impressed with your care and commitment to it. 

Happy Holidays and Warm Regards,


* * *

Receiving news of Mrs. Mastrullo's passing so soon after my correspondence with her daughter was surprising.  It's been a solemn weekend reflecting on Mrs. Mastrullo and her time in the house.

I will admit that I've thought of her many times since moving in to the house.  

I have experienced her "hands" all over the house.  I feel them most strongly in the master bathroom where I've imagined those hands turning the creaky chrome knobs to pour baths that would wash away her dirt and disappointments.



Mrs. Mastrullo's hands touched all of these things for over 60 years, and I think I developed a little bit of a connection with her through these things.  Maybe that connection was stronger than I knew.  If you live in an old house, perhaps you know what I mean.

Mrs. Mastrullo's funeral was yesterday and, although I didn't go, I felt the need to go back up in the attic to light a candle in her honor.  I felt this was an appropriate tribute to the woman whose hands cared for this house longer than anyone else.  The candle illuminates what was most likely placed by Mrs. Mastrullo's hands, way up in the peak of the attic where it was closest to God's eyes, this prayer:

"Bless Our Home."

Bless you, Mrs. Mastrullo, and go in peace knowing the house is in good hands.