Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Wrapping Up Summer Projects, Part 2 The Landscape Chronicles

So...we have been working on the front garden under the tall pine trees for two summers now. Early last year we began by removing the juniper at the base of the trees. 

What we found under the juniper was a thicket of matted, decaying pine needles over a layer of river rock. You can read more about our attempts to remove the river rock here and here. And while we removed a lot of river rock, there was so much more. Tree roots, juniper roots, and gravel - tons of it layered over black landscape plastic. So we did the only thing we could do at the time, dig a few holes, plop a few plants in and hope for the best until we could revisit the project this year. Seriously, we had lots of other projects to tackle!

Scott, over the years, has told me about renovations to the exterior of the Gray Street house in St. Charles, IL where he scrapped, replaced and repainted the shingles of the house. And he explained that as the job continued, for what must have felt like forever, he became more and more picky about the process and critical of the results. Scott hasn’t changed much.

We resumed the fight this year starting at the top of the driveway by the garage, determined to remove more river rock from the garden. We steel raked as much rock as we could to the driveway and then moved to the adjacent tree. Scott quickly realized that the tree was bound by black landscape plastic. Working to free the tree from the plastic, he dug underneath five inches of gravel, moving it to the driveway and establishing a new goal for the project...free the trees and rid the garden of all gravel and landscape plastic. Sigh.

Encouraged, Scott moved on to the second tree. Soil, air and water starved, he removed the plastic from the second tree and the surrounding area. Hopefully what we are doing is good for the trees.

As the summer heat set in, Scott and I took a break from digging out the gravel and rock. In September when the heat broke we were reinvigorated and ready to set a goal, remove all the landscape plastic, gravel and river rock from the second tree area all the way to the street by October 1st. Yes, we’re nuts. We set to the task early in September and kept at it though the month. Releasing the last tree from plastic, digging out numerous trunks and roots from the junipers that used to be there. We sifted more gravel and river rock, added new topsoil. Finally, we were able to finish the irrigation system to the plants and lay down mulch. The final touch!

A year later than we thought, we finally finished the front garden project, on September 30th, minutes before Scott left on a business trip. A week later, Scott has been digging in the parkway area between our driveway and the neighbors driveway. Another project, for another blog.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Wrapping Up Summer Projects, Part 1

There are a number of small projects we tackled this summer which, taken together, practically complete the exterior restoration of the Retro Ranch! 

Early in the year we finished the attic project, read more about it here. Part of that project was electrical work which included lighting in the eaves. We had the electricians install LED lights (matching the trim to the existing front door light) over the garage, by our new address plaque and by the little bedrooms at the front of the house, to lovely effect. I regret that we don’t have a good before picture, but you can get the idea.

Scott spent a weekend this summer finishing the painting on our covered patio. The wall and ceiling needed a second coat of paint and cut in work around the trim. I had been looking for the right artwork to hang on the brick wall over the mantel in the patio area. I found a vintage, signed C. Jere metal sculpture on eBay, which Scott gifted me for my birthday. I love the way it picks up the light and brightens the brick. 

Shortly thereafter, I found the perfect light to replace the jelly jar light on the patio. We have spent numerous evenings on the patio this summer, enjoying the sunset, the breeze and the glow of the patio lights.

Scott repainted the front doors in August, read about that project here. Final touches for the front door were installed last week, a narrow brass trim at the bottom to help secure and prevent further damage to the laminate. And with that addition, the exterior restorations are complete. We are, however, far from finished yet this fall. We’re still working in the yard and will post Part 2, The Landscape Chronicles in the next week.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Even more LBG at the Retro Ranch

As you likely recall previous blogs, there is a plethora of rock in almost every possible location around the Retro Ranch. You may also recall that we removed a lot of the old foliage in the backyard and by the sides of the house so that we could access future landscaping plans. For landscaping reasons that escape us, behind the patio was a “border” of crushed rock that was several inches deep. In addition to the rock there was black plastic sheeting near the base and 20 or 30 - 18” felt squares under some of the rocks. 

During our ongoing rock removal adventures we have been able to attract people to pick up the rocks by using the Facebook group Multnomah Village Classifieds. On a few occasions some lucky contestants have even picked their own rocks. (With all due respect to Tom Sawyer, no apple was required.) One couple really wanted the crushed rock and not only took what we had already piled up on the driveway but scooped up a significant portion of what was behind the patio. 

This was the impetus to complete this area. What I discovered in digging the remaining rock out was that grass had grown over about another foot of rock. Seemed no matter how far back I went (now 4 feet from the edge of the patio) I was encountering rocks! I probably would still be digging rock (and plastic sheeting) if I hadn’t decided I was at a point of diminishing returns and started filling it in with sifted dirt from the excavation and about 20 bags of top soil. 

The grass seed was spread and the watering and anticipation began. After several weeks of watering during Portland’s hot summer, lots of LBGs (little baby grasses) emerged! They have established themselves and been mowed 5 or 6 times and even got their first weed whacking a week or so ago. Having grass up against the patio is a little thing but it is so much nicer than crushed rock, felt squares and plastic sheeting.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Stripping, Sanding, Painting and More - Voila an Orange Door!

Over the course of last summer and early fall, every paintable exterior surface of the Retro Ranch got at least two coats of paint with two notable exceptions. The patio ceiling and walls were only first coated (a correction of an earlier blog) and we ran out of time to do the front doors. 

As you may recall from a blog last fall, we had the front doors rehung and the deteriorated weather-stripping replaced. The interiors of our front doors are a beautiful mahogany, however the exteriors were painted black (start singing a Rolling Stones’ song here) and in need of lots of TLC. We decided we wanted to strip the black paint off the doors to see if the exterior wood was as beautiful as the interior. If it was, we would stain and varnish them. If not, we would paint the doors.

Stripping the doors meant taking them off of the hinges which also meant we needed a nice day. Despite Portland have a record number of days over 90° this summer we did not have a sufficiently warm enough weekend to pull the doors down until July. After thoroughly researching the pros and cons of various ways to strip the paint, we borrowed some saw horses from our friend Daniel Molder and on July 14th the fun began. I bought the chemical stripper, gloves, plastic putty knives, respirators and more from our friends at The Home Depot. After taking all the hardware off the doors I removed the hinge pins and holy sh*t, I discovered that these are solid, heavy as all get-out doors! Somehow I managed to get the first one up on the padded saw horses and the stripping began.

As I was a novice to stripping (insert your snickers and bad jokes here) I didn’t do this a section at a time but rather the entire door. The black paint bubbled up and came off easily however it also dried very quickly. So I reapplied the stripper and continued to work. What I discovered quickly is that the exterior wood was: a) a veneer that was not anywhere near as beautiful as the interior of the doors, b) the veneer was not in great shape (which was why it was likely painted black). Before Beth even saw the doors I knew we would be painting them. 

So after doing all the stripping I could on the left door I tried to rehang it. OMG are these doors heavy and trying to lift them just high enough to get them back on the hinges was more than my flimsy arms could handle. Fortunately I had some thin scraps of wood that I used to prop the door to its correct height and get it back on the hinges. The same process took place on the right side door and you can see the results. We discovered several areas where the veneer had broken off or had peeled away so some repairs were in order. 

Beth had various 1960s colors from the Eischler color palette for us to consider and the samples came home from Dick’s color center (Benjamin Moore paints – of course) and after much debate we decided on orange (Pumpkin Cream). With several applications of plastic wood, extensive sanding and a serious coat of primer, the doors got their first two coats of orange on July 27th. A third, finishing coat was applied several days later. Although it took Beth a while to acclimate to the color, I think it makes the front of the Retro Ranch pop! We hope you agree. 

We have contracted to have brass trim strips added to the bottom of the doors, not so much as an accent but rather to keep the veneer from peeling up. It may be a month or two before this gets installed. Soon we will do the complete blog on the front of the house with the new exterior accent lights but I am very pleased with how the door turned out. Orange you?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Insulation Project

Well hello out there! Did you think we forgot you? Or more importantly, did you think we stopped working on the Retro Ranch? Although this year’s projects haven’t been quite as dramatic in their immediate result there have been a number of improvements made in our ongoing restoration of the Retro Ranch.

As you may recall there never seems to be a “simple” project at the Ranch. It always seems that to accomplish one project involves multiple side projects, or as they say in the corporate world – scope creep. We knew we needed to insulate the attic as heat rises, the house could have been warmer last winter and what limited insulation there was had collapsed or was removed during the bathroom project of last summer. So hiring an insulation contactor and getting 16” of insulation seems simple enough you say? Silly reader, this is the retro ranch so…

Attic Access and Storage

The Retro Ranch is several hundred square feet smaller than our previous townhome and we were challenged with where to store offseason, seldom used and bulky items. The attic, though not tall had been made accessible by some pull downstairs in the hallway. Unfortunately they were rather flimsy and didn’t close completely making them unsightly in the hallway. There was also access to the attic in the garage. However this required a ladder to the access panel and the space had no decking to store things on. 

We decided to install pull down stairs in the garage and replace the old stairs in the hallway opening before we insulated. A quick ring to our favorite contractors, Northwest Home Concierge, and Troy, Gordon and crew were on the job. They spent a day removing the old stairs, the random decking and walk boards scattered on the beams, framing the opening and installing the new pull down stairs. 

They installed some decking in the main attic for an off-season storage area and a small walkway to get there from the stairs. And we repurposed some closet shelving as decking in the garage attic to maximize storage space.

Lighting and Wiring

There was a rat’s nest of old wires in the attic, remnants of several old alarm systems, TV antennas, telephones, cable and internet, and more. Beth and I removed most of the old wiring without issue - hundreds and hundreds of feet of wire. And in our exuberance we accidentally clipped the wire for the back doorbell. (A couple of ding-dongs you say?!) 

So in addition to adding lighting in the attic (both the hall area and garage) and additional accent lighting for the front of the house (which will be highlighted in an upcoming blog) we needed the doorbell reconnected. Our friends at Coho Electric spent a day with us adding the lighting and switches in the attic spaces, reconnected the back doorbell and adding accent lighting to the front of the house. In performing this work, they managed to crush a section of the return air ductwork as they accessed the eves. It’s always something.


Finally ready for the insulation, the crew from Gale Contractor’s Services came out and were very efficient. It took half a day to build the dams and blow in 16” of insulation. They also fixed the crushed section of ductwork. The house is much tighter and stayed cooler this summer even with a record number of days over 90° in Portland. We are eager to see the difference it makes this winter.




Were these projects as visible as repainting the exterior of the house or rebuilding the bathrooms? Or as much fun finding the bottle glass doors for the kitchen? Obviously not, but hopefully we will stay toasty warm this winter and have easy access to Beth’s retro Christmas tree and ornaments stored in the attic. 

Stay tuned for more updates on projects done earlier this year at the Retro Ranch!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Aren’t they sweet, little @%#$&!?$ and why don’t they eat rocks?

Yesterday morning I was in the driveway sifting gravel and river rocks (more on this later). I looked up from the task at hand and there were three young deer walking down the middle of the street. Cars stopped on the side of the road and folks walked out their front doors to watch the deer stroll down Ridge Drive.

While we see deer all the time in Astoria neighborhoods, this is the first time we’ve seen deer in our Portland neighborhood. It was sweet. They walked down a few houses and into one of our neighbors yards where, I assume, they had a lovely salad.

Tonight after dinner I went out to refresh the plants in several pots in the back yard. It was a temperate evening, high 60s and no breeze, perfect for a little gardening. As I walked through the back yard Scott noted that the little volunteer oak tree we had transplanted into a pot was gone. The previous owners bequeathed us a small rose garden. Five rose plants near the patio, an heirloom and several hybrids. Looking around the garden I noticed that every single bud on the rose bushes was gone, snipped as if someone had come through with a hedge trimmer. How could someone do that? And then it hit me...the deer! Argh!

Back to the never ending story of river rocks. We have been raking, digging, shoveling and picking river rocks out of the gardens for what seems like forever. Recently Scott started digging gravel from an area at the corner of the house. Last Saturday I had had enough of the river rock in the front garden and took a rake to the whole thing. 

There was 25 year old (at least) landscape plastic wrapped around the big pine trees that was almost girdling them. We were able to remove the gravel and rocks piled against the trees and then removed the plastic revealing large oxygen and nutrient starved roots.

With any luck, in the next couple weeks we’ll finally have mulch in the front garden under the trees. It will be a while before enough rock is removed from the yard that Scott will be satisfied. Why can’t deer eat rocks?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Tuck-pointing or how a little project can correct a multitude of sins

I’ll bet more than one of you have thought that Beth and I either forgot how to write or had stopped working on the Retro Ranch. I suppose that both assumptions are correct to a certain extent. To be brutally honest, after all of the work that was put in last year I needed to exhale. Our bank account needed a breatheras there are only so many checks that one can write before zeroing out. 

 So now that spring is here there are a handful of smaller projects for the outside of the house to tackle. The front doors will get stripped and either stained or painted (depending on the condition of the wood. The patio area needs a second coat of paint and some of the eves where I pressure washed and painted are blistering as I didn’t let all of the water bake out of the bare wood. We will be adding some wells around the crawl space vents later this spring too. 

There was one that has been bothering me since we bought the ranch – some deteriorated mortar. On several of the window sills missing mortar had been previously repaired with caulk. There were a few areas where the mortar was missing altogether and my biggest concern, a running crack below the laundry room window.


When we had the chimney rebuilt last spring, I asked our mason for a quote on the rest of the work. He apparently didn’t want the job as I never received a quote. I hadn’t done any research to find other masons but asked Gordon of Northwest Home Concierge (our contractors extraordinaire) if he had any suggestions. He told me that the minister at his church did this work on the side and he would ask if he was interested. 

Within two weeks I had exchanged information with Rick, received an estimate and scheduled the work. Apparently Rick had learned the masonry craft to augment his income as he and his wife raised 6 children. He likes jobs he can complete in about half a day so our needs were perfect. 

Rick showed up last Saturday morning at exactly the time he said he would. We walked the job again together and he got to work. He ground out the bad mortar, filled the voids, struck the lines and was very clean in his work. We even added to the job and had him replace three missing bricks in one of the crawl space vents. Rick had to go buy the bricks and I had to get some hardware cloth to prevent any critters from invading the crawlspace again. (We didn’t need Ben or his cousins resuming their residence.)

About 4 hours later, Rick had finished his work. He came back on Monday to etch the new mortar with muriatic acid to expose the aggregate (sand) and make it look like the rest of the mortar.


In the grand scheme of things this was a very minor project. Yet we are so pleased with the results and it’s one more thing check off the list. We have several big projects on deck this year, but we’re now able to enjoy the Retro Ranch without always seeing something that needs doing sooner rather than later.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Spring Comes to Portland

Scott has been mowing the lawn since late January (not constantly, but once a week). The plum trees bloomed a lovely pink early in March. The forsythia was a glorious yellow, along with the scotch broom at the coast. The grand cherry tree in the back yard looks like a big white cloud and the rhododendrons in the front yard are covered in softballs of white flowers. And our neighbors, several of them, have thirty year old dogwoods that are blooming sweet coral pink flowers that lift their faces to the sky. It’s spring in Portland.

Scott has been worried about the paperbark maple we planted last year. After mom died my great Aunt Nancy and the garden club, mom’s friends from Prospect Heights, sent money for the specific purpose that we plant a tree in the yard for mom. So Scott has been worried that the tree hadn’t yet leafed out. Most of the trees in the neighborhood are in bloom or have leaves, but our slow little paperbark maple had only sad little brown buds that hadn’t swelled.

Yesterday Scott pulled me outside after work to look at the tree. This week it’s been warm in Portland, sunny and eighty degrees. It won’t last long, the cool rains return on Friday. But the warmth was enough to spur the paperbark maple into action. Over the last three days those little brown buds have grown and turned green. Scott mused that by next week the tree would be full of leaves. I came home tonight and inspected the tree (yes, we do that) and the very first leaves have arrived at the top of the tree. 

You can expect more tree updates in coming blogs, but our next blog will fill you in on what we’ve been up to in the last three months.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Smile or P*@ker Holes

On a Sunday afternoon not too long ago I called Scott over to the living room window which overlooks the backyard. There was a woodpecker on one of the flowering plum trees, just pecking away. I’ve heard woodpeckers in the neighborhood, but honestly I had never seen one up close. And here this one was less than twenty feet away.

Picture courtesy of the Audubon Society, this little guy is called a Hairy Woodpecker. Often mistaken for a Downy Woodpecker, the Hairy Woodpecker is larger and more likely to go after a tree trunk like our little buddy did. Scott took some pictures this morning of the trunk of the flowering plum. It’s actually quite impressive what that little bird did. 

What was he after? Is the tree infested? Will all the holes irreversibly damage the tree? Scott could only hope!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wrapping Up 2017 or What’s Next?

Scott spent the last part of November and first part of December painting, yes again. He had been putting off painting the living room and dining room since we moved in. The rooms themselves aren’t that big, it was the ceilings. Actually ceiling, singular, a single run of ceiling from the hallway to the living room, through the entryway and into the dining room. Scott made the ceiling his monster. He had a reprieve this past summer because there was so much to do outside. But the weather changed and the rains came and Scott found himself inside, looking at the ceiling again.

Painting the ceiling went much smoother than anticipated. Consulting with the fine folks at Dick’s Color Center, Scott was armed with enough paint, blue painters tape and confidence to tackle the project. The big hurdles were painting next to the original wallpaper and the black and mottled copper hood over the fireplace. Several coats of Kilz over some old water stains (the roof was replaced about a year before we moved in) and Scott was off to the races. The result was much better than we could have imagined, brightening up the spaces immediately, even before the walls were painted. We don’t have any before and after pictures of the ceiling, mainly because it’s hard to see any difference in photographs but trust me, the ceilings look fresh and clean!

The ceiling project didn’t go off without hitches, albeit minor. We quickly found that the blue painters tape was a bit too “sticky” for the vintage wallpaper and pulled off some of the paper that was loose close to the ceiling in the hall and entryway.


Fortunately, because I own a custom framing shop, I have access to a number of refinishing tools and was able to, if not exactly recreate the pattern of the wallpaper, disguise the offending missing wallpaper so that if you didn’t know, you’d never pick out the damage!

And so it was on to the walls. The dining room went off without a hitch and looks great. The living room presented a challenge, only because of the cornice over the tall, wide windows and sliding door. The cornice is mahogany, one piece spanning the entire width of the living room - 16 feet, then turning the corner and progressing another 6 feet ending right next to our coveted fireplace hood. The trick was taking the cornice down so Scott could properly paint behind it without damaging the cornice or the hood - it’s too long for two people to handle. Enter neighbor Karl, who was available twenty minutes after we called. With three of us we were able to take down the cornice in no time and managed to store it behind the sofa safe from damage while Scott painted the room.

When Scott finished the painting project we reinstalled the cornice with Karl’s assistance, just in time to decorate for our Holiday Cocktail party!

2017 was a year filled with excitement, sorrow, lots of work and money spent, and satisfaction. We love our Retro Ranch and are happy to reflect on the progress we’ve made. In 2018 there are more projects to be started and some of them will be completed! In the near term we are looking at a few key projects:

- New drop down stairs for interior and garage attic access
- Lighting in the soffits for the front of the house and over the garage
- Attic insulation, R4 to R30
- New water supply lines and waste lines under the house and reconnect (replace) the outdoor spigots 
- Floor insulation in the crawlspace

Just so you don’t think we won’t be busy this year, there’s a lot more in the plan. This list will just keep us busy until we can get outside again! Wishing you all the best for the new year.