Since we hung the drywall, our lighting has been… basic to say the least.  Just your regular CFL bulbs in basic white ceramic fixtures.  Upgrading them has been on our lists for years.

Finally this month we did it.  The Living room got a Tiffany style stained glass fixture to match the other stained glass down there.  We got this one on Amazon and it was a straight forward install. In addition to matching the windows, it has hearts all around it.



The kitchen got a a bespoke piece.  Siri had the idea of using an antique copper colander as a shade if I could build the rest.  Sure can!  We ordered some braided wire, a cap for the ceiling and a copper socket.  Took a little while to get the height right, but it really makes for a brighter work area on the table below.  The little holes of the colander also make cool patterns on the ceiling.  We’re still trying to think of a better bulb, preferably lower profile, maybe even a circular florescent tube.CopperColanderLamp

The lamp makes some nice patterns of light on the ceiling.

The lamp makes some nice patterns of light on the ceiling.

The bedroom was last.  We had somehow managed to not break one of the original light fixtures that was in the bedroom when we bought the house 2.5 years ago.  These were some of the first parts to come down during demolition and they’ve been moved around the state of Maryland a few times since without breaking.  The rugged thing had finally won us over.  Its simple, has 2 sockets for bulbs and has a frosted glass cover with white paint on the inside with a pattern radiating out from the center.

Bedroom Light

Bedroom Light

“Maybe its a little too bright.” ~Siri  “It shows EVERY flaw in the drywall.” ~Mike

Bricks: One Last Push

Finally I’m getting there.  I had slowly worked down from the top of the 3rd floor, down the 2nd floor.. skipped ahead and worked up from the basement last February.  I finally burned myself out in March, got back to it in September on the 1st floor, and here I am at the last wall over a year after I started.  We had the Thanksgiving 4 day weekend and we were going to use it to finish up these damn bricks.

[We Must Have a “Before” Photo of This Somewhere]

This one was always going to be the hardest.  Nearly all the salmon bricks had spalled and were crumbling.  Some bricks you could crush in your hand.  Pointing was pretty much out of the question as the bricks would crumble faster than the mortar.  After the basement, pulling them out and re-laying them seemed like the best method.  I started next to the back door.  Most of those had been broken in half so I had to replace a bunch.  Once I was sure the wall could carry the load without its assistance, I pulled the wood door frame.  Hello 6″ wider doorway.


Next I did up top.  Wanted a good frame around the bad area to add some stability when the window came out.


I could do a section between the header rows at a time.

Siri helped a lot. Laying bricks uses considerably more mortar than pointing so keeping me fed with mortar (and food) all weekend was her job.


Finally got to open our secret window... just before we tore it out.

Finally got to open our secret window… just before we tore it out.  Who puts a plate glass window at the bottom of a staircase anyway?

Goodbye Window

Goodbye Window.  Also note the paint so I wouldn’t forget to leave a pocket.

Almost there!

Almost there!  Pockets!

What’s with the pockets?  To top it off we had a special surprise we had picked up when we visited the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works outside Doylestown, PA.  H.L. Mencken had incorporated tiles from this factory in his back yard a century earlier and I wanted to incorporate some too.  We were not sure how we’d do it when we bought them, but Siri thought it over and decided that we should do a zig-zag going up the stairs with everyone in height order starting with Emi.

Our Super Special Moravian Tiles.

Our Super Special Moravian Tiles.  Still need to wash down with white vinegar (acid) to remove the white haze.

From the bottom right we have Emi’s tile with her moon, because cats love the night.  Next row up is for Iris.  Her tiles is for her zodiac sign of Cancer along with a tree because she love to climb them (and is growing like one). Next row up is Siri’s with her Sagittarius zodiac tile and a heart, because she has so much love to give.  Next row up is my Taurus zodiac sign and a goblet of beer, because I love beer.  All of this is set in mortar Siri mixed using sand we brought back from the dunes of Liwa in the UAE.

Now it’s time to clean up and dust everything.  Christmas is here and I want a clean space for the first time in months.

P.S. This is not the end.  There are still bricks hiding behind the stair stringers.  I will do these when I pull out the stairs.  They’ll need to go quickly because the stairs will be out and that’s something we don’t want stretching out too long.

Hot Tub!

The first test.  Kid approved.

The first test. Kid approved.

Siri and I have been thinking about a hot tub almost since we started thinking about getting a house together.  Hot tubs are excessive.  Hot tubs are fun.  We wanted a hot tub.  We have included it in the roof deck plans; better get one now so we know it works before we try to build a deck around it.

Knowing full well we couldn’t afford a new one we searched for Craigslist for nice used ones starting a year ago.  We even checked a few [awful] ones out.  After a year we made the decision not to wait any longer. We found one that was relatively modern and working.  We drove down to check it out and started working on the logistics to move it.  We were lucky enough to get all of the wires, breaker boxes, conduit from the tub all the way up to the fuse box.  This stuff adds up and was likely worth several hundred dollars.  We did need a few little extras, but not much.

It was a tough move.  We hired a “hot tub mover” to do this, but it was really just a tow truck driver and his sons.  Getting it from the street to the back was a tight squeeze.  Tight enough that I had to remove the iron gate on the alley.  We got a few scratches, but nothing major.

We hired our friend Tom to wire this up.  Hot tub electrics are no joke.  240V @ 50 Amps is a lot of juice…. sitting next to water.  Code is pretty clear on this:

  • GFCI protected because water + electric = bad
  • Emergency cutoff breaker within sight (not too far)
  • 5′ minimum from the breaker/disconnect box (not too close either)
  • Bonded to any metal within 5′
  • Can’t be under any power wires (so if they come down, they don’t land in the tub)
  • Can’t be within 10′ of those lines (so you can’t possibly reach one from the tub)
  • 60″ minimum from non-tempered glass windows and doors (don’t want glass in the tub)
  • Wires must be protected by conduit.
  • etc, etc.

Anyways… we got it all wired up, conduit ran.  Gave it a few days for an inspection and then finally I got to fire it up…. pumps worked for about 20 seconds, but it wasn’t full yet so I shut it off… that was the last I got out of it.  Something died. There was an error code “E1″.  Time to call tech support.


I was really trying NOT to learn how hot tubs worked; well fuck.

Their website says “Proudly Made in the U.S.A.”  yet nearly every part is made somewhere else.  Ethink, a Chinese company, makes the controller, heater and topside controls.  The 2x4s are stamped with maple leaves.  If you are using parts from other countries, be honest about it.. or at a minimum put those pieces together with some U.S.A pride.

This thing’s MSRP is as much as a car.  You’d expect car like fit and finish.  Sadly that’s not the case.  This thing was screwed and glued together in a hurry and it shows.   The pumps are screwed into a piece of plywood with the rubber bushings still attached to the base of the pump.  Too lazy to eliminate a source of vibration I guess.  Also the “sealed” electronics box would have been.. if they hadn’t just run too small of wires through the connectors without first seeing if they actually sealed.  The sides are held on by 3/8″ strips of plywood and stapled 1/16″ into the boards.  A tiny bit of movement and they just fall to pieces… and you will need to move them because there is no access panel on this thing, not even to adjust the subwoofer. Set it and forget it.

As for the technical service, they must be closely tied with their sales department because every path led to “replace part”.  They said the “E1″ error was a loose wire and apparently really hard to troubleshoot.  “You should buy a new controller to see if that works.”  I asked if they would take it back if it didn’t fix the problem they said “no returns”.  What’s the incentive there to actually support your product?  Fuck Energy Saver Spa alias Laguna Bay Spa, Home and Garden (Home Depot), Dr Wellness.

Since the price to replace the control box (had to buy the whole box, not just the circuit board) was $400, we decided to shop around.  Turns out a brand new controller with a warranty, documentation, integral heater and included top side controls was the same price.  We ended up buying a Gecko YE-5.  It’s relatively basic, but it supports all the features we have.  Of course this won’t drop in, but its not rocket science.  I had to do some PVC pipe work to lower and lengthen the heater location.  We reused a few parts, bought a few from home depot.  Pretty easy stuff. Finally got it in a full 3 hours before the first big freeze of the year.

Future plans include adding a 120V outlet so we can add a Bluetooth adapter to the stereo and new speakers (one is blown).  Plans also include reducing our operating costs by insulating all 4 sides and getting the ozonator working again.

Next time I’m just going to build one from scratch.

coller got lost. humanz had get new one. want humanz. i haz ofis computr.

Mi coller getz lost so wy oners need no wy? tey ask me but i not tell. tey desided 2 get new one tat is worse tan be4. it has bel so no catch birds, no secrets. i hat bel. i like bee sneekie cat. it is haff oranj cats falt, sinz hee got old won of. wy did i haff 2 say tat?  i not tak no mor, i tel 2 many secretz. i also notis no houz work and humanz gon a lot. wut up with tat? i want intrstin houz work, and i want humanz around mor. i stil hav fun. i run a lot, and i love get pets. i am uzing siri ofis computr 4 this. it iz warm, and tipes eesly. i lik 2 think it az I HAZ IT!!!! and yes i still haz houz. gudby. i wish i didnt haff 2 leev, but ter r cat prties tat i must go. gudby.

I’m Building Too!

I have been building a few things: A Barbie house, and a tower made out of blocks.

This is the tower that I  built

This is the tower that I built

This is the one room that I have finished(except I still need a few finishing touches) in my Barbie house– the bathroom

This is the one room that I have finished(except I still need a few finishing touches) in my Barbie house– the bathroom

Cat iz trapd

vry bad enmy cat wuz trapd in houz. i do haz houz. cat wuz stuc in bazemnt. no won saw cat. cat bad. cat let owt bi mike. yay. and i not haz him az boy frend. owners joke tat i do. yay. bac to normull.



Shower Stuff

My mom, Siri, has been working for a long time on the tiles in the bathroom. They were finished in the beginning of May, but no one ever said anything, so I am posting this for my mom. We also have a hand held shower. Now, Mike and Siri are thinking about making a countdown timer on the glass blocks, so anyone who stays in the shower for too long will lose the hot water! They want to make it out of lights, and I am still not exactly sure how it will work.


Stained Glass Everywhere

For the first time in likely 30 years, we have the morning light shining through our transom window.  About a year ago I cut away the drywall and wood paneling that had been covering this up and removed the window for cleaning. Since then its largely been sitting, but finally I got some time to remove the old paint, clean everything and repaint it.  Just last week It went back in.  After two overcast mornings, we finally had some sun.


We’ve also added a new floor lamp be the front window.  The style is very similar to our transom windows.  Although its got the old timey look, the lamp is actually pretty new.20140529-130549.jpg


This lamp I found advertised online for $20.  Not sure on the age, but its built solid.  Probably weighs 10 lbs.  No idea where we will put it, but for $20, I didn’t want to pass it up.20140529-130608.jpg


Goodbye Ugly Floor

About to get to work

About to get to work

The next stage of the brick project is the stairway down to the first floor. Since cleaning up is such a pain on an uneven floor, I wanted to install the new floor first. Easier said than done though. The floor is held up by joists that were sitting on long since rotted away boards and bricks. This caused them to be uneven and to sag / creak when walked over. Previous owners had made matters worse installing heat registers in the floor several times. Underneath in the crawlspace many of the bricks had started to crumble. When bricks fell out, they would fill the hole with fiberglass insulation (WTF??). Its amazing we never fell through. In some places the bricks were missing five feet down. The board and the 7 bricks on top of it were all moving as you can see in this video:

It was pretty much the same story all the way around. I decided to replace all the bricks between the stretcher courses. I’d do a vertical section here and there and leave the old bricks in to hold up the house. I’m still alive to write this so I guess it worked. In the end I replaced a 24″ strip between stretchers all the way around where the floor would go.

And….gone! Only the minimum needed to hold up the stairs was left in, but even that would go by the end.

As I moved to the back of the stairway, more and more of the rotted joists had to be removed. In the end we hung the stairs with a 2×4 from the joist in the ceiling above and used a 2×12 plank to get across the pit. (We even hosted a party like this.)

In the back, as I replaced the bricks, I left 3 pockets to install the 2×8 joists in as I decided to have the joists run perpendicular to how they were originally. This has the added benefit of making trips into the crawl space less likely to cause head injuries. I’d use joist hangers on the last joist at the back of the kitchen and I’d double up the middle joists to be able to carry the extra weight of the stairs sitting on it.

Finally with the bricks done and the joists in we installed the subfloor. Next is the stapling up of our final 1/6 floor heating. This will cover the kitchen and the stairway. Up until now, we had no heat in that end of the 1st floor and the other half could barely keep up on the colder days.

The Great Baltimore Fire – 110 Years Ago Today

February 8th, 1904 - Fireboat Cataract spraying water on East Pratt Street Wharves preventing the spread of the Great Fire of Baltimore from jumping the Jones Falls.

February 8th, 1904 – Fireboat Cataract spraying water on East Pratt Street Wharves preventing the spread of the Great Fire of Baltimore from jumping the Jones Falls.

110 years ago today a fire began around where the 1st Mariner Arena stands today. It burned all of downtown east to the Jones Falls. This became known as the Great Baltimore Fire.  It was finally stopped the next day, in-part, by the brave men of Baltimore’s first fireboat: Cataract. I’m proud to live in the house of one of its crew, stoker James H. Hoey. Thanks dude! Much has been written about the Great Fire, so I will focus this post on Engine 16, Cataract, her builders and her crew.

Fireboat Cataract docked in Fells Point

Fireboat Cataract docked at Commercial Pier in Fells Point

Last year I had a chance to check out the MdHS Library. They had a copy of The Official History of the Fire Department of the City of Baltimore by Clarence H. Forrest (c) 1898.  Below is a quote from the section mentioning the Cataract

Its a long quote, but there is so much information crammed in there!

Cataract Roster

James H. Hoey is listed as beginning his time on Cataract on July 1st 1891. This is the day its service begun. Its safe to say he was on the inaugural crew.

In addition to the paragraph about Engine 16’s history, I was able to find the roster, looking to have been updated sometime after the books initial publishing. I’ll probably never know how James came to join Engine 16, but I can learn more about his boss, Captain Andrew W. German. Here is information surrounding his death a few years later:

Here is a collection of photos on the Sun website: