Wednesday, December 2, 2015


No one ever accused an Iverson of trying to keep up appearances. We don't have time for that. And even though I've added another last name, I have even less time for trying to be cool. There are houses to fix!

My Buick has amazing hauling capacity. It has a little trap door between the trunk and the back seat, so I can haul long boards when I need to. But sometimes I accidentally buy a chop saw that takes up the whole back seat, and then I have to get creative. This girl needs a roof rack.

Not visible: my classy husband in the passenger seat

Also, I pretty much wear the exact same outfit every day that I'm working. It got so bad that the guy at North End Hardware asked if I had other clothes. I think they were about to run a clothing drive for this poor disadvantaged lady.

That time I glued myself in to the bathroom

Monday, November 30, 2015

Aquaponics progress

It's been a while since I gave an update on our aquaponics progress. We are still tweaking and working on our system. After successfully keeping 6 goldfish alive for several months, we decided it was time to upgrade our system. Next step: edible fish!

I did some research, and found a fish that seemed likely to survive my inept attempts at fish husbandry (is that what you call it? Maybe pescaculture?) Hybrid bluegills are supposed to be hard to kill, and happy in a small pond. They're not particularly cute, but they are edible and fast growing. We got 25, and released them in to the pond!

 Hard to get a picture of dark gray fish in a dark gray tank in a basement with bad lighting. Use your imagination!

And they're alive! They've stayed alive since June, so that's a lot better than the goldfish.

Those six remaining goldfish? I'm afraid their survival instincts were not nearly as strong as the bluegills'. They were bred for their flashy colors, not their killer instincts. So, I had to do a bit of scooping. Just one for the picture, Perry did the rest!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


If you're a regular reader of my blog (hi, grandma!), you could be forgiven for getting the impression that I'm the only one working on these houses. Which is definitely not the case. I just do the more glamorous, photogenic work. Perry gets to do most of the dangerous/heavy/horrible jobs.

Be still, my beating heart!
Jobs like reattaching the shingles to this garage roof. See where he's standing? Yeah, we later discovered that none of those shingles were actually attached to the roof. And he could have slid off the roof on to the alley pavement as if he were surfing.
Dramatic lighting!
And he gets to do horrible jobs like installing doors in a house that has absolutely no right angles, level walls, or parallel lines. This house is out of square in every possible dimension; we have yet to find a level surface. And if it were me, I'd just settle for doors that mostly closed (what more do you want? It's got a knob and it swings!), but Perry will spend eight hours getting it right.

Not a plumbing picture. But he's near a lot of plumbing.
And he gets to do all the horrible plumbing. I do the fun stuff, like putting in new faucets where everything works perfectly. He gets to take out anything that's corroded or rusted in place (because I am a delicate lady with spaghetti arms), and figure out what to do when the connections aren't sealing.

But it's totally worth it. Because sometimes I let him use my new saw.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New skills!

At my day job, we've been talking a lot about growth mindset, the idea that our abilities and skills are not fixed but can be developed through hard work and dedication. I'm trying to apply that to my slumlord life too.

For example, I have no idea how to fix a gas oven. A gas oven makes me think about explosions. Or Sylvia Plath. And neither of those are positive associations.

But the oven at the new house wasn't baking. The stove worked, the broiler worked, but the bake function didn't do anything. A cursory internet search told me that it was probably the ignitor, and that it would take about half an hour to fix it.

This will not be the first time I curse the internet and its unwarranted optimism about time frames. It took me half an hour to remove one stupid screw. You know what happens to screws on the inside of gas ovens? They get really hot. And also rusty. And when they're mangled and rusty and stripped, they're the WORST! And if it weren't the screw holding the worn out ignitor, I'd have left it there.

Left: new ignitor. Right: the worst!
And then I tried to find the access panel to get to the wiring. The internet told me I'd have to remove a handful of screws from the back of the oven. Which I did. And then I took out some more. And some more. And I kept on finding more and more ways that the back panel of the oven was attached.

Next step: try to get access from inside the oven. I was less persistent now, because all the screws I was trying to remove were rusted, stripped, or both. And the oven drawer refused to come off too. Enough, I said. I can't take it anymore!

Amazing what a good night's sleep and some more googling will do for a lady. Turns out the oven drawer had two super secret hidden levers I had to push in specific directions. And the place I needed access to was at the back of the drawer.
So I got all up in that oven, did some minor re-wiring, and bam! Side note: I don't know how anyone bigger or less limber than I am would be able to do this. I was doing some serious contorting to reach the back of this oven.
 Fire! I tried it out before reassembling the oven floor. But then I let it run too long because I was throwing myself a tiny party in my head, so I had to wait about 15 minutes for it to cool down.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Four houses!!!!

So, this happened all of a sudden.

We wanted to buy this house back in February when it first went on the market, but someone beat us to it. Something fell through with their sale, and we swooped in like ninjas and just a few weeks after submitting paperwork, it was ours! That house to the right is also ours (that was the first rental).

This house is much less of a project (thank goodness). We had people living here barely a week after closing. The first project was attaching a baby gate to the top of the stairs. Easy, right? Drill a pair of holes on the left, pair of holes on the right, bam.

Just kidding!
That's not going to work. We can't exactly leave a four inch gap for the baby to fall through. I determined that I needed to build a column on the left so we could put the gate at the actual top of the stairs.

 Preferably a column that would look something like this post at the other side of the stairs. Because I'm trying to not be a slumlord.
Here's the solution I came up with. It had to be solid (we don't want the gate crashing down with a toddler). I used a pair of 2X4s to anchor the column.

And then I built a box to go over it, which I stained to match the woodwork.

And then, the baby gate:
And of course, what should have been a 30-minute project under normal circumstances turned into a full morning of work, plus 3 trips to Home Depot.

And I definitely needed a new saw to be able to do it. So I got this one. It's got a laser!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bathroom after!

Check it out! You could enter this bathroom and actually feel cleaner afterwards. And notice how the door opens without banging in to the sink--so fancy! There are a few details that are left to do, minor things like recaulking the tub (blech) and patching a minor hole in the wall from installing the light fixture.

But it's a million times better than it used to be.That's the great thing about this house; there are a couple of things I'd do differently next time, but no matter what we do, it's a vast improvement on the prior state of the house.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


I've been told that there are people who buy purses that cost hundreds of dollars. Or shoes. Or bottles of wine. I don't think I know very many of those people.

This girl pines for a very different sort of item. My current drool-worthy obsession?

Just look at that thing! I mean, I have a chop saw already. I got it off a garage sale website for $20, and it totally chops things, as long as those things are 6 inches or less. And I am grateful for the many boards it has cut for me.
I was putting up vinyl bead board in the bathroom (doesn't it look better already?), and each piece is 7.5 inches wide, so I had to cut it from one side, flip it over, and cut the rest. Argh. First world rage at the inefficiency!

Maybe for Christmas. Laura got an orange and a tin cup one year, and it was the best Christmas ever. I got an impact driver last year, and that was awesome. But a girl can always dream!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bathroom overhaul!

This bathroom was bad. Real, real bad.
 There's never enough storage, so they decided to set a cabinet on top of a shelf. There's no way that could go wrong, right?

Also, you can't tell from the picture, but the sink is too big, so the door can't open all the way.
 Yeah, there's that too. Also, notice the beat-up wallboard.
 It's hard to get a sense of the general filth. And you can't tell that the tile was poorly laid, so it's cracking all over the place.
Barely hanging on. Also, those lights are not my favorite. Eww.

And it gets worse before it gets better. It gets way, worse.

Ooh, check it out! Peel and stick tile under the ceramic. Who puts peel and stick in a bathroom? That might explain why the subfloor is a little spongy.

And that was some pretty fancy wallpaper border. Hmm.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Holy transformation, batman!

 So, I freaking love this machine. The impact on these floors is amazing. They went from horrible beyond reason to merely slightly mangled. Which is a pretty big leap.
Amazing what some 32-grit sandpaper can do. Also, the Home Depot guy was right; this is not the easiest machine to run. I did my absolute best to keep it moving constantly, but I still did this a few times:
 Ouch. Nobody show this to Uncle Vic; he'd shake his head at me, and deservedly so. But, the floors are so much better than they were!

I put down a coat of dark walnut stain, the theory being that the water stains would blend in better if the floors were darker. That kind of worked. And the dark stain really made my sanding errors stand out. Definitely don't tell Vic; he could have told me that.

The end result?
 Much better.
Much, much better.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Floor resurrection!

Here's the starting point:

 Living room

When we ripped out the carpet, I was disappointed in the shape of the floors. Beyond the obvious paint spatters, they were discolored, water damaged, warped, and generally horrible. I priced out carpet, and was thinking about trying to lay new hardwood in the living room.

But then I mopped the floor and saw the lovely wood grain come through, and thought maybe it was worth a shot. Sander rental is a lot cheaper than carpet, and it would be delightful to have the original floors.

So I go to Home Depot and tell them I need a drum sander. The for real kind, because I'm trying to make warped floor boards appear flat again. The rental guy tells me it's a bad idea--he says 90% of people who rent this sander end up destroying their floors. I tell him that I can't possibly make them any worse.

This is the benefit of buying such a messed-up house. I am doing my utmost to do a beautiful job. But it's a rental, not my forever house. And it was such a disaster that there's basically nothing I can do that would make it worse than it was. It's a good practice house; I'm learning lots of things that I will do better on the next house. And there's always a next house!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More "before"

I finished painting ceilings and walls with the help of my lovely mom and my friend Kate, so it was time to rip out the horrible, stained, stinky carpet.

Yeah, that carpet. What the picture can't convey is how awful it smelled. This is carpet you rip out with long sleeves and gloves and a mask. And then you take a shower as soon as possible. I work with adolescents, so I'm pretty immune to horrible smells (sorry, middle schoolers. It's true). But P works in places that smell of fresh baked bourbon caramel rolls, and this job was almost too horrible for him.

And the big reveal: what was hiding underneath the carpet? Voila--hardwood floors! But hardwood floors that were stained and covered in paint.

And they're water damaged, so the boards are warped. Can they be salvaged? Are they too horrible to save? This remains to be seen. But, I'm looking at it as a chance to experiment and learn. The best thing about buying a wreck of a house is that I can't possibly make it worse. Even if I completely botch the floors, or they're beyond salvaging, we'll just carpet this room. And it'll be new, non-stinky carpet, which is a major improvement. And maybe I will be successful, and gain a new skill, and resurrect these poor, neglected and mistreated floors. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A legacy of strong ladies

Most of my tools are second-hand; many of them come from a former neighbor. When my parents' neighbor Jim passed away, his wife shared his tool collection with me. I'm using his tools pretty much every time I do any project, but there's one in particular that I love.

This vice grip has a name scratched in to it: Ruth Shenk. I have no idea who she was, or how this tool ended up in Jim's collection. It wouldn't surprise me if it was a garage sale find, maybe even Jim didn't know who Ruth was. But I'm imagining Ruth as a hardcore, independent woman in the 1950s. I picture her swapping out her floral apron for a pair of coveralls, because she was a woman who got things done.

 I was channeling Ruth Shenk last weekend. (Or, to be more accurate, I was channeling my imagined version of Ruth.) I needed to rip up the rotted bathroom subfloor, but the toilet was on top of it. I can unhook a toilet. And I can scootch a toilet across a floor. I can even lift one a few inches off the floor. But I needed it in the tub, and P was off at work. I'm a strong lady in the metaphorical sense, and even a little bit in the physical sense. But there is a limit to what I can lift on my own.

So, I worked it out. I created a series of steps using paint cans so I only had to lift it a couple of inches at a time, and got it where it needed to go. And this tiny challenge, which would have been so easy for someone burlier than I, was an opportunity to improvise. And then I get to feel hardcore, which is half the point of buying this house!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How the cool kids spend their weekend mornings!

I remember back in the day when I used to be a person who did brunch. That feels like an alternate reality now. Here's how we spend a typical Saturday morning now:

You don't build a slum empire eating brunch; we'll eat brunch after the slums are full of peasants, I mean tenants.

But it's not all weekend morning parties at the house; we also get down on Friday nights!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gray hair!

All this slumlording is giving me gray hair.... or maybe I just need to make sure I put on a hat before I start painting. It is truly incredible what a coat of paint can do for a room. I've been painting the smoke-stained ceilings, and the contrast between old and new is stark.
Think I might need two coats.

I'm pretty excited about the difference a few coats of paint can make. This bedroom looks completely unremarkable now. Which is the point. Wait until we get carpet, and you'll never know that this used to be a disaster zone.
And I'm not exaggerating when I call it a disaster zone. This is how the former occupants used their windowsills.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Horrible jobs

Being a not-slumlord is hard work. We could just buy a filthy house, shampoo the carpets, spray on a coat of white paint and call it good. But that's not how we roll.

Here's bedroom #1. Notice the wallpaper border (which is barely attached), sagging closet shelf, hideous wall color, and painfully awful carpet. I spent a good afternoon removing wallpaper, scrubbing walls, sweeping the cobwebs off the ceiling, and spackling. I spackled 131 holes in this tiny bedroom. What are people doing to put 131 holes in a single room? They must have had an extensive collection of fine art.

This is job number 1. It's going to be nice to have at least one room in the house that's completely free of horribleness, because right now there is not a single room that is pleasant to be in.

Also on the list of horrible jobs: dead mouse removal. I did one, but then I got the heebie-jeebies and my sweet husband removed the next two. Strong, empowered women can do anything they want to. But every so often they just don't feel like being strong or brave. Especially if someone else will do the horrible job for them.