Friday, April 30, 2010

Garden centers

We love our local Home Depot just as the next person. I mean, you can get anything there these days. But, nothing beats a good garden center. And in the last few days, I discovered three.

One of these is Ploch's in Clifton, on Broad Street. It is very easy to reach and very close, so you can be out of there in minutes. They have great and very knowledgeable staff that will help you with tips on anything relating gardens. And the selection of annuals, perennials, trees, vegetables, herbs - never ending.

The other one is Orange Garden Center in Orange. Also close. About 5 miles from the House. They are about the same size as Ploch's, with similar selections and really nice staff. I know this probably shouldn't be on a checking list when making a decision which one to use, but Orange has a really nicely decorated entrance. Just saying.

The third, smallest one, in right here on Bloomfield Avenue, in Verona, very close to the Verona Park. In case you need something really fast and hate driving.

Happy planting!

The "Poost" House

Another surprise in my inbox - a series of emails from the family that owned the House in the 1960's, 1970's, and much of 1980's. How amazing!

Well, I do have a confession to make: they actually contacted me about 2 weeks ago. For the last 14 days they have been delighting me with amazing stories of the House and the improvements/repairs that they made. Fantastic information to have.

Quick recap: the Poost family owned the House from 1960/61 to what I gather to be late 1980's (I forgot to ask). When we moved in 2008, one of the older neighbors asked us which house. We said 208. And then he said: "Ah, the Poost House." Naturally, we were intrigued. But, having a new baby in the House, we soon forgot to finish the research. But, the name kept coming up. For example, in the National Register of Historic Places, the House is listed as The Cedars aka The Poost House. That is a great distinction.

Needless to say, we were very excited to "speak" to them via email and to see the photos of the House when they were living there. And the stories, ah, the stories...

For example, it turns out that the House had a slate roof when they moved in 1960. After the roof was past its prime, they decided to replace it. Mrs. Poost, not wanting to just dump the slate tiles, stacked them under the front porch. See, I've been noticing a little pieces of slate here and there around the property. So, incentivized by Micheal Poost's email about the slate roof, I went to look. Do you want to guess what I found under our front porch?!?

Yes, the slate tiles are still there!!! Our roofer told me they are not usable anymore, at least not for roofing, but I am welcome to paint them. If he knew how bad I was at painting, he wouldn't have said that. Or maybe he does know?

Oh, and this one, and I am quoting Michael Poost: "The house had seven fireplaces when we moved in. Kitchen, Dining room, Hall, and Living room on the first floor and the three front most bedrooms on the second floor. The chimneys were brick and none of the flues were lined and none of the fireplaces had dampers. The flues were closed by stuffing them with newspapers. When we originally cleaned out the house, my father told my mother to just light the newspapers in the flues and burn them out. She said no, you never know what might be hidden and pulled the newspapers out. In the room above the Living room, which we believe was the son’s bedroom of the previous owner, she found two sticks of dynamite above the newspapers. We were all glad she looked before lighting. We rebuilt the Living room fireplace with a Heatilator metal fireplace and that was used all of the time. It made that room very cozy on cold nights." How's that for a story?!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Update on the roof work, Part II

So many things to do, so little time...

Just a quick update, to make it your worthwhile being here today. Oh, shush, you know I am joking.

Our roofer, David Maret, finished laying the new roof on Saturday. It looks magnificent and it is "tight". I am told that is the correct term for a good roofing job. He'll also poke around to reinstall the asphalt shingles we lost in a last storm. Because I sure as heck am not climbing 40 feet to do it.

With all the rain, we moved the work indoors, and will work there until the rain clears up and the new doors and windows arrive. Anyway, we opened up the ceiling at the locations where we had visible leaks. Everything looked pretty good, except for one corner. This is what we found.

Funny thing is that this leak didn't look as bad as some of the others, that is it didn't show up as badly on the sheetrock. The surprise inside. I haven't touched the wood, because I couldn't' reach it, so I don't know how rotten it is and if it is salvageable. Will let you know when I find out.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Not bad, right?

I mean, having only maybe an hour a day to devote to it, it's coming along nicely.

Maybe I'll have it done by the winter. What do you think?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Update on the roof work

So, while we barely noticed that the crew is around, the Project Manager from Jack Finn & Company has informed us that the new roof will be put in today. At least part of it. I was shocked, so I went upstairs to check. And, yes, the guys were done with the new sleepers and were putting in the plywood. Wow!

It helped that there was literally very little damage from all the leaks. The framing for the door was rotten on the top, but that's going anyway. The bottom layer of plywood was in a very good condition. Apparently, whoever installed it used very narrow sheets of wood, so the water was simply dripping through, and there was no ponding. Good stuff. Well, we were very happy to hear it.

I have to give props to the guys working for Jack Finn. Someone once told me that a good contractor will restore your faith in humanity. Jack is one such contractor.

We were very lucky not to have any disasters happen to us while at the House, yet. But, like most people, we heard so many horror stories that we are rightfully scared of... everything. Hopefully, we won't have any of our own scary stories.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Your Old House Workshops - Part II: Interior

Got any weekend plans?

This workshop was originally scheduled for February, and canceled due to that amazing snow storm. It will take place this Sunday, April 24 from 2 pm to 4 pm at 108 Orange Road, Montclair. This building is the Clark House, another one of the Montclair Historical Society buildings.

This week the work moves inside, and the panel will begin with a discussion of the difference between design bid vs design build. There will also be talk about the process and pitfalls of interior projects. Following that, the panel will talk about how to maintain the historic integrity of the home, while still achieving a house you and your family can live in. The audience will also get a peak at the design of kitchens and bathrooms throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. In the end, there will be a lots of time to talk with the panel of experts and craftsmen about individual projects.

Co-sponsored by MHS and the Van Vleck House and Gardens, the workshops are designed to introduce you to the knowledge you need to plan and execute a restoration or remodeling of your older home. Upcoming workshop on May 15, and the last in the series, will focus on the Exterior.

The cost is $10 per person per workshop. If you register for the remaining two workshops, the cost is $25, and includes an annual membership to the MHS. MHS members and Van Vleck House and Gardens members are always free. Send a note to if you'd like to register.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A formidable opponent - redux

Well, it looks like my wall needed more than 6 hours to soak. It needed 36. I walked by it just to check to make sure it won't collapse on me, and I realized I could just peel off the chunks of paint. Very cool. And very glad I won't have to abandon this to another layer of paint. I will post the progress in a few days.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Victorian Society event recap

What an interesting event! And not just for a fact that I was the youngest person there, though that is a definite top 5 qualification. Jennifer Bakshi, Master Gardener and NY Botanical Garden certified landscape designer, gave a very interesting hour and a half lecture that encapsulated the political, social, and economic events leading to the development of the Victorian gardening. She also touched on the individuals that gave the biggest contribution to the field of garden design at the time.

The evening was wrapped up with the specific images of Victorian gardens, as well as an extensive list of plants popular at that time, many of which are native to North America. Ms. Bakshi also presented a reading list, several books on the subject of Victorian gardens, all of which she finds invaluable.

In the end, we all enjoyed a scrumptious feast that was prepared by the members of the Victorian Society. I have to tell you, some of them are excellent bakers.

Another note - the Women's Club space on Union Street is fantastic. I am certainly considering it for some future events.

Oh, to be 2 years old

The dumpster for the demolition debris was delivered yesterday morning, and the Little Man stood in awe on the front porch while it was being dropped off. The look of wonder and joy on his face was almost indescribable. Later on, he went into his room and was looking out the window to make sure the truck and the dumpster don't leave without him seeing that. Ah, the youth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gardening, or this is what it's like to really own your House

While waiting for the paint stripper to dry (fun pun, right?), I decided to do a little gardening over the weekend. The real reason for this is the fact that we haven't put down any mulch yet, and the weeds are starting to come in. Or that's what I thought.

After carefully looking at the green sprouts in the flower bed, I realized they were the some sort of bulbous plant. Apparently, during the backyard project last Fall, they didn't get all of them out. This would explain why some of my new perennials are not doing so well. So, I rolled up my sleeves to dig them out. I had to work around the roots of the perennials and around the new irrigation pipes. Not fun.

This is the final result.

These bulbs and their roots were so entrenched, that I had to dig out 2 foot sections right against the wall, pull them our bit by bit, and then follow the root to the next bulb. In the end, I was so frustrated, that I even pulled out the bulbs that I moved a few weeks ago and that were sprouting leaves, because I didn't want to have to do this again in a few years time. These things are awful, almost like weeds. Very hard to get out.

I can see a temptation of throwing a few bulbs in the ground that would give you beautiful flowers in the Spring without much work. Don't do it. For if you happen to want to change the plants, like we did, they will be a nightmare to get rid of.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was to tell you how wonderful it feels to finally "own" your land. Not in a sense of any undisputed rights of use, but more of a feeling of belonging to a place, or location. Having put my hands into the ground, I can say that I know almost every square inch of my property, and it feels great. We've sort of accepted each other. OK, I'll stop with the crazy now.

Off to the garden center to get the mulch.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A formidable opponent

A few weeks ago I thought I thought this would be an interesting afternoon project for me: scraping a 100 years worth of paint off of this architectural feature on our front porch.

The plainness of the paint just bothered me, so inspired by a visit to The Manor and all that brick, I headed to the Home Depot, and got my tools.

By the way, you should also probably get the goggles, especially if you don't wear prescription glasses like me. The chemicals are really strong, so get the mask that is specifically designed to block the smells. I can't stress that enough.

Armed with these tools, and tons of good will, I slobbered the thick coat of the paint stripper, specifically designed for the brick and mortar. After 3 hours of waiting, nothing. After 5 hours, I started to see some bubbling. So, after 6 hours, I picked up the scrapper and started scrapping. Boy, was I wrong. This thing was not going anywhere. After 2 1/2 hours of scrapping, this is what it looked like.

I am not sure it this is good or bad, but I was really disappointed. One thing, though, even this looked better than what was there before. So, I rinsed out the taste of chemicals from my mouth and rethought my plan: small section of a few bricks each day until it's done. This, of course, throws my schedule completely off, but, what the heck. It's not like I was sticking to it before, right?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The time has come

Oh, yes, that is our permit. The work starts on Monday. Yeah!

Not excited about loosing a bathroom for a few weeks, but, we got another 2 available to us, so I think we'll be OK.

Very excited about a new roof and new terrace. Just in time for the summer.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Victorian Society event

Just as I was about to look up the local Victorian Society, I get this email in my inbox. What timing! They are talking about Victorian gardens next Monday. And guess who will be there? What a great way to help me figure out what could have originally been there, what we like, and ultimately, what we can maintain alive.



Monday April 19, 2010 8:00 P.M.
Montclair Women's Club 82 Union Street Montclair, NJ
Refreshments Served
Members Free Non-Members $5.00 Annual Membership only $25.00

For more information, please contact or 973.744.5916

The Victorian Society in America, Northern NJ Chapter presents Jennifer Bakshi, Master Gardener and NY Botanical Garden certified landscape designer, who will discuss Victorian gardens. Her company, Urban Oasis Landscape Design, envisions the home garden as a personal Eden that is characterized by both its beauty and its harmony with the land that surrounds it, the buildings that stand on it, and the ecosystem to which it belongs - a very Victorian concept.
Ms. Bakshi will discuss the social and cultural forces that propelled the garden mania during the 19th Century. Gardening became wildly popular in the Victorian era essentially because the middle class grew in prosperity and could devote more time to it. Victorians were intensely interested in Nature. The Victorian gardener's motto might have been something like "man's conquest over elements of the natural world." Victorians loved their flowers - both exotic and mundane. Flowers were known to have their own special meanings. A bouquet of pansies indicated thoughtfulness. Lilies meant purity; myrtle signified love and marriage; morning glories given meant affection.

Andrew Jackson Downing, the premier American landscape designer of the 19th Century, developed his view that country residences should fit into the surrounding landscape and blend with its natural habitat. He believed interacting with nature had a healing effect on mankind and wanted all people to be able to experience nature. Ms. Bakshi will discuss the elements of American Victorian garden design, such as the shrubs, annuals and perennials to incorporate into your Victorian-inspired gardens.

Her personal gardens in Montclair were featured on the 2004 "Roses to Rock Gardens" Tour sponsored by Van Vleck House and Gardens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Taking care of your inner landscape"

This is what the yoga teacher at Van Vleck House and Gardens said to us in a middle of a Downward Facing Dog. And I thought, how appropriate - for the season and for me personally.

If you look around, and I think especially on our block, EVERYONE is working. We have one neighbor rebuilding the sidewalk, another building a retaining wall, yet another replacing the roof, the one next to them remodeling, then another one painting... Then there's us and all our projects. As I said, everyone is doing something.

With all that is going on, I felt justified to take an hour off and "take care of my inner landscape." And what a great surrounding to do it in.

We were thinking about planting a wisteria by the back door, but, alas, it is poisonous, and we simply don't have enough manpower to keep the kids away. Fortunately, a very lovely alternative, one which we like even better emerged - lilac.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fenn painting sighting in Bloomfield

A few weeks ago, and I believe I wrote about this, I received a phone call from a local resident, Stephanie Kip, who told me that she is in possession of one of Fenn's paintings and that I am welcome to view it any time.

Well, things got in a way, and the viewing kept getting postponed. However, I made a resolution to talk to everyone and see everything I promised, and to do it this week. So, after an amazingly relaxing morning at the Van Vleck House and Gardens, I headed to Bloomfield to meet Stephanie.

And this is the painting.

I would like to thank Stephanie for letting me see it and letting me write about it. I hope this photograph will allow you derive some of that pleasure as well.

Stephanie tells me that she is a 4th generation Montclair-area resident, and that this painting has been in her family for at least 3 generations. Her father also made the trip to the lighthouse that was depicted in this painting and said that Fenn might have taken a few liberties with the composition. Those that know his work will know he did that on regular basis, simply to add a little more dynamic into his perspectives.

If you would like to know more about the history of this particular painting, and would like to speak to Stephanie, you can reach her here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Report on the Montclair Kitchen Tour

What a cool event! You really should check it out on the next go around.

It's almost like an open house, but without the stuffiness and awkwardness of it. And, with the Kitchen Tour you are shown around by the owners, who really give you the sense of the house/kitchen and give you its true value. Colored with sentiment, yes, but when you buy a house, you should buy it with its stories and histories, not to gut it out and turn into something completely unrecognizable. But, I digress.

Here is a great photo of Joyce Hussa, who is a member of the Montclair Historical Society Education Department, and Sam Flood, a volunteer. Joyce was cooking up something delicious over an open hearth for the many guests coming through the Israel Crane House. Sam gave me a guided tour of the Israel Crane House with the side of history lesson on the Township and tax law. Did you know that closets were taxed as additional rooms up until the last century? This is why all the old houses have very few, if any closets. And in you happen to have one, it means that the original builder was very well to do. Great tidbit of information.

One of the other notables on the Kitchen Tour was the kitchen at 159 Upper Mountain. The house is known as White Tulips, after the tulip beds that used to be on the grounds. Their kitchen was installed in 1950, and it is fascinating, from the tiles, to the linoleum, to the baking center with a marble counter and built in flour and sugar sifters, to the recipe drawers, to the vertical drawers for hanging utensils - simply amazing. Even the gas range is original. Here is a look inside.

The attention to detail and quality of workmanship is unsurpassed. The current owners are hoping that any future owner will love this kitchen as much as they do.

At the conclusion of the event, both hosts and the tourists gathered at the Charles Shultz House for cookies and some cold ice tea to talk about their impressions and gossip about what is going on in Town. Yup, the spring is here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clean Up in Aisle 2

Now that everything has been cleared, and the leaf blowers have finally departed, I give you a photo of what the front looks like today. I still have to move some bushes and Irises to the front steps, but the difference can be seen, clearly. Gone are all the dead trees and bushes, we moved some stuff around, pruned, and, yes, we can now actually see the House, without it being overshadowed by the overgrown plants. Looking forward to the next season, when we can plant some new rose bushes and maybe a hydrangea or two.

Our thanks go to the E. Noriega Landscaping crew, who did a great job in that awful heat. We are looking forward to having them take care of our greens this season.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ain't she a beauty!

All cleaned and polished and ready for the Summer.

We spent the whole day cleaning it. Hubby thought he could do it alone, but then he got stuck. Then I realized it really does look and work like my kitchen range, so I helped him. A can of Easy Off and some hot water, and we were in business.

Well, let the grilling season begin.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Clean Up in Aisle 1!

It isn't anything like that, but we need catchy titles, no?

E. Noriega Landscaping, a local landscaper we have been flirting with for 2 years now, has been here at the House Wednesday and Thursday, clearing out the dead and the old and the overgrown. My, what a difference. Here is my liberated cherry tree.

I will post the photos of the finished clean up after it's... well, finished.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Plug

I don't normally do this, as you've all noticed, but as I was cleaning out my "reference" shelf in the office, I grabbed this book again to re-read. It is The Virgin Homeowner: The Essential Guide to Owning, Maintaining and Surviving Your Home by Janice Papolos.

And I have to tell you, this book saved my sanity. I started reading it when we purchased our first apartment in 2006, knowing a lot of things in the book are not applicable, but still good general knowledge to have. Then, when we were buying this House, I read it again, this time notebook and pen in hand. I made sure to make notes in the book, in the notebook, asked appropriate questions of our suppliers, contractors, etc. Honestly, it has made for a much easier transition than it would normally been, especially with a toddler and a newborn in the House. I don't remember having any fear of the House or panic attacks when things wouldn't work. And for a new mother and a new house owner, that is very good.

So, if you have a chance, and time, please check it out. It is written in plain language and no doubt you have lived through at least one, if not all, of the things she writes about. And it's funny too.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Montclair Historical Society: Kitchen Tour

I thought this was a great idea, so I'm passing it along.

Tour Old and New Montclair Kitchens This Sunday!

Sunday, April 11 from 1 to 4 PM

Join us on a self-guided tour of Montclair kitchens. Feast your eyes on some beautiful new kitchens in older homes and see how the homeowners have paid homage to the home's past. Stop by and see food being prepared over the open hearth at the Israel Crane House.

The event culminates at the spectacular Charles Shultz House at 30 North Mountain Avenue in Montclair where light refreshments will be served. The cost is $40 per person, $35 for MHS members. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling 973-744-1796 or by going to 108 Orange Road, Montclair, as your first stop on the day of the event. All proceeds benefit MHS' ongoing preservation and education programs.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Something to write about

As a writer of an almost daily blog, it is always a challenge to think of what comes next, especially if the subject is as narrow as our House and it's initial owner. Some of the subjects write themselves, like the repairs, and the history, as we uncover it. But, sometimes, there is a lull in the events and research, so it gets hard to fill in the blog with meaningful stories.

Well, this is not one of those lulls. You see, every so often, somebody throws us/me a curve ball, and I can be set for a week. For example, when I opened the mail today, a large envelope arrived from S.K., a local resident who contacted me recently. She is an owner of one of Fenn's paintings and she has graciously invited me to view it. Of course, I haven't made it to her house yet, so she raised the stakes - she mailed me a very old, carbon copy of a type-written letter to the Editor of the Evening Post about "late" Harry Fenn. The letter was written on May 10, 1911, about a month after his death and it is a beautiful account of his life and spirit. It was signed by:

I wish I could post the letter here, but it is rather lengthy, and I don't want to promise you I will transcribe it, and then fail to do it.

I will, however, search the Evening Post archives to see if it got published and give you the link to read at your leisure.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Very Productive Easter Weekend

Not sure if it's the economy or the nice weather, but the contractors were out in droves working this weekend. At least those that want to work with us.

I am happy to report that we've booked a partial landscaping demolition for this week, starting Thursday. I will post some before and after photos for your pleasure. I am actually very excited about this, because I would hate to kill budding plants. Luckily, most of the stuff we want to get out is already dead or dying.

Improvement #2: we are finally, finally paving over the hole in the driveway where the old tank used to be. The ground settled, according to the contractor, and they'll be able to put the bandage, until we decide what it is exactly that we want to do. We are so sick of the blacktop, anything would be an improvement at this point.

Suggestions? We are thinking cobblestones, but we were told they are insanely expensive and very hard to maintain. Let me hear you guys. Want to share?