Subscribe to Megan Fitzpatrick’s blog, Rude Mechanicals Press, where you can read a blow-by-blow account of Megan’s adventures in restoring her Cincinnati home.
Megan, editor and content director at Popular Woodworking Magazine, is a former journalist with a master’s degree in English literature. A.B.D.* in early modern drama (and apparently happy to stay that way), she’s one of the wittiest wordsmiths you’re likely to find on the subject of old-house restoration.
*all but dissertation
The Modern Housekeeper’s Page, 1908, by courtesy of Lost Art Press
Lost Art Press
Women are now “Doing Over” Their Own Furniture
Whether the fad for collecting old pieces of mahogany furniture—most of it being in unpresentable condition—is responsible for the new direction given to woman’s energies, or whether it is merely an effort to invade a hitherto little known field of work—one in which the majority of the sex is interested, however—the fact has become known that furniture restoring and renovating are added to the list of accomplishments approved by the practical woman.
She may be a housewife or she may be living in tiny quarters by herself, but if there is room anywhere for the few tools required in the simpler lines of cabinet work, she spends an hour or more now and then in improving the appearance of her Heppelwhite desk or polishing a candle stand until its value is increased, while its charm is more than doubled.
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I will never forget the opening words of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
When I read them at the age of eight, in one of the Heritage Club books my parents had subscribed to in an effort to encourage their daughters’ interest in literature, I was perplexed by the spoken-word form. I recall that I read far enough to learn that the missing boy was, or would become, involved with whitewashing a fence, but I can’t say I read much further into the story–an admission I’m duly embarrassed to make.
At high-school in England we didn’t read American literature, which I hope goes some small way toward explaining my lack of familiarity with Mark Twain’s writing. Instead, we read works by British writers short stories by Katherine Mansfield, novels by Vita Sackville-West, and poetry by Sir John Betjeman and Wilfred Owen. (I will never forget Owen’s account of death by mustard gas in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” It should be required reading for all 14-year-olds, especially in countries whose leaders all too often find it expedient to glorify war.)
So I was thrilled to read the following missive from Martha Kipcak, who attended my talk at Milwaukee’s Lynden Sculpture Garden in October 2013.*
Dear Bronze and Will,
thank you so much for bringing Nancy Hiller to town and then making it possible for me, and others, to attend the lovely event at Lynden.
Although I haven’t had the good fortune to be a homeowner in my life (with the exception of a short 15 months during a brief marriage), I have gained rich satisfaction as a homemaker all my adult life.
Many years ago, I crossed paths with a letter Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) had written to his friend Joe Twichell on January 19, 1897. The previous August, while Clemens was traveling abroad, his beloved 24-year-old daughter Susy died from meningitis at their home in Hartford, Connecticut. Clemens and his wife Livy were devastated. Joe Twichell was a dear and trusted friend who Clemens wrote to share his grief and reflections of Susy’s death. I was thinking about this letter while listening to Nancy describe her love of Home.
This is an excerpt taken from the middle of the letter.
“Ah well, Susy died at home. She had that privilege. Her dying eyes rested upon nothing that was strange to them, but only things which they had known and loved always and which had made her young years glad. And she had you and Sue and Katy and John and Ellen. This was happy fortune. I am thankful that it was vouchsafed to her. If she had died in another house — well, I think I could not have borne that. To us, our house was not unsentient matter. It had a heart and a soul and eyes to see us with approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies. It was of us and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome. And we could not enter it unmoved. And could we now, oh how, in spirit we should enter it unshod.”
Peace and love to both of you,
The Heritage Club books are still with us (mostly with me, perhaps because I can build bookcases), though their pages are mildewed and many of their spines were ravaged by hungry cockroaches during the years the books spent in the non-air-conditioned dining room of our home in humid South Florida. I will have to dig out that edition of Tom Sawyer (with allergy medicine in hand) and acquaint myself with the writings of this man. Thank you, Martha.
Clemans, a.k.a. Twain
Martha Kipcak with eyewear from Bronze Optical, Milwaukee
*The note was forwarded to me by Will Fellows, one of the sponsors of this speakers’ series, and is reproduced here with Martha’s permission.
This week’s trip to Milwaukee was short but full of wonders.
First stop: a pilgrimage to my dear friend Katie’s childhood home to reconnect with her parents and the lucky Otis.
Otis and his parental units
Next came an evening at the Lynden Sculpture Garden with a well attended presentation on A Home of Her Own followed by a book signing. The event was sponsored by Bronze Optical, Lynden, Milwaukee Reads, and Historic Milwaukee, Inc.. Thanks to all, and especially to Margy Stratton, Polly Morris, and my hosts, Will Fellows and Bronze, for putting this event together.
On Thursday morning I gave a finishing techniques workshop at Lynden, where this set of instructions, complete with injunction to use the Golden Rule, was posted on the wall:
Remember, keep your hands to your slef!
I was delighted to have a chance to visit Bronze Optical before driving back to Bloomington.
Will and Bronze in the gorgeous front room at Bronze Optical. After seeing the loving care with which these two fixed up and furnished their place of business, and having heard them discuss their approach to fitting clients with just the right eyewear, I must confess that I am fantasizing about a long-distance consultation.
Stay posted for details of Will’s talk in Bloomington in May 2014!
The vine in May
While checking the progress of this summer’s grapes, I recalled a pie from last summer. I had posted a photo of my grape vines on facebook and Rolf Maxa, a member of the Rochester Woodworkers, asked whether I was going to make grape pie. I had never heard of grape pie (though I have seen it on plenty of diner menus since then), so Rolf sent me a recipe.
The first step was to peel the grapes, or as the recipe says, “slip” their pulp out of its skin. I did this by squeezing each grape between my fingers and extracting the pale whitish-green fruit.
The pulp gets cooked, then strained; I strained out the seeds using the same food mill I use for persimmons.
This process produced a lot of juice.
Next came the crust, with its 18 Tablespoons of butter.
(No wonder the pie was so delicious!)
The pie emerged from the oven in tantalizing, buttery glory.
We served the pie warm with freshly whipped cream.
It was even better the next day, eaten cold: intensely grapey.
The vine takes a well-earned rest each winter.
Indiana Public Media produced a video segment on artist Amy Brier as part of its Weekly Special series.
Well worth three minutes to watch!
Old sink, new taps
Today I finally had a chance to replace the faucets on the bathroom sink. The old faucets came attached to the basin; I paid about $25 for the well-used ensemble. When both faucets developed leaks, I fixed the cold one by taking the whole thing apart and replacing a rubber washer. But I couldn’t fix the hot tap, since one of its parts had been too badly mangled by someone who got to it before I did.
I bought a new set made under the comforting brand name “Kingston Brass” (tagline: The Tradition of Fine Brass). The instruction leaflet, with such gems as
“PROBLEM: Faucet is dirty. CAUSE: Caused by stubborn water spot”
“PROBLEM: Handles works backward. CAUSE: Handle install backward,”
did not inspire confidence.
New and old
Still, I had removed the hot water faucet some time ago and needed to make the sink usable again, so I proceeded with the installation. Everything went smoothly until I tightened the new plastic nut under the first faucet, replaced the water supply line, and turned it on. The nut would not hold the faucet in place on the irregularly shaped surface of the vintage sink. I took it apart again and installed the new faucet using the old nut and its conical, serrated washer. That did the trick.
The old washer, left (I have never seen a washer quite this grand) and its nut, center, versus the new plastic nut, right.
I repeated the steps on the cold faucet and completed the installation.
I will be amazed if this set lasts ten years. The old set lasted more than fifty. I’m keeping the old parts; maybe I can find someone who has the expertise and equipment necessary to drill out the mangled screw and retap the threads inside the valve.