Monday, July 20, 2009

One Windowsill

Ever wondered why it can take years to get to a particular house chore? I certainly have.

Maybe it has to do with change.

I live in a 100-year-old building, and many things need updating, the windowsill next to my kitchen sink, for instance. Covered in layers and layers of paint, it was chipped. Ugly. Stained. Every time I went to pour a glass of water, rinse a plate, or wash a pint of strawberries, I saw that caked up windowsill. I’d been looking at it for eleven years.

Yes. Eleven years!

It needed to be scraped and re-painted, but I had a lot of reasons why I didn’t want to start with all that. For one, I knew I needed to use paint remover and paint removers scare me. They have warnings about noxious fumes and chemicals that remind me of nasty and predatory things from my past.
(Maybe it’s even scarier how I let the past control me. )

Thirty years ago, I used paint remover to strip an old, wooden desk. Following instructions on the back of the container, I wore gloves. I kept the windows open for proper ventilation. I think I wore a mask--all to protect against those list of ingredients on the can that said they could lead to bodily harm.

Not long after that little project, I found out I had a serious blood disease (Aplastic anemia). I don’t believe I got the disease from that paint remover, but I've never been able to completely rule out the possibility. The connection gripped my mind.

Meanwhile, 30 years later, this windowsill was really bugging me.

Nowadays, we have non-toxic alternatives. A short trip to my local hardware store, and I found a paint remover that was "green". It cost $20.00 for a pint-sized container--pricey--but I decided to go for it.

This time around, the gluey goop didn’t have that stinging, suffocating odor like the one I used before—more like a mild, sweet smell that I remembered from elementary school art classes.

The old paint on the sill was inches thick (okay, slight exaggeration, maybe half an inch thick); I had to reapply the goop three times. As each layer gave way to another, I wondered: who painted this color and why? How long did each layer last? How many more layers are there? Why did someone choose mustard yellow, blue or green? After several hours, I scraped that sill down to the original wood, then I let the sill dry out for a few days.

Next, I applied two coats of primer and two coats of semi-gloss white. I’m planning to put a final, glossy white finish on it, but I’m going to let the sill rest for a bit.

Let the windowsill rest? How come?

I think I’ve asked a lot of this windowsill, stripping away 100 years of history in two days. It’s been relieved of all those dried up protective layers, but if someone did that to me, I’d need some time to recover, too.

Got a house-related chore you've put off for years? Tell me why...


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  2. We were fond of putting off every job when we were restoring the farm--and then one Friday afternoon, we'd get sick of looking at something ugly and decide it was KITCHEN WEEKEND! or BATHROOM WEEKEND! And we'd tackle the entire room in just a few days. On one hand, it would bug me that we'd waited that long to do a project that clearly only took us 2 or 3 days. On the other hand, I always enjoyed the buzz of doing it all at once, staying up late getting high off paint fumes, and having a finished product in only a weekend.
    I'm not sure why we put things off--probably because we were caught up in other things, or just didn't feel like it. Restoring a near-derelict farm is a little daunting some days. :) But in the end, the best incentive to do all of it was selling & moving. Boy did we work then. And boy was it worth it.

  3. Amy,
    What focus! I wonder why we so often need that outside goal to get us going--i.e. selling and moving to spur us on?

    But you have a good approach--giving title to your activity. Giving it importance. And giving it definition so that you don't feel overwhelmed.

    I think we often don't start anything because of a feeling of being overwhelmed.

    Kitchen in a weekend? I didn't know that was possible!



  4. Jennifer JeffersonJuly 20, 2009 at 1:28 PM

    Great post--really resonates with me. For almost four years my upstairs hallway, which is off-white, has had two big splotches of paint on it--different shades of green. I was going to paint it, but couldn't decide which color. Then I decided I want wallpaper, but I didn't trust myself to do it. Twice I called people who hang wallpaper but I've never followed through. I hate having people work in my house. I know that the pleasure I would get from having the wallpaper up would outweigh the hassle of getting it done, but I keep procrastinating.

  5. Jennifer--
    I think what you said: "I don't trust myself" is key here. Is it a big hallway? Do you think doing it yourself is better than hiring someone? I know some people feel that way. Kind of like baking your own cake versus making one with a store bought mix.

    I do understand not wanting someone in your house, but in this case, maybe that's what you must overcome. How long would it take for a professional to do this job? 1 or 2 days?

    Thanks for telling your story.


  6. Pruning. It's always pruning b/c I love the wild overgrown look, but it can get truly out of hand in one season.

    I wrote someplace recently about our brush pile, which I neglected for nearly two years, and kept moving it back down the list when it would get near the top.

    One day I realized I just needed to Do It - but when I went out there, it had mulched itself down to almost nothing! And a gorgeous 5-feet tall butterfly bush had volunteered to take over the space.

    If only I could get dust and cobwebs to morph into something as lovely. :)

  7. Billie,

    That's funny! But now I'm dying to know what a 5-ft tall butterfly bush looks like?


  8. Very small compared to the 15-foot monstrosity that lives right outside my laundry room door! :)

    I'll have to remember to take a photograph later this summer when these bushes are literally covered in fluttering butterflies. It looks like the butterflies are living blooms.

    Part of why I can't bear pruning is b/c the creatures love the lushness. I have hummingbirds coming to the trumpet vine on the front porch - you can sit on my living room sofa and have a hummingbird inches away. In a month, I'll be able to open the window by the loveseat and pick wild muscadines.

    But it is a jungle of vines and come fall I really do have to cut back some of them.

  9. Billie,
    Good reason why you resist. The positive payoff is so high. You'll have to let me know if you do, indeed, get to pruning it in the fall.