Monthly Archives: November 2014

If You Can Ice a Cookie, You Can Repoint Bricks

Here is me. I am standing in front of our old house project in the City of Niagara Falls. We have been working on it for 13 months. This is a roller coaster of emotions: energy, excitement, fear, dread, sore muscles, creativity, community, new friends, old friends and most of all- half assed projects I learned on YouTube. But they are getting done. This project is the story of my life: Never Give Up. Never, Ever, Ever, EVER. Never Give Up.

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I’m pretty excited in this picture because a construction crew showed up this week to work on the porch. The porch was quite literally falling off and contractors ran in fear everytime we showed it to them all summer long. Finally, a great crew took the job and started first thing Monday morning. This picture was taken before, during and after I hung on that fence crying tears of joy in the middle of the public view, while wearing this absolutely ridiculous painting outfit.

We were dealing with a time crunch. The crunch was that it was about 60 degrees but about to fall by 40 degrees. I had to finish painting the exterior of the garage and repointing the bricks in one day. No problem.

What IS repointing? Here’s my simple answer: It’s when the stuff between your bricks gets old and crumbles away and you need to replace it. Here’s how you know you need it. Your bricks have gaps between them, like the ones on the right side of this photo:

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There are two reasons I am doing this  myself:

1.) The estimate to have it done was $8,000.

2.) The directions were on YouTube and the supplies cost about $50.

Here’s what I did. It appears to have worked.

First, I purchased a bag of “mortar mix” from the home store. It says right on the bag it’s approved by masons. (haha). I mixed it up in a bucket by slowly adding water to it, until it was the consistency of very thick brownie batter. I used this really impressive looking attachment on my drill to mix it. Mixing by hand is a terrible thing. Do not do it.

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Then I sprayed the first few feet of bricks with a misting bottle of water. Just enough to get it damp. That helps the mortar adhere to the bricks. Then I filled a awesome pastry bag, (but actually made for mortar and sold in the masonry department), about halfway with the mortar mix. Twist the top around to keep the stuff in, point the tip into the space between the bricks, squeeze consistently and glide the bag betweeen bricks.

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This is going to hurt after about 1o hours.

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Let all that slop stay in there, overflowing a bit, for at least 10 minutes. Continue misting and filling every few feet at a time. Once the 10 minutes or so has passed, it’s time to sort of shape up that sloppy mortar job.

You use this tool that I cannot identify by name. It is sold in the mason department. It’s kind of like using the back of a spoon to smooth your icing. This tool is needed to make the mortar gently curve inward between bricks, which is for some reason desirable in my region. (The North East United States).

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It’s pretty simple, just drag it through the troughs between the bricks. Do a bunch of feet at a time, and then take out a thin spatula type tool and scrape off any extra mortar that is hanging around on the outside of the brick.

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Once you clean it all up, it’s going to look pretty good. You will be pretty damn impressed with yourself. Then you realise your hands and clothing are covered in this dry dust. You’re going to think this is going to be a gentle exfoliant and your hands will be as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

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But you will be wrong. Instead your skin will be very, very, very dry. This is when you get to use the skin lotion from Dollar Tree. It’s called Dermasil, and it is ONE DOLLAR. It works better than $15 bottles of lotion. It’s been on product review shows. It’s good stuff.

When you are done, you should have something like this, and this, and that is GREAT! You did it yourself and you saved thousands of dollars!

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Now for the “people part” of this story. This beautiful house was empty for at least seven years before we purchased it at a city auction. The neighbors have been watching it slowly falling apart. They were SO HAPPY when the porch started coming off, they came into the streets with cocktails and raised toasts to us and to the house and to the porch and to the glory of The Gods of Renovation and Saint Jude himself.

It felt a little like being on top of the world.


Friends and Family

This was surely a week for sentiments, for reflections and for relationships.

We continued work on our renovation project of an old house in the center of the city of Niagara Falls. We were racing to beat the weather with exterior painting, roofing and brick repointing.

Luckily on Monday I cleared my calender of everything else to work on our garage. So did “Albert”- a man that has become so more than a neighbor to me.

When I sold my suburban home and bid farewell to a mortgage more than 13 years ago, I did not know anyone in my new neighborhood. It wasn’t an easy move. I had to evict crackheads from my building and at the same time had uptight people across the street who moved away because they couldn’t live near lesbians. Yes, you read that right: the people across the street could cohabitate with crack heads but not lesbians.

It wasn’t the easiest transition from the suburbs to the inner city. For a long while people looked at me with suspicion. Finally after the prejudiced people moved away the tensions eased and more neighbors came out to talk to me. Soon enough I struck up a friendship with “Albert” (not his real name) from next door.

What an odd couple match it would seem. Albert is an older African American man, who collects metal and takes landscaping jobs. He’s quiet, deliberate and stays out of people’s way. Then there’s me. A loud mouth white woman who spent her days dressing up to go work in an office, who doesn’t seem to know how to speak softly.

But Albert seemed to take pity on me and offered me help when he saw I needed it. A true gentleman, Albert always politely let me screw things up in my yard and outside my house and did not criticize me when I came asking him for help. Through the years I started asked Albert for help more and more. He has helped me with things like roofing, painting, building things for my yard.

So when we took on this renovation project, we knew immediately that we could only trust Albert to work on the house with us. All Spring, Summer and Fall Albert has worked side by side with us slowly and methodically replacing cedar shingles, scraping old paint, and repainting the house. He took it upon himself to reglaze our beautiful old windows and replace the awning over the side door. Albert understands old houses- it has been his life’s work.

Over the course of the Summer, Albert has spent a lot of time working on the house with us. On one particular day the whole family was working together on drywall when Albert came in to help. We wound up on a lunchbreak and in the summer breeze and camaraderie, I jokingly asked him to be my adopted Dad. (My father and step father are both deceased).

He laughed and shook his head, “Oh no… no no no ma’am”. Albert doesn’t want anymore kids. Claiming that he’s not a hands-on kind of Dad he tried to bow out.

But I am relentless.

Over the remainder of the summer I went out of my way to get Albert’s advice and knowledge on old houses. On how cedar shingles stack. How weights inside a window casing work. How you trim back an eighty year old flowering shrub without killing it. (fingers crossed)

Finally this week, we reached our bonding moment. This Monday when I was determined to paint the garage before the snow flies, Albert was just as determined to put the new roof on the garage before the weather could turn bad. We worked hard side by side for hours- with the gusting wind blowing leaves and branches onto us, Albert called down from the roof to me and predicted how many minutes until the rain would start.

As I stood on the ladder to reach the trim under the gutters, Albert cautioned me on how to secure the ladder and just how high up was safe to stand. I detected a protective streak. As Albert scraped the old moss off the roof before laying the new tiles, he made sure to warn me not to look in that direction else the wind could blow the moss in my eyes.

The bonding was solidified when a representative from the water department came out to evaluate the placement of a meter; just the first step toward having water flowing in the house again! The results weren’t great. The water department person came up to tell me whey they couldn’t install a meter; and that I most likely needed an entirely new water line to the house. Albert came down from the garage and stood by my side. I didn’t hesitate to introduce him to the water man, and the man respectfully explained the situation to Albert as well as me.

At that moment I realized Albert cared about me like a daughter. (Maybe) At least he felt protective and caring and … and… well, I got to feel the presence of an older father figure standing next to me to make sure that I was doing okay.

memorial garage

We worked all the way till the rain started that day and we continue to work on that house. I tried to take Albert’s picture but he told me he’s camera shy. He told me he doesn’t want to ruin his “mystique”. So I got a silhouette shot that I can share with you without spoiling his intrigue.

As I end this entry, my mind is already wandering to dreams of decorating the inside of this house one day. Thoughts of table runners, draperies and candlesticks are filling my head. Some fine day we will turn on the water, turn up the heat and really turn that house back into a home.

memorial porch