Troubles behind the Green Door

The trouble with winter … is not snow.

The trouble with winter in the country… is not snowy unplowed roads.

The trouble with winter in the county in an old house… is not frosty, drafty, arctic air.

The trouble with winter in the country in an old house that’s not quite finished…

is mice.

The other trouble is that we were lulled into thinking we had successfully insulated, caulked, and boarded up all holes when we redid the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, and the mudroom.

The other trouble is, we aren’t finished; so there are other parts of the cottage that are not successfully insulated, caulked and boarded up so the worthless little critters can still get in. (Mice can get in a hole that is the size of a pencil eraser!)

Trouble lurks behind this green door.

green door to the basement

(This green door illustrates the most famous post on Apple Hill Cottage’s blog. About 50 (!) people per day read this post about making a shiny brass door handle look like oil rubbed bronze. It amazes me that there is so much interest in getting rid of shiny brass.)  But back to the troubles at hand: behind this green door with the lovely oil-rubbed bronze handle is the basement of the cottage.

We have a split level basement. Behind the green door go down five steps and turn to the left and there’s a door to the outside. There’s also a closet where King Henry the Cat has his litter box. The laundry is down there too as well as built-in shelves, which are filled to the max with the sundries of living in an unfinished house: screws, nails, paints, paintbrushes, stains, tarps, caulking tubes, electric supplies…. Turn to the right and go down six more steps and there’s the rest of the basement — the furnace, the hot water heater, the toilet, sink, and shower (!)  and beyond that Mr. H.C.’s workshop.  In addition to all that stuff, Mr. H.C. keeps a lot of his business inventory down there. It’s a basement’s basement, and there are quite a lot of holes to the outside that have not been insulated, caulked, or boarded up. And frankly, it is WAY down on the list of things to redo around here.

We tried to close the green door last night before we went to bed. About three o’clock King Henry woke us Mr. H.C.  because he needed to get down there to his litter box fast. So there really isn’t the option of closing the green door. There is, however, the option of locking the cat down there with the mice…

(Spoiler alert: If you are a mouse lover, read no further…)

As far as we know, our lovable but worthless cat has caught one mouse. It was dead in his mouth when he brought it to us, but lately I’ve been living in fear that he will jump on the bed at night with a live mouse in his mouth. Mr. H.C. also found a trap with nothing but one mouse leg in it, so the cat could have eaten the mouse out of the trap too. We aren’t sure about that; we haven’t seen any 3-legged mice around lately, but if it gives the cat a taste for mice, I’m all for it.

Mr. H.C. reminds me that Henry caught a mouse this summer too. Yes, he did; but that doesn’t count because he caught it outside. I’m fine with well-behaved mice who stay outside where they belong.

It’s terrible to have mice in one’s kitchen. Suddenly nothing is certain and I can’t be sure if  a mouse did or didn’t scurry over a pan. In the warming drawer of my OVEN I found mouse droppings! Ugh. Now I have to wash every pan before I use it. I’ve lived with mice before. It’s not a surprise. I just thought I was done with them when we finished our beautiful kitchen.

The last straw was a few days ago when I opened the oven door and found a stash of cat food in the corner of the oven. CAN I SHOUT HERE?

Yes, we are feeding the cat expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and the mice are stealing the expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and hoarding it in the corner of the oven. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

And just so you know, last week when we were in Home Depot the mouse traps were SOLD OUT! So we must not be the only ones with this problem…

And just so you know, I am blessed that Mr. H.C. takes care of all the mouse trap issues…

And just so you know, the oven is now sparkling clean, the green door is now closed at night, and the mouse troubles are staying downstairs. For Now….

cat napping on blanket img_7762

So the cat can continue with his daily routines.

131. The sixth wall

There’s nothing like company coming for Easter dinner to inspire…

The crown is finished; crown moulding the pocket door runs smoothly on its track and actually locks; Bathroom pocket door painted in Sherwin Williams Steamed Milk the built-in display has trim and real shelves and serving dishes; dining room built-in art is hung on the painted walls; Dining room and our black and white photo wall is done, mostly.

bathroom pocket door

Our shoulders are light, the weather is warmer, and it’s time to think now of outside projects.

But just in case the gentle reader thinks we now live in a perfect-ly beautiful house,

we open the lovely pocket door to this:

Bathroom -- Before

Yeah, paintbrushes still compete with toothbrushes in the bathroom sink.

117. Secrets of this old cottage

Old Houses have secrets.
Sometimes they yield pieces of answers when layers are peeled away.
Sometimes what is revealed only leads to more questions.

There have been only three owners of this little house. My grandfather built the cottage sometime in the early forties and used it variously as a farm outbuilding, a weekend cabin, a place for apple pickers to stay, and a rental house for aunts and uncles. He sold it in 1974 to Mr. H. C.’s mom and dad. And now us.

Last weekend we took up the carpet in the living room/dining room. We had already peeked under it in several spots and knew that the boards were pine tongue-and-groove flooring, varnished dark brown. We also knew they were messed up in one spot where there had once been a wall to a little bedroom, but we were hoping for no other surprises.

We took up carpet.
We took up padding.
We took up two rows of tack strips.
We took up linoleum. (The real stuff from the forties that is totally compostable.)
And finally, we took up tar paper.

And under all those layers was a gleaming floor in amazingly good condition.


All those layers had protected the original floor so well, we could still smell the varnish.


The long spot under the rocker is where the old wall to the little bedroom was. We were expecting that one. The area rug we couldn’t figure out though…

We did find one other surprise that puzzled us: a two-by-four foot area rug made from slightly different pine boards. A patch of some sort. But who did it? And when? And why?

(We don’t think it is a huge problem because we purchased some old pine boards at Construction Junction last year, anticipating that we would have to fix part of the floor and hoping they would match. They’re a go!)

We wondered about it for a couple of days and figured we would never know. Then on Saturday, Second Cousin Jim stopped out to visit. He is 92 and he drove his little red Geo Metro convertible into the yard and stopped about five feet from the door. We were glad he stopped (pun intended) and I murmured as he was leaving that I hoped he would put the car in reverse before he accelerated.

He plopped down in the rocking chair and told us new-old stories. His parents, Aunt Edna and Uncle Jim had lived there for a time during the war. They had been living down in Bobtown, and an outbreak of polio scared them into moving, so they lived in the cottage for awhile. When Jim Jr. came back from the war, he stayed in the little bedroom.

That little patch on the floor? A perfect spot for an old gas heater. Secrets revealed.

But he couldn’t remember where the outhouse had been. Oh somewhere out back, he said.

On Monday we had more visitors — another second cousin, Buzz and his wife Lynn who told us more new-old stories.

He and his brother Jack used to come down to the country from Donora to pick apples on weekends. They stayed in a little bedroom in the back that had a small window where hornets and wasps nested.

Ignoring repeated warnings (from his little brother) to leave them alone, Jack poked at a wasp through the screen one too many times and got stung on his nose.

We stood in the back bedroom, but Buzz shook his head. This bedroom was too big. We walked to the back deck, and he pointed out the spot where the outhouse had been. (It was where we thought — the grass and chives grow thick and green there.)

IMG_4800Then it dawned on me. If there was a privy, the bathroom could  have been another little bedroom.

Of course!

There was the small window; wasps still nest there. And the screen still has a hole that has been patched…

More secrets revealed.

More stories to add to the lore of Apple Hill Cottage.


We will probably sand away the old patina at some point and refinish the boards in the same dark brown, but for now we’re fine with a little area rug and no more smelly carpet.

(And if you think the name Bobtown is humorous, stay tuned for a post on Greene County place names…)