I’m Used to a Stair with Some Stares

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(If that “Arrested Development” reference means nothing to you, just let it go.)

When we moved, our house was what they call move-in ready. We had to do absolutely nothing to move in (other than desperately try to squish all our belongings into a much tinier house). But of course what “move-in ready” really means is that it’s painted in some nice neutral colors that you will come to hate and become desperate to do something about. And, in our case, that it had fresh carpeting all up the stairs and in the upstairs bedrooms. Problem: we hate carpeting. It’s really never clean, it’s terrible for people with allergies, and this was that shade of oatmeal beige that got dirty just by existing. I tore it out of two of the bedrooms before we had even moved, but it remained on the stairs. I hate carpeting on stairs even more – it always feels like I’m going to trip. I like to connect with a tread. So, eventually, the stair carpet had to go.

Of course, that left the question of what was under the carpet. In our old house, removal of several layers of dense enamel paint had revealed absolutely gorgeous maple stairs that were worth the roughly two years it took me to actually finish the job. In this house, I found what I have found everywhere in this house: old pine. So the decision was whether to rehab soft, splintery old pine, or do a full replacement. Thought I’d try the rehab first. This is what was under the carpet:

Under the carpet

So, the good news was that they weren’t heavily painted. The bad news was that they were painted just enough, and rough and splintery enough, that getting down to bare wood and whacking it with a thick coat of polyurethane wasn’t going to work. The answer would have to be paint.

The stairs, under the carpet, pulling out four million staples

First, I would have to remove approximately four million staples. Whoever put in this brand new carpet that I despised, I would highly recommend for a carpeting job. They did it beautifully. Even trying hard, it was a massive chore to get that carpet off the stairs. And every single one of those staples had to be pulled out by hand. Even by the time I was ready to paint, I was still finding some hidden staples.

So, there was the issue of figuring out paint. I found a couple of rather elegant paint patterns that I liked, including something with a set of highlighting stripes that I thought would make some plain old pine stairs look quite nice. What I wasn’t sure of was whether it would be possible to create nice smooth stripes on such rough old wood. Even with significant sanding (oh, and there was sanding), you can only get this stuff so smooth.

And then there's the woodwork

Yeah. Not so smooth. But we decided to go for it anyway, and figured if we hated it in the end, we could just start all over and replace the stairs entirely. So, final sanding and then two solid coats of Kilz high-hiding primer:

The stairs, fully primed

You’ll note the weirdness of the lack of balusters and banister on the right. What was there was a horrible piece of cheap pine, poorly arranged, that took the place of where railing setup would normally be. We liked the openness and didn’t want to enclose the space, but we had to have a nicer piece of wood. We thought about several fancier treatments, including using some live-edge wood that would have been an interesting effect, but in the end decided to make it simple.

Setting the stripe

To make the stripe, first I painted the color I wanted the stripes to be on the treads and risers. Then, I had to bring the tape down over that color, and I would then paint the darker color everywhere the tape wasn’t. The cardboard is a template for laying the tape because this was, of course tricky. The house was built in 1900. The stairs are not the same width at the top as at the bottom. If I put the stripes a uniform distance from the left or right walls, they would have ended up looking very funky. So I had to pick a spot at the top of the stairs and run down from that, keeping the space between the stripes exactly the same but letting the outside margins drift.

I used Frog tape, which many blogs said would work better than the traditional 3M blue painter’s tape, particularly on a less than smooth surface; those folks turned out to be right. It was a bit tricky getting it tucked into the corners perfectly where the treads met the risers, and wrapping it around the bullnose nicely while still maintaining something like a straight line, but it worked out pretty well.

Then, and this was absolutely key, I painted over the edges of the tape in the color of the stripe. That would prevent the darker color from leaking under the tape, because if there was to be any leakage, the lighter color would have already done it. So: paint the color you want to protect, tape over it, then paint the edges of the tape the same color. It’s brilliant.

Behold the Blue

Then comes the main color, the dark blue. Here you can see it applied to most of the risers and the sides of the treads – that was so we could still go up and down stairs while a portion of it dried. I used porch and floor paint from True Value that dries pretty quickly and pretty hard, but it still preferred to rest for a couple of days before getting really challenged. I waited to do the treads until Lee was going to be out of the house for the weekend and I could try to just walk up the edges while they dried. Here you can see I was also deciding whether to paint the railing and the not-a-baluster board the same color.

Then, of course, came the problem. That cheesy piece of wood wasn’t ever really set in place right, and didn’t have a proper support underneath, so when it was time to replace it, I had to cobble together a new support column.

There was much checking of angles, let me assure you. I’m terrible with angles.

Then came the moment when I could take off all the tape. My history with the blue tape is that inevitably I would snag a strip of paint at some point and undo some of my work, and then have to go back and touch up. That did not happen with the Frog tape. There was absolutely minimal leakage – just in a couple of spots where I hadn’t been able to get the tape tight enough as it came through a corner – and the lines were razor sharp. I ended up doing just the slightest amount of retouching, all of it in the corners. The rest of it was amazing. Here’s how it came out:

The finished stairs

Nice, is it not? The iPhone and the ambient light aren’t really capturing the color here. Trust me, it came out pretty sweet.

What a Weekend Looks Like These Days

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  • Drive 250 miles back to the old hometown, hopefully in record time.
  • Get there in time for lunch with old friends.
  • Spend time at father-in-law’s, take him out to dinner.
  • Race to the Egg for a concert.
  • Get out too late for ice cream.
  • Drive to daughter’s apartment and crash there.
  • Get up for the Troy Farmer’s Market.
  • Cry because the pasta-maker is out sick this week.
  • Run back up to daughter’s, assemble a kayak rack.
  • Meet up with mother, take her down to the market and coax her to pick out her own birthday gifts, because I’m classy like that.
  • Her Mother’s Day gift was a new wheel for her wheelbarrow.
  • Late lunch with mother and daughter.
  • Nap of the damned.
  • Go to roller derby double-header, strategically parking near the new Ben & Jerry’s location.
  • At the bout, daughter informs us they haven’t opened yet, and there will be no ice cream.
  • Crash at daughter’s.
  • Sunday bagels and not nearly enough coffee at Psychedelicatessen.
  • Farewell to daughter, take father-in-law to lunch.
  • Drive home in Sunday downstream traffic (not awful, yet), anxious to get home before the ice cream store closes.
  • Work for three hours to get ready for the week because I had the audacity to take a weekend “off.”
  • But at least there was ice cream. In a waffle cone, which I fully deserved.

What’s In My Ears

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The music is amazing these days, and right now I’m listening to a mix of power pop from local talent, old melancholy wisdom, and some straight up rocking:

Cliff Hillis

From local tunesmith Cliff Hillis, his new single (released on 45 rpm vinyl). This is the kind of music I wasn’t sure anyone wrote anymore.

Even catchier is his “The Buddha’s Belly” – “Everybody wants to rub the Buddha’s belly / But no one is scratching the Buddha’s back.”

And then there’s this bit of dreamy sweetness whose video seems to feature half the people in my town: “Dashboard.”

John Faye

With or without “Those Meddling Kids,” John Faye is terrific. “Church and State” is edgy pop.

Then there’s the slightly darker “Meddling Kids.”

“Into Philadelphia.” The catchiness is insane.

Peter Wolf


Loving the new Peter Wolf album from top to bottom, and this is one of the reasons why.


And I never get tired of watching this backstage rehearsal of “Tragedy.”

Veruca Salt

The new Veruca Salt album, “Ghost Notes,” is simply incredible. This is not a reunion album. This is possibly their best material ever. “Eyes On You” is urgent, forceful, plaintive . . . things you don’t hear in popular music these days.


“Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” is quite simply how you make a rock song. Get in, rock like mad, get out. Loud fast fun all the way through.

The Last Time I Saw Albany

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Not literally the last time I saw Albany, but the last time I wandered around with a camera looking at it, nearly three years ago now. Have you ever really looked at your city? So much to see.

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Words and Pictures on a Building

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The Troy Waste Manufacturing Company Building has been a major presence on upper River Street since about 1909 (the company is even older). It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and it appears that (once again) redevelopment plans are in the works. If the building doesn’t get the respect it deserves, perhaps it’s because it literally has a shoddy history. (Apologies if you get the pun; you’re welcome, if you don’t.) If those predicted apartments come to fruition, it’s likely the new owners will wipe every trace of old “No Parking” and “Danger [?] Hoist” signs away, as well as some relatively nice graffiti and stencils of cats. That’s progress, and will keep the building around for another hundred years or so. But still, glad I got these photos before that happens. (Click on a photo, and the slideshow should start.)

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Top 10 of 2016 (so far)

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Remember that thing a little while back where I was posting regularly again? Yeah, that stopped. If you like it short-form and forgettable, I tweet much more often. If you like it historic, Hoxsie is still getting updated most days. Other than that, I haven’t even had the commitment to paste a banner over the name of this blog to represent the fact that my life is now quite urban indeed.

So in place of cohesive, coherent writing, let’s do a Top 10 again:

  1. Mariachi Flor de Toloache. I’m not even kidding. Just accept it.
  2. Bloody Mohawk. Following up on Hinderaker’s “The Two Hendricks,” because it’s hard to get enough of the extremely complicated relationships between the Dutch, English, French, Iroquois, Mohawks specifically, and other native Americans generally. First time in I just couldn’t get into it; second time in it turns out to be crisply written and informative, and has a better explanation of Conrad Weiser than I have seen anywhere else. Everybody loves William Johnson, and nobody gives Weiser his due. And they were both right to distrust the New England evangelicals.
  3. Actually training for cycling. After years of doing what I do on the bike, poorly and without much focus, I decided that in order to get through the winter (when we thought there was going to be one), I signed up at my favorite new local cycling shop for a series of training classes taught by an Olympic athlete. A bunch of serious, experienced racers and me, but the beauty of the computerized trainers is they conform to your output and abilities, and over the past few weeks I have been able to actually work on technique and endurance in ways I never did before. My previous technique has always been to go as far as I can go and still get back, which is fun but doesn’t actually train your body. And the upside is that I have been diligent about getting on the bike during the week (usually outside, it’s been so warm), because if I don’t I will actually die on Monday night.
  4. The holidays. Those were a thing. The second year of not having a home base for Christmas, though this year elder daughter was able to host part of the family festivities. But it feels very weird to not have Christmas in your own house, and even weirder to be one of those people who has to clutter up the highways on the appointed travel days.
  5. In my ongoing tradition of watching TV shows 10 years or more after they’re a thing, we just binge-watched “Alias,” which mostly led to me screaming at the television each night, “Why are you trusting Arvin Sloane??!” We then upset tradition by watching “Jessica Jones,” which was excellent, but now I think it’s time for a little less obvious blood-letting and something more along the lines of psychological damage, like “Gilmore Girls.”
  6. Similarly, I have to work up to Tarantino movies. I always love them, but I always need to know what level of gore or worse I’m in for. (Though if we could have seen “The Hateful 8” in 70mm, I’d have jumped right in.) So we finally got around to watching “Django Unchained,” and immediately regretted having waited so long. Christoph Waltz is a delightful revelation in it.
  7. While we’re on movies, “Carol” was surprisingly lovely and real (and so gorgeous to look at; it captured the period perfectly). It was weird to see it at the Formerly The Spectrum, as, having moved away, I sorta assumed I’d never go there again. But there we were. “Brooklyn” was also a much better, more interesting, less sentimental film than I’d expected it to be. (Sometimes these things just go a certain way. This one didn’t, quite.)
  8. The photographs of Dave Heath, still on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Incredible street/life photography from the ’50s and ’60s, the kind of work that I used to want to do.
  9. There is a serious ice cream shortage going on around here. Our neighborhood shop is seasonal, and this is not the season. There are some others around, but not quite of that quality, and the good one over in Royersford requires getting in the car, which is something we tend not to do. The jones hit me so hard that I was thrilled to find some form of a premium chain store near where I had to take a computer for repair, but in the end I put on my McKayla Maroney unimpressed face. So either spring’s gotta come or I’ve gotta drive somewhere for good ice cream.
  10. My first experiment with little adhesive LED lighting strips turned out a 94% success. Which is pretty good. (I’d be happier had I gotten them to line up very straight, but that proved tricky). We needed a light source in the living room that wouldn’t bounce off the TV screen at night, and nothing commercial seemed to be working out, so I pretty much built my own sconce and integrated it into the window trim . . . up high, dimmable, provides more than adequate evening light and doesn’t reflect at all. But those little strips are just a touch more finicky when it comes to connections than they lead you to believe.

You can’t go home again, but home does ship UPS

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When we moved from Syracuse back to the Capital District, there were a few things left behind that we knew we’d miss and had a hard time finding replacements for – Hofmann’s coneys, fisherman’s cheese, Hyman Smith coffee (and, in restaurants, Paul deLima coffee). But we settled in and picked up the food traditions of greater Albany, and largely forgot that when we moved to the depths of Pennsylvania, there would again be some things we would miss. Some were to be expected, some were complete surprises. And while the local devotion to pretzels is . . . charming, and there are these satanic cookies called Sweetzel’s mini-cremes, it doesn’t quite replace what we left behind.

  • Bagels. You don’t have to tell me that, on the whole, bagels in the Capital District aren’t like bagels in New York City. I know. (But, hey, try Psychedelicatessen’s, because they’re pretty damn good.) In fact, these days most of the bagels in New York aren’t like the bagels in New York. But trust me, if you lived where I live now, you’d be dying for something that even remotely resembled a Bruegger’s bagel. Most of them come out more like a hard roll than a bagel.
  • Ginger biscotti from Our Daily Bread in Chatham. Please, ODB, please: Offer to ship. Right now we rely on friends, relatives and our occasional trips back home to keep our stockpile going.
  • Lucy Jo’s Coffee. While we love what they serve up at Spill’n the Beans, we became big fans of Lucy Jo’s as well. We didn’t think we’d have trouble finding another coffee roaster in the trendy suburbs of Philadelphia, where we have a whole foods store that isn’t that whole foods store. But, weirdly, haven’t found anything local that wowed us. Happily, Lucy Jo’s does ship, and quickly, so we can keep getting our Brink on.
  • Not actually from the Capital District, but similarly, we haven’t been as smitten with local pasta makers as we were with Flour City Pasta, which makes a tremendous variety of grain types and flavors, and it’s all of such quality that I swore off ever eating grocery store pasta again. They’re from Macedon, out near Rochester, but they come to the Troy Farmer’s Market most weeks, and are also more than happy to ship us their great stuff.
  • Fish fry. I didn’t understand that fish fry was a regional thing. Don’t misunderstand: there are restaurants with fried fish of the haddock/cod variety. It exists. But there aren’t delicious homey little seasonal fish fry stands that serve a simple fish fry in a paper boat with enough fries to put you under.
  • Cider donuts. Pennsylvania has amazing apples. Pennsylvania has good cider. Pennsylvania has good donuts along the nature of a fry cake. But do they have cider donuts as an upstate New Yorker would recognize them? They do not.
    • I need to qualify that statement, and then unqualify it. When I tell people around here that I can’t find a cider donut, they look at me amazed, and then recommend places where they are supposed to exist. Most of those places are miles and miles from here, and on the rare occasion when I have tried to hunt them down I’ve found something that really wasn’t what we’d consider a cider donut – they may be donuts, and they may have cider in them, but something isn’t right. And then I make the point that I shouldn’t have to drive half an hour (around here, that’s about 10 miles) to find such a thing, that in fact I can hardly cross the street without tripping on one where I come from. Further, we have stopped at tens of farm stands that absolutely should have had cider donuts, only to be greeted with quizzical looks.
    • Then, at the local farmer’s market, one of the cookie and scone bakeries had cider donuts. I kvelled for a minute, in a way that may have startled the proprietress. She asked, “How many do you want?” I said, “I want ALL the cider donuts!” “Oooohhhkay.” “How much are they?” “Two dollars.” I thought I had misheard, because surely a half-dozen cider donuts has to go for more than two dollars. Well, I had, and it does . . . because what she meant was two dollars per donut. And by that time, I was so desperate for a fix that I paid it. It was, if you have never had an upstate New York cider donut, a perfectly fine piece of confectionery . . . a firm, flavorful fry cake that in absolutely no way whatsoever resembled a cider donut.