We’ve sort of been on hiatus for a few weeks, cozying up in our living room with the snuggle dogs. Matt’s been busy at work. We haven’t had a lot to report lately. This weekend I did get a little bit back into the home improvement game.
I’ve been starting to change out our electrical outlets for tamper resistant ones as required by recently-updated code, as I was informed at our electrical inspection. There was one particular outlet in the kitchen where I’d had to remove and replace the receptacle a couple of times already due to construction in the kitchen, and now I was going to have to do it again. I get a little paranoid about the integrity of the wires after they’ve been bent a number of times. Bending back and forth makes metal harder and more brittle, like when you bend a paperclip a few times and then it breaks. The electrical wire is copper and much thicker, so doesn’t break easily like a paperclip, and the wire was probably just fine, but I don’t like to take any chances. To be safe, I wanted to just go ahead and run some brand new wire from the outlet. That means putting in a junction box in the crawl space. As I was getting ready to go down there, I mentioned something about spiders to Matt. He tried to reassure me by saying they’re all dead by this time of year (after having laid millions of eggs that will hatch into spider babies come spring). Well, I go into the crawl space, and wouldn’t you know it, right next to the wire in question was one of the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen. Ugh. I decided that the junction box could wait until later, but the dogs really needed to go to the dog park. I’ll do the work in the crawl space later… One of our two main circuits in the kitchen is off right now, so I’ll have to do it soon. Maybe the spider will relocate by the time I go back into the crawl space. If not, I’ll just have to suck it up and rub elbows with him while I put in that junction box.
While our To Do list is ever expanding, we feel pretty good about all the stuff we accomplished, and on occasion hired someone to accomplish so it could be done in a reasonable timeframe. The outside of the house is sealed up tight and ready for winter. We have endless hot water and a lovely fireplace to keep warm snuggled up on plenty of couch space for the two of us, two dogs, and even a few guests. The weather is already turning to Seattle winter mode: cool, rainy, and progressively shorter days. We’ll try to keep working on indoor projects over the winter, but for now we’re in a bit of a lull. Matt is studying for a professional test and I haven’t been feeling well this week, so between that and our day jobs and regular chores, we haven’t been doing a lot of fun DIY stuff. The guys from Filco will be working on the oil leakage in the front yard issue, but since we already filled out the paperwork, that shouldn’t take up much of our time. I plan to spend some time emulating these two:
I’m already missing the great things about summer: long days staying outside, barbecuing, evening trips to the dog park, non-muddy dog feet, fruits and veggies fresh from the garden, open windows… but I’m looking forward to cozy nights in front of the fire and other fun winter activities.
Are you excited about fall and winter, or can’t get over summer?
On occasion I think to myself, “I would not like to get in a wrestling match with dude X.” A couple hours after Pat and Matt showed up to remove the oil tank, I thought, “I would not like to get in a shoveling competition with Pat.” Not to mention, I wrestling with them probably wouldn’t be too much fun either. And this coming from a guy who loves to dig. That said, I don’t think I’m ready to make oil tank removal my vocation anytime soon.
The guys get started by laying out plastic to pile the refuse (dirt/soil) from their dig. Then after some head scratching about exactly where the tank is and making sure where the gas line is they start digging. Before I even knew it they had moved my landscaping obstacles. No fooling around with these guys. And the digging continued…
Fast forward. The guys dug like banshees but even they had to submit to the rocky hard pack and get a pneumatic shovel. They set up a super slick scaffold with a come-along winch (yes Kelly, I’m learning the difference).
Edit: note from Kelly: Matt used to get the words “winch” and “wench” confused, which was pretty entertaining. Good job, hubby.
Fortunately our tank was pretty much empty but clearly they’ve lifted some heavier ones because that beam is seriously and permanently bent.
Uh oh. Plenty of leakage (the black on the underside). Thank God, wait, and the EPA and WA State Department of Ecology for having a Pollution Liability Insurance program. We’re on the hook for the removal but that pales in comparison to the cleanup cost and because we were having the tank removed within 30 days of converting to an alternative fuel, the insurance will basically cover the cleanup.
A different view of the corroded and leaky tank. It’s not leaky like oil was pouring out but definitely with the pressure of a full tank I can imagine the rates of leakage are non-trivial.
6 foot man in a 6 foot hole. Fortunately no bones were found. Not like we have put much in the way of bones in the yard but ya never know. Our backyard is a trip because glass practically grows in the soil back there.
After they were done removing the tank all the fun paperwork begins. Fortunately that’s been pretty easy. They covered the excavation and fenced around it. I reminded them to cover the dirt pile (which will have to be disposed of—again, it’s not like there’s an oil slick coming out of it but there has definitely been a not-so-sweet aroma of oil in my front yard since the removal).
Did the guys do a good job? As far as I can tell. I did add more plastic because a sheet of old broken plywood was definitely not going to keep water out of the pit. I just hope they finish the job before we get a lot of rain and matters get complicated. I did have to terminate my tomatillos early but they were more of an experiment so not too big of a loss. Fortunately I think all of my plantings that had to be moved are going to survive their untimely uprooting (late summer is not a great time to be moving heat and water stressed plants).
In my post about our newly painted house, did you happen to notice the mess in our front yard? Allow me to point it out in case you missed it. You were probably focused on how great the house itself is looking these days.
It would be more noticeable if the orange fencing was upright and surrounding the gaping hole in our front yard like it’s supposed to be, but it had to come down so the painters could maneuver around the house, so it’s kind of in a heap right now. There’s a big sheet of plywood covering the hole right now to keep people from falling in.
And why, you may ask, is there a big hole in our front yard? Now that we’ve made the switch from oil to natural gas heat, getting rid of our 1950’s oil furnace and gaining a gorgeous and efficient gas fireplace, we had to decommission the oil tank. Local law requires unused buried oil tanks to be cleaned, filled, and capped, or removed entirely. We opted to have it removed. When the contractor dug out the old oil tank, they discovered it had been leaking oil into the soil around it. Not surprisingly, test results showed the soil contamination was over the legal limit. We had hoped this wouldn’t be the case, but fortunately we were prepared for it anyway. The good news is that our state (Washington) sponsors a free insurance program, PLIA, to cover cleanup of leaking heating oil tanks. We signed up for it as soon as we bought our house, so this shouldn’t cost us any extra money. Whew. The bad news is that:
1) we have a big hole in the front yard and we have to wait for the state to approve our claim before cleanup can start;
2) the hole smells like oil, yuck;
3) the contractor will have to dig up even more of the yard to remove the contaminated soil; and
4) this whole thing is going to take several weeks at least.
So for now we have to live with this mess in the yard (hey, we’ve been living with various messes for two years, why stop now?), and just be grateful that it’s not going to cost us a fortune and it’s probably not going to involve excavating the entire yard. Maybe I shouldn’t say that and jinx it. After all, I once said the tank probably wasn’t leaking. In picture format. See? D’oh.
LUST = leaking underground storage tank. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the contamination isn’t any worse than our contractor estimated.
Procrastination wins and losses (or, tape residue on weatherstripping finally removed)
I have always been a procrastinator. In middle school and high school, I just barely caught the school bus in the morning. Every. single. day. And the only reason I actually did catch the bus was because for some strange reason, the kids would all stand on one corner while waiting for the bus and then when they saw the bus coming down the street they would cross to the other side where the bus would pick them up. I could see that corner from my house, so I had a 30-second heads-up to grab my backpack and a pop tart (that my Mom would toast and leave for me next to the front door) and run across the street just in time to get on the bus. In college, most of my papers were turned in hot off the printer. Including my thesis, which if late would have caused me to not graduate on time. Somehow I always squeaked by. Maybe I thrive under pressure. Or maybe I just haven’t learned a valuable life skill. Potato, potahto.
Though I do view my tendency to procrastinate as a character flaw that sometimes results in problems (like how I’m frequently either almost late or actually late to appointments - though I do have a better track record with really important appointments, it’s not stellar), I have also found that sometimes procrastination saves me from doing unneeded work. Sometimes while tasks are waiting for me to do them, they “go away.” Never got around to painting the kitchen? Good, ‘cause now we’re cutting giant holes in the wall to run wire through them and that paint job would have to be redone. Haven’t started that project my boss thought of yesterday? No problem, today he changed his mind and doesn’t want it after all.
On the other hand, sometimes procrastination creates more work. For example, when I painted the brick molding around the front door, I taped off the weatherstripping so I wouldn’t get paint on it. But then I left the tape on for a few weeks, and by the time I pulled it off, there was some tape residue that just wouldn’t come off. Oops. I can’t say for sure the tape would have come off cleanly if I removed it right away (I used regular masking tape instead of painter’s tape, which was not ideal), but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as bad.
Guess what I did next. I procrastinated again. Sure, I could have tried various methods to get the residue off, or just bought new weatherstripping, but I thought “maybe later.” ’Cause that’s how I roll. And here’s what it looked like:
Fast forward to a year and four months later when the house gets painted (this is when I took the photos above, and as you can see the tape residue was still there, ugly as ever). The painters removed the weatherstripping before painting the door and its trim, which is probably what I should have done when I painted the trim, but it just never occurred to me. As the weatherstripping lay on my living room floor, I noticed that ugly tape residue. I rubbed it with my finger, and it started to come off. Being out in the elements for over a year had dried it out. ”Sweet,” I thought, “procrastination pays off again! Now I can finally clean these up after a year of looking gross.” But did I? No, I waited. I waited one day. And in that day, the painters put the weatherstripping back into the door frame. Right next to the freshly painted trim, which I did not want to ruin. Shoot. Procrastination is a fickle mistress. (Is that an expression or did I just make that up?) Fortunately, I saw how easy it was to remove the weatherstripping, and the next day I pulled it out again, cleaned it with the scrubby side of a sponge, and put it back. See, all clean:
Here’s a funny twist to this story. When Matt re-sided the house last year and replaced all the windows, he also replaced the brick molding around the front door with the same trim he used around the windows. So I actually could have procrastinated on the entire molding-painting project and IT WOULD HAVE GONE AWAY, thus saving me from both the painting task and the tape residue issue. This is how things work in my world.
I found this recipe in a recent issue of Whole Living magazine. I tore it out because I knew we had squash that needed to be eaten and the recipe looked pretty simple. I can’t find it on Whole Living’s website, but it is online here. We were out of onions, which is unusual for us, but we had a lot of leeks from the garden so I substituted those. With tomatoes and potatoes from the garden, plus Matt’s yellow squash, this unintentionally became a dish made almost entirely of foods Matt grew. Just olive oil, spices and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese were from the store.
We loved it. We ate half of it on the first night and finished up the rest as leftovers the next day. Easy, healthy, and delicious.
After some back and forth about whether to DIY this one, we decided to hire someone to paint the house. Matt seriously considered renting a sprayer and doing it himself (with some help from me), but we have been very busy lately and we knew it would be much quicker to have a pro paint it. We are happy with that decision. After getting several quotes, we chose a company that was highly recommended by a friend with reasonable prices. They did it in two days. Who knows how long it would have taken us to complete it. Meanwhile, it is fall now, which means the days are shorter and the ones with good weather for painting are going to get fewer and farther between. As you may know, we took some time to think about the color, too. We finally decided to throw caution to the wind and go with our favorite color instead of one that would be safe (and maybe even a little boring, in our opinion). We could not be happier with the results. Are you ready for the big reveal? Here it is:
And the back of the house:
The color is looking more blue on my computer screen. It’s teal, and the color can look more green or more blue depending on the light.
I can hardly remember what the house used to look like. Looking back at the progression, I realize how far we have come!
March 2010 (by this point, we had installed the new front door and Matt had added small planting beds to the front hard, but that’s about it):
Ugh, I hated that brick facade on the front so much! And the paint color was just so blah. The windows were pretty bad. In some areas, the paint was in bad shape.
November 2010 (old siding removed, insulation added to exterior walls, new windows installed, housewrap - all DIY by Matt):
A few weeks ago - early September 2011 (new siding, new windows, window trim, more plants, and color swatches to help us decide on the color - all DIY):
Now - late September 2011 (new paint on everything, and you can see the fence and gate - DIY by Matt with help from Robert - in this photo):
We know our color decision was sort of a bold one. With a few exceptions, most of the houses on our street are a very muted palette. That’s a nice way of putting it. I’d say most are drab. Anyway, I was a little bit anxious when I first saw the finished results, but I no longer feel that way. I think our house is the best looking one on the street. Maybe we’ll start a trend.
I decided that I really like the way the fence looks with the paint color. I’d love to get a wood front door and garage doors. If we decide that’s not in the budget, maybe I’ll attempt a faux wood paint job, but only if I can get it to look realistic. I’ve seen a couple of blue houses with warm wood doors, like one of my inspiration houses below, and I think they look so sweet.
We always say that Max and Sonny are both wonderful, and as a pair they are fantastic, but we’d be in trouble if we had two Maxes or two Sonnys. They have complimentary strengths and weaknesses.
Take our trips to the dog park for example. We go about as often as we can, usually 3 times a week. When we’re getting ready to leave the house, Sonny is fairly calm and quiet. Max’s excitement just can’t be contained in his body, so we have to work to keep him under control. Although his whining and attempts to run in circles is annoying, Max is manageable, partly because Sonny is so good during this time. Once we’re at the dog park, Max is pretty much a dream. He stays nearby, checks in with us, and has great social skills (he plays with playful dogs, avoids less-friendly dogs, etc.) Max will fetch the ball 100 times and not get distracted by the zillions of sights, sounds, and smells at the park. Sonny has good social skills and positive interactions with other dogs, but we have to watch him because occasionally he plays a rougher than is ideal with stranger-dogs. We also have to watch him because his hunting instincts are very strong and when he gets into hunting mode, he tends to forget about us. At home, this manifests as a lot of stalking, sitting and watching for animals around the yard. The dog park we go to is 9 acres including a mile long path with trees, bushes, and tall grass. Sonny goes hunting for birds and maybe small animals in the bushes. If he spots something or goes on point, it’s very difficult to call him back. Once at the dog park, I was standing right next to Sonny and could not get him to break point. One of these days, I’ll remember to bring my camera to the dog park, but for now here’s a picture of Sonny pointing at a bird in our yard. Max sees it too, but his focus is not quite as intense.
Every time we go to the dog park, we do a lot of practice with recalls. I’m proud to say that both dogs are getting a lot better. They should be, after 50+ trips to the park over the last 6 months. Sonny was really terrible at first, and now he will often come back to us even from deep within his favorite hunting shrubbery. Of course it’s not all forward progress. I took the dogs to the park on a recent Saturday by myself, which makes it a little bit tougher to watch Sonny constantly. The dogs are so fast they can be out of sight in a couple of seconds. I lost him twice on that particular trip - the worst ever. But yesterday I took the dogs by myself again, and Sonny came every time I called him.
We’ll keep on practicing every day at home and elsewhere to strengthen our recalls. My goal is 100% reliability - will we ever get there? We may look for a hunting dog specific training program to help us learn to regain the dogs’ attention when their hunting instincts kick in and they get so focused on environmental stimuli. If anyone has advice on this, please let me know. In the meantime, we’ll keep chugging along, practice practice practice, building those neural pathways in their doggie brains.
The grass may be dead and brown, but Matt has been nursing his home and P-patch garden plots along, and we have some lovely fall produce.
Leeks, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, potatoes, and meets. We eat the beets (cooked, then chilled in the fridge) in salads. Matt made a delicious leek and potato soup. We need to make some zucchini bread, and I’d also like to try a simple recipe involving yellow squash, tomato, and potato that I recently ripped from a magazine.
One of the very first things we did after we moved into our house a little over two years ago was installed a new front door (one of our earliest posts!). The deadbolt and handle set is a Schlage R-series. Over the past few months, inserting the key into the deadbolt has gotten more and more difficult. It worked to lock or unlock the door, but each time we put the key in or pulled it out, it would catch on each bump of the key. Apparently keys can wear down and cause similar problems, but I knew it wasn’t the key because the same thing happened with copies I had made a long time ago and hardly used since. It was getting annoying, and I was a little worried that eventually it would get to the point where we couldn’t get the key in or out, and that would be a major problem.
From the inside, I removed the two screws holding the deadbolt to the door and started poking at it randomly investigating. I retrieved the installation instructions from my big file ‘o instruction manuals. It gave me no help to resolve this problem. Next, of course, I took to the internet. I looked at about a dozen sites, but the two that helped me were this doityourself.com forum and the Schlage Rekeying Manual. The bit from the forum that helped was that if a key is stuck in the lock, the tailpiece retainer probably needs to be adjusted or tightened. OK, I didn’t know what a tailpiece retainer was, and a quick internet search didn’t turn up anything helpful. Somehow in looking through the Schlage Rekeying Manual, I decided that step 6c on page 25 was what I needed to do, since it also mentioned tightening something (the cylinder cap = tailpiece retainer?) if the key wouldn’t come out.
Nevermind that the manual assumed I would have rekeying kit. With a little bit of trial and error, I figured out that a paperclip and a pair of needlenosed pliers worked just fine. Here’s what the back of the deadbolt looks like:
Can you see the little pin sticking up through one of the notches, at about 11 o’clock? Basically, my understanding is that “tightening the tailpiece retainer/cylinder cap” means turning the notched part clockwise while that pin and its associated parts stay in place. The pin has to be pushed down, which I did using my bent paperclip, while I turned the notched part clockwise with my finger or my needlenosed pliers. The green dot is a Sharpie mark I made next to the notch where the pin originally rested. I turned it one notch at a time, testing the key after each turn. I made it to five notches (that last notch was not easy, so maybe I shouldn’t have even gone there), but the key was a bit harder to turn at that point, so I went back to four, which was just right. I put the deadbolt back together in the front door.
And guess what: I did it! The key actually goes in and out more easily now, and I don’t seem to have damaged the lock in any way. I’m kind of proud of myself for figuring out what needed to be done and doing it with improvised tools. I make no warranties or guarantees on this technique, but for me it was pretty quick and saved the cost of a locksmith. Woohoo!
These photos might be nominally referred to as “before and after,” but “after” is not an accurate description of where we are. Let’s go with “in progress.”
Fireplace in progress:
Other living room Before:
Living room in progress:
Apologies for the bad lighting and overall messiness. If you can overlook those, I think you’ll agree that the new floor plan (which we’ve been anticipating for well over a year) is much more open and makes the new fireplace the focal point of the room.
Wall-mounted TV over the fireplace. Also got cable after not having it for the past 2.5 years. Which is proving to be a bit overwhelming for me.
New Ikea Manstad corner sofa (yes, both sofas would look better without blankets draped over them, and I have a solution in mind for that, but for now this is how we roll because we enjoy having dogs on the furniture)
Rearranged most of the furniture in the room and gave away or sold several items including the TV stand.
When guests enter through the front door, they are no longer funneled into an awkward area behind the couch.
More room to do workouts in the living room.
New yellow shelf above and to the left of the fireplace - our friend and former (sniff!) next door neighbor Robert built this for his house, which is identical to ours, and since it’s a custom shelf for a space that only exists in the houses on our street, he had no use for it when he moved. It was black until Matt painted it yellow.
Dog crates are now under the wood table, where they fit perfectly. We gave the chairs away, which was a little bit sad for me. I got the table and set of 4 chairs at the Salvation Army in my hometown almost 10 years ago right before I moved into my first apartment after college. I’ve used them in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. The table was my desk for the past two years, but now that’s not possible with the dog crates underneath, so I’m using a folding table which you might catch a glimpse of (see my laptop in the last photo?) Also note to self: get some folding chairs so people can sit down if we have a dinner party.
Many more improvements are still on the To Do list, but we are feeling mighty fine about this batch of changes. We are ready for fall and winter: we will be so cozy snuggled up on our couches with dogs and our fireplace keeping us warm.
There’s been a fair bit of the spending lately but I’m happy to report that we’re going to be saving on our energy bill, saving (gaining) space in our small ~840 sq. ft house, and be ready for new projects; that is, after we finish the pesky final touches on our just completed ones— let’s not get bogged down in the painful details of holes in the walls and replacing all the new electrical outlets with tamper proof ones (no, we’re not insane, Kelly has to do it to pass inspection). So in the last two weeks we wrapped up the high efficiency gas fireplace/tankless gas water heater project, 80% of the siding caulking (after finishing the siding and soffit projects), majorly rearranged the living room, and finished the bathroom window tiling (which means the shower “wall of plastic sheeting” is gone— I love you Kelly for getting ‘er done!).
The old water heater supposedly cost us $520 a year! I guess that doesn’t seem so bad for hot showers :-)
Here’s the new tankless water heater: a Rinnai. Estimated annual operational cost of $225— less than half the cost of operating our old one! I suppose if I take two hour showers as has been suggested to me then the savings would go up in steam.
What a beautiful machine. So small yet so powerful. It sits on the outside of the house and basically gives us a pantry that’s twice as big— say 25 sq. ft extra! (Sorry for all of the exclamations but recounting our gains is making me giddy.)
A project wouldn’t be complete without a hole in the wall now would it? At least not in our house!
The guys from Handy’s Heating (from a fur piece north of us) were great. We paid a pretty penny for their labor but they knew what they were doing and got the job done fast. I ordered pizza both days they were here (about three months separated their visits while we worked out the plumbing and electrical). I enjoyed getting to know them and I think they appreciated a little bit of hospitality. I worked in construction for a few summers growing up and I just want to say I always appreciated working hard for somebody and having them show their appreciation with hospitality and not just cold hard cash (which doesn’t hurt either). I gave them a tip which was nowhere near 10% but if I was in their shoes I would have appreciated any tip— so that’s what I did and I think they left knowing we really appreciated doing business with them.
That’s it for now. The 500 pound guerrilla in the room has me wondering whether my potential painter is in fact going to be our painter. Finger’s crossed because I’m ready to slow down on the projects and get out in the woods and chase my quarry— elk (and tend to some professional business that really needs to take precedence over projects… not hunting though!)
As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve basically skipped the siding project. But fortunately in actual life, the project is coming to a close and the biggest remaining hurdle was how to replace the old soffit. I’m not sure my solution is actually called soffit; a professional might say it is “wrapping” the rafters of the roof trusses. To me they’re one and the same and I’m going to call it soffit. Here’s how I did it.
4x8 foot 1/2” ACX plywood sheets (the A means that one face is basically free of knots and blemishes whereas the C means there are some knots). The sheets had a smooth finish. I primed them with Killz interior/exterior primer.
I made a pair of short scaffolds for working under the eaves from a taller scaffold I had built for working on the gable ends of the house. I used a circular saw and my siding nail gun to build the scaffolding. I didn’t worry too much about making it look pretty. That said, the scaffolds needed to support my shifting wait so bracing the legs was important for giving the scaffold shear strength (to not collapse to one side or the other). Siding nails don’t have much shear strength so they’re not dependable for weighty applications but I had a lot of them and they were good enough for some ad hoc scaffolding.
I inserted plastic soffit chuting between the rafters and then blocked underneath them. The former creates a passage for air to flow from the attic to the soffit vent after more insulation is blown into the attic. The latter, blocking, keeps insulation from moving into the soffit and blocking the soffit vent.
I did the layout by snapping a chalk line 5 inches away from the fascia and pulling the line taught between two nails at either end of the eaves. Before putting up the plywood and venting, to keep small critters from getting through the vent slots, I stapled 6” screen along my chalk reference line.
You can see there is a pretty big gap between my plywood and the back of the fascia. This is partly due to waves in the fascia, partly due to my lack of precision, and maybe partly due to harmonics (small waves) setting up the line as it was snapped and bounced off the rafters. The finished product looks pretty good with caulking and if I were to make it perfect I’d still be working on it. Definitely important in a project to balance perfection against time investment. I loosely nailed the first run of plywood near the fascia to make inserting the venting flange under it easy. I put up all of the plywood by the fascia, then all of the venting, then finished with the plywood near the side of the house. As I slid the venting in I placed more nails in the first rung of plywood. After I had all of the plywood up I thoroughly nailed everything with 15 gauge electro-galvanized (or galvanized or stainless—I can’t remember but I made sure they were rated for exterior use).
Here’s a close-up. The butt ends of the plywood end at the rafters so they could be securely nailed. I didn’t nail the soffit into the fascia at all because I figure some day I may want to replace the fascia and I don’t want to have to redo the soffit when the time comes.
CURRENT STATUS: I still have to finish the caulking. Since getting the soffit put up I’ve been learning about painting the exterior of the house by watching YouTube, reading up on the web, and getting some quotes. I’m going back and forth on whether or not I should save the money and do the painting myself or save the time and have someone else do it.
We’ve had three sample patches of paint on the front and back of our house for a couple of weeks now. For a while I thought I was fine with choosing one of them, but then I decided I needed to see some other options. I painted them onto the house today. They look so different in the bright sunlight vs. the shade.
Matt’s first reaction to the two bright ones was “beautiful colors, but not for the exterior of the house.” I understand where he’s coming from, and part of me agrees, but the other part wonders why we can’t be bold and go for it. They do look more like the inspiration houses I mentioned yesterday, but are my colors even brighter than that - too bright? If we try to capture the cute, sweet vibe of these houses, will we overshoot the mark and end up with a clown house? Eek!
I feel myself teetering on the edge of paralytic indecisiveness. Must. not. fall. over. We need to just pick one and get the house painted. Why is it so difficult to choose a paint color? Help!
We are all over the map right now. Today the tankless water heater AND the Mantis fireplace insert were installed. Actually, finally, completely installed and in operation! Well, the fireplace isn’t much in operation because it’s summer, but it could be. We had to check a whole bunch of things off our list before that could happen. It took a while to get it all done, but we did it! Since the old water heater is inside our house and the new one will be attached to an outside wall, Matt had to reroute some plumbing underneath the house. Then we had the county inspector come by to check out the new water piping along with the gas piping put in by our heating contractor a while back. Everything passed with flying colors.
We also passed the city “cover inspection” for the new electrical circuits, but I learned of a couple of things I have to do before the final inspection: add a whole new circuit for the washing machine (thought I could get away with it since the circuit it’s on has almost nothing else) and replace ALL my receptacles (AKA outlets, or "holes" according to Slippery Pete) with tamper resistant ones. Seattle adopted this code change right after I started doing electrical work in our house. My previous permit was subject to the old code, but my current permit is subject to the new code. Go figure.
Meanwhile, the inspector only looked at the panel for a brief moment. I guess she found the rest of my work so stellar (aside from that tamper resistant outlet oversight) that she trusted it would be good, and a quick look was sufficient to confirm? Well, I gotta show it to someone besides Matt. I spent a lot of time working on the electrical wiring and whatnot. I have a total of 7 new circuits in effect, and I hope to have replaced virtually all of the wiring in the house by next year.
Over the weekend, we also did the following random things:
Matt assembled our new Manstad sofa which we ordered and had delivered because they didn’t have it in stock when we were at the store the previous weekend. This required us to rearrange our entire living room, something we’d been planning to do for a very long time. We are extremely pleased with the new arrangement. Photos coming soon.
I finished setting the tile around the window in the shower. The window has been there for something like 10 months with a sheet of plastic covering most of the wall because I kept procrastinating finding more important things to do. Now all I have to do is grout and caulk. I will tell you all about it later. With photos.
Tried unsuccessfully to make a final decision on a paint color for the outside of our house. In fact, today I went in the opposite direction and purchased three new paint samples to consider in addition to the ones already on the house:
They’re just not doing it for me. Here are a few pics I snapped around the neighborhood for inspiration:
Maybe one of the new samples will be the one. If we can get our house painted soon, we will be ready for fall/winter!
We have been scarfing down popsicles all summer. Store bought ones (we love FrutStix) and homemade ones. I heard some buzz on the internet recently about one ingredient ice cream, and though I haven’t tried the recipe yet, it seemed natural that if you can make ice cream from bananas and nothing else, they would make a good popsicle too. Matt is a bit of a banana fiend; it is his #1 item on our regular grocery list. I grabbed a few slightly overripe ones, mashed them with a fork, and started filling my popsicle mold.
So far so good. I had filled 3 molds with plain banana. Then I thought “You know what would be great? Banana popsicles with a chocolate coating.”
Kind of like this one made by FrutStix but apparently not carried by our smallish co-op grocery store. Mmm. Note to self: shop around for these things. Anyway, for some reason I thought I could melt some chocolate chips, smear the chocolate on the inside of the popsicle mold, fill with creamed bananas, and it would pop out of the freezer with a nice chocolate shell. Well, I thought that up until I smeared the chocolate inside the molds using a chopstick. About 5 seconds later, I realized there was no way that chocolate was going to slide out of the mold after freezing the pops. It was too late though, so I forged ahead.
"Hm, maybe this was not such a good idea."
And then I ran out of banana so I filled the remaining chocolate-smeared popsicle mold with actual ice cream, just to see what would happen. Fast-forward to the next day, I removed the popsicles from the freezer. As expected, the simple banana pops came out great. They were pretty tasty, too.
The chocolate ones… disaster! Well, at least a little chocolate stuck to it. The ice cream pop came out badly too, but after a little while longer in the freezer, it stayed together long enough for Matt to eat it.
I think the chocolate coated pops could be achieved by first making the inside of the pop in the mold and freezing, then applying the coating and re-freezing. I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort though.
In better popsicle-related news, I made a batch of Lingonberry pops after our trip to Ikea the other day and they are fantastic. Best ever, maybe. Of course, I had to clean all that chocolate out of the molds first, which was kind of a pain.
My popsicle making advice is this:
Do get a set of popsicle molds. I find the ones that use good old fashioned wooden sticks (as opposed to plastic sticks) work best for me.
Do use fruit juice and/or blended fruit in your popsicle mold.
Don’t use melted chocolate in the popsicle mold. Save it for after-mold use if you must.
Do straighten out the popsicle sticks if needed (i.e., in juice) when the pops have just started to freeze. Otherwise, the pops come out crooked and with my setup, it’s difficult to remove the pops from their molds.
On Saturday we went to Ikea. We were shopping for several major things:
a sofa bed for guests (we got rid of our non-foldable futon bed in our guest room/office/storage room because we decided that it was taking up too much room for something that is used maybe 2% of the time) - highest priority because we have a guest coming to stay in a couple weeks
new furniture for the living room, though we’re still not completely decided on what configuration we want
various other things that we’ll consider buying later but wanted to look at, like a (better) bed for our room, wardrobes for our bedroom, foldable dining chairs, the list goes on
As usual, we spent almost 5 hours there. I’d guess about 2 hours of that was in the sofa & sofa bed section. We tried out every single sofa they had, many of them multiple times. We went in with a great idea that I thought I was pretty slick for thinking up: we were going to get this Karlstad corner sofa for the living room
and this Karlstad sofa bed in the same color for the guest room. I had read the assembly instructions for both carefully, and I am pretty confident you could make a couple of minor tweaks and substitute the sofa bed for the equivalent part of the corner sofa, leaving you with a corner sofa bed plus a regular sofa. This would be great for us because if we ever needed to turn our guest room into something like a nursery, the living room could become the guest room without messing up our furniture configuration. We sat on the sofa and we loved it. Then we sat on the sofa bed and we did not love it at all. It was so much less comfortable than the regular sofa! We tried to like it, but it was just not working. So we had to abandon the whole Karlstad-hacking plan, and ended up sitting on all the sofas and sofa beds trying to decide which would work for our situation and were actually comfortable.
In the end, the only thing we bought for the living room was this Ektorp Bromma footstool. This was a bit risky considering that we don’t know what we’re going to do with the rest of the living room furniture, but it was not too expensive and it’s already coming in handy. It can be a footrest, a seat, or with a tray on top you can put drinks and food on it (we gave away our coffee table and are thinking about not replacing it). It’s also nice to have a place to put blankets and throw pillows so the dogs don’t knock them onto the floor.
As for the sofa bed, we eventually settled on this Beddinge Resmo (the best mattress of the four available - you can really feel the difference and we want it to be comfy for our guests). It is pretty good looking too. Maybe we’ll paint the frame someday for an even better look.
We like to stop in the cafeteria to regroup and re-energize in the middle of these long shopping trips. Matt always gets the Swedish meatballs. I had split pea soup. On the way out we like to snag our favorite cookies. I don’t even know what we were doing the rest of our time there. We get caught up looking through all the departments; it’s fun to see what they have.
Finally we got home. Somehow we still had some energy. I put the footstool together in about 10 minutes and it’s great. We got the sofa bed frame pieces out and started to put it together. And then we noticed that instead of two opposite pieces of the side of the frame, our box came with two of the same pieces, making it impossible to continue. Argh! We have bought a lot of stuff from Ikea and I can’t recall ever missing even a little piece of hardware. Oh well. Matt called the next day, explained to them which piece it was, and they are sending us the right piece. Fortunately, we should have it in plenty of time for our guest.
Now we have to figure out what furniture to get for the living room and how to arrange it all. This stuff is always harder than I think and ends up taking forever.
I’m not even going to refer to the area in front of our house as a yard anymore. It does have some grass (for now), but Matt has essentially transformed the yard into a garden. We have some crazy garlic/onion/? seed pods that I think are pretty cool looking.
Raspberries - sooo delicious. Several nice harvests over the past few weeks.
Pretty flowers, I don’t know their names. Matt put in a nice selection that between different plants have been blooming since spring.
Mixed herb and ornamentals. Matt tossed in a few stone and ceramic tiles we picked out of the Free bin outside of our tile store when we picked up the slate for our hearth. We were pulling away from the loading dock when we saw the bin, and we were practically drooling as we collected a number of nice random tiles plus a whole bunch of plain white ceramic tiles. I just couldn’t resist. I do admit that I have a mild hoarding problem. They will come in useful someday, I know it!
In the photo above, you can’t see it but our underground oil tank is lurking under the patch of grass between the garden bed, the poor rhododendron Matt hacked down to a sad collection of branches, and that bushy thing in the upper left corner. Now that we have burned through most of the oil in the tank are so close to having our new fireplace/heater installation completed, it’s time to decommission the tank. The options are decommission in place (clean it, fill it with sand or foam, and leave it in the ground) or removal. We are leaning toward removal so that we can be sure there was no leakage and we won’t have to deal with any concerns when we sell the house in a few years. I hope there is no leak found, or we could end up with a situation like this:
Seriously, this picture is nothing compared to what went down a block away from us last year. A house down the street had their entire yard excavated from property line to property line, sidewalk to under the house’s foundation, 12+ feet deep. I wish I had taken a picture; it was nuts. We do have PLIA, a state sponsored insurance program that should in theory pay for such a thing, but I would really like to not have that happen regardless of who’s paying.
Anyway, we’re gathering quotes from tank removal companies, and we’ll get that done soon. Please keep your fingers crossed!
As if you haven’t heard enough about my hearth tiling project! This may be of interest if you are embarking on a similar project of your own, or you are just abnormally interested in other people’s home improvement adventures (you are not alone, maybe we can start a support group).
Maybe the one perk of DIYing on the weekends only (as opposed to every day, which is what I would prefer to be doing instead of my regular job) is that it allows plenty of time between steps in a process. Time for thinset to dry and cure before grouting. Time to do more internet research on materials and methods. Time to think about what went wrong, what could go wrong, and how to do it right. Time to stop by the hardware store for that one extra supply. Time for my back and knees to recover after spending hours on the floor.
The posts in the hearth project series correlate pretty well with how much time it actually took me to do each part.
I find it interesting to note that what I originally thought of as being the whole process (part 4) only turned out to be about 25% of the process.
Materials used and cost (approximate):
K-rust slate tile (Brazilian), nominally 12x12 but actually a little smaller $5.88/tile x 10 tiles x 1.1 [10% extra for breakage] = $65
Schluter edging in antique bronze $22.10/piece x 2 pieces = $44 (with some left over for entryway project)
Schluter Ditra underlayment $83.70/roll x let’s say 20% of roll used = $17 (rest will be used for entryway)
concrete (left over from previous projects) $10
unmodified gray thinset (unmodified is a requirement when using Ditra) $5
natural gray sanded grout $6
sanded caulk $7
tile spacers $3
mixing paddle $13
1/4” notched trowel $7
grout and tile sealer $11
sundry supplies & tools, some from garage/estate sales $6
wet saw $0 (gift)
other tools already owned
Total = $205
Let’s not factor in how much time I spent on this. In reality, there is also some overhead in other tools that we have on hand, gloves, knee pads and the like, but I don’t want to get too crazy.
Last week I received an email from a reader who recently bought a house with a similar hearth. She wasn’t sure about replacing her own hearth until she read about our project, and now she is doing it! This is a scenario I had hoped for in writing this blog - that maybe sharing our experiences will help a few DIYers out there. Hearing from someone who is finding this useful really made my day. Thanks for sending me that email!
How quickly I forget to appreciate things like a functional kitchen, bathroom, electricity, windows, and all of the other wonderful things that make up our home. Even though only part of our kitchen was out of commission (just the sink and dishwasher - we still had our stove, refrigerator, microwave, most of our cabinets, and even our washer/dryer which live in the kitchen) for the last 5 days (which was supposed to be 2 days), it was seriously throwing off my game. Especially that last day when the dishwasher was moved from the yard to right in the middle of the kitchen. At this point, I can’t even imagine having the whole kitchen out of commission for months, which is a reality for many people during renovations. If When we redo the kitchen, we’re going to have to figure out a way to survive. Maybe doing it in the summer and setting up a temporary kitchen outside? I don’t even want to think about it right now!
I’ve been on a bit of an upgrade kick lately. Usually our DIY focus is on the house but the other day I decided that it was time to upgrade to Windows 7 and that I want to run two monitors. To go there, I needed a new graphics card. Why 7? Basically, I want to go to 7 so that I can try out the new Microsoft Movie Maker’s capability to edit my mp4 formatted Flip camera videos (the old Movie Maker doesn’t work with mp4). I’ll spare you all the happenings that led me to this decision at least until the end of this post. For now, I just want to show that it’s not that hard to open up your own black box and fix or upgrade it.
To date I’ve replaced the power supply, added ram, installed a DVD burner, and now replaced the graphics card.
The Sapphire graphics card was very easy to install (it’s the silver and black rectangular box with a fan in it). The back panel of my Dell has a clip that holds the metal plate attached to the card in place (the plate holds the DVI/VGA connector jacks). The clip just gets opened with your fingers (very easy). The card is then inserted into the PCI Express x16 slot and held in place by closing the aforementioned clip. There was a little blue clip near the slot that I had to also open up to pull the old card out of the slot and close to hold the new card in place. Handling the card was a little dicey because I didn’t want to touch the circuitry and I also didn’t want to drop it onto the motherboard (pretty much all the green behind the graphics card). FYI, the red cable is a SATA cable that I used to attach my optical drive (DVD burner) to the motherboard. SATA cables like these (not necessarily red) are also used to attach the hard drive to the motherboard.
The green cards are RAM. They’re very easy to install and basically allow your computer to run faster. The black square in the middle of the motherboard is an Intel 3.x processor.
These are the power supply cables. Very “Matrix” and very cool looking. I guess they’re not that special, but the mesh sleeve wrapped around the wires looks cool and keeps the wires conveniently bundled together.
BACKSTORY: I decided to do all of this because after installing Kubuntu (Linux) on a $220 refurbished ThinkPad laptop we bought from Woot.com the other day I realized that I could manage my Flip Video collection better than on Windows but video editing support was limited. After doing some research it looks like I can edit my HD Flip videos with the new Windows Live Movie Maker software (which is available in Windows 7). IMHO, there are suboptimal ways to work with the Flip HD videos on XP. For me, I have a lot to gain from using Windows and Linux so while a Mac would probably be a silver bullet for my problems I’m enjoying geeking out on the cheap.
We have been very busy lately, so much that I don’t have time to write about everything. So I’m just going to throw some photos at you, and you can make some educated guesses about what we’ve been up to. OK, I will give you some clues: soffits, entertaining 4 dogs, plumbing, drywall mudding.
I made this from the arms of a Snuggie and an old tennis ball:
It ain’t pretty, but it was well received (at first)
… and quickly forgotten
We also did this:
And in the end, it looked almost the same as before, but with slightly better walls and all new copper plumbing under the sink instead of corroded galvanized steel.
And with daily walks, trips to the dog park, and lots of playing in the yard, the dogs were content to hang out in our mini-construction zone.
Ah, for the life of a dog. While they lounged in the shade, Matt worked long hours in the garage and under the house. I made a few trips into the attic to run some wiring for our future back porch light and to make sure other wires were properly secured. Whew!
Over the weekend, Matt was building our new soffits. After several redesigns (on paper), he eventually decided to go with a simple design. We’ll provide an update soon to show the completed result. Or at least what we pass off as complete around here, which means fully functional but lacking finishing touches. In the meantime, here are a few progress shots.
The plastic sheeting that has been serving as our temporary soffits (and seems to have done its main job of keeping animals from making their home in our attic) is finally gone!
Matt is pretty good about protecting himself from the sun when working outside. He has been known to go shirtless once the sun is lower in the sky, but in the hours around noon, it’s long sleeves, a hat, and maybe even a t-shirt to protect his neck.
Meanwhile, I did a little bit of electrical work. We had already run wire for a new circuit to our future tankless water heater, which will be installed on the south exterior wall of the house. I decided to install an outlet on the inside of that wall to give the water heater ground fault protection. I’m not sure whether it needs to be GFCI protected, but it seemed like a good idea since the water heater will be outside, and if it turns out to be a requirement, I don’t want to have not done it and find out when the inspector comes. I looked at GFCI circuit breakers, but those things are about $50. A regular breaker is only a few dollars, and a GFCI outlet is under $10, so I just couldn’t see spending that much money when I could get the same effect for so much cheaper. A GFCI outlet protects the rest of the circuit that is downstream from it. That’s why your kitchen might have a couple of GFCI outlets and the rest are regular. Press the test button, and the rest of that circuit will turn off. Kitchens have to have at least two circuits serving the outlets, so it probably will only turn off half the outlets, most likely along the same wall.
I ended up installing a double outlet, mainly because I didn’t have on hand a single box that would attach to the side of a stud. And can you really have too many outlets? There is nothing else in this circuit. Matt had already opened up the whole wall because some plumbing will need to be done in there for the water heater. The inspector will want to see the connections in the box; the receptacles will be pushed into the box and covered with a plate later.
Then I covered it all up with copious amounts of painter’s tape, which I always do conscientiously ever since I once witnessed a spider come out of a hole we had cut in the wall. Never again! I also finally put a plate on the Cat-5 (ethernet) outlet we’d put in, oh almost two years ago and left hanging out of the wall with some more blue tape over it. It took about one minute to put that plate on. For shame.
I also replaced an old two-pronged outlet with a new three-pronged one, even though we haven’t upgrade the wiring to it yet, which means it is not grounded. The old outlet was just loose and ugly. The most annoying thing I’ve had to deal with in upgrading the electrical in this house is that someone painted over all the screws holding the outlets and switches to their boxes.
Every time I need to remove one, it is really hard to get the screwdriver to bite on the screw. I have tried scraping the paint out of the screw head with a razor blade, using an old chisel as a flathead screwdriver, and if I still can’t get a grip, sometimes I turn the screw with needle nosed pliers. I don’t know where this tool came from or what its intended purpose is, but it worked pretty well for me this time. If anyone knows what this is, please tell me.
I always label outlets as “not grounded” if they look grounded but aren’t - for safety and also to remind myself that a particular outlet still needs to be upgraded to new wiring.
We are making progress! I am almost ready to have my electrical work inspected, and once that is done, we can have the water heater installed and finalize the installation of the fireplace insert.
I finally got around to sorting and filing a big old stack of papers that had been accumulating for months. Naturally, this job requires watching some TV at the same time, so I was using the couch and coffee table. Sonny has some kind of radar for people getting up from the couch, so he was there as soon as I took a break. Max wanted to be on the couch too, but it was covered with papers, so he plopped down on top of Sonny. Classic Max.
Matt changed the brake pads on his bike last weekend. Which reminded me that my bike has had a flat tire for two years. Which means I haven’t ridden my bike in two years. Isn’t that sad? Matt has been riding his bike to the P-patch and to work, and obviously I haven’t ridden anywhere. I used to ride my bike all the time.
Well OK, I hereby vow to you People of the Internet that I will change the flat tire within one week. I bought a new inner tube about a year ago, plus some general maintenance & tune-up stuff (like chain degreaser and chain lubricant and I can’t even remember what else because it was a whole year ago) when I took a free bike maintenance class at REI. Actually it was two classes. Wow, this just gets worse and worse. I did make almost made an attempt to change the tire a month or two after those classes, but I got about as far as getting out all my tools and stuff and cleaned the chain before I started getting attacked by mosquitoes, so I called it quits. This could be one of my all time greatest feats of procrastination, and I have some doozies. Maybe the first step is admitting you have a problem. Hi, my name is Kelly and I haven’t ridden my bike in two years because I’ve been too lazy to change a flat tire. Deep breath. And now I can move forward.
I have been doing some sewing recently and it seemed like every other project I did went terribly, with the bobbin thread repeatedly getting all bunched up on the back of whatever I was sewing. And then other times I would sew something and it was completely fine with no issues. I had tried adjusting the tension and every other potential fix I could find in my manual and online, but nothing helped. I noticed that when I was sewing with red thread, I didn’t have the issue, but with white it was one tangle after another. I wondered if there was something different about the thread. But then I remembered that Sherry from YHL had issues using her new sewing machine and her problem turned out to be that she was using the wrong bobbin. Could it be? Have I had a set of bobbin saboteurs lurking in my sewing box all these years?
I compared my bobbins. It’s hard to tell unless you look closely, but the offending bobbin is just slightly smaller than the good one.
See it now? It reminds me of the old days of computer programming when I didn’t have a code editor and would spend hours trying to figure out why my code didn’t work, only to discover a single missing comma. Anyway, it turns out I have six good bobbins that came with my machine, and somewhere along the way I bought some new bobbins that have been intermittently making my life difficult ever since. On my latest trip to the fabric store (4th of July sale) I found this pack of bobbins on the super-sale rack, and it lists Kenmore, so I was hoping that meant it would work.
Before using them, I carefully compared them to my good bobbins. They seem to be the exact same dimensions, but I’ll be watching out for trouble just in case. I’ve tried one so far and didn’t have any tangles. What a relief!
I have to give a shout out to Sherry. Had she not 1) persevered through a very frustrating series of attempts at sewing long enough to finally figure out what the core problem was, 2) blogged about it, and 3) generally kept up a blog that I find so informative and entertaining that I read pretty much every post every day, then I probably wouldn’t have thought to look at the bobbin as the potential source of my problems. Blogging saves the day again!
Collapsible wire dog crates work really well for us. They are easy to bring with us when we travel. Folded flat, they don’t take up much room in the car. If we have them set up in the car so the boys can ride in them, they don’t block the view out the back. We do crate the dogs when we’re not home, but we’re getting pretty close to letting them stay home alone uncrated. We’ll still keep them set up though, as they’re really helpful when we need to make sure the dogs are out of trouble and harm’s way. Max actually loves his crate, and frequently chooses to spend time in there.
We have some ideas to incorporate the crates into the room’s furniture (someday when we completely reconfigure the room around the new fireplace) - either by building frames around them to turn them into side tables (as in the photo), or by building some kind of console, credenza, or shelving unit with built in space for them underneath. Either way, the crates themselves would be easily removable so we can take them with us, but when they’re in use at home, they’ll blend in to the decor.
Once we found the right size for our boys and scored two semi-matching ones (one was cheap on Craigslist, the other on sale from Petco.com), I felt like that was a pretty good stopping point in the overall plan, since we haven’t yet settled on exactly what we want to do. For now, the crates are just off to the side of the living room, and I often sort of use them as tables by just setting things on top of them. But one thing was bothering me. These crates come with a metal rectangle on the door with a sticker showing the the brand. I have a bit of an aversion to brands being displayed on anything I own and tend to remove such stickers, tags, etc. Anyway, I compulsively ripped those stickers off as soon as I got the crates. Only they were that annoying kind of sticker that rip instead of peeling off, and then they looked even worse.
I figured I’d put something else over them. I considered making name tags, but it seemed unnecessary and a little too cutesy, and besides, I have a collection of stickers just sitting in a box waiting to be used. Matt prefers that we don’t put any bumper stickers on our car because “it makes the car easy to follow,” which is problematic in an alternate universe where we’re either government operatives or criminals. Nevertheless, I hang on to these things because I’m secretly a hoarder they might come in handy sometime - like now, see keeping them all these years is totally justified and not crazy! Here’s a selection of stickers I considered for this little project:
I thought about going with something abstract, like combining a couple the green stickers with leaves, or going with an all-animal theme (dolphins, turtles, cows), Hawaiian theme (for some reason I bought a bunch of stickers on a trip there), or maybe cutting up the Mauna Kea invisible cows bumper sticker to create a quirky set. In the end, I thought the simple cow on a red background and a Mates of State (my favorite band) sticker just worked somehow. I just trimmed them down to size and stuck ‘em on.
In fits and starts I’m getting my new p-patch going. After I turned over the new plot, I knew that it was going to have to run on its own for awhile. Case in point: un-trellised snow peas (right-middle), weeds (everywhere), foot high crimson clover cover crop (back). I’m definitely taking the long view in this endeavor.
A little background: I’m transitioning out of a community garden I’ve been gardening at for almost seven years and into this new one. At the moment I have one foot in one garden and the other foot in the other garden. That equates to about double the ground to care for. While my feet are at the p-patches, my hands are always busy in my slowly emerging landscape/edible garden at home— maybe an order bigger of a task. If I ever become a farmer, I think this transition will have taught me some valuable lessons. Even if I don’t become a bonafide farmer, these garden lessons are good ones.
Lesson #1: It’s really important not to beat yourself up when things aren’t perfect.
Lesson #2: When you don’t have the time to make things perfect, do what you can to spin-up processes that are self-perpetuating.
—Plant legumes (I chose snow peas and cover crops because the timing was right for the former and the timing is almost always right for the latter). Both enrich and build the soil and peas/beans have the added bonus of yielding some wonderful edibles.
—Plant things that are hardy and yield a crop that can be harvested whenever and don’t necessarily need to be harvested all at once. I planted leeks.
—I dug permanent paths so that my movements wouldn’t compact the soil and impede root growth.
Over several weeks I collected the supplies to create walls along my footpaths. These walls will primarily serve to keep the soil in the beds from sloughing off into my paths (and thus keep me from having to routinely move dirt from the paths back to the beds and continually struggle to keep irrigation water from running off the beds rather than percolating into the soil).
I used cedar fence slats that are ~5/8”x5-1/2”, made stakes from whatever ~1” x 1” wood scraps I had around the yard/garage, and when I ran out 1x1 stakes, I just broke bamboo into stake size bits to temporarily anchor some of the cedar walls. I didn’t use any hardware to attach the slats to the stakes. I just let the pressure of the soil sandwich the slats against the stakes and the butt ends of the slats just butt together. I built what you see in probably half an hour and just needed a handsaw, hammer, and some string line (to aid me in building straight walls). Another bit of time was spent getting the supplies together, cutting the stakes, and getting all the materials to the garden… but pretty trivial.
I’m happy to say I harvested my first peas, removed the clover in minutes, removed the peas in a minute the minute after I harvested some pods (b/c I needed the space and didn’t want to fuss with trellising and knew I had a good crop coming in at home), planted my starts, watered, and finished up just before it got dark. Probably two and a half hours in all.
The next day I promptly abandoned my starts for five days (which I don’t recommend doing but life called). Without water my veggie-babies did suffer a few casualties… but hey, I’m happy with my imperfect garden and that happiness will keep me going back.
After my previous tile setting attempt, which failed became a preparatory step / learning experience, I felt I had a much better understanding of the materials I was working with and how to achieve the desired spatial relationship between the tile, edging, and surrounding wood floor.
I laid out all my materials and tools so I was ready to go.
Setting the tile
I mixed the thinset much thicker this time, to a nice sticky peanut butter consistency. I applied the thinset to the floor with a 1/4 inch square notched trowel along two of the edges first and set the edging in it. I pressed it down as far as it would go because I knew from drysetting everything over and over again that’s where it needed to sit. Normally, one lays tile starting in the middle of the field and working out to the edges, but I needed to start at the corners and work inward to make my edges line up perfectly. From my numerous dry runs, I already knew the spacing would work with 1/4 grout lines. In the field, I troweled notches perpendicular to the previous (hardened) notches. By holding the trowel at a shallower or steeper angle, I made the notches shorter or taller according to the little map I had made. (See previous post if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
It was pretty smooth sailing. I used shims to keep my edges even, and I pushed the mitered ends of the edging together until I had perfect corners. When I had all the tiles set, I started tapping on the tiles to make sure there was enough thinset under all areas of each tile. The very right front corner sounded hollow. I pushed the tile away from the corner as much as I could and saw that the thinset hadn’t squished over to the edges on that tile as much as I’d hoped. My first thought was to put some thinset in a ziploc bag with the corner cut off (like a pastry bag) and apply a bead of thinset around the edge and push the tile onto it.
I did that, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. Although the hearth won’t be walked on as much as if it was some other section of flooring, I worried that this particular tile being in the
front corner of the hearth could see some traffic over time, and I didn’t want to risk the tile getting broken due to not having enough thinset under it in the corner. So I lifted the tile using a concrete edger (similar to pictured, but obtained for $1 at a garage sale) to get under the edge and pull it up. That worked well. I scraped the thinset off the tile and the floor, rinsed the tile and let it dry while I troweled new thinset onto the floor, making sure my coverage was good all the way to the edges. I reset the tile and was happy with the result. You can see in the photo the piles of thinset I scraped off onto paper towels.
I had all my tiles set. Woohoo! I used my straight board again to make sure the tiles were all even with each other and the floor. Then I cleaned up any excess thinset from between the tiles, cleaned the surface of the tiles and edging, and cleaned all my tools. To keep the dogs from stepping on the tile for at least a day, I put the big piece of plywood over the hearth, raised up on some pieces of 2x4 set around the hearth.
Things I did differently (i.e., better) this time:
taped the dropcloth to the floor so it wouldn’t slide around
mixed thinset thick like sticky peanut butter
knew that I would have a couple hours to work with the thinset and that it would easily clean off the tile and edging when I was done, so didn’t panic if a tile needed to be reset or I got some thinset on surfaces
started with a base at the exact right height - key to success in this case
I waited almost a week to grout, not because the thinset needs that long to cure, but because I was working on weekends. On the advice of several people, before grouting I applied a sealant to my tiles to help keep the grout from sticking to them. This is unnecessary when working with glazed tiles, but with stone, the grout can get worked into the surface and be very hard to clean up unless it has been sealed. We like the look of the natural stone, so I made sure to use sealant that is not an enhancer (enhancer sort of makes it look wet all the time and emphasizes variations in the stone). I mixed up the grout according to directions, just mixing it by hand in a large yogurt container since I didn’t need a lot. I liked the ziploc bag as pastry bag method, so I dumped all of the grout into a bag and cut the corner off.
I applied a thick bead of grout to all the spaces between tiles and to the small space between the Schluter edging and the tile. Then I pushed the grout into the cracks with my float, worked it all the way in, and scraped off the extra. I did not grout between the edging and the wood floor nor between the tile and the brick facade of the fireplace (grouting between different materials such as tile to wood or floor to wall is a big tiling no-no as this will crack and cause problems over time, but the space between the edging and tile is meant to be grouted). To prevent any grout from accidentally getting in the space between the wood floor and the Schluter edging, I had applied blue painter’s tape. These spaces will be filled later with sanded caulk. [Edit: Two years later, I never did take the step of filling that gap with sanded caulk. It looks fine. The only time I regretted not doing it was when someone spilled a drink on the floor and I was a little bit worried about moisture in the crack. I may still do it sometime.] After letting the grout set up for about 15 minutes, I cleaned the tile surface repeatedly with a grout sponge (which apparently has magical properties and should not be replaced with a regular sponge) and clean water which I had to change a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t just smearing the grout around.
As the grout dried, I cleaned the tile again with my grout sponge, making sure to squeeze out as much water as possible. I checked every couple of hours to see if a haze was forming. I’ve read that this haze, if present, must be cleaned off before the grout cures or it may become extremely difficult to remove, so even though I didn’t see any haze, I buffed the tile again. And here it is all done.
We think it looks great. It’s almost perfectly flush with the wood floor; you can’t feel any height difference if you step on the edge. I really couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out!
p.s. For those out there who might be planning their own hearth tiling project, I will provide a materials/tools/cost breakdown in another post along with some tips I have learned. [Update: the full Hearth tiling project recap is available.]
p.p.s. Now we can finally have the installers return to make the final hookups on our Mantis fireplace insert and install our new tankless water heater!
Max catching balls. I just think it’s funny how he waits so intently, then springs into action involving rapid body contortions.
Sonny stays out of the way when Max has zoned in on the ball. Besides, while Max is super motivated to get the ball, Sonny doesn’t care so much about getting it as having it. He just wants to have it, carry it around, and chew on it. Sonny will fetch given the opportunity though.
We’ve both been working on developing the dogs’ fetching skills. So far, the only thing both dogs will reliably fetch (including bringing it back) is the orange rubber Chuckit balls. Man, do they love those. We had three, but we’re down to one since Matt threw one over the fence at the dog park last week. I brought out a Kong squeaky tennis ball yesterday, and only Max will bring that back, and only sometimes. A regular tennis ball: forget it, neither dog will even pick it up.
Matt has some training dummies (like these and this), and we’ve both been working on training with those. Neither dog will fetch them when thrown yet, but we’re working on it. We click and treat them for touching the dummy, and so far Sonny will touch it and mouth it if you’re holding it, while Max will do that plus touch or paw at it while on the ground. Both dogs pick up on the training in different ways. Max is very eager and willing to try new things, like pawing instead of touching it with his nose, or making the transition to touching an object on the ground instead of in your hand. Sonny doesn’t make the leap to the next step very quickly (such as the object being on the ground), but he is consistent once he gets it. It’s a lot of fun to get the dogs to think and figure out what to do. We are just using kibble so far and the dogs seem motivated by it.
Ok. When we left off, we had demoed the old tile and started preparing for the new slate tile by pouring some concrete, selecting our tile, and cutting both the tile and edging. We were a bit conservative pouring the concrete, so our pad was still a bit low. After doing some more research online, I decided that using the Schluter Ditra underlayment would be a good way to bring up the height of the tile while also protecting against any cracks due to expansion and contraction of the wood floor. Given the previous issue with the tile getting so jammed up against the wood that it created hideous cracks in the floor, taking the extra precaution against any problems seemed like a good idea. I also figured we should use the underlayment when we do our entrance in the same tile, so why not buy it now and use it both places. Note: using this for the hearth of a wood burning fireplace may be questionable due to heat issues, but it is fine for a gas insert.
I installed the Ditra according to instructions (thinset mixed loose but still able to hold a notch, press Ditra fleece backing firmly into it, making sure to add enough thinset for complete coverage).
I attempted to install the tile right afterward. Yes, attempted. Did not succeed. Here’s what happened. I had everything all laid out and ready to go. I’d read about how to do it. I knew I still needed to come up about a quarter of an inch to make my tile flush with the wood floor, so I used extra thinset. But I had mixed it too thin, and my Schluter edging kept sinking into it.
I tried letting the thinset set up a little bit, but it was still not working. I realized that I really needed two things to be different: mix the thinset to the proper consistency (duh) like peanut butter (it actually looks even oozier in the picture than it really was, but it was too thin for sure) and start at the right level so my edging could sit on it and not sink down. My real problem was that I was trying to make a seamless transition between the hardwood and the tile so it would be level and flush, and I hadn’t created the ideal situation to achieve that. So I decided to scratch the operation for the day and use what I’d learned to make it work on the next attempt. Aside from the learning experience, I also got some use out of the thinset by combing it out to a level that would put me at the right height for installing the tile later. This is my semi-defeated-but-also-semi-relieved-that-I-didn’t-completely-ruin-everything face:
And fortunately, dry (but not cured) thinset easily washes off of tile, edging, wood floors, arms, and tools.
I put a piece of plywood over it with some random objects to keep dogs from stepping on it. It did take longer to dry that way, but I don’t think that hurts anything.
The next day, it was dryish. I took that opportunity to level it a bit more using our screed from earlier with shims taped to the ends. I pulled it from back to front, scraping off any high areas. It worked quite well.
When the thinset was completely dry, I dry set my tile for probably the 7th of 12 times and checked the height. It was still just a touch high in some areas, but the notches and the fact that it wasn’t cured yet made it easy to scrape down in high areas with the flat side of a trowel. Here’s what it looked like after the scraping:
… and then I dry set my tile again. Maybe I was paranoid cautious at this point, but I wanted to get it as close to perfect as I could so my next and hopefully final attempt at setting the tile would go smoothly. So I taped some string across it and noted any high or low points (these variations were very small at this point).
When I felt that there were no points that were too high, the last thing I did was to lay a straight board across the tile.
At various points, I measured how much space was between the board and the tile by slipping a shim underneath it and noting how much of the shim would fit. I made a chart to remind myself where the tile should fit as tight as possible against the base and where I should put the thinset down a little thicker.
Was this all a bit much? Maybe. Do I think any of it was wasted time? No. I learned my lesson and I was going to set myself up for success in round two. And I did; it went really smoothly. I will tell you about it in the next - and final!!! - post in the hearth project series.
Summer is here in many parts of the world and along with beautiful blooms and edibles growing in the garden ugly weeds also manage to rear their heads. So what’s an organic gardener to do? How do we control those nasty dandelions and other unwanted weeds without resorting to harsh chemicals? Today I am going to share some natural and safe DIY weed killers for your garden. Using toxic chemicals in your garden isn’t safe for you, your kids, your pets or the environment. The last thing any vegetable gardener should be doing to spraying hazardous chemicals near the food they are growing to eat! Here are some simple DIY recipes for weed control using products you probably already have in your pantry.
Boiling water Boil water in the kettle and pour it over the weeds. It’s really that simple. No chemicals at all just plain H20. The heat will “cook” the plant to death.
Vinegar You can use plain white distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar. It’s the acid in the vinegar that will destroy the weeds. Use the pin point sprayer instead of the mister and aim toward the center of the plant. Be careful to only hit the weed or the surrounding grass will turn brown and die.
Light starve This is also known as solarization. Place an object over the weed and it will die from lack of sunlight. You could place rocks, newspaper, cardboard or mulch over the area. This method takes longer that other methods but if you have a large garden area that you are trying to prep and get rid of the weeds this may work for you.Check out my post on Lasagna Gardening for details about using this method.
Salt Make a mixture of ½ cup of salt to 1 gallon or water and pour over the weeds. This method works better for areas such as cracks in the driveway since the mixture will kill anything it touches.
Elbow grease Yes, good old fashioned elbow grease. You’re going to have to pull up the dead weeds anyways so you could just cut to the chase and start digging things up. Just make sure you pull all the roots up or your weeds will just pop back up.
Not all weeds are bad. Did you know dandelion is actually a very nutritious plant full of vitamins? You can make wine, salad and tea from dandelion. You can check out my post on Dandelion Root Tea here and Dandelion Salad here But since many weeds are a nuisance or non edible give some of the methods above a try before you reach for the Round Up. What are your best tips for natural weed control?
Last weekend was the first birthday of our friends’ daughter, a sweet girl whom I’ve watched grow up this last year. I knew I wanted to make something for her, but what? I had a lot of different fabric, but I didn’t want to get too crazy. Years ago I started a baby quilt and never finished it. The kid is 6 years old now. So my lesson learned is keep it simple and doable.
After raiding my box of fabric, I decided to to make a patchwork stuffed animal. The idea is that the different colors and textures of the fabric will be stimulating, but still soft and cuddly all over. The first step was to cut pieces, pin and sew them together in strips, and then sew the strips together.
When that was done, I had two new pieces of fabric to work with - front and back. I drew an outline of a dog (what else?) on a piece of paper and cut it out. That was the shape I wanted, but I knew to leave extra room around it not only for seam allowances, but also to accommodate the stuffing making it a three-dimensional object. So I guestimated the outline around my cutout and traced that onto the wrong side of one of my pieces of patchwork. I pinned the other piece to it, right sides together, and cut them out. Then I machine sewed all the way around except the belly. I also did a zigzag stitch around some of the edges I thought might fray. Finally, I turned it inside out and stuffed one-inch squares of fleece from my scrap pile in it as the stuffing. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of polyester stuffing in toys for dogs, and that goes for humans too. I sewed the belly closed by hand, and it was done.
That’s right, this is going to be in parts. Because I did it in parts due to some delays and well, let’s just say it, mistakes. But that’s OK, because I learned some things and it is turning out well.
When we left off last time in the story, Matt and I had demoed the old tile and mastic. My wood floor issue had mostly gone away. I’m happy to report that after purchasing a rubber mallet and using said mallet to tap the errant floorboards into place, the cracks are gone. Woohoo!
Now our concrete pad was too low and we needed to bring it up. We again followed the advice of This Old House. Adding my own flare to the process, I taped some cardboard around the edges so the concrete wouldn’t be right up against the wood floorboards.
Matt made a screed (just like in the TOH article linked above - see that for instructions on screed usage for this particular purpose). It worked well.
Used some tools we scored for $1 each at an estate sale a while back (except the mixer attachment for the drill, which we bought at HD) to smooth everything out.
And could have done a better job of smoothing it, but it was OK. My main concern was that it not be too high, because you can always add more but it’s not so easy to remove material.
Meanwhile, the boys were doing their part by napping just a few feet away in their crates, where they could not step in any wet concrete or get into dirty tools before we could clean them. What good doggies. They really make it easy on us.
Earlier that week we had ordered and received our tile. We decided on a 12-inch slate called K-rust. The sample had some rust colored speckles on it, but what we received was a bit different, as can often happen with natural stone. A little bit of rust, some yellows, some gold, blue-grays, and one with tons of red. Eventually we decided we liked the variety even better than if it had all looked like the sample. We ordered 40 square feet, knowing we needed 7.5 for the hearth and probably 25 for the entry pad (did anyone guess that was the additional project we wanted to do with the same tile - kinda like this?) plus some extras. After pouring the concrete pad for the hearth, we laid out every tile on the floor to decide which ones would go in the hearth and which ones would be saved for the entry pad at a later date.
With some cardboard underneath representing thinset, we dry set the tiles in the hearth, overlapping the front row on top of the back row to get a sense of what it would look like. We left the back middle spot open because that will be fully covered by the fireplace insert, so we didn’t care as much about which tile goes there.
Later I did it with the tiles leaned up against the brick so we could see the real orientation of the tiles. We wanted to use the factory edge up front and cut the back edge, which will be hidden once we put a wooden facade over the brick. I also numbered the tiles so we would know where each one went and in what orientation.
Matt cut the back row tiles using a wet saw. I had to make a special trip to the hardware store for a grease pencil to mark the cut lines.
Later, Matt also cut the Schluter edging we bought using a hacksaw and a miter box. And lots of clamps. This edging was recommended by several online discussion forums and the tile store person. It makes a nicer transition between the tile and wood floor, protects the edge of the tile, and allows some room for expansion.
This all happened a week after the concrete, which was a week later than we intended. Here’s why. The day after the concrete was Saturday, and I was supposed to go pick up that Schluter edging from the tile store. We didn’t want the standard gray metal one that they have in stock, so I had the tile guy order the “brushed antique bronze” finish that I thought would best fade into the background. I called on Friday, and by good fortune the truck driver wasn’t yet past the place that had the edging, so it would be in Friday afternoon instead of Monday. That was great, because then we could tile on the weekend. But somehow I forgot all about picking up the edging until 4:01 pm on Saturday, and they close at 4. Plus all day Sunday. I don’t know how I could have been so excited about this piece of metal one day and then completely forget to pick it up the next day. Yet that is what happened. We shrugged and proceeded to go play at the dog park instead of tiling.
Our saga will continue soon. I’m sure you’re right on the edge of your seat.
While picking strawberries at my p-patch (community garden) this evening my grandpa called. Since before I can remember, my grandparents have made strawberry freezer jam which is heavenly. Given the number of projects Kelly and I have going right now and the fact that I have to work (not to mention the low likelihood that the kitchen was going to be in jam-making shape), I had dismissed the idea of partaking in the time honored tradition. Lucky for us, maybe not so lucky for our neighbors, with grandma supervising in the speaker phone background grandpa informed me that I could freeze the strawbs!
Here’s today’s harvest from my front yard and p-patch—not bad! It took me a little over an hour to go from giving 75% of the strawbs away and gorging myself on the other 25% to being able to enjoy the fruits of my labors at a later date.
The raw goods (above). Part of the hour (or so) was spent cleaning the counters and getting the dishes cleared out of the sink.
After rinsing the strawbs, I methodically went through the lot, de-topping, removing blemishes, picking out some of the best for fresh eating.
I filled six, 1-quart Zip-Loc freezer bags. Each contains about 4 cups of strawberries. Doing some quick math after looking at the pectin box (pectin is what gives jam its viscosity, read resistance to pouring), this should yield about 16 8oz. containers of jam using two packets of pectin. I’m thankful that I can save that for another day. And not only for jam in my future, but maybe a strawberry margarita or two ;-)
So Kelly thought this blog post, Tulips and dogs don’t mix, was pretty funny— admittedly I did too. When the tulips had come and gone, not to mention our dogs’ “dog buddies,” I was thinking that my landscaping/gardening gems were safe. Well, let me just say, DOGS and COMPOST DON’T MIX—EITHER. :-)
Two weekends ago I went about diligently spreading compost in my backyard asparagus and potato beds. In two days I was scratching my head, “why am I picking up so much black dog-poop?” Ah ha, that’s what Max and Sonny were eating in the beds! And I thought they were just snacking when I shooed them out of my garden!
Sonny looks so innocent basking in the afternoon sun next to the tulips.
My boys have taken to digging of late. Fortunately the only victim has been one bare patch of lawn and a fennel that I transplanted from my p-patch (community garden). Most of the havoc they wreak is pretty innocuous— running over the blueberry bushes to retrieve their respective balls always makes me gasp but thankfully the “blubes” are still standing.
"I would never dig in the yard or eat your bone meal or compost." — Sonny
Max patrolling the fence line, keeping track of the neighbors’ chickens, and generally respecting my lazy attempt to demarcate the garden beds as “off limits” with some scavenged wire and sticks.
"I see you chicken!" —Max, while standing behind the asparagus bed that would soon have a fresh layer of compost.
Dad gets serious. “I scavenged posts from our old fence, got out the post hole digger, collected any rocks I could find, and proceeded to set the posts in the ground with the rocks below and alongside the posts. I stapled plastic mesh fencing onto the posts. I came up short on my last section (the front one in the foreground). So I improvised and cut the remnants in half lengthwise to get twice the length. This made the section half the height (approx. 18”) which was perfect because now I can just step over it. Even though I accomplished extending the perimeter, I still was still short of enclosing the garden by about a foot and half. So improvising my improvisation, I joined the two short lengths together at a temporary middle gate made of sticks and bamboo. The weight of the fence made the tops bend over so I threaded bamboo through the top of the mesh to keep it looking taught-ish.” —Me
"I get to have my compost and eat my asparagus too." —Me, as I take a photo of my newly staked asparagus, fresh compost, and back fence line. The new mesh fence allows Max and Sonny to patrol the perimeter of the cedar fence but has prevented them (thus far) from getting into the garden proper. "I’ll be picking up less poop tomorrow."
It’s strawberry time—the most wonderful time of the year (in the garden)! In my book, in terms of my favorite gardening times, it’s followed closely by potato, bean, and tomato time. But it’s strawberry time now so today it’s my favorite of the four.
The other day I rode my bike to work and then to my p-patch (community garden). When you’re supposed to meet with your boss and the bus won’t get you there in time, the ol’ bike is super refreshing and exhilarating. Not to mention great exercise and a chance to see the neighborhood.
I picked this gallon zip lock bag during the bike trip. My strawberry patch is about 6’x6’. It’s going strong right now. Two falls ago I started it with plants that I dug out of my squatter’s plot before I abandoned it. Last year I had nice looking plants, but a lack of sun and probably a lack of nutrients led to a pretty weak crop. Since then, not wanting to go another season without mucho strawberries, I spread compost among the plants and gave them a kick with some organic fertilizer a couple of months ago. It’s not been a particularly warm spring, but despite this, I’m getting good yields (in fact, it’s been one of the coldest springs on record, whereas last June was one of the wettest June’s on record). While picking the strawbs, and eating them as I did the picking, I wondered, “is the sweetness of strawberries a function of sunlight or nutrients?” I’m thinking it’s more sunlight dependent but I’ll have to investigate further to know for sure. My strawbs were tasty, but not the sweetest so this led to my conclusion that sunlight plays a big roll in producing sweet ones.
Partly because I’m not at my p-patch everyday, and partly because I want them to get as dark red and sweet as possible, I did have a few handfuls of berries that went to the birds (not literally to the birds — actually to the slugs, snails, and ants). I found this to be a pretty interesting phenomenon so I thought I’d show off how our desire for sweet is also the desire of all the little critters in the garden.
Click on the photo for the full-size image. Crazy how the critters can hollow out the berries. I suspect one of them specializes in breaking through the skin, whereas the others ride the first’s coat tails. I found a big slug or two who I’m guessing really capitalize on the berries getting opened up. Then again, maybe they do the opening and the majority of the hollowing out.
There was a little snail, which I only see several of (usually bigger ones though) per year. Considering he was a snail, I thought his pace was pretty quick.