Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Holidays to Everyone!

In the interest of saving a tree, I'm taking the Christmas letter to the blog. The blog is, after all, where you can read about how we spent about 90% of our free time in the past year, namely in the renovation and upkeep of the house! Our big "house accomplishments" this year were finishing the basement (track back a few entries for that story), taking down 5 unhealthy trees, and putting up the new fence in the backyard. We also put in a new brick pathway in the front yard around to the side and finished the game room, although I haven't had time to blog about either of those projects just yet (check back after the new year for pics and more!)

In non-house news, I have become an avid face-booker, while Sean remains staunchly anti-social networking sites. Facebook, as it turns out, is pretty helpful in writing a Christmas letter, because I can look back at what I've been doing to find interesting highlights. Not that anything I post to Facebook is all that interesting, but I found a few good reminders of what else we did this year...
* Took great trips to Puerto Vallarta (our far-away honeymoon), Lanesboro, MN (revisiting the spot where we took our "local" honeymoon), Snowbird, UT, New Orleans, LA, and, of course, ever-popular Grand Blanc, MI.
* Celebrated our first wedding anniversary
* Moved Jeremy and Teri to Rochester (More family in Minnesota! YAY!)
* Nursed all 3 dogs through a several-month long bout of intestinal illness (all are well now)
* Celebrated my baba's (grandmother's) 90th birthday with a family reunion party
* Celebrated my mother's retirement
* Mourned Michigan's pathetic football season
* Celebrated the results of our Presidential election
* Hosted our first large Thanksgiving dinner (without burning the house down)

At the risk of using a very cliche line from every Christmas letter ever writter, we've been really busy and really blessed with good times and good fortune... In fact, until I looked back for things to write about, I'm not sure I realized just how great this year has been for just about everyone in our collective family.

For 2009-
* We're keeping our fingers crossed for our jobs (as I know many others are).
* We hope to take a long road-trip out west, where I have never really traveled and Sean has mostly just "driven through".
* We're planning on *starting* the mammoth kitchen project, which includes expanding the back of the house, adding a half bath, and completely remodeling the kitchen. (That may be done in stages, and will likely be on the list for next year too!)
* We vow not to bring home any more dogs.
* We hope to have raspberries and blueberries in the garden (among other yummy edibles), if they survive this already-frigid winter!

As always, we have lots of space, and there is always an open invitation for anyone coming to visit, or just traveling through.

We wish much love and peace to you and your family, from all of us...
Nadja, Sean, Hannah, Shadow, and Maggie

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Fence "Post" - Our most recent fav project

We (finally) have a fence!

Over yonder on, they are having a little show-and-tell contest, sponsored by True Value Hardware: So, because we love our local hardware store (and we love contests), we'll join the fun and show off the latest in our yard improvement.
My previous post talks about all they "whys" of the new fence- basically, the puppy could get out. And the old fence was ugly (see this first pic). The "hows" of the new fence are another story. As in, who knew HOW much work it is to put up a new fence?! I'll take you through our saga act by act.

Act 1: Trying to dig 15 Fence Post Holes
Act 2: Trying to dig 15 Fence Post Hole Again
(Interlude): Angry dancing and occasional cursing
Act 3: Re-digging Fence Post Holes
Act 4: Setting posts, Putting up Fence Panels (YAY!!)
Finale: Happy dancing and cheering

Act 1: Digging Fence Post Holes
Before we begin, there are several important things to know about our digging environment. Our house lies in what was a river valley several thousand years ago. As a result, the ground beneath our home is an unpredictable mixture of sand, clay, limestone, and a host of other "earthen" varieties. It is in this mixture that we attempt to dig.
We also live in Minnesota, where the frost line sits at about 42 inches. Technically, you need to dig below the frost line to prevent heaving, although in our investigation of other neighborhood fences, it is clear that many post holes are not that deep. Hmmmm. Since our city code doesn't give us a firm rule, I examine the "literature" on the subject (ie, the internet). I see suggestions to dig anywhere from 2-4 feet deep. But we want to "do it right." So, 42 inches down we plan to go.

We begin our scene with a discussion of the best digging tool. The two-man auger is available for rent at the local hardware store, which is still open. Never having used a two-man auger before, Sean and I assume I can play the role of one of the "men" on the two-man team. (In the end, this decision would be the plan's fatal flaw.) With the 10" auger bit attached, Sean and I begin to drill our first hole. About 6 inches in, we get stuck. We lift and heave the auger out of the hole and try again. We dig further. Are stuck again. We lift and heave, and this time it is REALLY heavy. I can barely lift it. We take a break. We dig a third time, and this time, we go all the way down but stick hard. And I can't lift the thing up no matter how hard I try. The auger completely stuck, Sean and I tug, we dig away dirt and try again. Finally, a strong neighbor happens down the alley and offers to help. Between the two of them pulling with all their might and me digging it out, we manage to get the auger out.
We realize this is not the right tool for the job. Grrr.

In my internet search to find out where we went wrong, I learned 25% of all post holes end up having to be hand-dug. Interesting. I also read that using a two-man auger is a brutal, back-breaking task, even if you are pretty strong and have a lot of stamina. And... that two-men augers are virtually useless unless you are digging in regular ol' soft dirt. Ha! Why didn't we know this? (If you have never used a two-man auger before and you are thinking of it, I recommend watching any of the sometimes comical, informative demos on YouTube to be sure it's the way you want to go.)

Act 2: Trying again: Rent a Dingo.
This time, we got our tool of choice: a DINGO. I own no stock in Toro, have no ties to Dingo, and had never seen one before this project, so I can shamelessly recommend it for any of your post-hole digging needs. Yes, it was a bit more expensive to rent (about $240/ day with the trailer). But to operate it, you only need to be able to control a joystick and a lever... significantly saving on that back-breaking labor. Can I say it again? I LOVE the Dingo. Sean's brother, Jarame, had 15 post holes dug by lunchtime.

With the post holes dug, we were ready to pour concrete and set posts. So we started on our merry way, making sure our layout was still accurate and everything in the right place. Was everything in the right place? No. No? NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! (Angry dancing and cursing ensues.)

Act 3: Re-digging fence post holes
Four of our post holes were not going to work. Old concrete for old posts beneath the ground had shifted the Dingo's path enough so the holes wouldn't work. We should have double-checked this while we still had the Dingo. But we didn't. So we began to hand-dig- We had to dig up the old concrete and relocate 4 holes. Did I mention that we did this by hand?

Act 4: Setting posts, Hanging panels
Setting the posts was also a two-man (ok, one man, one woman) job, but not a back-breaking one. One of us needed to make sure the posts were plumb and get them staked, then we did the concrete pour. With the posts set in concrete, the hard part was over. Now we just had to attach the pre-made panels. It starts to look like a fence! Happy dancing and cheering begins!!

The dogs are a little confused. But we're ecstatic.

This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The fence "post" #1

So, we've been looking at replacing the old chain link fence that surrounds our entire city-corner lot for over a year. Why? Well, we quickly learned that houdini-puppy could make her way UNDER the fence. Then she grew big enough to jump OVER the fence. Then she found her voice and started barking at every dog (or moving biker, runner, skateboarder, etc) she could see THROUGH the fence. Then she got smart enough to use her nose to OPEN the fence. Then there's the fact that the old fence was just old and ugly.
So, in the name of puppy safety and owner sanity (and yard asthetics), the new fence moved up the priority list.

Turns out, putting up a new fence requires a lot of decision-making. Height of fence. Type of material. Design of fence. Special city codes that regulate fences on corner lots....
To do it ourselves or have it done for us?
To build our own panels or buy them pre-built?

I browsed real-live fences and pics online. Sean and I decided on a few options and then set about to get some estimate. Before shopping, we decided on a wood fence that was semi-private in the back. In the front, because of code regulations on the corner, we needed a fence that had 80% visibility. So, we were looking at aluminum fences that looked like wrought iron. I wasn't so picky about what the wood fence looked like on top-I actually preferred less diagonal lattice and more vertical decoration. But price would really help us make our decision. Because we had absolutely NO idea how much a fence could possible cost.

And it turns out, fences cost a lot. Of course, if you have ever put up a fence, you have also probably experienced the nearly heart-stopping gasp of disbelief when the friendly fence man handed over his estimate for said new fence, including gates, hardware, post-caps, fasteners, etc.
Usually I don't talk too much about prices in the blog, but I think this is important folks: Fences are expensive to have installed. If you do it yourself, you can save a bundle.
To install about 80 feet of the lattice-top wood fence from the fence company, it would have cost about $10,000. (Yes, that's $3,500 more than our ROOF cost.) Yipes.
In addition, to have the 80 ft. of aluminum fence done, it was going to be about $6,500.

After smiling and nodding while the friendly fence man explained all that was included in the costs (clean-up!), we thanked him, got into the truck, shook our heads and said, "Well, I guess we'll be doing that fence ourselves, huh?"

So we started pricing out materials and fence panels at the local do-it-yourself stores!

(To be continued...)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fiber Pots vs. Peat Pellets

The reviews are in. Peat pellets win.

For my first adventure in sowing seeds indoors, I tried both the peat pellets and the Burpee fiber pots, thinking I'd get a chance to see which worked best for me.

The peat pellets were a cinch. They were easy to water in their trays, most seeds sprouted, and they were easy to plant. No disease- great plants.

I had high hopes for the fiber pots because they were a little bigger than the pellets, so I assumed the plants would be able to get a bit bigger before I needed to move them outside. This might have been true if the plants lived long enough, but many didn't.
The pots were easy enough to plant seeds in, but after watering, the paper fiber weakened quite a bit before they went into the ground. The plants in the fiber pots were also victims of "damping off" disease- a white, powder-like mold that is apparently pretty common in seedlings.
The damping off could have come as a result of over-watering, I admit. I watered both sets of seedlings at the same time, with the same amount. The fiber pots may have needed less water. But, when the damping off disease appeared, I tried to scape it off, and that's when the pots started to fall apart on me. I ended up losing about 1/2 of the tray of seedlings. :(

I'm sticking with the peat pellets next time. They are cheaper and easier, and they provided the best results for me!

Baking Binge

Ok, I'm showing off, I admit it. Sean was bored and had a baking urge. Let's just say the rewards were sweet. On the right are stuffed pancakes, ala Williams Sonoma. These happened to be apple-stuffed, but since then we have also made blueberry stuffed, and next on the list is chocolate-stuffed. YUM!! The maple-spice cake was also decadent.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama in 30 seconds

Ok, I must be on a commercial kick. I know not all of my readers share my political inclinations, so please forgive me if you do not- But these are some of the best, most hopeful political commercials I have ever seen.... created not by campaigns, but by real people with a message. There were over 1,100 ads submitted for this "Create an ad contest." Anyone could enter. The prize is simply being the ad that gets shown on national TV.

Here are the 15 terrific finalists.

Watch the 15 finalist ads here. Vote with if you are so inclined.

(My favorites: "Playground Politics" and "Purple" with other notable "They Said He was Unprepared")

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Love the Whole World

This commercial makes me laugh and feel warm and fuzzy all over at the same time. I had to share. If you're a Discovery Channel fan, you've seen it: take a look!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Future Bounty Harvest!

This is my first attempt at starting seeds indoors. So far, so good! I picked up 3 trays of "Jiffy" seed starting trays last weekend at Home Depot, and I had sprouting seedlings within 2 days.

I used Burpee fiber pots for one tray and peat pellets to the others (just for variety to see what works best). The beauty of both of these is that you can plant the entire thing into the ground (you don't have to dig the plant out to disturb the roots). The fiber pots naturally decay and then provide some fertilizer. In the first pic, I have the fiber pots, from right to left: Orange trumpet vines, alyssum, red zinnias, broccoli, cilanto, and basil. I'm not sure if you are supposed to mix flowers and vegetables (I suspect that you are NOT because of different germination times, but since I felt like I was getting a late start on the indoor sowing, I did.) Any advice on this anyone?

In the peat pellets, I have (R-L) More alyssum, and zinnias, dahlias, lavender, cucumbers, more basil, and more trumpet vines. In two other pots (not pictured) I have some corn, sunflowers, sweet peppers, and dill. I figure I have about 100 seedlings, which, if purchased at a greenhouse would be somewhere around $300. I got seeds and trays for a little over $50. They are sitting on the radiator and large west-facing windowsill in the dining room, enjoying a ton of sun and heat. They are so much fun to watch!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dining Room Crown Molding

Ok, so I'm a little behind on posting the pictures...Here is a close up view of Sean's handiwork with the dining room crown molding. I learned how a coping saw is used for this project! We got lucky with the stain- the molding and the window trim matches pretty well. Molding= brand new. Window trim= 100 years old. Catch up on the dining room project here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mass-Loaded Vinyl- The Final Review

The verdict is in- we love mass loaded vinyl. It has worked SOOOO well to help reduce the sound transfer from the basement to the first floor. We now have downstairs neighbors, and we hardly ever hear them. They had a birthday party this weekend, and we could hardly tell they had company! They also report that they seldom hear us. It's heavy, it wasn't a treat to put up, but it was very worthwhile in the end. A+. See our link above for product and installation info.

Friday, February 22, 2008

After-Project Musings

It is finished.
The basement, I mean.
By my last two posts, you can probably tell.
Now that I have had a few weeks to digest the completion, I have some thoughts I wanted to get down. Nothing earth-shattering, mind you. Mostly to remind us what this big project was like when we decide to do the next one. (And there will be a "next one"!)
The basement project was the first large-scale remodel project Sean and I tackled together, and probably the biggest project either one of us has worked on in our own homes.
In comparison, our other projects seem like cakewalks. Painting the exterior, tackling the exterior wood rot, replacing the plumbing, even replacing the dining room ceiling- seem simple. They were all relatively straightforward. See, we didn't exactly plan what we were going to do in the basement. We started at the most natural place: demolition. And we figured we'd work our way from there.
We had some general ideas, sure... new kitchen, new lighting, new ceiling, new floors... eh, more accurately, we had a list things in our heads that had to be done, in no particular order except the obvious (like- lay the plywood before laying the laminate floor that will go on top of it). We also didn't have a clear timeline, or even a real budget. We had more of a timing and budgetary "philosophy" that went something like this: "Spend as little as possible for the best stuff we can get, bargain hunt, and finish as soon as we can without making ourselves crazy."
Yes, this philosophy has some pros and cons. I imagine it's a pretty common first-project philosophy. But now that we know better....
I'd like to do a few things differently the next time around...

* Make a list of all the tasks we think need to be done and put them in a logical order- and not just the big, obvious tasks. Include all the little things- like mortising hinges on doors, touching up paint, touching up paint again, and set-up and clean-up. Show the list to someone to add all the things we have forgotten. (ok, we made a list for the basement. but we missed a lot of very little but time-consuming things and then wondered, "Why on earth is this taking so long? Shouldn't we be done with this yet?".) Maybe even get technilogical and put it in a Gaant chart or something.

* Be realistic about how much time it will take to actually finish each job- including time to shop, return things, shop again to get the right things, and shop more. Then add more time. It will take more time. Especially if we are bargain-hunting- And unless we win a major lottery between now and the next project, we will be.

* Hire people to do the things we hate. Like drywalling ceilings. Rent tools that make really hard physical projects easier on the body. Be ok letting someone else do it. Budget for it.

* Speaking of shopping- Plan ahead for a place to put the materials we get, so they are in the most convenient place possible and we don't have to move them around.

* Make a wishlist of all the things we could possibly want at the beginning. Even if it seems out-of-the-question. Because you never know. We never thought we'd have a nearly new stainless steel fridge in the basement, but when Sean found one for an unbelievable price, I was glad he new I would approve.

* Schedule breaks in the timeline for sanity's sake. It's ok to spend a whole week NOT working on a project and not feel guilty about it. In fact, it's highly recommended. Adjust the timeline every time we get off track, so we don't always feel like we're playing catch-up.

We don't know what the next project is yet- Sean has taken a several-month hiatus from anything relating to carpentry at the house. It may be the back porch/kitchen renovation/bath addition. But for now, we're not even thinking about lifting a hammer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

MORE finished basement pics

Here are more of the "after" pics- You can see the living space, looking into the kitchen, and the bathroom. I can't even list all the things we did... but here are a few, and how we managed to do this on a very tight budget:
* New floor: Water-proofing with platon underlayment, then plywood, then wood laminate ($.97 sq ft closeout special at Home Depot)
* New drywall ceiling w/ new lighting and MLV sound-proofing
* Kitchen pass-through window and counter: This used to just be a wall (counter: $25.00 misfit from Ikea!)
* Kitchen: New everything- lighting, cabinets, counters, appliances (Stove- $100 from Cragislist, portable dishwasher- $100 from Craigslist, stainless steel fridge: $125 from Appliance Depot- new fridge, but scratch and dent!, Cabinets, counter, and fixtures from Ikea)
*Bathroom: New floor (sticky laminate squares), new lighting, new ceiling, new toilet

We got some amazing deals and figure we re-did the whole thing for $5-6K.