Saturday, August 30, 2008

Floors are not my thing, but I did it anyways

As I mentioned, I stole a Wednesday to put in flooring underlayment in the mudroom. One night after that, I cut all the tiles to size and labeled them all. Today, with rain in the forecast, Ken away, and folks here part of the day, I knew it could be my chance to lay the mudroom floor. So after breakfast, I coerced my parents to walk a few block the wrong direction with me so I could get the paper tape I needed to cover the baseboards, then I sent them on their way and got into the ol' work clothes.

I only would have tried doing this myself in this particular set of circumstances, because flooring really isn't my thing and I get a bit frantic about the short working time of the adhesive, etc. Plus it involves very sticky glue, which means I will end up covered in it. (I am, by the way. Yucky.)

First, we had already laid the big floor in the kitchen using all the same materials, so I had some practice. Second, I had the handy-dandy paper tape stuff which I won't do a tile or glue down floor without. Love this stuff, worth the $3. It's like a roll of post-its and it's just so perfect for baseboard.

Third, the prep was totally done and things were very organized. Labeling all the tiles was a really key step, as it turns out. In the kitchen, there were two of us to lay the floor, so we could cut as we went. In the mudroom, it was just me, and I didn't want to mess up so I labeled each tile with a letter (row) and number (column) and put all the labels facing the same way, so I'd know which way was up. Best idea I think I've ever had. You can barely see the little masking tape squares in the middle of each tile in the photo below.

So all the flooring went down in about an hour (the adhesive working time is only about 20-30 minutes and it's only a 6'x7' room). It did get crazy - especially at the end when I had to be a bit of a contortionist to get the tile pressed down next to the door I was working from. And by then I was covered with glue and a knee pad had fallen off. All together, I think I only went through about 4 pair of disposable gloves and 3 rags. Not bad for me. But my knee is totally gluey! Thank goodness for salt scrub. I bet the fancy spa people never imagined it being used to remove construction advesive. I got kind of tired of scraping away all my skin with Gojo all the time, though. Ouch!

The iron is just holding down a stubborn corner.

Check that baby off the list! Now we can put the rest of the trim back in the mudroom, and get it out of all the hiding places where it's been stashed since we pulled it off! Let's see, there's some on the porch...some under the buffet in the dining room...hope I can find it all!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Today is the day I've been waiting for

After several marathon-like days of work - dog issues - concrete -family visits - work - assorted crises - dog issues - family visits - work -- you get it -- today just kind of popped out of nowhere. My folks who are visiting went on a lovely boat ride for their anniversary, Ken had to go to work, the dog is all set for a change, I have a half a bottle of Diet Coke left over from the family dinner last night...

And I was ready.
Inspired by the Herculean efforts of Susie, the one-woman kitchen renovator extraordinaire over at Bangor Foursquare (go girl!), I said, Hell, I can put in the mudroom floor today. Forget the deck - that's Ken's & my weekend date. We realized yesterday that we're not using the mudroom anymore since we can't go out that door. (Well - we shouldn't go out that door, since it's 3 feet off the somewhat uneven ground - even though we have done it a few times. Daredevils.)

And, the 2 pieces of mudroom underlayment plywood we bought a couple of months ago have been totally in the way of the Shopsmith and most of our tools in the garage - so that's been a total pain in the neck. And, it just so happens that the beams for the deck are just perfectly spaced to use as sawhorses for the plywood!

So, despite my usual avoidance of the big skil saw, I busted it out today and ripped all the plywood to size, cut out all the odd shapes so it will fit around various trim pieces, and screwed the freakin' things down. Woo hoo!

The most irritating part was that we had one old subfloor board that was bowed up in the middle, so I had to plane and sand for a while to knock that baby down. It was one of those jobs where you start with the planer, then think - no, the sander would be easier, then as you start sanding you realize the planer was easier - and around it goes.

I was going to fill the screw heads and the one seam but we're out of the floor filler stuff and I'm thinking I'm too lazy to walk to the hardware store. Maybe if I take a shower and get the sawdust off everything I'll take a walk in a bit and get this thing DONE! I'm out of Diet Coke - so might need to stop at the store for some other sort of fuel (coffee? maybe it's too hot) on the way by.

p.s., I used a tip from the new issue of This Old House - I think it was a reader tip. All the screws need to be 6" apart. Instead of dealing with measurements, etc., I covered a long metal straightedge with masking tape, marked every 6", and then used it to mark the floor every 6" in two places. Then I just lined up the straightedge with the 2 marks, zipped in a screw every place there was a mark on the tape on the stick, and slid it to the next position. Voila, a 6" grid with no chalking. We're also out of chalk, and again, I was too lazy/dirty to walk to the hardware store. And I totally suck at the chalk line; it's virtually impossible for me to snap a decent line with a partner, forget about by myself!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paper covers cat

We love our pets. Every single day, at least one of them is a comedian and makes us stop in our tracks & laugh. Eddy's been pretty funny lately, with some very hilarious physical comedy (he's been falling down a lot, a side effect of an issue we're treating him for - he's fine, don't worry). No major injuries, just some falls on the face and off the bed (into a pile of comforter), etc. Once we make sure he's OK, it's hard not to giggle at least a little. I've always had a thing for trip & fall humor. Maybe because I do it so much myself...

Yesterday it was Vega. She is just so silly all the time!

We have this plant hanging in the dining room window that, once every 5 years or so, makes giant globs of juicy, thick flowers that leak nectar. Since it's right over the window seat, Ken put down some newpaper to keep the goo off the seat.

As I walked out of my study yesterday morning, all grumpy because of various stressful work things, there she was:

Looking at me like there was nothing odd about pretending a newspaper was a blanket. What? Aren't I supposed to be under here?

How do cats do that? They always act cool, no matter what. Good life lesson. She stayed there for an hour or so, chillin' with the Bangor Daily News. Thanks for the laugh, Vega.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wood beats rock

Yeah, that's not how Rock, Paper, Scissors goes, but today it's the truth. Today was huge - we graduated from dealing with rock and rock-derived substances to wood products! And wood products are way in the comfort zone. Both physically and mentally.
We realized that basically all summer, we've been moving piles of soil, gravel, sand, brick, rock, and concrete around. From here to there. From there to here. Dig out one thing, put in another thing. Drill a hole, fill it with concrete. Move the pile from the digging. Then backfill later.

This landscaping stuff is tough business, that's for sure. Heavy, difficult, and repetitive. We're really glad to have the patios done, because they are just such a nice reminder that it (seems) worth it to do this stuff. At least it's worth it when there's a chair to flop in after hauling concrete around all day!

So today was big. We finished pouring the last 4 piers for the deck yesterday. Then we shoveled gravel and sand around all morning to get them out of the way and get the backfill & grade right. The 9 piers for the main section of deck were done by the day before. So it's been 48 hours, and we could start putting - drum roll, please - some wood on the deck! Just the 3 beams so far, but who cares? It looks like a deck is going to go there! It doesn't look like a gigantic mess of uneven rubble anymore! The neighbors said, "Looks like a nice start!". The clouds parted, the sun appeared. The beams were perpendicular to the house (YES!) and parallel to each other (YES!), and level with a slight fall, just how it's supposed to be (YES!). This is all a bit of a miracle - when we dug and then set the piers, I was pretty sure the originally carefully measured locations had gotten thrown way off. It's very weird to go from a point on the ground to a giant hole and think you're in the right place!

Life is good. We can do wood - and are glad to have concrete, gravel, sand, dirt, brick, rock, and all that other stuff behind us.

At least, till we pour piers for the fence. Maybe next year on that one. Time to rest the ol' back.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not much progress - but dreaming of the pergola

Things are going s-l-o-w-l-y here. We were away part of the week, and had tons of work stuff before and after that. We've managed to get out & pour a few more concrete piers; tomorrow we have a nice, sunny day off to do the last concrete work (phew - it's a bit tough!). So no exciting photos to post.

But, we did get all our cedar last week. We found a local sawmill guy who sold cedar seconds, a.k.a., boards we can afford. We got the decking there, and all of the posts and lumber we'll need to build the fence & side yard pergola. So, in lieu of any of our own photos, here's our inspiration for the fence & pergola:

We'll tweak the pergola design a bit so it goes with the one on the other side (which picks up a detail from our roof's rafter tails). And we haven't decided yet - gate or no gate? Plus our fence will be a bit taller - more like 6 feet.

I love these - especially the overall scale of the elements in this photo. I believe they're at a Stickley property? Can't wait to build them - but it might be next year!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What smells like poop?

What a weekend - tons of happenings.

First, we dig a bunch of holes Saturday. After a tough day of tearing off the back porch Friday, it was another tough day. We rented a hole digger (one person), and though it's quicker than digging by hand (18 holes on a half day), it was apparently very difficult. Ken dug them all (wow, Superman again), and almost got his arms ripped off - hmm, maybe 3 or 4 times? It was an evil, evil thing and a grumpy day.

The last hole hit our clay layer, and also apparently an antique cow manure pile. This whole neighborhood used to be a farm. It was totally cow manure - nothing else smells like that (and it didn't smell like the sort 0f good smell of the honeywagon.) YUCK. Our friend Seth came over, helped us get a bunch of concrete from Home Depot in his truck (way more carrying capability than the Suby), and while we were enjoying a beer on the patio, Seth goes, "What smells like poop?". Priceless. So we had to explain about the poopy hole. Can't wait to fill THAT one.

That was Saturday.

Sunday was waaay better. First, brunch with the folks from Bangor Foursquare - how cool to have 2 housebloggers in town? We had a great time, till we all had to get back to work!

Then, we had to go buy a hoe, come to find out, to mix the concrete. Our hardware store that's 2 blocks away & open on Sundays was out of hoes. Ken asked the cashier, "What, is there a hoe shortage?". Apparently so.

So I grumbled as we went a few miles down some back roads to the other hardware store that I know is open on Sundays (many, many Sundays have been spent swearing as I drive around looking for an open hardware store BESIDES the big boxes.)

And there, on the side of the road - a big yard sale. With a big mission oak rocker out front. Ken saw it, I missed it (driving) - so we went to the hardware store & stopped on the way back. It's in tough shape, but it's pretty damn cool - and we talked them down to $15 (!!!) - unbelievable.

Then, back to put in some concrete piers to hold the deck. My first time doing this, Ken has done a bit of this type of work. We got 3 of them in (of 13 for the deck), and then we were a bit tired and decided to wait on the rest.

We usually date our work, and were scrambling to find a 2008 penny as the concrete cured - but happened first on a 2008 quarter - the Arizona one that my Aunt was on the committee to design! so we put that in there (not the special ones you sent, Aunt Lanie - just a regular one we got as change).

And then, the icing on the cake - not a half hour ago, a guy stopped by and took one of the 3 ginormous pieces of the old crappy back porch. Yes!

So a good weekend overall, and a fantastic Sunday.

Friday, August 15, 2008


It only took an hour, but a tough hour.

The rickety, crappy, falling-apart, crooked, ugly, evil steps, railing, and roof are all off the house, and sitting by the side of the road. We hope someone will take some or all of it for scrap metal or wood. If not, we'll call our local hauler-dude Monday.

Here's the back of the house, sans steps-porch thingy.

See those three holes? That's where they had 3 gigantic I-beams coming right through the side of the house to hold up the landing. Yikes.

Now we have to come & go through the side door, which Ken was smart enough to key the same - but both the screen and main doors are sticky* and awkward to get in (you come in halfway up the stairs). We did find a place to buy decking we can afford - seconds of white cedar - today, so hopefully we can finish up soon.

Ready to dig deck holes tomorrow, perhaps?

* Dad's soap trick fixed the screen door issue, but the main door is so out of shape it didn't work that well. Take a bar of ivory soap and rub it along the sides of the door and jamb where it sticks. Clean smelling and often less sticky doors in a jiffy!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fitting a rectangular peg in a sort-of-quarter-round-but-with-extensions-sticking-off hole

Summer is a-wastin', and with only a couple of more weeks till we have to report to work every single day, we had to decide - try to be super-motivated and put in the deck, or be done and finish up the million little things we didn't get done yet?

Put in the deck. So, the deck is not so much a deck for sitting and lounging on, but is really planned as a glorified, giant landing. If it were up to us, we'd have no deck at all and all patio, but the door to get in the house is 3 feet above the ground, so we need something. Also, a deck will be a better choice because we are keeping the tree in the middle of the area - natural umbrella - and you can't put a patio right up to a tree, but you can do it with a deck.

The 'something' there now is pretty damn bad. Both in terms of form and function. The staircase is rotten, and spills you out only onto the driveway. So if you want to go to the back yard or garden, you have to go all around the stairs, like the winding velvet-rope line at the bank. Silliness. No wonder no one ever bothered doing anything with the yard & garden - to much of a pain in the ass to get there!

p.s., if you want the black iron 'railing' pieces, they'll be out in front of the house this weekend for free! Hopefully someone will grab them, hideous things.

In my landscaping class, I found out that we wouldn't need a handrail if we did the steps and landing a certain way. Even if we are forced to have some sort of deck, I absolutely refuse to have a railing on it. I just don't like them and it will ruin the flow of the yard and patio. So we'll have a main level halfway up, with two stairs wrapping all the way around down to the ground, and then just 2 small steps up into the house.

I had the outline already laid out as part of the patio-deck complex, but the details weren't sorted out. And the more we consulted the deck book and web and tried to figure it out, the more confused we got. Of course, it has to be curved - which is a total pain. Despite aggravation, Ken totally understands how important it is to have a curve as opposed to a futuristic-1970s octagon-looking thing. However, he kept saying how easy it would be if the thing were a rectangle.

Yesterday we sat out on the patio (yay!), took detailed site measurements (yuck!) and I drew a scale drawing. Then as I sat there in the sun, I realized, Eureka! we can make the main deck sort of rectangular by giving up on the pointy peninsula - which really served no purpose anyways. So the steps onto the patio will be big, waterfall-y things, and the main level essentially a rectangle - nothing needing special support or cantilevering. You want a rectangle, you got a rectangle! Phew! Sometimes this design thing is exhausting!

Off to Staples late last night to make copies of the scale drawings so we can draw the posts, beams, joists, decking and hopefully get some lumber ordered today!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vega gets a thrill

Because of the patio work, we weren't keeping up with the birdfeeders, and had taken one down (that Ken kept hitting his head on) during the bricklaying. So, the squirrel had to get creative and get into the tiny feeder stuck to the window, which he previously had not been able to master. I think he stuck his toenails into the screen and scaled it - it was quite noisy just before I came in and saw him in the feeder.

Vega thoroughly enjoyed it from her window hammock. Yes, those are absolutely filthy window screens in the photo. We haven't done my study yet, so cleaning isn't a huge priority. Don't judge. Now the feeders are back up & full, so no more thrills for Vega - though she had a lot of fun catching, playing with, and ultimately eating (yuck!) a big moth the other night. When we see a bug in the house, I can yell, "Vega, where are you there's a bug?" and on cue, she'll come running in & catch it. What a cat! And definitely the best hunter in the house.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

You had me at 'opaque stain'

Jason replied to that last post:
I'm totally intrigued by the colored stains, so I vote for that (for completely selfish reasons).
Me too. Not one to pass up a dare, and also wanting to try them out, that's what we did.

Results of the designers challenge:

Got lucky on this one. I was in a storage room at work, having to work on an old computer, and noticed these 4 old chairs.

A colleague got them at a university surplus sale for a few bucks each, took one or two home, and left the rest at work for future use. That was a couple of years ago. At the time I thought they were a bit hideous - though admittedly very comfy. But, with the post about patio furnture fresh in mind, suddenly they weren't too terrible looking. In fact, a different color, they might be kind of cute. Hmmm.

I emailed her, and she said I could have them - as long as she can join me for a cocktail on the patio next week. Sold! So I had 4 chairs already. They are actually quite nice and well-made (in Vermont!) with entirely split-peg construction. They're high-quality, and as she pointed out, the arms are nice & wide for holding your drink. Also, they kind of sit back and have a HUGE comfy seat.
So the chairs grew on me. Sunday we sanded off the shine (and a lot of graffiti) and started staining them. Ken was awesome with the detail sander - my arms were still too sore from the bricks, so he did most of it.

The stain: so we got opaque (or 'solid') stain from the Ben Moore store down the block. The color was a stock color, but just about matched the accent color for the house - a pale gray with a hint of blue-green. The guy at the store was quite puzzled that I would want to use it for furniture. He thought that I sould use something transparent. I told him they were old crummy indoor chairs we wanted to put outside, and I didn't want to use paint. He said, "If the wood is so bad, you should buy new patio furniture". Wow, Mr. Recycling! So this guy is the award-winner for (1) non-green practices, and (2) trying to discourage me from buying something from his store! Brilliant.

I bought it anyways, and it's very cool. It's kind of chalky, a lot like what we've found & called milkpaint around the house. It goes on like thinnish-paint. It says it dries to the touch in 3-4 hours, but it's a good drying day and I swear it was like 10 minutes! Piece of advice if you're going to use it: don't even think of it as stain - just think of it as paint. Be ready to go quickly, get your brush strokes right immediately or it'll stick how it is.

We think it's perfect for patio furnture or pcinic tables - it looks very vintage and supposedly is quite durable. So 2 thumbs up.

OK, then a table - went to my fave antique store with a bit of stuff on the junky side, and found a simple little number where the top flips up and it turns into a bench. That's kind of a neat feature, but more important - we think that'll make it easier to store. Painted that guy with the stain too, and voila! We had to spend the first evening on the patio with lobsta - of course. Now we'll be recovering (my arms still HURT!) and resting for a while.

Friday, August 8, 2008

This weekend: my designers' challenge

Patio's done. Wow. Still recovering, and sure we have a couple teeny jobs to do (finish backfilling around the edge, re-sand to be sure it's all locked in), but it's done.

The little patio is perfect - and we have a set of 2 chairs & side table I bought the very first summer we had the house - it just seemed like such a 'new homeowner' thing to do, to have outdoor furniture. I got a shepherd's hook from a lady at work for $5, and friend C gave me a blue glass candle lantern many years ago. Never thought of putting it all together till now. Thanks Care! Picture to follow if it EVER stops RAINING!

So of course now we want to sit on it and hang out. We have an old, rickety picnic table that's HUGE. We got it for free from someone on our work's e-bulletin board, and drove home with it upside down on top of the Suby. Looked pretty silly, but it worked just fine. Then we fixed it with some new bolts, repainted, and have used it for a few years. But, it's pretty rotten and wasn't that great to begin with. The seats are 2x6s (and just a single one), so it's pretty narrow and uncomfortable. We after seeing the furniture on Oh Bungalow, we started thinking, maybe we could have something a bit posh out there - and looked at furniture sets for a little while online.

But none were quite right, and we like to reduce, reuse, recycle - so Ken goes, "Why can't we just use some indoor chairs and oil or paint them for outdoors?" Bingo. So smart.

So this weekend's Designer Challenge to me is to find 4 (hopefully all different but well-coordinated) chairs and a table for very few $$ and re-finish them to match. I think then we can add some outdoor seat cushions for comfort and be ready to go with an us-style patio.

As This site reminds me, it does always look fabulous when indoor furniture is outside.

Stay tuned for the report on Monday. Let's see how this turns out.

And, what do you all think - should I paint them (accent color of house, light green), use one of those opaque stains, or leave natural & give them a good coat of spar varnish? Votes?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Dude. The Big Patio. Is Done.

Here's the story, start to finish.



Wacking (a.k.a. compacting gravel base):

Wacking almost done:

Screeding sand then laying brick (a.k.a. hurting selves for 3 days):

Note: some of my shirt sleeves seem tighter. I seriously think I've developed bigger biceps from this project. Seriously. Not kidding. A brick weighs about 5 lbs on average. We moved 2000 bricks around at least twice (getting them here, putting in patio). That means we moved 5 TONS of bricks. I placed almost every single one of them in the past several days. That's right, my arms have lifted 5 tons in the past few days. That can't be good for you. Or else - Olympics, here I come! Discus, shotput, or weightlifting? What do you think? No disrespect to Ken - he moved most of the bricks across the yard, handed them to me, or cleaned & cut them. So he lifted 5 tons too.


Monday, August 4, 2008

...and good night

OK, the dirt pile is gone (except the little bit we still need). The guy came & got the rest this morning, bless his little heart:

Not sure you can see it in the dark. We had a bit of a patio-marathon and didn't get to pictures until LATE.

And patio #2 is about 3/4 installed. Then it got dark. And we're sore. And tired. And I literally wore through 2 pairs of gloves and Ken wore through his leather gloves. And it keeps frigging raining and the tarp only covered about 3/4 of the patio. And I had a slug on my leg, inside my pants. They were everywhere. Note to self: anytime there's a pile of bricks sitting around for over a year, it becomes bug-mania. Eeew. And we went through a lot of really disgusting, wet, mucky clothes. And I had sand ground into my knee and arm so hard, it was like a suit of chain mail.

Here it is, in the dark, just after we called it a night:

Love it, love it, love it. We'll finish up this week, hopefully in the evenings (have to go back to the real job tomorrow).

Passing out now. 'Night.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Wacker waltz

Two goals for this weekend:

1. Put in patios.

a. Grade & compact gravel

DONE, thanks to Ken & the Wacker. Yes, it's truly called the Wacker. Thanks rental shop!

b. Put down sand (planned for Sunday)

c. Put down bricks (planned for Sunday/Monday)

Instead of this plan, we realized we should do one whole patio at a time, to make sure the sand didn't get rained on or otherwise wrecked. So we started with the little patio - sand, then the old bricks and newer rocks/boulders. Some of the bricks from each place that contributed bricks are in the patio - we mixed them up pretty well.

Here it is post-Wacker:

And here it is when we started figuring out how to lay the bricks:

Of course, it had to rain and thunder and lightning in the middle of everything, so we had to get out all the tarps. Ken made a great boy-scout style shelter so we could keep going even as the occasional showers continued. No, we didn't work in the thunderstorm - I'm too afraid of lightning!

It made a huge, huge difference to put in the sand on top - it evoked a "holy sh**" response, even. We love it and you can see this little patio from the living room and dining room.

Tomorrow we'll attack patio #2, the big one. We'll see how far we get. Especially since my arms are just about falling off from today. Hurts to type. Ugh.

2. Get rid of fill from patio excavation.

So we had a big ol' pile of dirt (about 12 yards) that was an eyesore to the neighbors and us, and we didn't need it. We tried Freecycle, Craig's List, local e-bulletin board at work. Several folks wanted the free fill. One guy took a truckload last weekend. Several people backed out after saying they wanted it. Here's my favorite example (direct quote):


I must decline the offer of dirt. Due to poor health I will be unable to pick up.

Thank you very much for your offer."

Can you get any lower than having your free dirt offer rejected? I don't know.

We did get one guy who went to great lengths, renting a Ditch Witch and he also oput leaf springs in his truck so he could get all the dirt. He didn't show up the afternoon we expected him, so we were beginning to feel stood up again. Then he showed up bright and early this morning, started hauling fill, and kept going until literally 10 minutes ago. We put in the patio, I went to work for a couple hours, we had dinner, a Margarita, and he's still taking loads of fill to his house. He's whittled this starting pile:

Down to almost nothing. He will be back in the morning to clean the rest up and take it. Unbelievable - and he kind of made our weekend. How sweet to be sipping the ol' Rita while someone else is hauling away your "offer of dirt".