Roll Up Your Sleeves: Reclaiming the Yard Pt. 2

April showers bring May flowers or at least that’s how the saying goes. Around here it’s been rain, rain, and more rain punctuated by a few sunny days. After a week straight, we have sun and I managed to slip out and get a few pictures of our now nice-looking garden beds.

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We started with this:20180428_134015

and this 

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with the latter looking like it belongs at a haunted mansion perhaps?

Last spring and summer we left the garden beds to their own devices. I simply did not have the mental energies to devote to the work. The interior demanded enough of our attention and energy and the thought of having all the work outside as well was exhausting. But this is going to be our year I can feel it in my gut. I donned my work clothes, rolled up my sleeves and away we went!

Weeding is my least favorite chore, and I’m positive most of you would say the same. Clearing the front beds was a relatively painless job, minus having to kneel on the concrete while I weeded. It took me several hours over the course of a couple days to get it weed free. I hauled away buckets of dirt, and then added in a few bags of good topsoil and then we were ready to plant. To keep it low maintenance and still pretty, I chose Hostas for the front. They’re hearty plants, fairly easy to care for, and I won’t have to worry about whether they blossom or not.

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The final touch for the front: a wood chip mulch. Mulch is great for conserving moisture in the soil and helps discourage weed growth. Added bonus: it adds a visual appeal to your garden beds.

With a limited budget and a desire to get this finished as quickly as possible, we decided to opt for bagged mulch vs having a garden center deliver it in bulk. I was hesitant to go with a pre-bagged mulch since you’re never 100% sure of what you will get until you open it. There’s a slight risk of getting bad or moldy mulch, or discoloration in the case of colored brands. We ended up choosing a non-dyed cedar mulch by Timberline and I am very pleased with the results!

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The backyard, however, was an entirely different beast. I spent forty-something minutes digging up what I have now dubbed the ‘mystery root from hell’. It came up in pieces. (The other weeds were no picnic either.)

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It required a spade (my hand trowel was not sufficient, and whatever that long pointy tool is? I believe it’s called a dandelion weeder. Kind of looks like a screwdriver with a notch in the end. I should have taken a before image so I could later identify the plant in case I ran into it again, but I was so caught up in wrestling it out of the ground I forgot.

Several hours over the course of a couple days and the ground was finally weed free and ready to plant. 

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We purchased a garden box kit from Home Depot to save us the hassle of building one from scratch. Since the soil around here is crap (read lots of clay), we purchased a few bags of garden soil so we could ‘start fresh’: a raised bed filled with only good topsoil. The rest we covered in black plastic to discourage weed growth in the hopes we will have a little less to deal with. Now our little herb garden is ready to go, minus the addition of a couple more plants. 

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Our next project will be reworking the fence I built 2 years ago to keep out the fat critters that took up residence underneath our shed. But that’s a post for another time. Until then, cheers!!

It’s That Time of Year Already: Reclaiming the Yard (Pt. 1)

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Spring is in full swing with summer close at its heels. Which means it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and dig in.

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Sad lawn

First stop: the lawn. The patchy, crabgrass-and-weed-ridden lawn that has been a sore spot the last few years. And if you’ve been following along thus far, you know all too well of my lawncare gripes and my lack of a green thumb. (I did not get that gene despite having several family members who are fantastic gardeners.) As far as the yard goes, we’ve done little lawn care this last year except spreading Scotts Weed and Feed when we remember to. The past two years, I have patch seeded a few of the bare spots which worked for a short while but the new grass was soon choked out by crabgrass and other weeds. At this point, I had all but laid my dreams to rest, of a lush, green lawn brought about by my own hands. The hubby and I began to discuss using a professional company to do the job since it seemed we had all but failed. Not that we had two extra pennies to rub together for such luxuries, but it was a thought nonetheless.

This year we – or rather I – decided to put forth one last ditch effort to have a lawn isn’t quite as cringeworthy. Since I’m home all day, most of the yard work falls to me and I’m determined to have some success this season. We put forth hours of research from various sites, came up with a plan and off we went. Home Depot – our home away from home – here we come!

Step one was dethatching
the lawn. Scott’s describes thatch as “a layer of living and dead grass shoots, stems, and roots that forms between the grass blades and the soil surface”. A little bit is okay, a lot is problematic. Too much thatch can reduce the amount of oxygen and moisture that are able to reach the soil and grass roots. De-thatching removes the excess material so air, water, nutrients, and fertilizer can reach the soil better as well as allow your lawn to drain more effectively.

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Now that you’ve had your vocabulary lesson for the day, it’s back to the work. Over the course of a few days, I cut the grass then worked to dethatch the lawn with the garden rake. (My back and shoulders were none too pleased about this.) It’s not the optimal tool but we tried to work with what we had, not wanting to put forth money for fancy tools we might only use once or twice. Again a rake wasn’t optimal and some areas were definitely harder than others, but after lots of sweat (and a few tears), it got the job done, leaving us with several piles of dead grass material.20180509_152242 (1)

Step two was to aerate the lawn. I’ve found the best time to do this is when the soil is damp, which makes it easier to puncture the ground. Now there are two types of aerators, the first being more machine than a tool (at least all the ones I’ve seen are). A core aerator has hollow tines and pulls 2-in. deep plugs or ‘cores’ of soil and thatch up from the ground. You push (or pull) it along depending on the type. Since we have a very small yard, it seemed unreasonable to buy one (read $50+) and there were none available for rent the day we stocked up, so Plan B it was. Instead, we purchased a spike aerator with four ‘spike’ tines which create a row of 2-in. holes in the ground. You move across the lawn, stopping about every 8 inches to push it into the ground. It’s not quite as effective as the core aerator but it was much more budget friendly. My spouse was kind enough to do this two weeks ago when we first purchased. Unfortunately, it took me awhile to get to the backyard and so I went over the lawn with the aerator once more to be safe.

The final step: spread a thin layer of topsoil over the lawn followed by a mixture of grass seed. We used a mix since neither of us was certain what type of grass was actually growing in our lawn. That and we keep the lawn well watered and wait. It will be a couple of weeks before we see any success or failure so … fingers crossed!

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The Good, The Bad, and The Okayish: Musings on Four Years of Home Ownership

In April, we’ll have been in here for 4 years. It’s crazy how time passes us by. It feels like it was only last week we signed the papers and received our keys.

Saying that we’ve had our share of ups and downs would be an understatement. If you’ve been following our journey thus far you’ll understand why. But looking back on where we’ve been and where we’re going, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you.

In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have bought this particular house and instead waited for something that would have been less work. But with most of the houses in this area being too far out of our range of affordability, this seemed like a great opportunity. (Asking $250k for a shoebox of a 2-bedroom house with almost no kitchen is unrealistic. Also, when the short person has to duck to get down the stairs into the basement there’s a major problem.) As stated in my first post here, we were so sure no major work was needed in the house, beyond taking down wallpaper and broken tiles, paint, and those ‘homey touches’. Boy, were we wrong.

In fact, we often joke about passing up on one of the houses we toured – a beautiful house with loads of potential but in need of serious repairs. With holes in the walls, the ceiling, and even missing plumbing, it would have required a 203(k) Rehabilitation or Title 1 loan. I’m almost certain neither of those would have provided enough money for all the work required.

img_20180121_123303762317369206.jpgAs I’ve stated before, we really are learning a lot about remodeling. It’s a giant pain in the rear most of the time, but when your budget is limited, you do what you can. This house has forced us both to think outside the box and reach for our inner DIY-er. I never would have imagined in one hundred years that we’d own not only multiple hand held power tools but a miter saw and stand (which still terrifies me to use but someday I will conquer it!)

Yes, there are some days I regret this buy and other days where I’m thankful for it. I think part of that is the ups and downs of home ownership. But as with any major project, there are going to be a lot more ‘hate it’ days then ‘love it’ ones.

I find that the most difficult part of doing the work ourselves is when you hit the lull between inspiration. Those moments when your drive to work is lackluster or lacking altogether. Those are the moments when discouragement sets in. We’ve come so far, and yet it feels like there is still so much to do, simply at the cosmetic level. And being that this isn’t our forever house, sometimes it’s difficult to justify some of these major remodels.

In spite of all the work we’ve done, it feels as if we’ve barely put a dent in it all. Granted, a lot of what we did has been demolition and sometimes things move along slower than we anticipated. The first floor isn’t finished yet and there’s still so much left to be done on the rest of the house to even get it “resale worthy”.

But this is our home, and it may still be a few years before we can permanently remove the (invisible) ‘under construction’ sign from our doorway. All in all, though, I wouldn’t trade this experience away for, well…almost anything.

Moving into this next year of home ownership, we hope to be able to share more of our progess with you (assuming we make progress!) and I will do my best to keep you updated a bit more regularly.

Until the next time…careful where you swing that hammer!
–Love from the residents of Parkside Twin

Problem-solving on the fly – Not this again!

“Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?”
“I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.”
-Groundhog Day – 1993

    It’s always nice when things fall neatly into place, but quite often it seems that will not be the case because the house throws you a curveball or three and suddenly it’s as if you’re stuck in the Groundhog’s Day of home remodeling.

Since we started on this house 3 1/2 years ago, we’ve learned more than our fair share of lessons the difficult way. Not for lack of trying mind you, more so due to … what we will call a lack of information.

    The way most projects go is as follows: make a plan and do any and all appropriate research, materials are purchased, project is started, and then, the “Oh S*** moment” happens where all the hard work and planning you’ve done starts to fall apart at the seams and you’re forced to take a step back and rethink everything.

    Let me back up a bit here. We started painting our closet and quickly realized that the areas we had so painstakingly spackled and sanded smooth, stood out starkly against the rest of the rather textured wall.

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Sanded vs original

With the walls already primed, we decided against trying to skim the closet walls, opting instead to complete painting and move on to the next area.

   Now, most paint rollers will leave some sort of texture on even a completely smooth surface such as drywall. The thickness of the woven cover a.k.a. the “nap” of a roller will determine how much of a texture will be left on your walls and the type of surface you’re painting on will determine how thick of a nap you need. They can range in thickness from 1/4″ onwards to 1″ and are labeled with their thickness and best uses.

   Back on point here, we chose 3/8″ nap rollers which are a fairly common choice for walls and ceilings and only leave a slight texture. The previous owners, however, must have used a much thicker nap roller as the rather obvious texture on our walls makes it look like they used an orange peel instead of a paint roller. And when you add sloppy brushwork (drips and all), with uneven and heavily textured walls, and well, you can start to see our predicament.

   Skimming walls would be the ideal answer but from our experiences thus far in wall skimming, it’s incredibly labor intensive and material intensive. We easily blew through more than one 5-gallon bucket off drywall mud on the two skim jobs we did earlier in the year. And working in a small 5’x5’ish “room”, the mere thought of trying to maneuver a bucket, ladder, paint tray, and all our other supplies in such a small space is cold sweat, panic-inducing kind of stuff nightmares are made of.

    So now what? Well, they necessity is the mother of invention and while we didn’t actually invent this method of skimming, I doubt we would have tried this had our hand not been somewhat forced. Now many of the online DIYers prefer what I call the quick and dirty skim method which is just drywall mud, a trowel (or tray) and a putty knife, as opposed to using the roll-on method that we had previously used.

   We simply laid on as thin a coat of non-watered down drywall mud as possible. It was just enough to fill in and smooth out the walls. It took a bit of doing to get the right rhythm and thickness down but once we got in the groove, it turned out quite nicely.

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   Once everything had dried, only a light sanding was in order to get it ready to paint. Will we continue to use this method on future walls? I don’t know. Working in a 5 x 5 space is a lot different than on a 12′ long wall. I guess we’ll just have to see. (Also, my apologies for so many boring pictures of plain walls. Perhaps the next post will feature slightly more dynamic photos.)

-Cheers!

Paintbrush in hand and here we go!

It’s been a busy few months for us at Parkside. Life just keeps rolling by (brakes anyone?) and we’ve been hard-pressed to keep up with everything going on. At least now that the holidays in full swing, I have a moment, albeit a very brief one, to stop and play a bit of catch up on all these projects.

Our biggest update to the house in recent weeks has been painting. It’s only taken 3 years to get to this point but it’s finally happening! That’s right – we PAINTED. I’ll let you have a moment to let that news sink in. (Technically we did paint a couple years ago but since that wall had to be skimmed over, I’m going to say it doesn’t really count so shhhh! Also, there’s the fact that the color we had previously used turned out much darker than I had originally thought and I ended up not really loving it.)

But back on track now – with the walls of our side (main) entryway painted a lovely soft gray, all that’s left to do in there is hang trim and our closet organizer. It’ll be our first fully completed room project since we started. There aren’t enough words to express how excited I am! Stay tuned for more excitement to come!My husband did a good bit of the painting with help from my stepson who was all gung-ho about it, jumping and practically chest bumping the walls to maximize his limited reach. It was quite entertaining to watch.

 

 

 

Spackle & Sand 2.0

It’s day #22,147,895 of remodeling here at Parkside. As of late, it’s been a seemingly never-ending repetition of spackle and sanding. We’ve just started in on our 4th? 5th? 5-gallon bucket of drywall mud. The drop cloths are being washed for the second time in a week and my floors are covered in a fine white dust from sanding which makes me wonder if they’ll ever be clean again.

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So much drywall mud!

The hubby and I spent a good portion of our weekend working in the hopes that we’ll get one step closer to painting (the paint that’s been sitting in our someday-rec room/current storage of whatever room since Memorial Day weekend.) And while what we’re doing is not terribly difficult work, it is slow and tedious. But still, we press on! Using the good old divide and conquer method, I went to work sanding while he spackled over the corner beads in the other room.

Sexy right?

I thought my short little self would be super clever and use the pole sander on the ceiling negating the necessity of a step-stool, but that quickly turned out to be a clusterf*** of a nightmare so the pole sander was relegated to the corner of shame to think about why it wasn’t being helpful. Step stool and sanding blocks it was.

 

I’m hoping that sanding still counts as arm day so I won’t have to work out double.

All jokes and sarcasm aside, it’s been hard. And it’s been slow. There are many days when neither of us has the motivation to work, days when the progress seems so slow and the work yet to be done is cripplingly overwhelming. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had a good cry or three about this house and desperate prayers whispered in the middle of the night for continued perseverance and patience.

Then I look at how far we’ve come, in spite of how much work there is left to do. We had beautiful new floors and carpet installed this spring, the corner beads are mounted and we’re nearing the end of the mudding that needs to be done on those.

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One more coat should do it!

I think of how much I’ve learned here, and while I would never consider myself or the husband experts by any means, we have learned skills that will make the next remodel project just a little bit easier. And so we continue to work, and we laugh and cry, and maybe have another glass of wine to help cope with the stress.

Electric Boogaloo

The super fun part about owning an older home is that you never really quite know what to expect with the wiring. Since the house is 80+ years old, it predates modern wiring and instead has quite a bit of good ol’ knob & tube (UGH!) No lovely color-coded wires and all the other good stuff. Now the previous owner had done some updating and we’ve had electricians out to do work as well trying to get some of it up to code. Still, it’s usually an adventure when we try to update things.

Now the previous owner had done some updating and we’ve had electricians out to do work as well trying to get some of it up to code. We are slowly but surely replacing switches, outlets, and of course the *cough* lighting fixtures.

With most of it being decently straightforward, my handy hubby has done quite a bit of it. As for me, I know less than zilch about electrical work despite being painstakingly explained to me multiple times. Beyond knowing there’s a hot wire and a neutral wire, the rest is Greek to me so I usually just smile, nod and pretend to understand. And since I’m not much help, I stand by encouraging my hubby as he does his thing. Sometimes I even get to hold the flashlight for him which means I do things like:

 

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Gotta keep myself entertained somehow!

 

Now we finally have a decent light fixture in our mircofoyerspacethingy. (It’s really small.)

Until next time!

Living the spackler’s life

Progress on the house hasn’t been booming. We hit what I’d guess would be a lull or maybe a slump after vacation and now we’re slowly crawling back out. Slump aside, I’m starting to feel like we’ll never get past the spackle and sand phase of the renovation. Ceilings, walls, patch here, more walls. Someone save me from the madness!

Our current project – the one we’ve been at for awhile now – is corner bead spackling. The corner beads are pretty much all mounted so now the task of mudding over to make them smooth and even with the wall. It’s not SO terrible really, just a slow process when you’re unable to do the entire doorway in one go. I mean any spackle project will usually require multiple coats as well, so add that to the mix, stir well and voila! A half-complete doorway! Baby steps right?

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Once this doorway is finished, we have one more to mud, then we sand. And someday we’ll get to paint it. Someday…

Before I go though, I leave you with this: what happens when ginger cat decides he wants to be in on the action too AKA rubbing up against the still-wet drywall mud and leaving cat hair and hair marks in it.

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We were so proud of his contribution he was immediately rewarded with a partial bath – something he was none too thrilled about. Heh.

We Built This Cat Tower

Taking a break from our regularly – although not so regularly – scheduled remodeling crud to bring you something fun-ish.

We built a cat tower!!!

It’s something we’ve been meaning to do for awhile, debating back and forth about the details of a cat tree – whether we buy or build and when. We do have scratcher boxes all over the house that we’re constantly tripping over (or maybe it’s just me being a total clutz.) Regardless, the cats seem to ignore them half the time, even when it is RIGHT THERE. Do they walk the extra foot to the scratch box? No. Instead, the little boogers opt to dig their claws into the carpeting. I am thankful they pretty much ignore the furniture but is it too much to ask to ignore the carpet as well? Apparently.

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Now you might be wondering, why build a tower when you can purchase one? It’s way less labor intensive! First: they’re fracking expensive! $70+ and up! We bought one a few years back and it fell apart in under a year. Definitely wasn’t worth the price we paid for it. I love my cats and all but that’s just too much money. Particularly if we want more than one. Second: After finding a relatively simple plan from dadand.com turns out we had most of the materials we needed since the carpet guys were kind enough to leave us the excess off the roll.

Saturday was build day or at least day 1. A quick trip to Home Depot and then husband and stepson got right down to business.

 

In spite of initially proclaiming that the tower wasn’t epic enough (someone was watching too many cat mansion youtube videos), the kiddo got pretty excited once it was all put together. He couldn’t even wait for us to put carpeting on and started running around the house calling for the kitties.

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Complete and ready for carpet!

Onto the fun part of carpeting and rope. The boys measured and cut and I got to attach everything.

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The carpet was stapled on and the rope attached with hot glue. I also added staples in the back of the rope roughly every 4-6 inches for added measure.

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2 1/2 days later it’s finally complete. Or at least it’s as finished as it’s going to get. I would have liked to have added more rope so that all the wood was covered, but then I’d have to go buy more as well as spend the time attaching it which required just a bit more effort than I was willing to give at that point.

 

It’s a little crooked in places and a little messy but it’s sturdy and really that’s all that matters right? There’s sweat in my bra, rug burns, and scrapes on both my knees, hot glue burns on both arms, hand cramps from stapling and a blister on my left hand of unknown origins. It was painful, tedious, and not quite as much fun as I imagined, but it was all worth it. The cats are in love with their new tower and they’ve pretty much stopped clawing the carpet. And while the kiddo wasn’t here to help us finish, I’m sure he’ll be just as thrilled as the cats are with the final product.

Project cost: About $60. We had leftover carpet and 2 x 4’s from previous projects. $15 for the MDF board, $15 for the glue gun and glue, $9 for 50-ft of 3/4 in. sisal rope. It would have been cheaper but our staple gun all but gave up the ghost halfway through our project. Tack on an extra $25 for staple gun and staples. As a finishing touch, we attached the string of a broken cat toy for their added entertainment.

For now, I rest. At least until the next project.

The Joys of Corner Beading

Okay ladies and gents, this week’s lesson is on corner beads! While it sounds like a super fun craft activity, corner beads are a staple in home building. Apparently they are used to protect the outside corners of your drywall. Now I grew up in the 80’s where people used plastic exterior corner guards so I didn’t even know that these existed until this year.

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Vinyl corner beads seem to be the way to go nowadays so we jumped on board the trend train and a-wayyyy we went!

They’re actually quite easy to install, messy but easy. Whereas metal corner beads need to be nailed or screwed into the wall, vinyl ones can be set with spray adhesive. And the adhesive is nicely colored so you can see where to apply the corner beads after you spray. I think this goes without saying, but just in case, make sure you lay something down on the ground before you spray or do it outside so you don’t get sticky crap all over.

As you can tell, I’m absolutely winning at this spray thing. So proud of how awesomely terrible I am with aiming and spraying it on evenly.

Next on the list is to mud over the corner beads to hide them and then it’ll (hopefully) be time to paint.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash my hands again for the umpteenth time. Stupid sticky spray adhesive.

Until next time!