Oh Christmas Tree

Tom's favorite holiday is Christmas and I would rather refer to it as a happy holiday.  Mainly, our purpose for the season is getting to spend time with friends and family.

Some people may refer to me as a grinch, but that is not the case.  Growing up in the town that has the world's largest Christmas store mildly taints my perception of things.  Since Tom loves the holiday, I try to do something every year.  Winter-themed dish towels and a decorated tree count, correct?

Anyway, this is our holiday homage.

  Yes, it is a baby tree which cost us a whopping total of $13 plus a pot we had hanging around for planting season.  As you can see, there is a bit of door scraping in the background.  Oh well.  Our house is constantly under construction.  After the holiday, we plan on putting the tree in our yard.  We hear that it may not survive because of the massive change in temperature, but we'll probably put it in our cold laundry room, then in the freezing basement before we finally take it outside.

I'm in love with this tree.


Currently Listening to "Cherry Bomb" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Oh My Sweet Carolina

Ok, in this case, it would be "My Sweet Savannah" and oh-how-sweet she is for passing along this golden nugget of information to all of us in the blogging world, particularly in the home improvement arena.   Here she is on a special post called, "How I refinished my wood floors".  Please check it out - it's totally worthwhile and amazing, ESPECIALLY if you have a home with wood floors you would like to contemplate some sort of project about. 

Many people have somewhat frequent blog posts about objects, craft items or furniture they love.  Well, this is similar in that my loves and likes are about different methods of home improvement, tools and the like. 

You may have noticed, but the floors in our house are original hardwoods and I have been PINING (you see what I did right there?) to clean them up and do some refinishing.  

Does anybody know what that ring around the floor is about a foot in from the walls?  I can't seem to figure out what the world could make those patterns. 

Same deal going on here with the weird ring going about 1' in from the walls.  We had radiators (well, the house did at some point judging by the 1" diameter holes in our floors) at some point in time, but those could not have caused what we are seeing now.  It's a mystery!

In our kitchen, you can tell the previous owners tried to paint the floor the same color as the dark, icky green walls.  From what it appears, they then decided it was a horrible idea and proceeded to sand the floor down.  Awesome idea, poor execution.  This is only a little section, but the ENTIRE kitchen has green stained planks.  *sigh*

Seems fairly quick and easy, right?  Now we just have to come up with a few hundred bucks, a place to put all of our stuff temporarily, a weekend and a way to protect the floors that we would inevitably end up scratching up terribly.

After seeing her post, it made me want to run to Home Depot or Lowe's and rent one of those zamboni-esque machines.  You'll see what I'm talking about when you read the Savannah post.

I suppose we have to finish the painting, master bedroom/bathroom, platform bed, etc, etc, etc. until we can undertake another project, but ahhh, a girl can dream.


Currently Listening to "Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne


Cry, Cry, Cry

Though this was the song I was listening to at the end of my last post, it seems to be more appropriate right now.  I love drawing plans on engineering paper (you may have noticed).  It makes me feel pretty smart.  Tom likes to go over it and tweak the dimensions to use the least amount of materials possible.  We make a pretty good team.  We also love building things together and haven't gotten a chance to do much of that since we have moved in.

In comes the bed platform.  Originally, I wanted to go with Anna White's plans for a King Store Bed on Knock Off Wood.  It's beautiful and functional and after I figured out the materials we would need for the king-size model, I looked at the price tag.  Oye.  Those plans go out the window even though they are so beautiful.  We just can't afford to spend $200+ right now even though a box springs and frame would be more than that.

So we went with 2x4's and plywood.  We had some 2x4's in the basement from deconstruction (yay for reducing and reusing!) and leftover plywood, so we didn't need to buy nearly as many 2x4's.

After the plans were finalized, we measured the actual mattress (the sweet one we got on a super sale from overstock.com).  King beds are supposed to be 76"x80" unless it is a California King, which ours was not.  Dimensions for our bed were 75"x79".  Another oye! here.  At this point, the original beautiful drawing on that engineering paper was looking rough from edit after edit after...you get the point.

Finally, we started measuring and cutting and loving our chop saw that has the amazing mitering feature (more about that in a tutorial to come).  So all the pieces were cut and we realized that our platform was going to incredibly heavy.  Oh well.

Next step is to actually assemble the pieces.  We went to our two stashes of screws - we had 3" screws!  However, they were decking screws for outdoor use, not wood screws.  My stash contained 5 boxes - 1 1/8", 1 1/4" and 2" wood screws.  Well, that's not going to work when we need to go through 1 1/2" wood and actually secure it to another piece.

You know how we come across roadblocks?  Ta-dah!  Here's another for your entertainment.  At least we got half the work done.  Optimus even helped!

Life is funny?


Currently Listening to "Primative (The Way I Treat You)" by Ambulance Ltd


Obla Dee Obla Dah

...Life goes on, yay!

Thanksgiving weekend is coming to a close, but we are still hard at work using our time off to get things done around the house.

For example, this is our plan for tonight.  We've had a new bed, but haven't been able to use it because we don't want it sitting on the dusty floor.

Plans (drawn by me!...I'm excited, can't you tell?)


Currently Listening to "Cry, Cry, Cry" by Johnny Cash


I Could Have Danced....Maybe

Ok, so anybody who truly knows me has probably seen me bust a move at least once...if you can call it that.  For somebody who loves music as much as I do, I tend to keep the dancing limited to the privacy of my own house when it is only me and Optimus.

You may have noticed how my posts somewhat always relate to music in a way.  In order to keep us motivated, a big part of that is having excellent music to keep us working.  As always, you can click on the linked area and amazon will let you listen to 30 second clips of each song.  I love that feature.

In a stunning round number 3 (here you can find Round 1 and Round 2), here are the current jams (what am I, 50?) playing in our house:

"Caught Up In You" by .38 Special
"Suzie Q" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"One Fine Day" by The Chiffons
"Crocodile Rock" by Elton John
"Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"The Late Greats" by Wilco
"All Night Long" by Joe Walsh
"Chelsea Bridge" by Buddy Rich
"Devil with a Blue Dress" by Mitch Ryder
"Green Tambourine" by Lemon Pipers
"Jet Airliner" by Steve Miller Band
"Kennedy" by Ratatat
"Warm It Up" by Girl Talk
"Shop Around" by The Miracles
"Walk Away" by Joe Walsh
"Stranglehold" by Ted Nugent
"Fortune Cookie" by Los Straitjackets (it's free right now on amazon!)
"Your Mama Don't Dance" by Kenny Loggins
"Black Betty" by Ram Jam

As it turns out, this rendition has far fewer newer things on it as well as less indie.  Anybody have similar tastes so you can suggest new music?  Any particular music you like to clean, work or craft to?


Currently Listening to "Johnny B Goode" by Chuck Berry


Around the World

About this time last year we were living in Portland, Oregon.  It's fairly crazy to think about how much things have changed in just a year in regards to where we live.  We moved from a bustling Pacific Northwest metropolis of over half a million to an east coast, southern town of around 2,000.  Talk about a culture shock.

Anyway, I digress.  At this point last year, we had a friend living with us and part of our plan was to have an "Around the World" theme in regards to food so we could try some new and interesting meals.  Living in Portland meant a lot more places to eat out AND they had tons of vegetarian options everywhere.  We didn't want to fall into that trap so we started cooking and made that a large part of our night.  

Now we have nowhere to eat out within 15 minutes, so we cook a lot more.  Instead of vegetables and rice every night, Tom and I decided to start another round of "Around the World", starting off with a Moroccan Stew.  It's way healthier for us and it gives us time to spend together doing something fun while saving a lot of money.  We'll keep you updated on our next ventures to far away and exotic places.

Moroccan Stew - Crock-Pot Style
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2-3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 cup or 1 can of canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup of carrot peels (just peeling the whole carrot down to nothing)
1/2 cup of vegetable broth or water
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp salt

Directions - Throw it all in a crock pot and let it cook for 5-6 hours. 
Makes at least 6 servings (enough for it to be multiple meals throughout the week!)

We also threw in some fresh tomatoes from our garden (in November...awesome, right?).  If you have good regional or international vegetarian recipes that you think we'd like, please pass them along.  


Currently Listening to "Cannonball" by The Breeders


Time-Suck Theater: 3rd Time's a...Something...

Let's shoot back to last week for a moment, when we were going to transform the random concrete landing strips on the backyard into a beautiful garden space by planting a bunch of tulips and lilies around the concrete. My awesome sister-in-law had already helped us out by getting rid of the overgrowth on top of the concrete. Working together this should only take us another reasonable 2 hours. Dig holes, plop in bulbs, cover them up. Easy, right?

Wro......well, actually yeah, it was pretty easy. We got half the bulbs planted when I pulled out the shovel to dig some 6" deep holes for a batch of bulbs that required it. Then, clunk.

Wrong! (You see what's happening here?) All we wanted to do was plant pretty flowers! Apparently this house has other plans...namely, to dig up the parking lot under the entire yard. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but here's the first chunk of concrete I dug up. This is just the beginning. On all sides of the random visible strips are about 5 to 6 feet of buried concrete (with some brick mixed in). I think we'll be leaving the rest of it in place...except for the areas that need to be dug up to plant things. Here's the pile of giant amalgamated concrete and brick blocks we dug up that afternoon...are you kidding me?!?

There were even some random pieces of terra cotta block in here. Yes, this real. In case you don't remember what that is, it's the very strange offspring of cinderblocks and bricks that are used as foundation walls in the mid-20's...like in our basement (as demonstrated by Jessie). Some other shards of ceramic looked a lot like pieces from an old clay smokestack. We just so happen to have roughly 40% of one left in our attic above the kitchen. Sweet.

Task #3: Success! It only took us 4 hours to almost finish a 2 hour job. Yeah. House: 3, Tom and Jessie: 0.

So...we lose. But wait! We did manage to get all of the door sweeps installed. That means no more light and wind gusts coming in under every door to the outside world. w00t. House: 3, Tom and Jessie: an emphatic 1.

However, while I was installing the door sweeps Jessie was filling in some cracks in the foundation with Great Stuff...then she asked me to come look at this:

That half-eaten sheath around those two giant wires is supposed to be protecting the main power feed into our house. The squirrels have other plans, which is not cool. No problem, I'll grab some extra thick dielectric tape and wrap it up before it gets any worse, just a 5 minute delay....right?

Wrong. What is going on here? This is a giant collection of flies just hanging out on the inside of this one basement window next to the electric meter. Words cannot express...I mean seriously, what is this crap? After cleaning that up, it's another 10 minutes of delay...bringing the final score to House: 4...no, 5. Tom and Jessie: 1.

That's all for this edition of Time-Suck Theater. Join us next time...we try to do anything. Yay us.


Currently listening to "Midnight" by Blindside


The Best Laid Plans of Jessie and Tom...

...often go awry. That's one of few true literary references you'll see me make, so enjoy it. Currently I'm trying to find a poignant saying to describe a phenomenon that we experience almost daily in our home. Steinbeck said it pretty well I think, but it's not nearly depressing enough.

Maybe you remember me discussing this problem when installing the dishwasher back when we moved in. Here's the idea: every job, no matter the scale or complexity, ends up taking 5 to 10 times as long as you plan. Every time. No matter what. Can somebody come up with a catchy phrase to describe our torment and frustration?

We've got a few things to catch up on, but I'm going to run this theme into the ground in detailing this weekend's events in three exciting installments....aaaaand begin!

So, first my mom took the initiative to search on Craigslist and find us a dryer for cheap so we could take care of our laundry in the cold, wet days of winter because it's not as much fun then as it is in the picture above. She went to check it out and paid, all we had to do was pick it up, which we are both extremely grateful for. From the description and sale cost we weren't sure what to expect, but the dryer looks about 10 years newer than it apparently is which is a fantastic surprise. We load it in the back of the car, drive to dinner, then on the way home we get rear-ended. Naturally.

As the story goes, a couple of stupid kids were running across the street while we were turning right, Jessie yelled and I saw them NOT stopping so I slammed on my brakes, avoiding totally wrecking their entire beings. The car behind me slid as it was just starting to rain, hitting us in the bumper, causing almost no damage, but freaking us out and wasting a good bit of our time.

We regroup, come home, unload the washer into the back corner of the dungeon next to the washer, start a load of laundry in the washer, then try to hook up the dryer. All we have to do is hook up a vent line (two screws) and stick a plug in the wall and we're done, right?

Wrong. This house was setup for a natural gas dryer. Thus there is only a 120V outlet and a really poorly placed, completely unsupported iron natural gas pipe hanging down about 8 feet from the ceiling (it's the black pipe on the left).

Ok, no problem. Some previous owner wanted to have the laundry in the mud room between the kitchen and the deck (not our ideal choice, but we'll roll with it for now). Jessie and I try to lug the dryer out of the basement and try squeezing it up the deck stairs, but to no avail. So we walk around the house, in the front, through 3 more doorways to the mudroom and plop it down next to the outlet. Now we can just plug it in, right?

Wrong. Apparently, this dryer is too new for this house at 11 years old. 4 prongs does not equal 3 prongs. Newer dryers have a case ground wire on the 4th prong, not to mention a different physical layout to the plug. The only two solutions here are: (1) rewire the outlet to the new 230V, 4-wire standard outlet in the location we want it to be or (2) put a 3-prong adapter cable onto the dryer and hope it doesn't burn the house down. Guess what we did.

Jessie picked up a cable, all I had to do was remove three nuts and put the new wires on...so of course I drop the ratchet socket into the dryer on the 3rd nut. In case you didn't know, dryers are almost completely sealed boxes, requiring me to tip it upside down on the corner next to the wire connection to get the socket to fall out.

Great, now the wire is on and I plug it in. The outlet is, of course, positioned in the corner right next to the door. Ok, so the door to the deck will officially be just for show until we rewire this outlet. Whatever, it works...finally......just three days later.

Task #1: 3 days vs. however long it takes to stick a plug in the wall (for argument's sake, let's call it a 5-minute job). For those keeping score at home, that's House: 1, Tom and Jessie: 0.


Currently listening "The Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring (seems appropriate)

Time-Suck Theater: Installment #2

Our main goal for the weekend was to get some weatherizing done. Looking at our financials and places that need it most, we decide that insulating the walls inside the staircase to the basement would be the best place to start given that our basement is almost open to the outdoors. Finishing the basement will take a ton of time and money and it's not conditioned space anyways, so the cheapest way to seal up the upstairs is to seal that not-so-surprisingly porous entrance for cold air.
We pick up some inexpensive rolled insulation to line the walls (and this kiddy-extinguisher to keep it from acting as kindling), along with sweeps and some seals for the door. Installing rolled insulation is easy: cut it to the right length, stick it between the studs, and staple the brown paper to the stud faces. This whole job should only take us a reasonable 2 hours.

Wrong. Where are we installing this insulation again? In the 10-foot-tall walls overlooking the shoddy 10-foot staircase to the basement? Hmm...I guess we need to figure out a way to reach the top of the walls since there is absolutely nowhere we can set up ladder. My brilliant solution: death ladder. Just like the original construction ladder to the attic, I'd just take a couple sturdy scrap boards and screw them into the studs to give me one step and one handle to hold onto, then allowing me to reach out and staple in the insulation.

I liked my solution, Jessie thought it was stupid and dangerous. Her brilliant solution: platform of unspeakable horror. She grabbed some scrap 2x4s riddled with nails and tossed them over the divide. "So now I have a bed of nails to fall onto?" I asked. Then she takes a piece of 3/8" plywood and puts it over the top. "Oh, that's much more secure."

Well, like many things in a good marriage, this is a matter of compromise. Our compromise: use both brilliant solutions. This way, when I fall through the pile of scrap wood and nails I'll be doing so from at least three feet higher up. After that little delay, we're back to work and moving right along, three strips in place. They'll all go in this easy, right?

Wrong! First, we need to remove these several blocks of scrap wood used to support an electrical outlet. Then, we need to figure out what to do with the stove hood that's venting directly into the staircase. Awesome, right? Of course this takes some time because each scrap piece of wood is nailed to the next. Wow, do I hate nails. Now that that's done, we'll reroute the vent......actually, let's not. We'll just cut the power to it, block it off, and just not use it (being that it was use-less before the insulation anyways). Back in business! Funny, some of these strips are just a wee bit tighter than others. Didn't we measure this ahead of time to make sure they're normal construction?

WRONG! I mean, yes. Yes we measured two studs. They were indeed 16"-on-center. Those two. Here are the on-center measurements for the rest of the studs in these walls (in inches):

16 - 15.5 - 19 - 16.5 - 16.25 - 16 - 12.5 / 12.5 - 12.75 - 9.5 / 10 - 12.75 - 14.25 - 14 - 14 - 14.25 - 14 - 4.75 - 16.5 - 17.75

Ugh. What happened in here? I could get the spacing more accurate blindfolded. Maybe not much more accurate, but ignoring the studs on the end, the spacing varies by as much as 6.25" from smallest to biggest gap. So we made it almost halfway around with several gaps to be filled in later. Only took us most of the day with no simple solution to the stunning 1923 building standards.
Task #2: This isn't done yet and it will certainly be another day of work. Scoreboard - House: 2, Tome and Jessie: 0.

We drowned our sorrows in our family favorite: grilled cheese and tomato soup. Optimus was intrigued, but ultimately disappointed.


Currently listening to "Ice Cream Man" by Van Halen