Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fixing the Entryway

So our cable went out last weekend, and comcast told us they'd come anytime in the next 5 hours- effectively trapping us at home. Being stuck, I decided to tackle the entryway, which had been one of our ugliest spots.

The small entryway has neat, original tile on the floor, but the walls were covered with thick, faux-wood wallpaper.  

I just scraped and pulled at the paper, pulling off the outer coat. 

Then, with some warm, soapy water, I wet down the remaining paper and scraped it off. 

Once all the paper was off, i just needed to patch a few holes. 

Then I just added a quick coat of paint, and ...


Total time, 1 week.
Active time, 4 hours.
Total cost = $0. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Training for a Marathon - 16 weeks to go

A quick history of me as a runner:

I have never been an athlete. I was on a soccer team as a kindergardener, and that's about it. However, in college one semester, I met a friend who was a runner, and convinced me to give it a try. For me at least, as soon as I started running, I wanted to race.  I'm super slow, so it's not about winning, it's about the excitement of running with other people when you have a cheering audience watching. It's exciting and fun! I started with a 5k in graduate school, and then started signing up for longer and longer races. First 5ks, then 10ks, then my first half marathon. After the half, it was clear I needed to run a full.

I knew I would be really slow, so I just wanted to run to finish. For me, it was all about the sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had done something so difficult that few people have done it. So last year, to celebrate my last year being single and turning 30- I signed up for the marine corps marathon. This is a huge marathon that attracts thousands of runners, which is perfect, because it means there are lots and lots of people there to cheer the runners on, and bands all along the way.

I didn't train very well, often skipping midweek short runs and some of the miles for my long runs. I also didn't adequately strength train, which is considered the cause of runner's knee and other knee injuries. 

A quick recap of last year: 

I started out happy but nervous. I knew I hadn't trained well enough and was worried I wouldn't finish.

Around mile 15, I really hit a wall. I had serious knee pain, which made it just excruciating to walk, and running was worse. Plus- it was the empty part of the course, where there was no one to cheer- which is just awful. This is what I looked like, which I think generally conveys the pathetic-ness that was me.  This is me trying to decide if I can just quit and take the metro home. 
I didn't think I would make it, until I found Matthew and Kim. Then I found R, who ran with me for a while, until I ran into Molly, who ran with me for a couple more miles. I began to think I could make it, and I started to look like this. 

Then - after running with Matthew for a while, and with R by my side for nearly 10 miles- I finally made it to the finish, where I looked like this and felt like I'd been run over by a truck. 

Then I got a beer and a burger and I quickly forgot everything, and looked like this and felt amazing.

Even though I only raced to finish, when I hit the finish line, I was filled with pride that I'd done it- and also a sense of disappointment that I was so slow. Inevitably, after a few months of sitting around, I decided I wanted to run it again to see if I could improve my time. 

The Plan:

My goal is to run again this fall, and complete the race in 4.5 hours. I've been running a bit for the last month or so, but now is time to get serious. From now on, I will run 3 times a week, including one long run on Sundays. The mileage will slowly increase for my long runs, until I reach a max of 20 miles. To avoid knee pain, I'm also going to do one weight lifting session and one yoga class every week to keep my muscles strong and stretched. Since it's exactly 1 million degrees outside now, none of this sounds great. But I'm excited to get started! 

Here we go again!

Planning for the Basement Renovation

We bought this house specifically because it had a massive basement that could become a rental apartment (in addition to other fabulous things like the yard and layout upstairs). Making the basement into an apartment is our next priority, so that the rental income can finance other important things, like installing air conditioning and paying off student loans. Unfortunately, it's a mess and needs a lot of work.

 This is the main living area and the front door. It's a huge space. Unfortunately, it comes with a thick wall-to-wall carpet that stinks. It seems like the previous owner's cat enjoyed the room and there is a leak, so the whole thing smells like cats and mold. Below is the bar, also in the main room, that comes with light-up glass block pillars. Yeah. We want to turn this front room into the main living area, with a kitchen, living room and dining table.

This is the bathroom. It's dingy and ugly and lined in cedar planks, for reasons that are unclear. It is a good size and layout though, so if we just update it and lighten it up, it should be nice.   

Below is what used to be a kitchen, and is now our laundry area. It's in the back of the house and the area we want to make into a bedroom. To make this a stand-alone apartment, we need to move the laundry upstairs for us. This is fabulous because it means no carrying laundry up and down two flights of stairs, but not fabulous because it means we have to get pipes installed where they currently are not.

We don't want to lose the entire basement, so we're planning to block off the staircase to keep the area under the stairs accessible to us for storage.

To be a little clearer: here is a floorplan of what the basement looks like now:

And here is a floorplan of what we want: 

To do this, we need to move laundry upstairs. We can't do the whole upstairs renovation yet, but we want to make sure we put the laundry in the place it will end up eventually. So here is the general plan for the whole second floor renovation, even though we'll just be doing a small piece now.

Current: (blue thing on top is the sleeping porch).

Here's the theory of the new master suite- we turn R's room into a bathroom and closet. His existing closet becomes the new laundry, accessible from the hall. We incorporate the sleeping porch into part bathroom, part office. We take down our existing closet to open up the bedroom into a much larger room. We add skylights to the master bedroom and bath for extra light. We also open up the current bathroom by taking out the tiny closet, moving the toilet over, adding a second sink and a tall cabinet.

To do the basement project, there are a few steps:
  1. Demo ugly rug, bathroom and old kitchen.
  2. Hire professionals to install hookups for new kitchen and upstairs washer/dryer.
  3. Fix up bathroom, turn door.
  4. Build new wall to block off steps and storage.
  5. Build bedroom closet.
  6. Install new sheetrock where needed and paint.
  7. Install kitchen cabinets, counters & backsplash.
  8. Install new floors.
  9. Add kitchen appliances.
First step, we're reaching out to contractors to get some estimates and a general feedback on the projects.  My goal is to be done by the end of this summer. I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


After the wedding, we knew we wanted to relax after 1.5 years of planning, and a really intense final month. We wanted to do a big, two-week honeymoon somewhere exotic that would be really interesting and exciting, but knew that we couldn't pull off the planning directly after the wedding. Instead, we postponed the mega-moon til this August, when it's easier to get out of town, and decided to do a short mini-moon to Barbados directly after the wedding.

The timing was perfect- it took a couple days after the wedding to get the house back together, to get everything dropped off or picked up, to get the final bills paid and the last tasks done. Then, we were ready to pack and go!

We picked Barbados because we wanted a beach that was easy enough to get to from the East Coast to be a cheapish trip, but hard enough that it wouldn't be packed with tourists and screaming children. It was perfect- it's just about as far south as you can get in the Caribbean.

We picked the Colony Club hotel - (not thrilled about the name), which was amazing. It had a few pools, a swim-up bar, and sat right on the beach. After not-so-subtlely mentioning that we were on our honeymoon, they upgraded us to a room with a balcony right on the beach. It was amazing.

Our balcony above

Some of the pools

 This picture really sums it up well- reading, drinking, sitting under the umbrellas by the pools/beach. 

The weather was perfect. It rained every day briefly, which was just enough to keep it cool and give us a little shade.

Anyway- we mostly stayed at the hotel, and rotated between the pools, the beach and the balcony. At one point we ventured out of the hotel to find dinner and bumped into an old British guy who apparently came to vacation a few years ago and never left. This is where we discovered the joys of pouring a shot of rum on top of rum-raisin ice cream. It's pretty fantastic.

Our other excursion was a day sailing trip. I have this dream of taking a sailing cruise, with the wind in my face and a martini in my hand- I picture it being very Kennedy-esque. Whenever we go to the beach I insist on signing up for sailing cruise thinking that that's what I'll get, even though it never is. As was to be expected, as soon as we got to the boat, the crew started handing out rum punches (it's 9am at this point), pounding the dance club music, and the passengers all started stripping down to soak up the sun.

It was a bit less of this:

and more of this*:

- than I had in mind. It's not generally what I was hoping for, but still fun.

We stopped at two places to snorkel, one with sea turtles and one with a lot of fish and an old wreck. The ecologist in me says it's not ok to feed fish at places like this, it's artificial and confusing to the animals. The rest of me says- I got to touch a sea turtle!! At one point, we were completely swarmed in several schools of fish, swimming right on top of us. I poked my head up and discovered the crew was actually throwing chum at the top of my head. So, gross- but really cool from under water.

On the way back, the storms started rolling in, so we really picked up speed. We were flying over the waves, drinking our rum punches, and listening to this song, which became the theme song for the trip. Then a dance party broke out on top of the boat, which was sort of cheesy and sort of awesome.

All in all- an awesome trip and exactly what we wanted. We came back full of fish, generally relaxed and ready to plan honeymoon number 2.

*as a fun extra- you should know that Barbados is full of older British tourists.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Building a Bookcase

The office in our new house has driving me crazy since we moved in.  Our old house had a big built-in bookcase with lots of room, plus we had lots of books hiding in storage that were brought to the new house when we moved. So when we moved in, we had a huge pile and lots of boxes of books with nowhere to go. Now, six months later, I thought it might be time to finally tackle the remaining clutter and make this room a little more useful.

I've been searching for bookcases to buy. I found that real solid wood ones are in the $400-$800 range, and cheaper ones are around $100, but made of particle board that will slowly bend/break under the weight of all the books. So, after a couple weeks/months of debate, I decided to build one myself!

The Pros:
1. It gave me something to do on my furlough day to feel useful and worthwhile (furlough days are really depressing).
2. It fixes our book storage problem.
3. I did it all by myself, so I get a huge sense of pride and accomplishment when I see it.
4. It is made of solid oak- which will last forever and should never bend or crumple.

Step 0: Buying supplies.
Not that it's a huge deal, but I don't generally drive. I can either walk or metro to work, and R usually does the weekend driving when we have to go somewhere. I wouldn't say i'm a bad driver exactly, but it's fair to say it makes me a little nervous. So, my first achievement was getting to the store myself, getting all the supplies I needed and getting them back home.

Step 1: Cutting all the wood.
I found directions online for a bookcase that used tools we already have here,  though I changed the dimensions to make it taller. We don't have an extensive tool collection, so it was key that I didn't need more than a circular saw and hand saw. However, once I actually started cutting, I realized quickly that it would be better with a table saw or miter saw to make cleaner cuts. Instead, as I cut, the boards would start moving away from me- so I had to get creative with a box of cat litter and some spare towels to hold everything in place. After a few hours, I got all the pieces cut.

Step 2: Staining.
Then I stained them all a walnut finish. Staining is easy, just stinky and sticky. I prefer to stain or paint before assembling things, it's just easier and faster. It turned out a little lighter than I expected, so I added a second coat, even though the can said it only needed one.

Step 3: Assembly!
After everything had a few hours to dry, I started piecing them all together. With just a hammer and nails and my trusty cat-litter box to help hold, I got the whole thing assembled in about two hours.

Step 4: Carry upstairs. 
I definitely got some help for this part, as it turns out a solid wood bookcase is rather heavy and I built it two floors below its new home. But after a bit of clever manuevering up the stairs, here she is!


It's still a bit lighter than I expected, so I may restain at some point. And I want to build a twin to match, but otherwise I'm done!

Total cost = $150
Total time = 1 week, of which 5 hours were working and the rest of the time was drying/waiting.