Friday, June 9, 2017

Cement Work

Alright - here's another snazzy topic. Let's talk about cement.

You may (but probably don't) remember that when we were working on our half bath last year, we found out that the cause of a regular leak was a huge hole in the cement on the side of the house. Because we're in a row house, you have to climb into our neighbor's yard to see the problem, so we had no idea until our contractor got up on the fence to take a look. We knew that it wasn't smart to finish the room without fixing the hole first, but put it off until now.

the outside of the mudroom - the major crack causing leaks

As is always true with every project we tackle, once we have a contractor out to look at something, we decide that it makes sense to add on on a couple other at the same time. Under the mudroom floor, we noticed that a huge chunk of concrete had fallen loose, making us concerned about the stability of the structure. There were also a bunch of other spots with cracks in the front and back porches, plus when we put in the new stairs, they ran right on top of the cement border for the flower beds. So, sure enough, one small patch turned into a much bigger project.

under the mudroom floor - a huge chunk has fallen down

looking down the new back steps - stepping right onto the flower bed

big cracks across the front steps

a big crack on the ceiling of the back porch

It took a while to find the right type of company to do this kind of work, and then to wait until the weather was warm enough to do it. Then, we finally got scheduled and they got to work. It took a couple days, but now everything looks amazing. We're struggling not to add more to the project, because the fixed up spots make everything else look so much worse now.

Day 1: they sand down the front porch and fill in the cracks

Day 2: They cover the front porch with a thin coat of cement

The front steps get a smooth coat too - no more cracks

filling in the crack on the back porch

rounding the curb at the bottom of the steps

and of course - fixing the actual hole that started this project

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Tropical Beach Getaway with a 2-year old

So our kid is now 2. We have tried a few trips with him, mostly to see family for the holidays, and our one experimental trip to Chicago with my mother-in-law, which we decided was successful but not relaxing. We were getting overwhelmed by jobs stuff and house stuff and felt a desperate need for a good relaxing vacation, which hasn't happened in years. We debated whether it made sense to take a trip with our toddler, knowing that it wouldn't be the relaxing and rejuvenating trip we wanted, but ultimately decided that we could either take a not-as-great-as-before trip or nothing at all, and decided to do it. On a bit of a whim, we booked 4 nights at a gorgeous hotel and cheapish flights to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.

our beach in st. croix

our fabulous hotel

The Good Stuff:
We brought pool toys and beach toys, and spent a good deal of time either in the water or the sand playing. While our son is still at the stage where he needs to be constantly watched (especially around water), we were able to take turns watching him and playing, and both had fun with him and a couple moments to relax by ourselves and soak in the beautiful surroundings.

making sandcastles (and then stepping on them)

guess who's in charge of sun protection in this family?

swimming in the pool

sitting by the pool

on our way to dinner one night

a moment to myself during naptime

We booked this hotel because the rooms were small suites, with a kitchenette and small living room area, which gave us enough room for his crib. It also had an amazing screened in porch, which gave us a place to be while he was sleeping.

napping on the porch

The kitchenette turned out to be critical - since meals in resort were ridiculously expensive (we spent $60 just on breakfast one day). Our first day, we drove into town to pick up some basic groceries and booze, and were able to eat breakfast and lunch in the room to avoid the resort prices. Not only was the resort restaurant ridiculously expensive, but the options were pretty terrible - when it's that hot out, the idea of a huge burger and fries for lunch is completely unappealing. We were thrilled to just be able to pick at some fresh fruit and crackers in the room.

hotel pic of the kitchenette - ours was covered in snacks and drinks

The OK Stuff:
This is now our third plane trip with him, and I think we're getting the hang of it. The actual travelling part of travelling is never fun, but this wasn't that bad. We didn't check any bags, and just squeezed into two carry-ons, which were thankfully gate-checked anyway.  We got a crib from the hotel and rented the car seat from the car rental company, so we didn't need to travel with either of those. We brought some books and snacks on the plane for entertainment, and finally broke down and downloaded some tv shows for him to watch (he loves Elmo now). We also tried to book the flights around naptime, so he eventually fell asleep on both flights. All in all, not bad for 6 hours of travel time.

on the plane - in his own seat for the first time

yay napping on the plane

It turns out the St Croix is a great destination for diving, which we would both love to do, but can't do with him. The first rule of scuba is that you need a dive partner, so we couldn't take turns and each go by ourselves either. So, we had to sadly walk by the dive shop at the resort, wistfully wishing we could dive, but knowing that it wasn't that kind of trip. We would've also loved to go for a hike through the rainforest, or a sunset sail, but we had to make amends with the notion that this wasn't that kind of trip and maybe we could come back another time.

The Bad Stuff:
So we knew it wouldn't be a perfect trip, but we also got kind of unlucky on this one. On our second day, after a nice morning playing in the sand and swimming in the pool, our kiddo was clearly exhausted and crashed a couple hours early for his nap. When he woke up, he was clearly sick, with a raging fever and miserable face. He would cry constantly unless I was holding him, and would only fall asleep in my lap - so for a solid day, we were stuck in the room, unable to move. (Silver lining, I finally finished a book.) We were able to track down some children's Tylenol that we had to force-feed him, but then, after another night of sleep, he started feeling better.

Trying to make the most of the remainder of the trip, we dashed to the beach for a couple hours of fun in the sand and water. As we were playing in the sand, I accidentally stepped on a bee, which I happen to be allergic to, that hurt like hell. We tried to make the most of the night, and quickly dashed into town to get dinner away from the resort, but my foot was slowly swelling up, hurting like crazy. It wasn't until we were back in town that I was able to get to an urgent care facility to get some shots and drugs to get it fixed. (still hurting now, 3 days later, but getting better).

my foot after the plane trip home, before I could get medical help

So, I think we're still debating whether this was worth it or not. I mean, it was absolutely gorgeous, and I would absolutely go back. We had a bunch of fun times, either with him in the sand or the pool, or just hanging out by ourselves on the porch during naptime, reading and drinking all of the rum. But obviously it was not the relaxing and refreshing vacation that we were hoping for, even considering that we were traveling with a toddler. I think we are learning how to travel with him and getting a little better at that, while also learning to adjust our expectations. (lesson confirmed - always get a kitchen, new lesson - always bring children's Tylenol). I'm hoping that as he gets a little older, and maybe we get a little luckier next time, relaxing travel will be possible.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The 2nd Birthday: A Kitchen and a Construction-Themed Party

So we are super excited to get started on the big renovation projects, more on that soon. Meanwhile,  our kid just turned 2. Not only was that surprising and shocking in many ways, but it meant that it was time for another birthday party and an over-the-top birthday present. Last year really set the bar when I made a book that took a month to complete. (He still really likes it, btw). So this year, the plan was to give him a play kitchen, since he loves to pretend to cook, but to fix it up super spiffy, as a small scale replica of our future kitchen. One weekend a couple weeks ago, we swung by Ikea and picked up their Duktig, and then I got to work.

the Ikea Duktig

Step 1 - Countertops
The first thing I did was to cover the countertop in faux-marble contact paper. I didn't do a great job though, and left a bunch of bubbles, so I eventually stripped it off and did it again more carefully, using a credit card to smooth as I went.

the original piece was unfinished wood 

covered in contact paper - looking nice

Step 2 - Appliances
The basic model has white doors for the microwave and oven, which is just not good enough. I taped over the "glass" part with painter's tape, and then just spray painted them with silver spray paint to make them stainless steel.

microwave and oven doors ready to go

getting painted in the back yard

Step 3 - Painted Cabinets
The basic model also has blond wood for all the rest of the cabinets, which is definitely not our color scheme. So we picked up two quart size paint cans, one dark blue and one white, to paint the bottom and top cabinets respectively, to create a two-tone tuxedo cabinet look.

the blue bottom cabinet, coming together

holding down a blue door
Step 4 - Handles
The box comes with plastic handles that felt sort of clumsy and chinsey - so we grabbed three new handles (5" set) to upgrade the others. Unfortunately, none of the screw options fit, so we ended up having to run out again to get the right size of screws to attach them to the doors (#8, 3/4 inch FYI).

nice new handles on the doors
(if you look close - you can see a nice cat print on the blue door)

Step 5 - Oven Knobs
One more easy add was to attach a couple knobs to the front as oven knobs, though I'm a little concerned that this will encourage him to play with the real oven knobs.

three oven knobs going on

Step 6 - Hinges
One thing I wasn't thrilled about was the way the two bottom cabinet doors opened. Both were predrilled to have handles across the top (good for the oven, weird for the cabinet), and to open out sideways (good for the cabinet, weird for the oven). So, we turned the cabinet door 90 degrees so the handle would be vertical (the door is a perfect square, so it still fit on the spot perfectly), and then redrilled the holes for the Ikea hinges. We wanted to add a hinge to the oven door so it would open down, but realized in drilling the other door that Ikea furniture isn't super resilient - it's just pressed sawdust - so we were worried about drilling more and scrapped the idea.

Step 7 - Accessories
I had plans for something grander involving a pot of herbs, but instead ran out of time and just settled with placing some play food and cans in with pots and pans and a bunch of bows.

all ready to go

Gift Time
So after slowly poking at this project every night for a couple weeks, it was finally ready to go. We snuck it down into place the night before his birthday. Once he woke up, we tried to play it super cool, and casually brought him into the living room, waiting for him to discover it. Once he did - he was very excited, and spent at least an hour opening all the doors and looking at all the food and pots and pans - it was a huge hit.

The Party
So, later that day, we got ready for a small party. The goal was to be a little lower key than last year, with just family and all food that would be made in advance, so no one would be in the kitchen during the party. We made a BBQ pork shoulder because it could be mostly done in the slowcooker the night before. I made a bunch of cold salads (a pasta, a cole slaw, a spinach salad), because they could all be made during the nap and eaten room temperature. I still ended up in the kitchen a bit, making an unnecessarily complex pitcher cocktail and arranging things on serving dishes, but mostly it was a success.

dinner coming out - mostly cold salads and BBQ sandwiches

enjoying the meal with family at an adults table

the little porch serves as an excellent kids table

For decorations, we went with a construction theme, out of his love for construction cones and diggers. During naptime, I put up some yellow and orange streamers and balloons, which always make a huge impression for not much money. I also picked up some cheap cones and rings to place ring toss, meant to be a cheap decoration, but he's pretty excited about the cones staying as a permanent toy now.

balloons and streamers coming down from the skylight

more streamers and balloons around the house

enjoying the balloons and decorative cones

My pride and joy (you know, other than the kid) was the cake. I went a little pinteresty on it. It's a two layer (top layer is smaller than the bottom layer) chocolate cake, with a ramp going from the bottom layer to the top. I added a few small construction vehicles driving up the ramp, and lifting crushed oreos into a dump truck. It's small and dark, so it's not super obvious what's going on, but he was pretty excited about it.

my cake

a closeup of the bulldozer on the ramp

cake passing the important test

 All in all, it was a pretty big success. He is very excited about the kitchen and the party, especially all the orange cones. So, inevitably, the two got combined when he decided to wash all the cones in the sink.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Introducing the Master Suite Project

So, as I last posted, we are finally moving forward with both the kitchen and master suite projects. Because we installed skylights based on our planned changes to the floorplan, they are in awkward spots in the current floorplan, forcing us to complete the project. Adding plumbing and electrical for this new upstairs bathroom will involve knocking some holes in the kitchen below, so we are doing both projects at the same time. Here's the story on the master suite part of the project:

Work Done So Far:
First, a look at how this space got to where it is now.
  • When we first moved in, there was a big closet in the spare room next to our bedroom, and the sleeping porch was a disgusting mess because it was surrounded with the crankable windows made of lots of small panes of glass.
original sleeping porch
  • In the big renovation of 2014, they closed in the sleeping porch with real windows and siding. They also installed the washer/dryer in the closet of the spare room, moving the closet door so that it could be accessed from the hall. 
closet getting prepped for new W/D

 sleeping porch gets closed in
  • Last spring, I got frustrated with the crappy master closet and hung some shelves and a closet rod in the spare room, where the walk-in closet should be. 
I take over the spare room
  • Last fall, we put up sheetrock in the sleeping porch, but stopped short of actually finishing it. 
sheetrock going up

this is as far as we got
  • Then, just a couple weeks ago, we had new skylights installed based on the final layout, which are in awkward spots in the current layout. We can't actually see them because the ceiling is still in the way.  
see look - there's a skylight up there! 

The reason we want to create a master suite is partially because the current layout is awkward and wasted. The spare room is too small to be a real bedroom, and no longer has a closet. The sleeping porch is also long, narrow, and useless. Speaking of long, narrow, and useless, the current master closet is a total waste of space because you can't see what's in it. Also, we only have one full bath in the house that we share with guests and the kiddo - so we thought having a second one would really add value to the house.

The new layout creates a new walk-in closet and demolishes the old, current one to make the master bedroom bigger. In the remaining part of the spare room, we add a double vanity and the toilet. Then we open up the current window into a door, and put a shower and bath tub out on the sleeping porch. The other half of the sleeping porch becomes an office.

The current style of this space is pretty lacking. I have tried to fix up the bedroom before, but it always looks pretty lame, mostly due to the lack of natural light, which should be fixed by the new skylights. The sleeping porch/office obviously, is still not finished, so there is no style speak of at all. I would like one cohesive space that feels calm and pulled together. And the spare room is basically just a big mess, with my closet exposed and piles of other stuff that seem to accumulate.

I have previously posted my design plans for the bedroom and the new office - but now I'm trying to shift to thinking about this as one cohesive space, instead of a couple awkward rooms. So the general plan is similar to the kitchen, with greys and blues, white marble in the bathroom, lots of walnut wood accents.

  1. This is our current grey-blue wall color
  2. New curtains for the windows
  3. A small desk with storage
  4. A comfy reading chair that ideally folds out into a twin bed
  5. Pretty pillow
  6. A real headboard
  7. Our current blue/grey quilt
  8. New fancy sheets with bluish trim
  9. I love this dresser for either the bedroom or bath vanity
  10. Bronze fixtures and faucets 
  11. Freestanding bathroom storage
  12. Marble hex tile for the floor and big tiles for the shower walls
  13. Blue towels!
The Work Plan
As I mentioned before, the plan is not to use a general contractor, but to hire the subs directly and do some of the work ourselves to reduce cost. We will hire out the demo, framing, plumbing, electrical, and sheetrock - then we'll take over and do the paint, installing fixtures and finishes.

Having both projects going at the same time is going to save us money and time, but it will make it even more miserable to live with. Thankfully, we can simply move over to the guest bedroom and use the current bathroom and generally stay clear of this area while the work happens.