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Five Years

Five Years

Five years ago we bought our house. We haven’t done a lot cosmetically to the house itself (functionally is a whole different story), but the yard has certainly changed drastically. For the last five years, we’ve been amusing and annoying the neighbors with our landscaping attempts. We’ve slowly been making progress and this year we had another big push as the five year anniversary of our home purchase loomed.

Good Bye Mountain Ash
Noel cutting up the trunk of the Mountain Ash.

As much as I hate to admit it, the tree our neighbor insinuated we’d killed did die. Not from neglect though, but from a disease. (It was growing mushroom like growths from the trunk and the limbs were rotting and falling off.) Last fall we came to terms with the fact that it was beyond saving and cut it down.

Spencer Apple Tree
Our new Spencer Apple Tree.

This spring we dug the stump out and planted an apple tree in its place. (We replaced a bunch of the dirt in case the disease lingered in the soil.)  It will be several years before it produces fruit. Maybe you’ll hear about it in my 10-year update.

Branch Pile
A pile of branches as tall as me.

It was a snowy spring and we lost several branches from other trees in the yard. We’d also hoarded a bunch of other branches from pruning and tree removal.

Mulching.
The chipper in action.

It was enough that we rented a wood chipper and with the help of some neighbors turned the unsightly pile into useful mulch. It may not be the most beautiful mulch, but I love that we took something ugly that most people would send to the landfill and turned it into something useful.

Yard today
View of the yard from the porch.

We also finally built our boxes for growing vegetables in the front yard. The dirt arrived two days before we left on a big trip, so we provided more amusement for the neighborhood as we planted our vegetable seedlings with headlamps until well after dark.

Rock Path
Rock path and plants by the house.

We’d made a huge pile of rocks as we excavated different parts of the yard (some of which seemed like they might have been part of some landscaping plan from a different era), and finally found a purpose for them in a little path. We have more things we want to do to the yard (both long and short-term), but it feels like things are finally starting to look intentional.

Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.
Tulips growing through the Buffalo Grass in the Spring.

I half jokingly told one of my brothers that yard work is the number one way we do missionary work. Joking aside, it probably is one of the number one ways we’ve gotten to know our neighbors. People will stop and chat or occasionally we’ll even rope people into our crazy projects. (Like when we chippered the mulch we got help from a neighbor and then helped that neighbor and another one mulch some of their own branches.) Being those crazy, but friendly DIYers has definitely helped develop a better sense of community. And that includes the judgmental elderly lady across the street. She recently told us the yard is “starting to look good” which we took as a huge compliment.

Yard Part 2
View of the yard from the driveway.

When we first bought the house I feel like the yard was pretty boring; lately, it’s definitely become an outgrowth of our crazy, but hopefully beautiful personalities. Happy five years house!

2011: The year we bought the house.

2011

2012: The year we went nuclear on the yard.

2012

2013: First Garden in a Box and Buffalo Grass Sod

2013

2014: The year of neglect maintenance as we built the backyard playground.

2014

2015: Dug up all the bushes and planted a second Garden in a Box near the house.

2016

2016: Mulch, boxes, and a new apple tree.

2016

The Unscheduled Basement Remodel

The Unscheduled Basement Remodel

The day my parents came to visit, I noticed a smell in the basement when I was exercising. At first I couldn’t figure out what was causing the smell. The carpet didn’t feel wet so I opened windows and sprinkled baking soda over the carpet hoping it was just normal basement funk. Later that evening after vacuuming, it still smelled and I asked Noel for a second opinion. He agreed it smelled weird, but also couldn’t detect any wetness in the TV room. He proceeded into the guest bedroom and moved the table that sits under the window. When we saw that the spot the table legs had rested on was damp and moldy our hearts sank. We pulled back the carpet and discovered it had traveled the length of that room, under the wall and into the TV room. The carpet padding (most of it replaced from our 2013 trip to Funky Town) had done a really good job of soaking up the moisture which is why the problem was not immediately obvious. Since we had guests arriving within hours we did what damage control we could and then let the rooms sit torn apart for several days. Leaving the room for awhile actually turned out to be a good thing. The next week was another heavy rain week and we were able to figure out exactly how water was getting into the basement. Honestly, we feel a little bit stupid about the whole thing. As it turns out, the dirt in front of our house isn’t graded terribly well. That in itself is a problem, but we had also dug up some sprinkler lines in preparation for a sprinkler reconfiguration project and piled a bunch of dirt close to the house. The pile was perfectly positioned so that water from an insufficient downspout would hit it, head back towards the house and flood the window well. We were getting so much rain that the water was rising above the windowsills and leaking into the house.The very first thing we did was buy a downspout extender, move the pile of dirt, and regrade the dirt in front of the house. Yet another crazy downpour happened a few days later and the guest bedroom’s window well stayed nice and dry; the water didn’t even come near it. (The window well outside my sewing room, the other room that flooded in 2013, didn’t stay nice and dry, but I was vigilant and spent a clothes drenching 30 minutes bailing it out and digging trenches with my brother. We may have been soaked, but the sewing room stayed nice and dry.) 

The water path.
The wall all patched. My only regret was not taking a photo of the huge bubbles that bulged in the paint during our period of observation.

Once the mitigation had been taken care of, we turned to the damage itself. Even though we feel a bit sheepish about the whole thing, we’re pretty sure this has been happening for years and long before we were the homeowners since there were a few areas in the basement that had been touched up with bad paint color matches that align perfectly with the path of the water damage.

Goodbye Wood Paneling!As we inspected the damage, we became worried about the bottom of the wall that bordered the guest room and the TV room. Even though we didn’t really want to, we felt like we needed to pull the wood paneling off the wall in the TV room to check on the sheet rock. It added a lot more work, but we’re glad we did as the bottom of the wall was pretty saturated and not in great shape.

Cut out the damage. We opted to just cut out the bottom of the wall and replace it instead of replacing the whole wall. It did leave a detectable seam, but because one side was in a closet and the other is behind the treadmill we decided it was okay, at least for now.

Stretch that carpet.Once we’d taken care of all the structural stuff we started on the cosmetics. My brother and I laid the new carpet padding and then he and Noel re-stretched the carpet. (The carpet didn’t get too wet and dried out decently, so we didn’t feel an urgent need to replace it.) Luckily, Noel has a co-worker who is a slum landlord and let us borrow his carpet stretcher so we were able to save a little bit of money from bleeding out of our emergency fund.

PrimingThe final step of this project was painting. We considered paint matching the room for a minute, but ultimately decided to repaint it in a lighter color. (The subpar paint job and the nice touch the previous owners had added of painting over the outlet covers was also motivation.) We’ve lived in our house for four years now and this was the first room that we’ve painted. We were really impressed with Lowe’s paint matching technology to get us a color that matched the walls in the TV room, but were not as impressed with our paint matching ability when we tried to match the white trim with some cans of paint we inherited with the house. We tried every white and would think we had a match, but by the time the paint dried it was obvious the paint wasn’t actually a match. In the end, I just repainted all of the trim.

TV Room
The wall in the TV room post “remodel.”
"New" guest room.
Finished guest room.

Everything is put back together and functional again.The carpet has also been cleaned thanks to a friend who let me borrow her steam cleaner. We had everything up and ready for business by the time Vanessa Joy and Chris (Noel’s sister and her husband) came to visit over the Memorial Day weekend. You can see some “before” pics from this post, although I wish I had more that showed you all of the little details we upgraded like getting a cover for the cable wire that used to just snake into the room or installing curtain rods instead of literally stringing the curtains up with push pins. And please do laugh at the lawn chairs in the old basement tour, I did. In case you were wondering, we now have a real couch (secondhand of course) down there.

Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

This last month has been a time of almost constant rain. A desert girl at heart, I generally love rain. Growing up rain was novel and needed; any time it happened was a time to rejoice. At first I did just that. I reveled in the smell of rain and introduced my children to the beautiful sport of puddle jumping. As the weeks went on though, the skies grew darker, the sunny days turned into moments, the basement flooded, my four-year-old Target rain boots failed the waterproof test, and we floundered to know what to do indoors with a string of visitors. Every morning Noel and I would wake up, look out the window and beg the skies to “STOP raining!” Then we’d check the forecast and try not to cry when rain clouds paraded into the foreseeable future. We trudged on, checking the basement window wells to make sure they were dry, subduing our fears of dying in a hydroplaning car accident (maybe that was just me), watching the hourly forecast for an opportunity to dash out and mow the two foot tall lawn, and taking turns slogging through the rain on miserable runs that did little to rejuvenate the soul.

I generally consider myself to be slightly on the optimistic side of realistic, but I was beginning to feel genuinely blue. After a solid week of scattered showers with the occasional torrential downpour to spice things up, a literal ray of sunshine peaked out from behind the clouds. The kids ran outside to play and Noel and I sat in lawn chairs on the porch soaking up the sun Wall-E style. The sun only stayed for a half hour that evening and it would be a couple more days before the sun came out like that again, but it was enough to remind me that life wasn’t so bad and the skies won’t always be gray. The rain has finally eased up. The trails are passable enough for morning runs and we’re able to work in the yard without sinking into a mud bog. Despite what an unhappy month it was for me, I really am grateful for the rain – for how green it has made everything and for how much more I appreciate the sunshine.

This should be our purpose—to persevere and endure . . . as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress.

– Thomas S. Monson “I Will Not Fail Thee, Nor Forsake Thee

Also, I have decided a move to Seattle might not be in my best interest. For those that were missing us, here is a gallery of photos that should catch you up on all our adventures this last month.

 

Funkytown

Funkytown

I know this is incredibly disappointing, but this post isn’t actually about a monumental disco hit. Rather, it has to do with the state of our basement when we returned from our trip to Utah.

Hail   When we left Colorado the 100 year flood had just begun.

Wet BoyWe didn’t think much of it. Some of us even thought it was pretty awesome. But when Noel got 18 flood alerts the day of my Grandma’s funeral, we started to worry a little bit. Then when we saw some of the catastrophic photos of places we’d been we started to worry even more.

FunkytownWhen we arrived home we found our basement to be a little damp and a definite funk permeated the air. Water had leaked through two of the windows and saturated parts of the carpet in two rooms. We pulled out some carpet pads, set some fans going, and thanked God that it wasn’t any worse.

Carpet PadWe let it dry out for a week and scrubbed it down with bleach to scare away any mold. This weekend we put down some new carpet pads and rented a knee kicker from Home Depot to re-install the carpet.

Knee KickerSurprisingly, this was one of the least eventful projects we’ve done recently. Everything is almost back to normal in the basement and it’s nice to not get “Funkytown” stuck in my head every time I go downstairs.

Multiply By Ten, Add Two Hours

Multiply By Ten, Add Two Hours

Money Pit
The staircase falling out from underneath Tom Hank’s feet in the movie The Money Pit.

You know that formula for the minimum age you can date someone (Age/2 +7)? Well, at our house we have a formula for home improvement projects.

(time it took someone on internet to do the task) X 10 +2 hours = time it will take us

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s proving to be fairly accurate. We could blame the fact that we are still learning how to fix some things or that we almost always forget to buy some critical part at Home Depot or that the former homeowners fixed everything with glue (wish I was exaggerating) or that we are just terribly unlucky, but whatever it is, this is our reality. Most recently it was the garbage disposal. Noel went to take the recycling out the other day and found the small bin under the sink to be way too heavy to solely contain recyclables. Turns out the bottom of the garbage disposal had rusted out and the water was now draining into our recycling bin instead of flowing gracefully down the sewer lines. A quick Google search claimed you could easily replace your disposal (once purchased and at your house) in about 15 minutes, so Noel ran over to Home Depot to pick one up before I head off to book club. When I got home from book club two and a half hours later, the fun of replacing the garbage disposal had only just begun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause the former homeowner’s were geniuses, the garbage disposal had of course been installed without grounding it. (Water, electricity, and an ungrounded outlet just doesn’t seem like a good idea.) This obstacle should have only added an extra 15 minutes or so, but one stupid decision made by the previous installer problem led to another and we ended up cutting a hole through the dry wall in the garage to extract the super old metal sheathed wires for the disposal so we could replace it with a sleeker, more modern cable. Noel of course also grounded it. It’s nice to not have water pooling underneath the sink and even better to know our chances of electrocution while using the disposal have greatly decreased. Now we just need to pick up some drywall to patch that hole in the garage, but that should be easy. Well, maybe if we were someone else anyway.

Improving the Property Value of the Neighborhood

Improving the Property Value of the Neighborhood

Despite what has been said about our yard, we are really excited about it. The progress isn’t as fast as if we’d emptied our savings account and hired an expensive landscaping crew, but the hard work is good for us and has given us the opportunity to really appreciate each small improvement. I often find myself gravitating toward the front windows where I’ll just mesmerizingly admire the results of our labor until Noel notices I’ve disappeared and asks me if I’m staring at the yard again. While the yard is not a favorite for some of more traditional opinions, our unconventional ways are rubbing off on others. A family down the street has started to tear out sections of their lawn to replace with rock and other plants. Perhaps we shall all decrease increase the property value of the neighborhood together.

Trunk Full of MulchSaturday was another full day dedicated to the yard. We filled the Honda’s trunk to the brim with mulch, choose brick to line the edges of the yard, and picked up some edging strips to separate the Buffalo Grass and the mulch.

Cleaner YardI think those few touches gave the yard a much cleaner feel.

2-IMG_2425-001If you’re feeling less than impressed, review this post or  this post. Wouldn’t you agree it’s much better?

1-IMG_2412-001Sure it needs a few more trunk-fulls of mulch, some other extra touches, and time for the plants to mature, but it’s looking more like a yard that belongs to people who care and that makes me happy.

Bake in Case of Emergency

Bake in Case of Emergency

You know that scene from A Christmas Story where the father descends into the basement to battle the furnace and a cloud of gray smoke mingled with garbled obscenities seeps through the floor vent? Things have been a little like that at our house lately, but with the plumbing. We’ve plunged, snaked, and even resorted to calling in an “expert” (who showed up with the exact same equipment we had and scratched his head about what to do). Every time we thought we’d fixed the problem things would go smoothly for a week or so, but then everything would back up again. Noel was halfway to having enough hours to be a certified plumber by the time things went really wrong. (He really has no intentions of ever being a plumber, but if he did he says his company would be called The Poopsmith.)

We had last minute guests over that had been stranded at the Denver airport and were so excited to have a place to rest their heads, wash laundry, and take a hot shower before heading on their way. Unfortunately, we were only able to provide two out of three of those services. Katherine called me into the laundry room after her last load saying there seemed to be something leaking. As I ran downstairs I prayed, “Please let it be the washing machine, please let it be the washing machine,” but was dishearteningly met with sewage pouring out of the pipes’ joints and all over the the unfinished (phew) part of the basement. Fortunately, most everyone had already used the bathroom and I was the only one who had to make a trip over to the park. We sent Katherine and Sam off in clean clothes, but without showers, and wished them better luck than we were having. We called a different plumber and spent a good chunk of cash running a 115 foot bladed auger from our house to the main sewage line.  (I should note that we did save $300+ by having Noel assist the plumber so it could have been worse if Noel wasn’t so handy.) Noel finally went off to work and stayed late while I kept the kids at bay and played HazMat team of one.  It had literally been a pretty crappy day and I really wanted to just take a nap, but there was one thing that kept me motivated to finish all the things I needed to do: a slice of White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake drizzled with caramel as my reward.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake ~ The Tall and the Short of It

Tuesday (the day before the plumbing apocalypse) was National Cheesecake Day and we of course couldn’t let such a day go uncelebrated. I decided to tackle making my Cheesecake Factory Favorite and we invited a few friends over to join us in the gluttony. All of the copycat recipes didn’t seem quite right to me, so I combined a few recipes and crossed my fingers that it would pull through. Other than a bundt pan denting the top of the cake (I still don’t know which monkey is to blame), it was pretty near perfection. I recommend that everyone make one and after eating some generous slices, freeze the rest to be used in case of emergency.

Check out our food blog for the recipe and more enticing photos.

Improving

Improving

street_view(1)Remember how we killed our front lawn last summer? Well, we certainly didn’t forget. And Google certainly won’t let us forget either. They really should give you warning before they send out those Google cars that take pictures for street view . . . but I digress. After harnessing the power of the sun to kill everything in the front yard we rented a rototiller. It did it’s best to take Noel for a ride and at the end of our two hours the front yard was a sea of dirt clumps with withered grass remains poking out everywhere. It looked terrible. Later, we talked to Noel’s uncle who used to design gardens in Arizona and he recommended that we just rent a sod cutter next time since it would be quicker and give us a fresher start. Why we didn’t think to call him earlier, I’m not sure, but since we don’t have a time machine we just had to keep moving forward.

Token Plants We picked up a few token plants in the fall hoping it would look like we were trying, but mostly the yard looked sparse and sad. I also planted close to 200 tulip bulbs and crossed my fingers that good things would come in the spring. The beginning of winter was really dry and we were praying for snow not just for the moisture, but so our yard wouldn’t look so hideous.

Dirty BabeAbundant snow this spring made it difficult to do much, but anytime the yard was uncovered I was out pulling weeds and turning under soil in preparation for the Garden in-a-Boxes we had ordered. Last weekend, the plants were finally ready for pick-up.

3-IMG_1026We spent several hours planting the fifty plants and were encouraged when several neighbors stopped to chat about how great our yard is looking. Our major work day coincided with one of our elderly neighbors driving his car onto another neighbor’s lawn in an inebriated state, so I think we have officially lost our title as the embarrassment of the neighborhood.

2-IMG_1040It’s nice to see progress on this project, but we still have a way to go. We’re on a waiting list for Buffalo Grass to plant concurrent with the tulips, are planning on building two big planter boxes, would like to buy some sort of a tree, have plans to plant some wildflowers on the side of the house, and are debating what type of path system we would like in the yard, but in the meantime at least the neighbors are talking to us again.

Tulips

Everyday Use

Everyday Use

Everyday Use” is a short story by Alice Walker that you probably read in a high school or college English class. A story you probably hated because you read it in an English class. I’ve always liked the story though, because like good literature should it always gets me thinking. In case you didn’t do your homework, I’ll give a painfully oversimplified rundown of the plot. (My apologies Alice Walker! Surely it can’t be worse than Spark Notes.) The story features an encounter between a mother and her two daughters. One daughter, Dee, has gone off to college where she believes she has rediscovered her African heritage while the other daughter, Maggie, has stayed home helping her mother. Dee has come home to visit and asks her mother if she can have some of the family quilts that were pieced by hand, quilts that were promised to Maggie. When the mother tells Dee the quilts belong to Maggie, Dee gets upset saying her sister couldn’t appreciate the quilts and would “probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” After some more arguing, Dee leaves in a huff telling her mother and sister that they don’t understand their heritage. Every time I read the story I can’t decide which sister is right. Is it better to hang the quilts on the wall for display or to use the quilt for what it was intended? Do either of the options really give the quilts the respect they deserve?

I was thinking about this the other day when I was putting away some dishes that I rarely use. They were a gift from my grandmother and since she gave them to me five or six years ago I’ve used them twice. The majority of that time they’ve sat in carefully packaged boxes in my storage room. They’ve been carefully preserved, but for most intents and purposes they have been wasted. As I was looking at the naked cupboard tops in my kitchen I was struck with brilliance on how I could give the dishes some “proper respect.”

The cupboards before.

 I pulled my “fancy” dishes from the basement and arranged them on top of the cupboards. Now they’re not only serving as practical decorations that brighten my kitchen, but they’re reminding me that I should use them. Maybe not everyday, but I think any day has the potential to be a little special.

The cupboards after.
The cupboards after.
80 Degrees Never Felt So Good

80 Degrees Never Felt So Good

Maybe you haven’t heard, but Colorado is on fire. We are lucky to be out of harm’s way at the moment, but it definitely feels like the entire state is on fire. We had five straight days of record highs and today is the first day we stayed in the 90s. We don’t have air conditioning or a swamp cooler, so regulating the temperature in our house to keep it from spontaneously combusting has pretty much monopolized all of our free time.

The thermometer on our porch

We’ve been running our awesome whole house fan all night to flush all the hot air out and suck cool air in, but that only does so much when overnight lows are in the high 70s. Thanks to a well insulated house our internal temperature has never exceeded 86, but it’s taken a lot of effort on our part to keep it from soaring any higher.  Four years experience of living without A/C has taught us a lot about surviving in the heat, but this week we’ve really had to use every trick in the book.

We’ve avoided the oven by cooking on the grill, utilizing our dutch ovens, and strategically placing the crock pot on top of the dryer in the cool basement. Every time we heat up the skillet we put it on the porch to cool off. We’ve set trays of water in front of fans to create  a low tech swamp cooler and eaten lots of popsicles. We even tried to move our sleeping quarters to downstairs, but quickly realized we’d get more sleep in our stuffy bedrooms than we would trying to get Cooper to sleep in my sewing room.

Then this afternoon a magical thing happened. A big thunderstorm rolled in and doused us with much needed rain cooling the air down more than it had been for days. I’ve never been more happy to see a thermometer reach 80 degrees. It felt like a cool spring day.  It’s crazy what your body can get used to.