Spring may have sprung in a lot of places by now, but not in Minnesota.
This is the current state of our yard and no, this isn’t a belated April Fool’s joke.
I am so sick of winter right now. I want sunshine! I want warm weather! I want to actually be able to spend some time outside!
We’ve definitely made progress in our backyard, but it’s still pretty sad. I realize gardening takes time and we’ve had a lot of demo to do, but with the current weather I’m positively itching for an outdoor space I can enjoy.
We should be getting a proper patio poured this summer (hopefully before Wesley’s birthday?). We have an lovely little park just a couple blocks away so we don’t need a to try and cram in a eyesore swing set. My goal for the backyard is to make it geared towards adults, but still child-friendly. I also want something reasonably low-maintenance.
We do have some annoying limitations with our backyard:
Walkway right smack down a middle. Sure we could technically move it, or make it more organic-looking, but unfortunately a straight line is much easier to shovel, so I think it has to stay put.
Lots of shade. This is both a perk and a drawback. On one hand, the shady yard keeps our house cool and keeps makes the Minnesota summers a little more pleasant outside too (because despite current appearances, summers can get pretty boiling here).
I’m kind of an incompetent gardener so I need things are are hard to kill. I’ve already managed to kill off the Bishop’s Weed that came with some plants from our friends’ yard, and that’s supposed to be practically impossible. I’m thinking lots of rocks.
Here are some things I’ve been eyeing for a little inspiration:
I love the mix of planters and in-ground plants. I think it adds some lovely textures (and fills in some space with non-killable things).
This mix of two sitting areas is pretty cute. I’m thinking of having a defined dining section and lounge/fire pit section.
The back corner by our lilac kills off e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. My hostas are sad, my ferns are sad, my transplanted creeping charlie and bishop’s weed remain a few sad little strands… I’m thinking to compensate for the lack of lush plants with rocks and do an alpine-ish style garden over there.
I want to try and cover the back our our garage with a trellis and vines. I also think it would be cool to frame it out with a mini pergola like this.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s definitely not all happening this year. It is fun to daydream about though!
Now, for all the green-thumbs out there: What are your favorite resources for gardening (especially for beginners)? Do you have any Minnesota-hardy (USDA Zone 4b), low-maintenance, shade-tolerant, plant suggestions?
We’ve officially started work on our bedroom makeover!* It’s slow goings, because baby, but I got one whole wall painted the other weekend! Whoohoo! A wall!
The bedroom plan was to have a dramatic, dark accent wall behind the bed, so I decided to start there.
Gorgeous, no? The color is Benjamin Moore Gentleman’s Gray… although don’t be fooled by the name because it is decidedly greenish-blue.
I painted the baseboard along that wall at the same time (yup, white trim EVERYWHERE) so we could shove our bed back into place. I’ll probably be tackling one wall at a time so it will look pretty hodge-podgey for a while. I’m also going to wait until spring to paint the radiator because I really want to be able to open windows for that!
I had hoped to make some more progress by now, but cold and flu season took a pretty nasty toll on me, so it’s been sitting like this for a few weeks. We do have a headboard up now too, so those pictures (and tutorial) will be coming soon!
*Although, is it really a makeover if it wasn’t really “made” in the first place?
Around 3:30am on Saturday our smoke detector decided to lose its shit. It started beeping and loudly announcing “low battery!” Around 4am Matt decided to go an rip out the batteries. That was when he discovered that the smoke detector in the hallway is hardwired. Yup, our smoke alarm woke us up at 3:30am because the backup battery was bad.
Luckily we had extra batteries, so Matt grabbed a replacement…only to find that the previous battery was also rather corroded and the gunk left on the battery connectors was now impeding its ability to sense the new battery.
Now, I’m still in bed at this point so all I hear is Matt shuffling around the house like he’s playing some twisted game of Marco Polo with the smoke alarm. Then the alarm suddenly starts shrieking “Fire! Warning carbon monoxide! Fire! Warning carbon monoxide!” I start laughing like an idiot because now I’m convinced our smoke detector is just straight-up broken and of course that would happen at 4am.
Turns out Matt hit the test button to see if that would act like a reset and get the alarm to recognize the new battery. It didn’t work. Obviously. So now it’s 4:10am and I start googling how to remove a corroded battery because it’s either that or flee to a hotel.
In case you’re wondering, vinegar will clean off battery corrosion. You should really use gloves/eye protection, and of course be very careful around the electrical workings of anything–especially when it’s still connected to power.
After Matt and I properly woke up for the day, we went on a walk to get breakfast since we’re having a January heat-wave at the moment.* When we got back, I went to haul in the baby gear and the baby, and Matt stayed out to salt the walkways. I left Wesley snoozing in his stroller next to the door while I dropped the diaper bag and pastries inside, then turned to go back out and grab the baby.
Only the backdoor wouldn’t open.
I checked the locks. It was unlocked. I fiddled with the locks (both the deadbolt and the simple lock for the latch we never use). Nothing. Was it stuck on something? Nope.
I finally went out the front door, walked around the back and tried to shove it open vs pull it open. No dice. So I tried and force it open with my shoulder TV cop style. Ouch. Finally I gave it a good swift kick (just to show it who’s boss), collected Wesley and schlepped around to the front door.
When Matt was done salting, he repeated everything I had just tried and nothing worked for him either. It turns out that the bottom doorknob (which controls the latch) had inexplicably broken, so the knob could no longer retract the latch. This is a vital part of being able to open a door.
Step 1 was to run to the hardware store and buy a new latch set. I also picked up a matching deadbolt because I really didn’t like the existing brass one we had so hey, excuse to update! We thought Step 2 would be as simple as taking off the door knob and wiggling the inner workings around. Nope. The inner workings were well and truly busted.
Matt went through our tool stash to try and find something he could shove between the frame and the door to push the latch back in,** but it still wouldn’t budge. He asks me if I have any brilliant ideas, to which I reply “sure” and then immediately get to googling.***
It turns out this sort of thing is not unheard of and found a fairly lengthy thread in a DIY forum dedicated to it. Long story short, if your latch is properly busted (like in our case) there isn’t an easy fix. The general consensus is 1) don’t bother taking the door off the hinges because that often doesn’t help and 2) either bust out your hack saw or call a locksmith.
We chose the hacksaw option and it took Matt around an hour to cut through.
(We set the knob back in place to block some of the draft)
Thankfully installing our new latch and deadbolt was a piece of cake. Matt was very confused because I decided to try Kwikset Smartkey locks that let you re-key them yourself. They were more expensive that the standard locks, but cheaper than bringing in a locksmith (and we really didn’t want 3 different keys for our house). They are SUPER simple to use to, so we were able to get our 2 back locks on the same key as our front lock in about a minute.
Once the weather legitimately warms up we’ll also paint the the rest of the door frame and repaint the door, since it looks a little sad at the moment.
Matt looked up the security of these locks and it sounds like they’re no better or worse than a lock that would require a professional to re-key. Plus, as one person put it: your house is only as secure as its weakest point and we all have windows.
So that was our Saturday. We woke up to a demon smoke alarm and later I got locked inside the house. I have a feeling I’ve offended the DIY spirits in some way or else our house has spontaneously acquired a poltergeist. Maybe I should turn on our gas stove and shake some sage from our spice cabinet over it… If that doesn’t work, we are surrounded by churches so I could probably round up an old priest and a young priest.
*In Minnesota a winter heat-wave means anything over 30 degrees. Over the last 2 days I have seen 2 people outside in short sleeves, one guy in shorts, and several without jackets.
**During all of this we’re working from inside the house, so you have access to that tiny gap. The outside of the door frame has trim pieces covering up this space.
***This is how I solve problems at work too. People think I’m smart, but really I just figure out good search terms.
Sorry, couldn’t resist. Matt’s propensity for punning is apparently rubbing off on me.
One of the (many) random “features” of this house was the lack of a closet door in Wesley’s nursery. We originally put up a tension rod and curtain, but that just didn’t look terribly finished and we’ve been meaning to get a proper door up there for ages.
By some crazy stroke of luck, the door frame was actually a standard size.* By some other crazy stroke of luck, I was able to find a 5-panel door that was a reasonable match. Not perfect, but for $50 it was pretty damn good! I’m pretty sure the only way I could have found a better match would have been to order a custom door which would have been super pricey. I’ve already mentioned that our house work is much more renovation than restoration, so the investment in a custom door just wouldn’t have been worth it in this case.
So door. $50. Good deal. Part of the reason it was so cheap is because we ordered a door slab vs a pre-hung door. The difference is just what it sounds like. A door slab is just a slab of wood–no hinges, no pre-drilled anything. A pre-hung door is both the door and door frame already connected by hinges. One of these is a little easier to deal with, but we didn’t choose that one.
Because we had an existing frame, we first needed to check the fit. The frame may have been a standard size, but unfortunately it wasn’t square.** In order to get the door to fit properly, we had to plane off a good chunk from every side. This would have been super easy, except for the way hollow-core doors are constructed.
Planing is meant to happen with the with the grain, but at the top and bottom of the door you hit the vertical supports of the frame, and it’s REALLY hard to go against the grain. Matt ultimately took a hand saw to the edges–he figured out how much we needed to take off from the corner, sawed that off, and planed the rest down to that point.
After planing (lots and lots of planing), I took a palm sander to all the edges to smooth them out nicely. And yes, we were totally working on our upstairs landing since we had to keep checking the fit of the door and didn’t want to be constantly hauling it up and down the stairs.
To add the door knob, we bought a simple kit that came with a guide and hole saw bits for a drill. The guide clamps onto the door and then you just drill on through. We managed to position our door knob right over one of the cross supports on the door so it was a little more difficult to drill through, but not a huge problem.
Mort likes to supervise things.
The hinges were a bit more problematic. The frame already had places for the hinges, and we even had some extra hinges that were original to the house… we just had to mount said hinges to the door itself. You can get hinge kits like the door knob kit, but they usually require a router, which we don’t have, so we decided to half-ass it. Typically you would route out only the exact size of the hinge, so you’d leave a little strip of wood along the edge. Instead, Matt just planned out the entire depth of the frame to accommodate the depth of the hinge.*** It’s only noticeable from inside the closet though (and only if you know what to look for), so not a big deal.
Whoa! It’s a door! That opens and closes! Craziness!
Don’t mind the random futon. We did some furniture shifting and need to figure out a permanent home for it.
My only real disappointment with this door is the knob. I assumed I’d be able to switch out the actual knob on a new latch set. Wrong. Current latch sets are designed to interlock and screw together in a way that makes switching out any one part of them impossible. House of Antique Hardware has vintage-looking knobs/latches designed to fit modern construction, but I can’t quite justify spending $140 on a closet door knob… although I am scoring an extra bonus this year at work…
* “Standard,” “square,” and “level,” are terms that don’t tend to exist when dealing with 100+ year old houses.
** See what I mean?
*** And only planed off a small amount of his thumbnail in the process.
Did everyone have a good New Year’s Eve? I fell asleep on the couch. With guests hanging out in the same room.* I have no guilt though because Welsey went to sleep around9:30 so I expected him to wake up around 5:30/6, regardless of what time I ultimately went to bed.
I never bother making New Year’s Resolutions since it’s a rare person who can actually stay that focused. Now, I am a rare person, but focus is not my strong suit. That being said, I thought I’d try and outline our house goals for the year. These are all things we’re hoping to tackle in 2018, but if we don’t check them all off the list we won’t be beating ourselves up.
Get a back patio poured/back walkway evened out
Unfuck the upstairs electrical**
DIY & Design Work
Overhaul the butler pantry
Paint and decorate Master Bedroom
Re-organize the study to fit a guest bed
Make a dent on the landscaping
Childproof All The Things because this kid will be moving before we know it.
Paint and decorate the downstairs Micro Bath (if I’m feeling ambitious)
It sounds pretty doable to me, but we’ve never really worked with a kid underfoot before so we’ll see how it goes. We might not finish it all and we might switch gears somewhere along the way, but I really like starting out with some sense of a plan.
Anyone else making goals for the New Year?
*It’s some kind of miracle we had anyone show up. It was negative-my-car-won’t-start degrees, people were sick, and Matt may have accidentally told someone to not bother coming. We had a good time though.
**This is most concise way to put it. We need to get our upstairs hall light on a 3-way switch, get an open neutral outlet fixed, add an ceiling electrical box in the study, and get our upstairs wiring split up so it’s not all on 2 breakers.
***Yes, currently our house does not have gutters. It’s not hugely problematic, so we’re just adding partial gutters to the couple problem areas. We’ve currently already given our down payment to a gutter company but haven’t heard anything from them regarding a start date. We knew there was a decent chance it wasn’t going to get done this fall, but we’re a little pissed about the lack of communication.
The room we use as our TV room is slightly awkward for furniture placement since it would have originally been used as the dining room. We happen to like it as the TV room since the built-in buffet acts as a killer bar and we really like the openness between this room and living room for entertaining purposes.
The layout in the TV room has the couch in front of the radiator, which means…
…the couch has a tendency to angle back since there’s nothing to stop the other side from shifting.
Luckily, there was super easy fix. Full disclosure: As easy as it was, I totally half-assed this project. I had no plan and had to redo it once. But it the end it all worked out. I also failed at taking progress shots since I was just trying to get this done in the evenings while Matt was on baby duty.
First I picked up a couple 1×10 pine boards, along with a couple 1×2’s. I cut the 1×10’s into 1 board the length of my finished table, and 2 boards the height of my finished table (if your goal is a really exact finished size, technically it’s the height minus 3/4″).
You could move on to construction at this point, but I wanted a little extra detail, so I cut the 1×2’s down to 4 pieces the height of the table, then glued and clamped them down onto edges of the table legs. (You can also glue, then cut everything down to size at the same time)
Once the legs were dry, I glued the tops of them onto the bottom of the table top, making sure to line up the edges as smoothly as possible. After that dried, I reinforced the joint with a couple of small L brackets and assorted tiny screws we had left over from random projects.
The table was still a little wibbly-wobbly, so I cut down a scrap 2×2 with 45 degree angles at each end to use as a brace on each side. This also got simply wood-glued into place.
Once everything was nice and solid, the whole piece got a light sanding, a couple coats of stain (Minwax: dark walnut), and 2 coats of polyacrylic. I didn’t bother staining the inside faces of the table since it will be completely hidden behind the couch. #lazygirl
Et Voila! No more shifting couch + a great place to stash drinks and a basket of baby items since this couch is my go-to nursing spot (and a great spot to stash a cuppa).
A few weeks ago we decided to bite the bullet and replace our fridge and water heater. Both were quite elderly* and we figured it was a much better idea to proactively replace them rather than deal with the consequences of them dying spontaneously. We figured all the other appliances could wait to be replaced until they actually died.
Well, about 2 weeks after replacing the fridge, our dishwasher started leaking. Awesome. I swear they’re going to start greeting us by name at Warner Stellian soon…
While we were dishwasher shopping we also decided fuckit, let’s just replace the microwave too. Maybe if we replace the microwave and dishwasher with new (ie more efficient) models we’ll stop tripping the breaker when we run them at the same time.**
After much pondering, we picked out our latest batch of appliances and got delivery/install scheduled for last Tuesday. My mom is currently staying with us and watching Wesley during the day, so she got to be the one to field the delivery.
Being a weirdo, I get super excited about getting new appliances. I’ve also gotten spoiled over the past 5+ years of living with a dishwasher so the week without one has been a bit of a bummer. I seriously could not wait to get home and check out our new, shiny dishwasher.
Well, if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that this is what I actually came home to:
The delivery people came, hauled out the old dishwasher, but when they went to haul in the new dishwasher they discovered it has been significantly damaged. “Smashed in” is what I believe they told my mom.
So now we have a gaping hole where our dishwasher once was, which led to the following exchange with a friend:
Me: Do you like our new dishwasher?!
J: … Does Matt actually fit in there?
It’s a pity Mort doesn’t have opposable thumbs, because he hung out in this new “cave” quit a bit.
On the bright side though, our new microwave arrived that day and was installed just fine.
This gives us a 50% chance success rate with kitchen appliance delivery. Now, I’ve been out of school for a little while now, but I’m pretty sure 50% is a solidly failing grade.
A week after our dishwasher disappointment, we attempted delivery round two. Luckily, unlike with our stove fiasco, this was the end of it and we now have a brand-spankin’-new dishwasher.
We debated back and forth about the color a bit. All our other appliances are white, but I really wanted the dishwasher to blend into the cabinets. I also plan on keeping dark base cabinets whenever we do our big kitchen makeover. The color we ended up going with was “black stainless.” It’s not as industrial looking as true stainless and has more depth to it than plain black. I’m totally diggin’ it.
*Our existing water heater was installed in 1982–our plumber was pretty impressed it was still running.
**We also can’t run our toaster and electric kettle at the same time. Old houses are like a game of electrical Russian Roulette.
We’ve slowly been attempting to make our backyard look less like a junk heap. We’ve already demo-ed the weird lean-to/shed thing, destroyed a decaying garden bed, and seeded new grass. After a fairly windy storm we had to stabilize our elderly fence before it collapsed and took out a pedestrian. Even with the extra support in place we still planned on completely replacing it ASAP.
We figured the perfect time to get it done was while we were out on leave. We had no intention of DIYing this one*, so it wouldn’t be added work on our end but we could still be on hand for the contractors if anything came up. Last Thursday a team of two guys showed up, knocked the old fence down, and hauled the poor decrepit bits off to rot in piece. They also set the new posts then left for the day so the cement could set.
We sort of assumed they’d be back the next day since they didn’t actually tell us when they left and when they’d be back. By mid-day on Friday they hadn’t shown up so Matt called the company to see what the actual plan was.
Monday. They would come back Monday. This was perfectly fine, I just wish we were kept in the loop. We’ve had this same issue with other contractors too. I realize some of the work we’ve had done is weather-dependent, but I’d still appreciate a ballpark estimate. We actually gave up on a mason because we had gone back and forth for a couple months and he refused to give us any idea of when he would actually be free to do the work. For the fence it would have been really nice to know X was expected to be completed on day 1, but then the cement needed time to set so they’d be back 2-3 days later to do Y. I feel a little bad when we have to call to ask about a time frame because we aren’t actually trying to rush them, we just want to know what the plan is.
On Monday the men were back to install the the privacy part of the fence. The battens went up, the support posts were cut to height, and the gate at side of the fence was installed.
YAY! We have a fence that actually looks nice! If we didn’t live on a busy-ish street we probably would have demoed the old one ages ago. The privacy (and mild sound-blocking) the fence provided against the traffic was really nice though. Having a kid put us on a timeline for a full replacement since having a sturdily-fenced backyard by the time Wesley was mobile was non-negotiable.
We also decided to keep the chunk of chain link fence that runs right through our giant lilacs (at the back of the yard). The lilacs probably would have gotten damaged (at the very least, severely pruned) if we removed it and a new fence would have either smashed up against them on on side or hidden them from our view. The chain link is pretty well camouflaged by the bush though so it’s not a big deal.
A cedar privacy fence was considerably more than we expected, but we suspect that due to the amount of lumber involved. Our fence was 60′ long and 7′ high and cost just under $4k. Ouch, but like I said, necessary. If you’re feeling ambitious, Vintage Revivals just DIY’ed a similar sized fence for around $800!
*Given the whole pregnancy/birth-recovery/adjusting-to-an-infant thing which was pretty much our entire summer plan.
Ok, not all that laborious, but Matt did go on a small project rampage on Monday. I think he was trying to get some stuff out of the way because he was going to be stuck on double babysitting duty on Tuesday. I has a sedation dentist appointment and basically wasn’t allowed to function* for the entire day so not only did he need to solo-parent Wesley, he also needed to babysit me. Luckily I survived** despite a nasty fear of the dentist*** and we’re back to tag-teaming projects.
Now that I’m no longer pregnant (wheeee!) I’ve been able to get back to work refinishing the upstairs doors. We tackled the nursery door first since it needed a little extra repair work. Matt stripped off the golden-oak stain and I re-stained and painted it.**** By Monday we were able to put it back up. Matt also replaced the mortise lock and switched out the black porcelain knobs with the glass knobs I ordered like, a year ago.
It’s also worth mentioning that the light switch cover in the hallway has seriously been off for at least a year. #safetyFirst
Our Winchester Door has also been sitting around with a gaping hole where the door knob should be. Sure, the door can’t actually open, but I can’t remove it and drywall because I don’t have a good way to replace the baseboard. Solution: embrace it’s complete and utter doorness. I wasn’t thinking about this door when ordered the knobs, so I didn’t have another glass one to use here. We did, however, have this gorgeous embossed metal knob from the decaying cellar door in the basement. Honestly, the embossed knobs are my favorite, but I thought the glass knobs would look better against the dark wood of the upstairs doors.
The final update seems really minor, but I smile every time I see it. The toilet handle in our downstairs bathroom has been acting wonky, so Matt decided to replace it. Knowing me as well as he does, he chose the fancy porcelain handle option. It matches the faucet handles and as I said, it makes me kind of stupidly happy,
Even though I posted the Master Bedroom Plan, part of me wants to tackle our downstairs Micro-Bath before I head back to work. It’s such a tiny room that it would actually be doable, but I know Matt wants to finish up the doors first. I may be a little ADD when it comes to projects so it’s probably a good thing he’s here to keep me in line.
*No driving, no attempting stairs, no being left unsupervised with small children, etc
**It actually went pretty well… although I remembered more than I expected too. I also still panicked when confronted with needles which the dentist was apparently a little surprised by (although I did warn him that I can panic my way through nearly anything). Luckily I did not get belligerent with Matt, which is what I tend to do if someone is trying to coddle me.
***Step 1 in dealing with a dental phobia: find a dentist who’s not a condescending asshole. This is surprisingly difficult.
****My original plan was to stain both sides, but Matt liked the doors better white on the inside and marriage is about compromise.
This is probably super optimistic since we now have a demanding baby in our household, but our next project room is going to be the master bedroom. This room is way overdue for some TLC since we’ve done nothing to it since we moved it. Heck, Matt just fixed the closet door so it actually stays closed!
There are a couple reasons I chose to tackle the bedroom next. Part if it is because we now have a kiddo (whose toys will gradually start taking over the house) it will be nice to have an adult retreat space. I’ve also been spending more time in this room lately and it’s really hit me just how blah the space is.
Yaaaaawn. Also, please pardon the mess. I didn’t even get a nap in today and had no motivation to style a Before shot.
So what’s the plan?
Thankfully this room only needs cosmetic work so the bulk of the work will be painting. We also need to replace our mattress so we’ll be upgrading to a queen sized bed (and actual bed frame). I also want the headboard to really be a focal point of the room and the entire wall behind it will be painted a bold accent color. After that it’s a matter of replacing pretty much all our existing furniture and getting a rug that’s the proper size for the space.
Not gonna lie, but this makeover will probably take a while. I’ll hoping we can at least make a start on the painting while Matt and I are still out on leave. We’ll see since we’ve got a couple other (smaller) projects we’re trying to finish up too.