Sunday, February 8, 2015

Kids Room Update

After enjoying a nice Christmas break with no housework, I've really slowed down the progress on the house.

However, we were able to finally restore power to the entire house, including the lights and switches in the boys room... with these two new additions - a ceiling fixture, and hardwired smoke alarm. 

And now that we don't have to tromp into the attic anymore (access located in the boys room closet) the boys room (+Eve) is now back to being the most completed room in the house!

The lamp is a little big for the room, but after looking at a few options at Home Depot/Lowes, and not liking any of them... we stumbled on to this clearance display fixture for $10. Sold!  We failed to notice it didn't come with a cross support, but that was an easy add on for $3.

Smoke alarm is the fairly basic.  I had really wanted a voice alarm, as we had a "Fire, Fire, Fire" alarm in our last place... but I can't seem to find a hardwired version.  Maybe next time they'll need to be replaced.  I did get the dual detector kind that is both P/E and Ionic for all three bedrooms. I sort of wish I had picked up dual detector alarms when we had updated in our house earlier in this renovation.

The closet still needs some sort of a storage solution, but I'm just glad to be able to store things in it again.  Not only were we risking getting everything covered in dirt and insulation going through the attic all the time... but we also kept the ladder in there a good bit of the time too.  Much better now that all that stuff isn't jammed throughout the room, and under beds and such.

In the spirit of having a nicer room, we did the final sorting of the Legos (no more Misc. bin!) and broke apart some of their earlier creations taking up table space.

The lego system I built is still holding up really well, and I'm still really glad I made it.

While we were doing our final sorting, we were able to finish up the labels for the bins too.  Yay!  The two small top white bins are room to grow, and the big one is just the flat plates to build on. 

In case you're curious, the small labels read:
Wheels & Tires, Castle Pieces, Doors & Windows , Ramps and Slants, Technic and Mechanical, Small Special Pieces, Large Special Pieces, K'nex, Micro Special  Pieces and finally Plants.

I also set aside a bin for booklets to store under the table.  I put the nice booklets on top.  Many are ripped to pieces already.

Plus, Eve's Lego Friends got an upgraded container too.  She didn't want to keep them in the boys room forever, so it seemed like a good idea to separate them out now.


Since I'm a bit of a Lego enthusiast myself, I have to share... one of the coolest purchases we got for Eli's Birthday was Lego Power Functions.  (I'm hoping they lend well to homeschooling too.)

Jon had taught the Lego robotics club when he was a Physics Teacher, so those were well known... but I didn't realize there was a whole other branch of powered Legos that didn't require programming (or quite the expense).  We ordered from so that we could also get some of the extras in addition to what came in the box version, like a large motor, extra switches & a remote control/receiver.

Eli and Jon liked them.

...but, I'm pretty sure I liked them the most.  When Eli went to bed the day after he got them... I made this sweet remote controlled car.  It's pretty awesome.

In addition to the power functions, we decided to pick up a new excavator kit for Eli.  It had instructions for how to integrate the power functions, so we thought it would be good practice for integrating motors/switches into Legos.

Which, I think worked, because when he built the second set of instructions for the Tractor he added in the power functions himself (since there were none for that set).
Yay Legos!

Okay, the Lego play break is over.  Well, we're happy to be making some slow, but steady progress in the house.  More importantly, I'm happy to say one room is very very close to being done.  The only thing we have left on our wish list is hardwood floors, and that is on a distant-when-we-can-afford-it list.  Everything else lands itself on less disruptive, more enjoyable, decorating the house lists.  And I'm happy with that.

Speaking of lists, here's what's finished on the electrical list:
The Electrical Plan
Upgrade all switches to white ones
Upgrade all outlets to white tamper resistant outlets

Remove lightswitch from upstairs hall, and rewire other switch
Add outlet to upstairs hall

Add recessed lights for eve's room
Re-rout switch from outlet to lights
Add extra outlets to Eve's room in key places
Move switches from demo and under window
Add extra outlets to Boys room behind dresser
Add ceiling light to boys room
Re-rout switch from outlet to light

Add smoke alarms to all three bedrooms, wired to the existing hardwired smoke alarms
Add closet light to new closet w/switch
Add outlet for dustbuster in new closet

Add recessed lights in office
Add recessed lights in livingroom
Add extra outlets in livingroom where needed (computer, TV, etc)
Finish coax installation behind TV 
Replace and fix the dimmer switch in dining room.
Some of those left unmarked are about 98% finished, but only require the drywall/paint to be finished so the plate can be installed.  Happy days - we're almost done!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Post-Christmas Recap - A Year with No Presents

Those would be the first 3 prototypes that broke...  the night before Christmas
Last year, after this bow fiasco (redeemed later), I wrote up one of my longer posts, ranting about the misery trying to hand make a gift the night before Christmas.  Here's an excerpt:
"I have suggested to my family that we have a gift free Christmas next year.  Not joking either.

It's a tough call.

On one hand, this year was extra stressed out because I had a funeral to attend just before Christmas, needed to shop and wrap gifts to our kids for other family members who couldn't, had a bunch of house stuff to do, as well as having to prepare for two kids birthdays right next to Christmas.  I mean, our yearly gifts are already limited.  We each only get three gifts, to imitate the original Christmas - a stocking (which has treats, practical items and few other small toys), a gift to encourage our walk with God, and a gift that we really want.  It's not like our gifts are extravagant and gifts are one way to show love and care.

On the other had, I get so stressed.  Last year, even when I managed to get all of my kids gifts by December, I still had a ton of other shopping to do.  I hate that I barely got to see my family because of gifts. We haven't gotten to do anything else that's Christmas-y in a bunch of years.  Christmas caroling, volunteering, making cookies, seeing friends and family...  even relaxing has gone by the wayside.  Even when I take a week off from work.  And I'm so strongly opposed to the commercialized version of Christmas.  I want my (and my family's) Christmas to be about Christ, and not about fallible things like expectations, traditions or material goods.

I guess we shall see what happens, but I'm hoping for a simple Christmas next year."

Well, I followed through. We decided not to give our kids any Christmas presents this year.  That didn't mean no gifts were exchanged though.  I did give Christmas presents to my sister's family (mostly because we were all trying to keep warm during Thanksgiving power outages by Black Friday shopping... I'm still holding off sharing that painful story).  It made sense, I saw some good deals in the store for them, and they were up visiting from Texas this year and aren't here every year.

I didn't prevent my family from giving the kids gifts.  My sister gave them her typical gifts for the kids.  Generally, my grandpa gives money and requests that we shop for the gifts from him.  I decided to forgo shopping that this year and I just gave them the money.

My Mom took my lead, and decided to go small with Christmas too.  She decided to make everyone's gifts this year.  Although, she has also discovered the stress that comes with handmade, meaningful gifts as well.

The goal here was not to deprive the kids of the love that is shared when gifts are given. It wasn't a punishment, nor did our kids think it was.  We weren't short on cash, and this wasn't a religious boycott on Santa.  (We are Evangelical Christians, and Christ is the reason we celebrate... so Santa wasn't ever a part of our Christmas.  So I guess we already boycotted Santa.)

However, the goal was completely selfish, really.  As a working Mom I'm stressed. It takes almost all of my free time for one to two months to shop for gifts (birthday's and relatives gifts included).  Since I work full time, it pains me how little I get to see my kids.  The idea was that for the month of December, I would be free to spend time hanging out doing fun Christmas stuff with my kids instead.  We wanted to buy our first real Christmas tree, do some volunteering, make cookies, etc.  Focus on sharing God's love, spending time together and relaxing.

But that didn't really happen either :(  Between the flu, the power outage Thanksgiving week (when I planned to finish up house stuff), and the request to have a finished livingroom for Eli's Birthday party (by Eli), I spent most of the month working on the house. Yeah, pretty much every waking moment was working on the house.  At least, it was with the kids almost the whole time.

Isn't that awful?  While I didn't have leave the house shopping, or hide away with a kindle and lists trying to shop at home....  I still didn't get to have the one-on-one Christmas time with my kids I wanted to.  I'll get back to that, but lets press on to Christmas morning.

So Christmas came, and the night before I decided to stock the tree with toys that they had received in past holiday's. Ones that the kids still loved to play with.  Legos, dolls, books, trains, etc. 

I'm not surprised, as our kids are really good about material things, but very proud of them.  There were no tears.  There was no complaint.  It was pretty much a non-issue. Eve, our oldest at almost 9, expressed remarkable amounts of thanks for past gifts and pride in not needing any more stuff.   Of course, her Birthday was less than a week away :)  The kids just sort of... started playing.  It wasn't really a big deal.  Eve, upon looking at the Christmas trees on facebook with 100's of presents under them, told me to post our empty tree to contrast it (we were waiting for everyone to wake up upstairs, and she didn't know I had actually 'stocked' ours).  She was even proud of our simple Christmas!

And actually, it was much easier not having to find places to put all the things we acquired.  It was nice to not have any filler presents, clothes or other essentials disguised as gifts, but purchased as needed, and often with them. 

Yet, Christmas night, as Jon and I were laying in bed, Jon surprised me with the revelation that he felt super guilty for not buying presents.  It wasn't a conscious type of guilt, where you know you had done wrong.  Both of us were really happy with how things went.  But, it was the feeling of failure, shame and wrongdoing.  It was...  really great to hear him say that.  I was feeling the same way.  So a Christmas morning filled with stockings and presents was so engrained into our past, our culture, our society, our stores, and our heads... that we felt like we had broken some sort of strong biblical law... that we both knew wasn't true.   Neither of us expected that, at all.

Back to the real failed goals of the whole thing...  spending time with my kids for the months up to Christmas.  I was able to redeem some of that by decided that I would not do a single construction-type thing on the house for my entire break, the 23rd to the 28th. I could do much needed "mom-work", but no "dad-work". 

It didn't seem like too much at the time, but looking back at pictures, it seems we were able to do several of the things we wanted to do in that week.

A visited the local indoor skatepark, Rye Airfield, during a homeschooling session -

 Dinner in a diner -

Baking cookies with my sister -

A trip to the NH's Christmas shopping store (The Christmas Dove) for a new Christmas ordainment, Followed by lunch and soda 'tasting' from a Country Store -

Cookies to the neighbors  -
 Trip to a Children's Museum -
 Candle Pin Bowling -

And finally, a drive through lights show - 

So while, it wasn't the slow paced, stress-free, family focused December we were hoping for...  we were still able to throw together some fun together as a family. 

I liked it so much... I might just have to extend this break from house work.... :D

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's Chimney Time!

Way, way back when we bought our house, one of the biggest issues the inspector found was with the deck.  It was poorly constructed, but also poorly implemented - the power vent for the furnace was under the deck. So much so, it made it on to the original big top five fix's when we first bought the house. 

The furnace runs our hot water, so it has to be on year round.   Thanks to our good inspection, we were already anticipating having to leave our deck anytime the furnace kicked on... which happened a lot. 

However, we had not anticipated some of the other big issues.  For most of the hot parts of the summer, the air was so thick with exhaust that it surrounded the entire house so that we couldn't even air out the parts of the house it was backing up into.  Despite have the furnace serviced 3 times, replacing one part, we ended up having no how water for most of the summer.  The service men said that the power vent is at the end of it's life, and the radon system is fighting it's forward motion.  We left a window open, per his request, which did seem to help some... but introduced a mold/moisture  problem in our basement instead :(

During the end of summer and the start of fall, things settled down some... but picked up a new symptom e hadn't experienced last winter, with when temperatures dropped and we were using our heat again. The exhaust not just hung around the deck, but filled our basement and kitchen, to the point where I couldn't use the basement, and sometimes not even our kitchen. 

So we schedules so quotes, and in the meantime took the matters into our own hands. 

There's a vent right on the corner of the house under there

Nothing like randomly sawing holes in your deck, right? 

So, the covering is just a register heater.  The cheapest thing I could find to keep our kids from falling through the deck. Not the nicest, smartest solution, but it did something. 

Right away, we noticed a change in airflow, and could feel the exhaust rising through the hole.  Despite the better airflow, we were still having lots of trouble with exhaust smell in the basement.

After a few over the phone quotes, we had these guys from "A Merry Sweep" come out to quote us. They quoted us at $2,600, which was on the low end of what we had expected, so we decided to go for it. However, if there was one fault with them, it was scheduling.  It took longer than antipated to get the quote, longer than they said to schedule after signing the contract, and after a weather delay even longer to finally get it installed.

But... so worth the wait.  While I was at work, Jon snapped some pictures of the build in progress.

And when I came home... the chimney was up! Despite being a die hard DIYer, I sure can appreciate having the job done by someone else.

Once the chimney guy was all set, we had set up a furnace guy to come swap the furnace over to a chimney type system (it won't require a signal to be sent to/from the power vent anymore) and calibrate the set up.

The one snafu we ran into, was that the chimney guy and Jon had to take down the awning, it fell, hurt Jon a little bit, and broke off part of a window.  Not a huge deal, since Jon survives and we were going to replace that window anyway.

It was a lot of money to be spent, and I still have to box in the chimney somehow... but at least we are finally exhaust free in our house!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Caving in to Temporary Floors

Well, the title should say it all. I gave in.

Our floors are looking ugly.  It started off looking a lot whiter when we 'painted' them.  But actually, Jon reminded me, it's not paint it's primer. And it hasn't fared so well.

They're a pain to clean, and even when clean, they don't give off that impression.  No likes wants to fold clothes or play board games on a floor that looks like this.  Okay, the kids don't care, but I do.

I wanted to just live on painted plywood until it was time to put in some nice, good quality hardwood floors. It's more environmentally friendly to not go through a set of floors we aren't planning on keeping.  And it would be economically sound not to waste any money into something we know we won't want long term.

But...  I gave in.  Our car fire wiped out our savings and looking ahead to how many other big repairs actually need to be done to the house.... well, nice floors were looking further and further down the road.

And the $0.50/sq foot Home Depot Black Friday deal enticed me.  It would only cost $206 in laminate flooring for the whole living room. We  practically spent that much upgrading from to a set of five new fancy cordless phones and ceramic cookware on black Friday.  (Every person for the last three years that has cooked at our house has commented on how little Teflon was actually left on our cheap Walmart pots and pans....  And our cordless phone actually stopped holding a charge after the power outage.) So it was a year of splurging and upgrading all around.

But the floors were a big deal to purchase, mentally.  It's hard to go against my original goal and put money towards something that [should hopefully] be temporary.  But they won me over.  They're not my style, rough scraped Hickory planks (Alameda Hickory) but they look good enough. 

During the week we painted, before I could move the desk and book shelf, we needed to get the haphazardly placed flooring scattered all over over to the finished side of the room.  We were running out of room downstairs, for sure.

But, as Jon and I were both sick with the flu, our incredible kids did the hard labor for us.

 They stacked them up, took off the wrapping, and competed for the 'prize'; Being the one to hand me instruction paper on top.

When all was done, we a had a nice neat stack of flooring acclimating to our room, and two really proud parents.  We left the last few boxes closed, in case they get returned.

A few days later, it was the weekend again, we moved the bookcases and desk and painted the walls.  Now it was time to get those floors in! 

At this point, after helping so much already, these kids were way more interested in helping than ever before.  Eli and I worked on peeling the molding off.  Thankfully, it all came off easily.

Even more motivation, Eli had requested that he have floors as one of his birthday presents... just a few days away.

Then we wrote a few messages and drawings on the floor.  We didn't know if anyone would ever see under these floors again, but we figured it was worth doing a little bit of time-capsuling.
And since we're talking about time, remember that time we installed laminate floors in our apartment?  No?  Well, that was probably because I didn't blog about it.  Back in 2009 we rented a place that let us put in laminate floors and get rid of the musty, moldy carpet that was down, in exchange for forgoing the first months rent.  Money wise, we came out on top.  But it wasn't that fun to do while moving and taking care of a 1 and 3 year old.

Point being, we already have some experience putting in laminate floors, which really made the decision to buy laminate flooring a lot easier. There's one thing I haven't mentioned yet...

Underlayment!  So we went a little different route this time - with cork.  Though the laminate flooring will be temporary, our underlayment is here to stay.  Underlayment is optional for most wood floor installations, but we decided that it would be be nice to have cork under our future nice wood floors.  It's really highly reviewed, and had a few benefits. It works out nice because we can install them now and use them to fulfill the necessary underlayment requirement that the laminate floors require, and keep them later.

Cork is eco friendly, as it can be harvested without cutting down any trees, and grows back every decade (or so).  Cork underlayment is great too, as is it the less dense, sort of 'cork scrap' that the trees produce in the first harvest.  As long as cork is profitable, the forests will remain as they stand with no damage to the habitat cutting down the trees. The biggest downside is they do have to be shipped here from the Mediterranean.

The cost of the underlayment was actually more per square foot than the laminate.  Plus we had to order them in 100 ft rolls, and needed 306ft total.... so we paid $258 in underlayment, and just $206 for the floors.  We ordered them from Lowes, and unlike other experiences, the shipping was incredibly fast.  Faster than they predicted.  Perfect, because we needed them here early if we were to make Eli's 'birthday present' deadline.

  Even just the cork alone was looking lovely on those dirty-white floors.

 We floated the installation and just duct taped the seams together, with just a few staples to hold the edges in place and flat.

 We decided to stop halfway through the room because we were running out of places to put stuff, and wanted to be able to at least let the kids use the play room.

At this point it was super late at night, but we couldn't help but at least put the first few rows of flooring in.

The next day, I came home early because I wanted to get to working on the floors.  We gave each of the kids an opportunity to install floors, and they liked it so much, they helped most of the night.
 Once the first section of the floors was done we had to move the livingroom all over again.

And then put in the rest of the underlayment.  We couldn't get much further than this that night, so we called it quits.

The next day Jon was able to finish 5 rows while I was at work, and when I came home I was kicking out rows like crazy.  I let the kids help by handing me boards, but not installation (greatly increasing the speed).

There was much rejoicing (crazy playing) when there was enough floor for them to play on.  I still had about 8 more rows to do too.

In case you're curious - Those tubes are decorated like people, and from the center of the cork underlayment rolls.

 "All fall down!"

Once all but the last half row was in we called it quits and got to our secondary goal.  Putting up the Christmas tree!


It was another late night, but we did it!  Floors for Eli's birthday and floors for Christmas.

And at this point, it's obligatory.  Here's the the phase by phase.

And for fun, here are the one 'before' that best represent how we've been living most of the time:

Feels a whole lot different in here, that's for sure.  We're loving the office space we've carved out, with the desk, new monitors, table and the new wall.  Having lights and a brighter paint has 100% completely changed the feel of the room. And the floor has made the room look finished.  So as temporary as these floors are supposed to be, I'm so glad we decided to put them in.

We still have some electrical work to do before we move the desk and bookcase back, but this is pretty darn close to being a construction-free zone!  And that's what I want for Christmas!