Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trees, Gromit! Trees! - Part1

Pretty much anything I say in my head that rhymes with cheese is followed by a 'Gromit', and a mental arm shake!

"That's it Gromit! Trees!  We'll go somewhere where there's trees!"

That must have been what we were thinking when we decided to move to New Hampshire.  We did want a home with a nice open lawn, which I'm happy to say we got...  Yet we still had some deforistation to do.

Not long after we moved in we noticed somewhat large plant near our steps that we really couldn't remember during any of our other visits to the house.  It was in a really odd place too;  right in front of the deck steps.  It wasn't a big nuisance, so I didn't think much of it.

We're still weren't used to the lawn enough to confidently be sure, but it seemed like this plant was growing fairly quickly.  Not long after that we looked out our window, realized it wasn't our imagination and the plant was about to take over our power lines.

I wanted to be sure we disposed of it in a way that didn't accidentally  spread it far and wide, so I tried looking up what it was.  No weeds or trees I found online matched what we had.  So I contacted our local college and sent a photo and got a response in a just couple days:
"Our resident expert identifies your rather large weed that's growing by your deck's steps as a velvetleaf.  This is indeed an invasive species and is quite the threat to crops.

Please try to eradicate this as quickly as possible.  If possible, dig it up; if not, cut it off and the base and continue cutting growth until it freezes.  Dispose of the plant in the trash to avoid spreading any seeds around.  If you see this in your yard next year, try to eradicate it early so that it doesn't spread."
We had our plan!  Simple - cut it down, dig it up.

So chopping day was upon us and this thing was huge.  More than twice my size, actually.
 I just now, finally looked it up.  We were right; there was no tree there in front of our steps when we toured.  The above image was taken from the inspection report, about a month before we moved in.  That thing grew that tall in less than three months!!

Back to chopping day.  With our small hatchet in hand, we knocked down this thing in minutes.  It was quite brittle, with hollow stalks, so chopping it was easy, and remarkably satisfying.  I was disappointed I only got to do a few stalks.

The stump was much less hollow and brittle.  Quite heavy and damp, in fact.  We also found several spots that were chopped before, so the owners must have attempted prious removals.  You can't see it well in this picture, but towards the top, there was a long root that shot down, that I nicknamed 'The well', since it was so saturated with water and just plunged straight down. 

After a little bit of hatchet work and digging, Jon got the stump down to it's main chunk.  There were a few rocks on one side that we were having a hard time digging out, but using s screw driver to break the suction of the clay/dirt/tree popped those rocks right out of there.

With the rocks out, I took out a little aggression and hatched a fair amount off.  Jon was able to finish up the rest the next day when we borrowed a full size axe/sledgehammer, but since I was at work... there's no pictures.

The final result photo of this project isn't blog-style glamorous.  We're left with a big hole in the ground.  Yay. Taking a real 'after' picture now that we've cleaned up wouldn't any better.  "Wow!  Your ground looks so dirt-y!  You guys sure are swell!"

But when look past the hole, and focus on the fact that we can see that little girl on that deck now, it  becomes just a little more awesome again.  We can use those stairs!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bathroom Makeover

So first off, an announcement...  I am now using the Amazon Affiliate program for many of my links.  I figured since I'm already use Amazon to link to most of my products I might as well see if I can earn a little extra money for it.  So there's your fair warning.

You probably won't even notice the change.

So, for some reason, our upstairs bathroom was the one space I felt like we needed to redecorate right away.  I had changes in mind for all other rooms, but the bathroom just irked me.  The faucets were fine, but the spout leaked and the showerhead kept falling off.  The paint was a gross brown/red and all of the bathware was cheap wood and very broken


So,  those are all 'live' links and I will actually be using the Amazon Affiliate program (and my bathroom is gross)... but I in no way want my site to turn into some kind of advertisement like that.  The internet has enough ads alrady. If I find that often I'm linking up products more than I otherwise would have, I'm gonna stop the trying to monetize.  I really don't want another one of those blogs.  And on the flip side, linking a product does not mean I'm endorsing a product.  Okay, public service announcement over....

Back to our bathroom.  We swapped out the showerhead in almost every apartment we've had, and our new house was no exception.  This one didn't spray well and we've never been shower sprayer people, so it had to go. I used a little vinegar in a bag and some Q-tips to clean out the junk that had accumulated.  We ordered this showerhead from Amazon using Lowe's internet, since Lowes didn't have any good basic ones.  (Thanks Lowes!)  We've used it for a while now and it works great.  Doesn't at all seem like a low flow head.

I also pimped out the shower curtain not long after moving in. I noticed in our last apartment the landlord had made his spring loaded curtain more stable with these hangers, which our walls clearly wanted.  They're actually closet rod sockets, and we found some at Lowes for about $5.  Metal ones were cheaper, but plastic seems more suitable for a moist shower environment.  They were super easy to install.  The junk on the shower rod came off fairly easily with a magic eraser too, so everything looked spic and span again... well except the walls.

Ah yes, the walls.  I could not stand the color.  The single most offensive thing about the bathroom was the color.  Maybe it was the because of clashing with the ugly wood fixtures and  cabinet. Or perhaps our purple shower curtain and blue floor were throwing me off.  But whatever it was, I felt like I was suffocating everytime I stood in there.  I wanted to finish some of the more serious repairs before I started on painting anything... but after a month living here, I had to do this.

There was a little bit of prep work before I started.  The bathroom had some rough spots in the shower curtain rod area and the places the old towel bars and hangers were pulled off.  Spackling those were pretty easy.

I also needed to peel off the painted-over caulking on the sides, which lead to a large large portion of paint coming off.  Patching the painted and unpainted parts, wasn't so easy, as I was in a hurry and didn't want to do more than one coat with sanding.  Hopefully I'll fix that someday.

So lets paint the walls!  Choosing a replacement color was tricky.  We wanted to go with a warm gray, so it wouldn't crash with the ivory fixtures as much as a regular gray would.  I feel like we found the right color, but had a tough time picking how light it should be.  We went all in and bought a gallon on the lightest shade.  Bad move.  It pretty much matched the countertop, as shown above.  I'm sure the paint would have taken on a more grey color once the rest of the room was painted, but we definitely should have picked a shade darker.

We decided it would be good to take a trip back to the store to try to re-tint would to try to get one shade darker.  Unfortunately, the color balance of the first gallon didn't line up with the pallet of the slightly darker shade, and we ended up with the color at the bottom of the image above...  pretty far off from what we wanted.  This one was way too close to the old color for my liking.  So I went in the completely opposite direction, and just picked my favorite color - sky blue.

The ugly brown in the room really did absorb all things good and beautiful, because I was fairly far into the painting process that the blue color actually started looking blue and not white.
 Finally, the last part was the 'bathware'.  The photos above are from the inspection report.  Nice toilet paper holder, huh?  The two towel rack holders were also broken (one hid it better than the other).

So after deciding the cheaper metal ones in the local stores weren't quality enough for us our kids, I turned to the internet, ordering this and this.  The quality is great, but I do have a few complaints.  The towel bar stuck out much farther than I expected, so we had to change where we hung it.  It's a little harder for the kids to get to now.  And the toilet paper holder is really wide for the size of rolls we get.  It can look a little awkard at times.

We decided to forgo getting towel rack in favor of hooks, since we have so many towels to hang... which I haven't gotten around to buying/making yet.

Here's the side by side:

With the addition of a new, taller, shower curtain, and the bathroom is much more to my liking.  Bright, open and airy. 

My 'Phase 1' bathroom list is halfway done:
Replace old showerhead
Replace toilet seat lid and convert toilet to dual flush
Replace shower curtain and install rod supports
Replace the broken bathware

Fix holes and PAINT!!
Caulk and trim tub

Repaint the cabinet (?)
Repaint the rusty heater
Change the light fixture
Hang up towel hooks
Fix leaking shower
There may be some big changes in this bathroom in a few years, but getting this far has been great!  Now go search for some random words on Amazon.  It can be pretty fun!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Joke: What's our playset's favorite song?  Freefalling!  I'm sure there are better ones... Fallin'? Lean on me, maybe?  That ones not bad.  Roll with me here, this intro wasn't really thought out.

One of the first things we wanted to upgrade after moving in was the playset.  Three big reasons I felt the playset was unsafe.
  • The leaning put a lot of force on that one very worn connection in-between the swings and the tower.
  • The swing's 'joist' was very bowed, and because it was wrapped in plastic, I didn't know how it was doing structurally.
  • The chains seemed really old and rusty.
We knew we couldn't keep the kids off of it, but we also weren't ready to fully destroy it yet given our other workload (and our guilt for not being able to provide one for so long).

So I settled with partially destroying it :)  I should probably say, it wasn't very smart for me to destroy it by myself.  Home alone.  But...  I did anyway.  There were several times I thought, if this fails, as long as I stand this way, it would only be a broken arm.  That's probably a sign of poor judgement.

We definatly wanted to make this thing *close to* plumb again.  Here's where we started.  What stinks is each post didn't check out even close to the same measurement.  ::Sighs::  Nothing is easy.

First I tossed off the slide and the ladder.  No pictures, as it's not eventful.  Well, except for my sprinting when I saw how many wasps lived under the slide after I tossed it.  No stings!

Next I removed the end support.  It was really heavy and definatly one of those, "Oh crap, how heavy is this going to be?!?" moments.  It was heavy but thankfully I was able to get a stick under the end to hold it up while I figured out the next steps. 

I smarted up a bit, and grabbed this half-wall (leftover from our old apartment) to support the other side.  With that in, I could wedge a 2x4 in and forcefully unscrew each rusty bolt at a time.  I was able to wedge a second 2x4 under the other side, and remove the second set of bolts.  This was very unstable and I did fear for my limbs (and dinning room chair) during the process.

This is the second big "Really, how heavy is this thing?!?" moment.  But I did it.  I pulled the whole thing down over my head and was able to toss it onto the lawn.  IT WAS HEAVY!  At the edge of what I could handle, for sure.  But afterward felt like I could rock the caber toss in the Scottish Highland Games, for sure.  Well... this would be a toothpick to them, but did get pretty good distance.  Work with me here.  I'm tiny.

One thing I did not show before, I actually had those two posts lightly supporting that side when I took down the swings.  I was worried that the swings were the only thing holding it up.  I may have been right, because when I went back, those support beams were jammed in there tight.

Once Jon was back home, little by little we got the posts a little more plumb.  Jon did the heaving of the side, I set the posts in a little further.

Once we settled on an average 'plumbness', I set in some bracing.  I chose to create a nest for the support-board with crossbars and make a square cut on the corner.  I wanted to try to keep the playset as square as I could and didn't want it slipping anytime soon.

I put the cross-support in the compression direction, so that it the force would be on the material and not just the screws. 

We then removed the supports.  It's a bad picture... but we're looking much better!

 The next step was to build out the swing set side.  I had actually built out the 'A-Frame' in the garage fairly early on in the process.  And then I had predrilled the holes in the beam once the porch was done needing it.  So the assembly wasn't that bad.

I went with design for it's simplicity (ie. no ladder like the old one).  A lot of the details are based on reading instructions for several swing set kits I found online.  The beam size for those were fairly consist, with a 4x6" being the norm.  I picked the length because my only options in the store were 8' or 12', and 8' fit in my van.  I may have tried 10' if that were available.  Spacing of the swing clips varied soooo much between different kits, that I just had to go for what I thought would work.  I finally settled on something like 17" for the width of the seat, and 14" between them.  My best guess at what it was, anyway.  I wanted an over hang at the end for a rope or something, but now I'm not sure there's enough room for one.  We could still try it next year.

I partially wished that I had bought this kit, because it is SOoo much cheaper than getting the parts separately.... but I didn't need all of the parts immediately, and currently money now is better than money later.  We have a lot of pressing repairs to do.  Plus, without the kit, I'll have the option to buy higher quality seats next year.   I used two of these EZ frame brackets, that did make it pretty easy, and these swing hangers, since the old ones were made for 4x4's (and I couldn't get them out of the old beam).  Those swing hangers were a royal PAIN to install.  They should not have been.  I figured out the nut they provide just did not fit the bolt.  Metal chips came out and the whole thing heated up real good. I decided to take my fight inside and pre-tighten the nuts on the bolts, to break them in.  It wasn't easier inside, but at least it wasn't on a ladder anymore.  It did help once I went back outside outside though.  Surprisingly one did actually go on smoothly, so it must have been a bad lot. 

I decided to return the 3rd EZ bracket I had bought and instead bought this bracket and some spray paint to save a few bucks.  (Actually, Home Depot was busy enough that looking up the price wasn't critical to them, so they gave the bracket to me for free!).  A few coats of paint, and it matches the other brackets well.

Because the A frame was taller than the old connection, and because that lower board was weak and thin, I decided to make my own little support system.  I felt a little nervous about how strong this would be, but my husband reminded me of how bad the old one was, so I pressed on.  The braket is to help with side to side movement and squareness, the 2x4" for the most of the vertical support, and 2x6" to tie it into the existing strong posts of the playset. The beam is attached to the 2x6" through the back too.

Here's Isaac happy with his new swingset!  I wasn't planning on to replacing the seats/chain until spring, assuming they would make through this fall. 

I was wrong.  Thankfully, Isaac was not on the swingset when it broke - I was. And thankfully no one was around to see me fall :)

(Dont' worry, Isaac has terrible aim)

Keeping to our limited budget, we just bought some cheap polypropalene rope from Lowes to tide us over this fall.  With a 244lb working load (each side), we should be able able to handle the force a couple kids  adults put on it, even while swinging.  We used a few Perfection Knots, and restored playtime for all light blue shirted children in the world our family. 

So that was the saga of the swingset.  It took about 3 weeks to finish all the steps (with other projects going on) and it took about 6 weeks to get this post about it online.  Ouch.

This isn't our longterm swingset plan, as I would like to have something a little softer than packed dirt under it... as well as making the tower a little less... falling apart.  But for now, it's 'survivable' and that's what we were going for.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I am eating cake!  Right now!  Mmm....  chocolate frosting.

Random, I know, but this post is lighthearted, so I might as well start off with my some weird fun. 

I am behind on posts about projects I've wanted to share, as usual.... but they're still going to have to wait because I'm going to jump the line. I'm too excited. Yes, back to the cake.  Birthday cake, to be specific. 

Isaac's turned 3!!

It was a fairly easy decision to make him a Link costume for his birthday, since in his eyes, he is Link.  He acts like Link, talks like Link, and often insists we call him Link.

But it was hard deciding which 'Link' he would be.  We were between Skyward Sword Link and Wind Waker's young Link (also called toon Link).

We thought it would have been cute to go with young link, since Isaac is little and we've seen some cute photos of other little Links online... but old Link is so much more intricate, and Isaac liked him more... so he became our first choice.

Then as more time passed and I still hadn't worked on the outfit, and it became clear that toon Link was the way to go if we wanted to get it done in time.  So we changed our 'toon'.  (Bahaha! Yes, I'm tired...)

So of course, procrastination is inevitable with a billion things to do, so the night before his birthday party is when I started sewing.  But by the middle of the next day we had thrown together this costume.

The shirt and leggings are from target and dyed to the colors weneeded .  I did end up seam-ripping the front decoration of the target shirt, as it contrasted with the tunic's V-neck too much.  The tunic fabric is just green linen from jo-anns, the straps are made of several layers of costume leather.  Jon did an awesome job on the belt buckle, which was just painted scrap wood.

We still have a little bit to do on the the costume.  We're planning on picking up white leggings.  Two sets of pants for a toddler preschooler is always a good idea...  and of course, we'll get some brown boots, which will hopefully double as winter boots this winter.  I actually sized the whole costume to his older brother so that we'll get a few more years out of it.

And because this is a cosplay type costume, we had to dress it up with some accessories.  Sort of pulls it way from the simplicity of the toon Link design a bit, but again, the point isn't to emulate the look entirely; It's to adventure like Link.  The sword we got at walmart, which was a great sword and a good price, but too long for Isaac to pull out of the simple sheath I made.... which is a bummer.  Our other swords come out just fine though, but Isaac's fairly attached to the new one, so back to the drawing board.

For some good fun, we made a slingshot w/ holder and placed it in a cardboard treasure chest. We waited until Isaac had gotten the outfit and put it on before letting him open the treasure chest.  Yes, we did hum Link's 'chest opening' song while he opened it, and made the appropraite sound bite when he grabbed it out. (Du-da-da-da DA!)

So here's our happy guy!  Once we get the boots, I'd love to go outside and get some better photos to make some edited shots.... and maybe I will write the the tutorial for the clothes... someday...

The cake is all eaten up now, so I must be off!