Sunday, December 8, 2013

That time everyone got married in one year

This year we were invited to 10 weddings, along with our recent puppy addition of Scout has somewhat throttled our house-progress over the past couple of months. Halley's mom, Jeanne, says that we're not allowed to make any more unmarried friends.  Somehow we found the time to sneak a few projects in, so we thought it was time to smush them all together into another blog update.

The adorable Q-tip tree
Last summer we spent a silly amount of time and effort cleaning our pool of pine needles dropped by the pine tree in the corner of our yard. We decided the tree must die. So Halley's dad, John, offered to take it down as a birthday present.  With the help of my dad, Jim, and friends Brian and Lina we got most of it taken care of.
Of course the tree's base is in the corner of the yard where falling limbs would hit the fence, pool pump or pool cover.  This required attaching a line to each cut branch and lowering it safely to the yard.  We were able to get about 75-80% of the limbs off - but finishing the job is going to be difficult.  There is no other trees to hang lumberjacks off of or to use to catch cut branches.  The operation is going to be tricky with a higher likelihood of someone getting hit with a falling limb, so we called it quits on the project - much to John's chagrin.  We'll likely get a tree company to manage the rest of the job and handle the dead/dying tree outside of the fence.  The significant pruning really did reduce the amount of debris in the pool over the summer.

Painting the foyer
We decided to paint the foyer and the upstairs hallway a dark grey because we have really a lot of colors going on and didn't want guests eyes to be assaulted upon entry.  The new color sharpens things up nicely.

View to kitchen before
View to kitchen after

View to foyer before
View to foyer after

Upstairs hallway before
Upstairs hallway after

Montage of yard work
There has been tons of pruning and shrub removal over our first two years in the house.  What we thought was a tiny amount of fenced yard, really increased once we got the foliage in order (although we'd still like to move the fence to include more of the property).

View away from Norman Drive before
View away from Norman Drive after

View across pool before
View across pool after

View to Norman Drive after
View to Norman Drive before

View to Tom's house before
View to Tom's house after

Gardening up a storm
We had a productive year in the garden with a harvest of 38.75 lbs of organic produce.  We enjoyed eating it and sharing with friends and family.
The scene: potatoes, corn and garden boxes...watered with captured grey water from the downspouts.  Not a drop of hose water was used on the garden.

Corn!  Not a huge success so we'll probably grow
 something else here next year.
The garden boxes

A modest ear of corn
Ripening Big Boy tomato - probably
used on a burger
A cucumber, nearly ready to pick

Thai hot peppers were planted in each box to keep deer and
rabbits from crunching on our veggies - and it worked!
Potatoes that I killed by trying
to trellis them: lesson learned

Cascade hops growing along the side
of the house.

Close up of the Cascade hops

Cantaloupe trellised on the fence.
The flowers and melons that managed
to grow on the outside of the fence
fed the deer nicely.
Compost pile with volunteer tomatoes.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring has sprung

Mini Kitchen Remodel
In our Brady Bunch-chic kitchen resides one of the dumbest set of cupboards in existence.  When standing at the sink, one has to stoop to see people sitting at the kitchen table.  Not only are the cabinets too low, there appears to be an air-filled soffit above them.  In a few years we'll remodel the kitchen and take down the soffits, but until then I cannot handle the cabinets.  We won't lose any storage space when we rip the cabinets out because we converted the wall oven area to cupboard.

The cabinet was secured with just a few heavy duty bolts into some 2"x 4"s mounted to the ceiling.  The damage was repaired with some spackle and paint.  There is no way we would be able to match the paint color in the rest of the kitchen, so it will have to do for a while longer - but having the cabinets gone makes us so happy.
Everyone keeps chairs on their counters, correct?

Much more open and far better.  Immediately after the
completion of the project I applied a layer of debris to the
exposed counter top.

Our mailbox before was white, with numbers on only one side and a mildewey post.  We painted the box, stenciled some numbers on both sides (!) and painted the post.  An easy upgrade that looks much better.
Fire-engine red for the win
Grow all the things!
Our first summer in the house was spent getting trees and shrubs in order.  This summer we're working on a proper garden.  Next summer: chickens.  I want to do raised bed, square foot gardening.  We decided that our lawn is garbage anyway, so may as well ruin it by growing corn.  The minimum area required is 10' x 10'...and since we're rototilling, perhaps we should have some space to grow potatoes.  So the project spiraled into what I'm calling the Oyer Family CSA.

To build the raised beds I considered pressure treated lumber (not nuts about the idea of the chemicals in the growing soil) and recycled timber (Trex).  The cost of the Trex was so high we couldn't bring ourselves to load the 8' $20 lengths onto the cart.  The next best idea we came up with was using reclaimed lumber from pallets.  It's not pressure treated so it will eventually decay, but at the cost of free it's hard to argue.  We got some pallets delivered from the Princeton loading dock (thank you Dave!) and found that the Sear's by our house gave us cart blanche to take pallets whenever we want them.
Corner detail
Borrowing my Dad's rototiller turned the project from a multi-day affair into something we accomplished in a few hours.  We tilled the grass into the dirt to keep the organic matter in the soil, but mostly because we tried removing the sod and found it incredibly time consuming (read: we were lazy).  After the initial till at around 12" depth we spread manure over the area and tilled it again to a 16" depth.  I'm sure we'll have some grass and weed issues, but we'll deal with them as they show up.
The layout.  Some of the limbs on the trees to the left of the garden will get pruned so they don't smack us in the face while we mow and also to increase the amount of sun the garden gets.

Seedlings, getting started!
Our veggie roster:
  • Thai chili peppers
  • Sweet peppers (of five different colors!)
  • Big boy tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Sweet corn
  • Pole beans
  • Potatoes (two varieties)

The flower list, mostly perennials unless otherwise noted:
  • Hollyhock
  • Chinese lantern
  • Foxglove
  • Johnny jump up
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Lupine - We had the book Miss Rumphius growing up and loved it, despite calling it The Lupine Lady which isn't even close to the real title
  • Marigold (annual)
  • Morning glory (annual)

Of course we chose some difficult specimens (hollyhock, foxglove and lupine) so it will make for an interesting challenge.  We'll try to do more frequent updates as the projects start to pick up again. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Drain the pool

When we closed the pool in September, we were told that we would need to drain some additional water out later in the year to prevent damage to the pool.  The goal is to avoid getting the water level high enough to enter the pump outlet lines and freeze, or freeze at the level of the tiles and pop them off the wall of the pool.  We promptly forgot these instructions, fast forward to a recent snowfall.  I was standing at the back door, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching Molly frolic in the snow...and noticed there was a perimeter of snow around the edge of the pool cover and not in the middle.  We pulled the cover back and the water level was well into the tile work.  Thankfully the weather had been pretty mild so we weren't in total danger of major pool damage, but we did need to fix the problem.  Luckily Home Depot rents serious submersible pumps, but they were super suspicious about needing to drain a pool in late December:
  • "Yes we know, this isn't the right time to fix the problem"
  • "Yes, we're novices at pool maintenance"
  • "Yes, we're technically grown ups"
The level we were told to shoot for was level with the surface of the second step down on the steps at the shallow end.  The pump came with a 50' hose, which wasn't nearly long enough to reach the curb.  We ran the hose as directly as we could (under the fence) to the curb and supplemented the length with two downspout extenders.
Fence being propped up with a log so as not to puncture the hose

The definition of a "kludge"

I threw a piece of moldy plywood from the kitchen wall
reno demolition under the last downspout extender to
cover the last bit of lawn to the curb
Christmas gifts

Matt and I managed to say that we were not getting each other gifts...and actually stuck to it.  The trip to India counted as anniversary/Christmas/birthday gifts.  Despite this, we still think this was our favorite Christmas on the books so far.  We are slowly paring down the number of houses we have to visit from 7 (2010, spent 100+ miles in the car according to Google Maps), to 6 (2011), to 5 this year - a manageable number that my mother says won't decrease until we have kids and can start laying down the law.

We got some great gifts from our families!  A meat grinder from my mom, a dehumidifier from Matt's parents, and some renovating cash from my dad.

Perhaps a little too enthusiastic about
grinding some pork for breakfast sausage
Poised for continuous drainage into the
sump pump pit.

Lost Earring

I cleverly dropped an earring down the sink - thank goodness for "P" traps!  We are now a professionals at retrieving earrings, as Matt and I took apart a sink at my mothers house on our wedding day because I dropped an earring I was supposed wear that day into it.  Not tricky, but you can't help but feel like a bone head for dropping the earring in the first place.

I'll call these my plumbing pajamas
Bonus points if you can see the earring

Removing The Electrical Line From The Old Oven

After removing the old wall oven, we had a floating 220V line and temporarily threw some wire caps on the end (and left its breaker off) We decided it would be best to remove the line entirely, and free up 2 breaker spots in our circuit panel. We ripped out the staples securing the line, and unscrewed the line from the breaker giving us a free 30A 220V breaker, or if removed two 15A 110V's.

Light Switch Timer

We have four light switches by our front door, the first of which controls the light on the front porch.  It would be ideal to have the light controlled by a timer so we don't have to turn it on or remember to turn it off at night.  Timers require an opening big enough for a toggle switch, not a traditional light switch.  We needed to use the internet to buy a 4-gang switch plate cover with one toggle opening and three switch openings.

We tried a few timers before finally finding the right one. We ended up using a nice programmable digital timer, the Intermatic ST01. We are using an LED light bulb so we needed one that specifically had a relay inside (most of the cheaper ones use something called "PWM" to turn the light on and off), but this won't work for LEDs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"This is looking less shitty by the minute" ~ Matt Oyer

Oven project
Looking a little bit like Dexter
This past Saturday started with no plans (aside from sitting around and doing a few errands) until Halley suggested we finally rip out our dysfunctional wall oven. I was a little surprised, but enjoy spontaneous demo as much as the next guy so we started smashing stuff.

It started with a bit of "exploratory breaking junk" (which didn't really go so well, it turns out there was a stud directly behind where I swung the first hammer. We tried again with a bit more success and proceeded to poke around. We found it was mostly empty (thankfully) and our idea of replacing the antique with some DIY shelving.

What were they thinking with this electrical line?
We took out the oven, pulled the 220V line down into the basement (deal with later, for now we just capped the line and left its independent breaker off) and tossed the oven to the curb. With the oven out of the way, we proceeded to sawzall/hammer/pry/karate chop the rest of the studs and supports to leave us with a nice clean slate to do some terrible construction work.

Living proof of the "do your best, and
caulk the rest" motto
We lined the walls with plywood, and made the shelf supports from 2" x 2"s. The previous electrician took a shortcut and just ran the electric to the wall outlet (for the fridge) on a diagonal, so we decided to take a short cut (mainly because this is a temporary fix until we gut/redo the entire kitchen) and just place one of the shelves directly on top of the electrical line to hide it. We found ourselves saying "I really don't care that much" a little too often during this project, which resulted in a lot of caulk and great stuff being used to hide things.

After all the shelves were in, we mounted drawer slides to another piece of shelving for the bottom shelf. The shelf material we had wasn't deep enough, so we scavenged and found a test piece of oak (we had from the steps we made for our living room - I don't think we have anything about those on the blog, we should put a picture here) and added that to the end (we were lucky it was just about the perfect size)

Once this was all done, Halley decided she wanted another shelf, so we took them all down, and re-spaced them out for four shelves. We then threw some molding around the edges, and a curtain rod/curtain to complete it.  The curtain will be hemmed so its not sweeping up the debris on the floor.

Shelving in..
...curtains up... gear inserted!

Time lapse of the whole project.  There are segments where we're both off camera...because we're in the garage cutting plywood, 2" x 2"'s or melamine shelving.