Storm Watch 2011

The best/worst thing about being sort of, kind of, maybe somewhere along the path of a hurricane is that every time you turn around someone is telling you to Be Prepared! Which translates in my brain to stock-up! buy lots of food! and stuff!

Which is both awesome and horrible. Because you see, there is a tiny, little chipmunk part of my brain that always really, really wants to stock up and squirrel away supplies, many, many supplies. For what? I have no idea. Winter I guess.

It is very affirming to have the world in general encourage you in your deep, dark desires. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that the tiny little chipmunk part of my brain is crazy.

The truth is that we really don’t need to stock up because I already keep plenty of food around. I am quite sure that on any given day we could easily eat for a few weeks on the contents of my pantry alone.

We might have to get creative with flavor combinations, but seriously, I did can 35 lbs of tomatoes, 10 lbs of peaches, an couple of different jams and pickles this summer. Not to mention the various panty staples like pasta, rice, soup, canned tuna, oils, flours, etc. that we keep around. And it’s not like the fridge and freezer are empty either.

We are so not going to starve.

Most of my brain believes this, but not the squirrely, crazy little chipmunk part. That part is really excited about Stocking Up. Which I did today, but just a little because the sane part of my brain realizes that the best weather models predict that Irene will have about the same effect as a strong summer thunderstorm here in Durham.

We do get some impressive thunder storms around here. And, small areas do frequently loose power for a little while when it gets windy. There are tree everywhere around here. Turns out that trees + wind + power lines = flashlights. But, the occasion down branch is really more of an annoyance level than catastrophic level problem.

And, speaking of highly annoying problems, my car was broken into this week. Someone smashed a window to steal my inexpensive gps unit. The car was in the driveway, and the gps way in the center console compartment out of sight. Repairing the window cost twice what we paid for the gps, and that was only because the thief “thoughtfully” smashed the small triangular window instead of one of the larger windows.

David said he was surprised I was taking it so well, and I guess I am pretty nonplussed about it. I think it’s because I’ve been expecting something like this, or much worse, for years. I mean I used to live in not the best part of Chicago, a city where you could read reports of bodies in dumpsters and children killed in drivebys pretty much every day.

I parked my car on the street, and I lived in a ground floor apartment with a poorly secured window ac. I walked around by myself after dark. The worst thing that ever happened was a few scratches on my bumper from incompetent parallel parkers.

People got stabbed in that neighborhood semi-regularly. Robbery at gunpoint was not uncommon and knife point was even more popular. I have two grad school friends who went to the University of Chicago and lived in Hyde Park at the same time I did. They both had people try to break into their apartments while they were home.

Our neighborhood in Durham is really pretty nice, lots of young families and couples/single in their first house. But, two of our immediate neighbors were burgled last fall, and I get an email from Duke at least every few months about an assault or robbery in the area around the campus.

I generally try to avoid he old “it could have been worse” line. It can pretty much always be worse. That’s not comforting, and it doesn’t mean the current situation doesn’t fucking suck.

And, it does suck that someone broke into my car, but mostly I feel lucky. I feel like I have evaded much worse for no discernible reason. I can deal with a little petty theft and vandalism.



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Bathroom tiling

And, now by popular demand…a post about our bathroom. Shush, my mother and David’s mother totally do constitute popular demand. At least on this blog.

Anyway, it turns out that we are bad home improvement bloggers because we have apparently failed to find any before pictures of the bathroom. So, I will just have to  give a brief description of the super awesomeness that was our bathroom when I bought this house.

The bathroom is wee and windowless, and really just not the main selling point of the house. When I moved in it was painted bright, bright yellow with one coat of badly applied, shiny paint. It was streaky, with poor coverage and looked really awesome with the cool-colored, faux-slate, stick-on tile floor.

We also had our very own version of the cheapest possible big box store vanity. It looked a lot like this model. It probably actually was this model.

"Shaker" vanity from Lowes. List price $57.

It was complimented by the cheapest possible faucet too, so that was pretty.

Possibly my favorite part about the previous bathroom was the places where the poorly aligned, stick-on vinyl tiles were nailed down in several corners.

Because, you know, if your adhesive flooring starts to  peel up, don’t replace it with one of the many extra tiles you have stashed in the basement, or even glue it down or something like that.  No, the obvious answer is to nail it down. Like you do.

So, one of the first things I did after I moved in was paint the walls purple (“Vintage” by Behr), since the streaky yellow just wasn’t doing it for me. Sadly, though, we only have the one bathroom, so tiling projects that render one toilet-less for multiple days never really sounded like the best idea.

That is until our awesome next door neighbor left us in charge of her house while she went to visit friends and family in the UK. With (relatively) easy access to an actual flushing toilet not our own, we thought we should take advantage of the situation and start destroying things.

We ripped out two layers of vinyl flooring, the old vanity, the toilet and the baseboards that inexplicably did not match the baseboards in any other room in the house.

The vinyl came up pretty easy, but it did leave a bit of sticky adhesive and paper backing stuck to the plywood underlayment. It was really fun scraping and scrubbing that up.

Unfortunately, we found a little bit of water damage in the plywood by the corners of the tub and around the toilet. For some reason, the join between the floor and the bathtub had been sealed with a piece of wooden trim. I am sure you can imagine what a great barrier the WOODEN trim made for all the little drips and splashes that inevitably escape the shower curtain.

Luckily, the damage was pretty isolated and minor and not anywhere near to penetrating the full underlayment. So, we just scraped, bleached and patched the damaged areas with something called “Floor Patch.”

Once we had the plywood as clean and smooth as we were ever going to get it, we put down some “wonderboard,” a super heavy sheet of crumbly cement held together with a mesh of nylon fiber. This is supposed to be a solid, inflexible support for the tile. Apparently tile does not like bendy floors.

If you google information on how to install tile, you get a bunch of videos with manly contractor types demonstrating how easy it is to cut down the cement fiber board. You just score the board with a utility knife and then snap it.

This is true (though it eats through blades like crazy), but they never show you how annoying it is to, say, cut out notches for air vents or the toilet drain or anywhere where you can’t just snap the full sheet down to size. This part sucks. A lot. I mostly ended up smashing the cement and then cutting away the fiber.

I really kind of wanted to just screw the wonderboard to the plywood since that seems to be what lots of people do on the internet “how to” videos. But, this guy assured me that if I did not use thinset under the boards in addition to screws, my dog would catch on fire. We don’t actually have a dog, but we are awfully fond of our cat, so I decided not to risk it.

After the wonderboard was mortared and screwed down, I taped the joints with alkali resistent joint tape and “mudded” them with more thinset. Then I finally got to work on the tile.

Laying out the file

Dry fitting the tiles.

The tile is “octogon and dot” from Daltile. It comes in square foot sheets held together with glue dots between the tile. I had been eying the penny round tile that is so trendy for bathrooms right now, but it’s surprisingly pricey. The octagon and dot tile was only about $2.50 a sheet at Home Depot, but the penny tile starts around $6 a square foot and goes up from there.

Penny tile. Isn't it cute?

I might have sprang for it since we have such a small area to tile (~24sft). But, I kept reading that penny tile is really difficult to install so that all the little round tiles actually line up all the way across your floor.

Since this was our first tile project, I decided to use the much cheaper and, hopefully, easier octagon and dot tile.

Happily, we were able to do all the tile cutting we needed to do with just a cheap snap cutter since our bathroom is basically just a plain rectangle with no inside corners or tricky curves.

And, I was able to lay the tile out so that I only had to cut through the larger octagons, which is lucky since I think cutting the dots sounds tricky.

Spacers between the sheets of tiles

Spacers between the sheets of tiles helped only somewhat to make the gaps between the tiles even.

Laying the tile in the thinset was still a bit of a painful process. I found it really difficult to get the sheets spaced evenly in all directions. Tile spacers helped somewhat, but it was still a frustrating evening of smooshing tiles a little to the left, then up, no down, no right.

David eventually had to rescue me from myself after I lost. my. shit. around 1 am. He took a turn smooshing tiles around (surprisingly hard on the finger tips). Then I had a final go at them, by which time it was 2 am, and we called it good enough, dammit.

After all that I think it come out pretty well.

The tiled floor with gray grout!

The tiled floor with gray grout!

I got the idea from Vanessa over at This & That to use grey grout with the white tile. I think it looks pretty great. Plus, I cannot imagine trying to keep white grout looking good on the floor. So, not happening in this house.

After the pain of laying the tiles in the thinset, grouting was a super easy. Especially since I went with premixed grout. I’m sure it’s much more economical to mix your own grout for larger projects, but we only needed a single gallon bucket of premixed grout for our tiny bathroom, so it felt worth it to save the hassle.

You just smoosh the grout in the spaces between the tiles with a rubber “grout float” and then scrape the excess off the top of the tiles with the edge of the same tool. After that, you just wipe the floor with a big wet sponge and clean water until you wash off all the grout haze from the tops of the tiles.

The actual timeline of all of this has all blurred together in my head already, but I can now see why my super handy friend calls tiling “not just a project, a way of life.”

The internet assured me that I could do this tiling project in just a few days. A day to rip up the old flooring, lay the underlayment and tile. Then 24 hours for the mortar to set, and you can grout, right?

To that I say, “ha!”

Maybe if your old flooring comes up perfectly, and there is nothing to scrape up, and you find no water damage to repair, and you have a secret technique for cutting round holes and notches in cement fiber board, and you choose not to use thinset under the cement fiber board, and you don’t need to stop and patch and paint the wall where you ripped out the old vanity, and if you are smart enough to tackle this project when it is not literally 100 degrees outside, causing any outdoor aspects of the project to sap your will to live, and you know what the hell you are doing, then, maybe, maybe you can do such a project in a couple of days.

I do believe that a pro could do the job in just a couple of days, but it actually took us more like 4-5 day to get to this far. Then it was another couple of days before we had a totally functional bathroom again.

Ugh, just typing all of this up has exhausted me again. More bathroom updates later. Right now, I need a nap.

Posted in Bathroom, David thinks I am insane, Home Improvement | 1 Comment

Another 15 minutes of fame for the cat

Catface sitting in the windshield wiper well of David's car.

Catface sitting in the windshield wiper well of David's car.

While I was busy sanding, scraping, cutting and finally planing 3/4″ from the bottom of our bathroom door while it was propped up on sawhorses in our driveway during the remodel project–in 98 degree heat–the cat decided to supervise.  From the well for the windshield wipers on my car.  Go figure!

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The $200 bench

Would you pay $200 for this bench?

Completed bench

The paint is still drying in this picture. It's actually more shiny and red and less pink and blotchy in real life.

How about this one?

West Elm bench. List price $199.

I adore West Elm. In fact, if you are looking to buy me present, you could probably just open a West Elm catalog to a random page, close your eyes and point at something. I would probably like whatever it is that you pointed at.

I am pretty sure that this makes me boring, but I can only muster up so much caring about the state of my coolness these days (Ok, fine, I could never really care that much about the state of my coolness. Whatever.).

Anyway, I love West Elm, and I think that a lot of their products are well priced, but the price of outdoor furniture in general practically sends me into a decline. This shit goes out in the yard, people. In the sun and the rain and the snow and the dirt and the bugs.

Unless it’s made of stainless steel or wrought iron or something like that it’s not exactly going to last for the long haul, and even then it’s going to need regular painting/maintenance. So, why is it just as expensive, if not more so, than indoor furniture? It confuses me.

Anyway, back to my point. Basically, I pretty much love all things West Elm, but I really can’t afford their furniture. So, I built some. Really, the credit goes to Ana White. Her website is full of simple plans to build trendy, knock off furniture. You really should go check it out if you’ve ever thought it would be cool to build your own furniture.

I actually ended up spending just about $200 on the bench I built, but that includes lumber, hardware, sandpaper, paint and most importantly this baby:

My new baby. The Hitachi compound miter saw.

So, overall I think I got a better deal. I’ve already used the saw to make a work bench, a printer table and to start making the matching table.  I’ll blog the rest when I get a chance/prod The Art Director into getting some picture.

Honestly the hardest part about this project was finishing it. I sanded and painted each individual board before I assembled the bench.

Sanding and priming the planks for the bench

Sanding and priming the planks for the bench.

This felt a little insane, but I read that it is helpful to finish as many surfaces as humanly possible when you are dealing with outdoor furniture.

Painting the planks for the bench

Painting the planks for the bench.

Did you know that if you get paint all over your arms and legs it will be insanely difficult to get off, and you will have to go to work all painty for the better part of a week. Now you do. Wipe that shit off while it is still wet, or you will pumicing yourself raw for a week.

Letting the second coat of paint dry

Letting the second coat of paint dry

I think it was worth, though.

Completed bench - head-on

Completed bench. Again, still drying.

Posted in Building things, Home Improvement | 1 Comment

Because everything is better with guns

I just learned that there is a real life magazine called Garden & Gun. Look:

David thinks I am insane, but I really want to subscribe. Maybe they discuss things like the best guns to shoot at the squirrels eating your tomatoes?

I think having Garden & Gun on my coffee table would totally up my Southerner credibility. Don’t you?

Welcome to my humble home. Put up your feet and peruse this lovely magazine. Would you like some pickled okra? Or maybe some sweet tea?

I actually really am about to go make some pickled okra as soon as I publish this post. I don’t think I’d even tried okra until I moved to North Carolina. I hate it when it’s all slimy, but I once had some insanely delicious pickled okra at a party. I am hoping to come close to that.

Sweat tea, though, you will never catch me making. I mean, I would make it for you if you came to visit and wanted a little sugary refreshment. But, personally I just cannot handle it. I had to throw away half a cupcake the other day because it was too sweet.

I’m not sure how this happened to me since I feel quite confident that I once thought cotton candy was the best substance on earth, but there you go. Apparently, I have somehow become one of those people who think that super saturate sugar solutions are just too sweet.

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Home and garden

Our bathroom renovation is about 98% finished. Pictures will follow as soon as we finish the last 2%, which is mostly caulking and cleaning. In the mean time I will be reveling in the very, very nearly done quality of the project.

For example, you can use the bathroom inside of our house now. And, you don’t even have to announce that you are going to be peeing so no one had better walk through the hallway unless they want an eyeful. Because we now have a toilet (that flushes!) in a room with a door (that closes!).

I have done my fair share of squatting in the woods, which I don’t mind too much when I am actually in the woods. And, I know that huge chunks of the world’s population would love to only have to walk next door to use indoor plumbing. But, oh glory, is it good to have rejoined the first world.

Now, though, I no longer have the excuses of travel and disruptive home improvements, and I am forced to admit that my garden is just not what is used to be. Partially, an entire month of high temperatures hovering in the upper 90’s low 100’s with almost no rain has taken it’s toll on the plants.

Mainly though, an entire month of brutal heat and travel and demanding projects has taken it’s toll on us. We water, but that’s about all we can stand to do, since even such a relatively undemanding task leaves us dripping sweat and covered in itchy insect bites.

So the weeds are mostly unchecked, and the fall crops are unplanted and the insects are unsquished. Squash bugs killed all of my squash except for a single volunteer pumpkin, which they are working very hard on right now.

Powdery mildew took out my purple podded pole beans (which were quite productive), and it is working on my scarlet runner beans (which flowered nicely, but never produced a single bean).

My cucumbers are barely hanging on for dear life and producing only the occasional misshapen fruit. A sad step down from giving them away and eating cucumber salads every night.

The peppers are all alive, but they look  wimpy and weak compared to my neighbor’s lush specimens. The dill went to seed and dried up, the rosemary died mysteriously and the parsley is looking sunburned.

Basically, the only thing we are harvesting in any quantity is tomatoes. Oh, and basil. Which, I have to admit, is pretty great, especially together. Unfortunately, most of my tomato plants seem to have some sort of wilt that is slowly strangling them. Luckily it doesn’t kill them outright, but it does seem to take a toll on tomato production.

I will have to have The Art Director take some pictures, so you can see the carnage for yourself.  Maybe the shame of posting pictures of an ugly garden will inspire me to get my act together and do some weeding/planting.

Posted in Ghetto gardening, Home Improvement | Leave a comment

Remodel Preview

Elizabeth's bathroom vanity cures on the back porch.

Elizabeth's bathroom vanity cures on the back porch.

We’re about to start the process of ripping apart our (only) bathroom: putting in a tile floor and replacing the vanity with one of Elizabeth’s own creation.  A post about her woodworking is forthcoming, and we’ll be sure to have photo of our new bathroom once it’s done..hopefully within the week!

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