Thursday, June 27, 2013

Aunt Betsy, tear down this wall

The weekend of Little Man's birthday party, one of Beau's sisters came to town to check out our money pit West Virginia house, cuddle our little love bug, celebrate a huge milestone birthday, and visit with her favorite brother and sister-in-law.

Little did Betsy know, we'd put her to work. Her visit with us, though not relaxing on her part, was incredibly helpful to us on so many levels. While Beau and I were staining the siding, she took Little Man on long walks to check out the wildlife and get him away from the fumes. She was also so, so, so incredibly helpful getting ready for Little Man's party. (She got to use the helium tank to blow up the balloons, among many other jobs! We sure do know how to spoil a gal.)

She also got to try her hand at demolition.

I think it was a first for her.

And I definitely think she liked it!

From far away, the stone fireplace looks to be the only redeeming item in the living room. (The bed was the old owner's bed. It has since moved to its new home.)

In reality, though, the wall was poorly installed. (I really should have taken close-up pictures, but you can see the gap between the wall and the rock. Up close you can see the board beneath the stone through that gap. It looks like it was just never properly finished. I think that will be a recurring theme with this house.)

Another deciding factor is that we really want to have a wood burning stove in the house to help heat it in the winter. This fireplace is a gas stove that is really just there for aesthetics rather than heat. Plus, is just doesn't look safe.

I also think Beau probably just wanted to tear down a wall.

Betsy and I took a trip up the mountain to Starbucks and when we returned Beau had done a number on the stone. While he took Little Man down the mountain, she and I tried to finish up the removal and dumped the stone in the dumpster. We then started removing screws. When the wall was built, it was framed, plywood was installed over the framing, and wire mesh was screwed in to the plywood. With little exaggeration, I can say nearly a million screws were used. The mesh then held the mortar and stone.

We found a few little surprises when the wall came down. I was seriously convinced that there would be a dead body or something behind the wall. (Hey, I taught Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" to ninth graders for years and years. That makes it way less weird.) The biggest surprise after not finding a body was that there were two outlets behind the wall. They were totally inaccessible. While I'm not really up on electrical code, I'm pretty sure that is totally against it. To me it seems like a bit of a fire hazard.

The holes in the wall at the ceiling were because the wall there was black. It wasn't clear if the blackness was from smoke damage or mold, so Beau tore a chunk of the wall out. (After seeing the damage in the west wall, we really wanted to make sure that there was no moisture behind that wall, too.) The insides looked good, so we're pretty sure that the blackness was smoke damage.

The other big surprise was that there was no gas shut-off valve at the source, so we weren't able to unhook the fireplace. We'll have to have a professional come out and do that. (Beau would love to do it, but I put my foot down there. Tear down walls, uninstall toilets, whatever. DO NOT mess with anything that can cause a huge explosion. I know, I know, I'm suck a buzz kill.)

We were pretty bummed about that last revelation because we had really hoped we'd get rid of the hulking fireplace and really feel like we'd made progress.

While demolition is way fun, it is always way messy. I did not love the clean-up afterwards. Fortunately, the weather was amazing so we could open doors and windows to air it out Also, we have no almost no furniture. Because of that, cleaning really just entailed mopping the floors a million times and wiping down counters as many times.

Just for comparison, I took this shot of a clean Swiffer Wet Jet mop and one that had made two sweeps through the dust and dirt. It took five of them to get the floor to look sort of clean. Later I mopped on my hands and knees with a rag and Mr. Clean.

Even though it feels like we are only making backwards progress (wait, is that an oxymoron?), I know that getting all of this stuff done now while the house is just an uninhabited shell will make life easier down the road. In all honesty, my head probably would have exploded if we had done the floors, painted and furnished the upstairs and decided to take the wall out in a few years. Quel mess.

Essentially we are creating a blank canvass upon which to paint our mountain masterpiece.

Geesh that was corny.

Soon (a totally relative word, in all honesty), Aunt Betsy will come to visit and instead of the empty shell of a deckless house she will come to a lovely, furnished, finished home that requires no manual labor. I'll be bringing her a drink of her choosing on the deck. Or maybe we'll sip tea or cocoa in front of a roaring fire in the new fireplace.

Looking at it now, that seems so far away...

Any other walls coming down out there in the blogosphere? Anyone else finding scary code-breaking stuff in a house you're renovating?  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

First birthday party

Let's be real. I'm not one of those moms who can execute a perfectly organized, adorable themed party. I'm just not really that much of a detail person. More so, I'm not one to remember to take photos of everything.

And, Little Man is one. So, really the "perfect" party would have been more for me to show off than for his enjoyment. So, we kept it pretty sweet and simple.

I did put quite a bit of effort into designing the invitations because I figured I couldn't let my vast experience in graphic design (read: eight years of advising a yearbook and ten years of school newspapers) go to waste.

This is what I came up with:

I simply designed them using Adobe InDesign, printed them on card stock at Staples, stuck a mustache sticker in the middle and glued 1/4 of a piece of 12x12 scrapbook paper to the back of the invitation. I got a combo pack of paper at Target, so there were different patterns of paper for every 4 invitations. The argyle above is my favorite. Because of that "vast experience," they were pretty quick and easy to whip up.

As far as theme went, I decided that a "Little Man" party seemed appropriate since I refer to him as Little Man here. There were mustaches, and that was pretty much as far as I took it. I got finger 'staches, but totally got so busy with everything party related that I didn't take many pictures of kids and adults "wearing them". Mom fail number two: an improperly documented first birthday party.

Take my word for it, finger 'staches are fun.

I kept decorations pretty simple. We did balloons and streamers, a "Happy Birthday" banner I plan to use for all future birthdays (from Target), and some chalk "art" to welcome guests and show where activities and beverages were.

The only mustache decoration that I did get was a wall decal that I put on the glass of a shadow box frame with some of the paper from the scrapbook pack I got for the backing of the invitations. It'll hang in Little Man's room as soon as I get around to figuring out where exactly it belongs.

It looks off center, but I had to put it where it was for the "e" to fit on the glass. 

The only other mustaches were on the cakes.

I got a cake from Costco because, really, who doesn't want an excuse for that chocolaty goodness? They say that they don't do custom cakes, but I put a note on the cake order form that I'd like a mustache, but if they couldn't customize it I'd take a dinosaur for my son's mustache party even though a dino made no sense at all. 

They did a mustache. 

Because Costco freaking rocks. Even though they left off "First" between Happy and Birthday. Whatever, we got a fat, brown mustache on our cake. 

I wanted Little Man to have his own cake to smash and go crazy with, so I had a dear friend who also happens to be an incredible baker make some cupcakes.

They were adorbs.

They were also pretty healthy. (Especially when compared to the Costco cake with two pounds (!) of fudge mousse in the middle...). She used fresh strawberries for a strawberry cake and a cream cheese/whipped cream type frosting. And, as you can see, she also used chocolate molds to make chocolate mustaches. Isn't that the cutest thing ever?

Anyway, on with the smashing. Notice I removed his shirt in preparation for some messy eating.

 First, he took a look at the cake. (This was after "blowing out" the candle. Where I inconveniently stepped in front of the camera. Mom fail three.)

He's eyeing the cupcake as I remove the paper. He's so going to dig in and smash away. Look at him sizing up that cake. He's at the ready. He's going to pounce.

Oh, wait. No, there is not an ounce of cake smashing joy there.

But he liked looking like a Big Man, so that was cute.

After that anti-climactic thrill, I went inside to cut and serve the big cake. After that was done and I was enjoying my slab piece of cake, I thought maybe Little Man takes after me and would rather dig into a slice of quadruple chocolate, super sugary cake.

This was a little more of what I was expecting, though he still wasn't as messy as I thought he'd be when I envisioned his cake smash.

 After getting cleaned up, Little Man played at the bubble station with his friend Ellie.  By played, I mean he shook a bottle of bubbles as Ellie stood next to him and played with a plastic cup. One year-olds are cray cray.

 After Ellie went to play on the swing, Little Man pretended to drink from the empty cup.

I know, I know. I throw a wild party.

Because our neighborhood is full of kids of all ages, I tried to have activities that would amuse them all. I had a sidewalk chalk area that was fun for the older kids for about 27 seconds.

Or however long it takes to trace everyones' feet and draw a few pictures. I think after that they went next door and played in the play house. After the party I brought over the streamers and balloons and they decorated it and made a fairy play land. It was pretty cool, and they enjoyed it very much. Yay for imaginative play.

The party was a success. There was snack food, more than enough cake, and just enough beer to keep our neighbors and friends chatty without anyone waking up the next morning on our lawn. 

One of my favorite images from the party is of these two future and forever BFFs.

Hey, it is hard to get a 12 month old and a 6.5 month old to look at the camera at the same time. (Or at all, apparently...) Despite that, there's a whole lot of cuteness going on there.

All of this happened on Memorial Day, but Little Man's actual birthday is the 29th. Here he is on the morning of the 29th. My one year old baby. Sigh.

Even right out of bed he's a happy guy! I'm a lucky mom!

Since he'd tasted and enjoyed refined sugar for (pretty much) the first time on the 27th, I thought I'd give him a breakfast treat on his actual birthday.

I made homemade waffles with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream.

 Holy yum.

I'd never actually made "real" waffles. I always use that boxed stuff.

Never again.

Perhaps soon (after I experiment a bit more), I'll post that recipe. You'll love me for it.

Little Man liked the waffles almost as much as I did. Here he's blurrily signing for more.

My new plan is to do waffles with strawberries and whipped cream for every birthday!!

After breakfast it was time for the reveal of Little Man's big present. Dude got a trike! 

He loved it. Look at that concentration.


Look at him showing off for the neighborhood ladies. Heeeeyyyyy, ladies. I've got a ride now. 

I could just eat him up. 

I can't believe it has been a year. In so many ways it seems like so much less than that, but then at the same time it seems like I've loved that little person forever. 

I can't wait to see what this next year has in store for us. It'll be an adventure, for sure!

Do you have any birthday traditions like waffles or a banner? 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

One of those days

Our house is pretty little. Not tiny, but compact. I like it. There's not that much to clean.

My biggest gripe about the house is that it has one bathroom. Who in their right mind builds that house? Remember when I wrote about it here? (Apparently I've had that little bathroom on my mind a lot lately.)

My second biggest gripe is that there is no closet space. But, since we have four bedrooms, I have just commandeered one as a closet.

That solves the closet problem.

Despite my griping, the bathroom problem isn't even really a problem yet. I mean, sharing a bathroom with one other person isn't bad. Little Man is in diapers and I determine bath time, so he doesn't count.

But on days like today...

(Yeah, that kind of day.)

A second bathroom would be nice. Let's just say I didn't enjoy any beverages for quite a few hours. And I may have done the pee-pee dance.

Fortunately, the plumber came and fixed this mess that Beau made (since the problem was a little bigger than he initially thought--I'll spare you the details) and the toilet is right back where it belongs--on top of that patch of grime on the floor. Just kidding. I cleaned that up. While gagging. That's probably like 67 years of scum. Eeew.

I still have a few little details (faceplate, trashcan, cleaning brush and cabinet handles in Oil Rubbed Bronze) to finish up before the final bathroom reveal, but here's a shot of the new faucet and the little medicine cabinet we were waiting on.

The bad lighting is to keep you from seeing the little loo in all its glory until the reveal. Tricky, huh?

What is the one thing that could break in your life that would really make your day go downhill quickly?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer reading

I have about a billion things to do, but lately I've just been in the mood to read. I managed to leave my Kindle at home last time we were in West Virginia, and that was kind of a bummer. See, when you've got a table, four folding chairs, a bed, and a pack n play as your furniture; a deck of cards (that I just purchased last visit) as your entertainment; almost no shopping; no Internet access and daylight until 9:30 p.m., reading is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time. (Whereas in real life cleaning around abundant furniture, myriad methods of entertainment, errands, etc. make spending a day reading almost irresponsible.)

Irresponsibility be damned. I have a book list I plan to plow through this summer! (Well, at least partially. This list could possibly take a bit longer than a summer. I do have some responsibilities.)

I'm currently reading two books, so I'll start with them:

Bonk by Mary Roach is for my book club. We decided any book by Mary Roach would be our current selection.

I listened to Gulp, but wanted to read one as well. That's where Bonk came in. I like her humor, but I'm thinking I might get science-of-sexed out. If you know me, you get that.

Our drives to and from West Virginia usually involve an Audible book. Our most recent return trip began Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller. We're not to far into it, but for the most part I'm enjoying it. (I think Beau can take it or leave it, so I may finish it on my own. You know, over my next fourteen or so hours in the car. That's a lot of grocery trips...)

I have these two books on loan from the public library for the next two weeks, so they are next: (An exuberant "yay!!!" to my city for finally getting ebooks!!!)

Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (In honor of our hikes in the mountains near the AT. Eh, whatever works, right??)

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker has piqued my interest.

After those, some of these are on deck. I've tried to keep a somewhat respectable balance between nonfiction and fiction, but I think fiction wins again.

Our next book club book is Dan Brown's Inferno. We try to keep it (relatively) light in the summer.

Laura Weisberger's Revenge Wears Prada will be great fun. I do hope it becomes a movie. More Meryl, please. (I wonder if I can read it without seeing Meryl Streep as Miranda. Doubtful. That's OK. It's a pretty great image.)

Leslie Land's 1000 Gardening Questions and Answers. Because I've already killed two hanging plants and my tomatoes are on the way out. A thousand questions might not be enough for me. I have a brown thumb and a gardener's heart. Maybe this will help my thumb realize my heart's desires.

The Husband's Secret by Laine Moriarty sounds very interesting. And scary. What if we don't really know the person we think we know best? Eeek. (Out July 30th.)

I loved Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and The Paris Wife, so I think Freud's Mistress by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman is right up my alley. (Out July 9th.)

I can't imagine dealing with my mom or anyone I love going though cancer treatment. I didn't even like typing the words. I think if it ever did happen, I'd find solace in books, so The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schawlbe intrigues me. I am 100% positive I'll need to have tissues handy. And I'm not a crier.

I've got others on my list, but these ten will probably be enough to get me started. What do you have on your reading list this summer?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

May June don't judge

Ok, so I've been absent for a few weeks. I hate it when I do that. I know you do too. Part of our time was spent in the land of no internet connection a.k.a. West Virginia. The renter in our downstairs apartment hints heavily that he would really like wi-fi. I would too!!! I'm going to join that naggy bandwagon.

Of course, I would also like a deck.

Wait, what? Don't you have three huge ones, Amy? 

Well, yes, we did. And then our contractor came in to take a look at the possible rot under the doors and windows that hadn't been flashed properly. (I have no idea if flashing (noun) can be turned into a verb like I did, but it sure does sound funny, so I'm keeping it that way. If you are a builder and it gives you the heebie-jeebies, kindly ignore my ignorence. Thank you.) He pulled off a corner of the siding and found what he nicely called "significant rot." As in: holy crap, your house may fall down. 

Ok, no not quite like that, but the decks were "compromised" and to me that just sounds dangerous and scary. To Beau it sounds dangerous, scary, and expensive. 

He's right. Despite that, we have opted to replace all three of the back decks to prevent them from pulling from the house and falling. (Gulp.)

As of right now, we have no decks. (An ironic twist since I was most looking forward to hanging out on the deck this summer when temperatures at home were in the sticky 90's.) Instead, we now have a sheer 40ish foot drop. Not a big draw.

Over the past few weeks Beau and I (but mostly Beau if you are looking for full transparency…) have  been staining the new siding that will go up when our contractor gets the OK to tear all the old stuff down and get back there to fix all of the rot. The OK has to come from the architectural review committee--heretofore the ARC. (Surprise! We had no idea they existed until they called to tell us to cease all construction.) Our contractor has worked with them before, but since we are making no changes to the aesthetics of the building, he didn't realize we'd need to go through the review process. We do. It is important that the deer, birds and bears that see the west facing wall have a view that is cohesive with the rest of the structures on the mountain. Or something.

All snakiness aside, there is a good reason for the ARC and we don't begrudge their diligence. I just really hope we can get a speedy thumbs-up.

In anticipation of the enthusiastic thumbs up, Beau and I stained. Did you know when staining cedar siding, you need to stain both sides in order to really utilize the protective properties of the stain? We didn't know that when we first calculated the gallonage we'd need. Nor did we anticipate how much those panels would suck. They were thirsty little buggers. As it was, we bought out the stain we needed (Sikkens transparent in Mahogany) from two different Home Depots. We quickly discovered our folly and after using up all that we brought from home, Beau took a three hour scenic tour--one way!-- to the nearest Home Depot to pick up three more gallons. (We were told they had more in stock when we called, but the sales guy was mistaken. It was a long trip for three gallons…) In that weekend we managed to stain quite a bit, but it was still less than half of the siding we have.

All that reddish stain all over the place made me think that we looked like the West Virginia version of Dexter.

We had to get back home for someone's big FIRST BIRTHDAY! (Post to come!) So Beau decided to come back a few days later with more stain,--he bought out two more Home Depots and an ACE hardware!-- elicit the help of the South African who was crashing in the basement apartment and stain like its 1999. He and Chris (the random but amusing crasher) finished the job while Little Man and I hung out at home and enjoyed life without stain fumes.

Speaking of that, when Little Man and I were there, we had a pretty elaborate and genius (if I do say so myself) staining set-up that was 100% outdoors. It was a clear breezy day, so the fumes wafted away (sorry mother nature) and didn't touch Little Man's delicate lungs. We were lucky enough to have Beau's amazing sister Betsy in town and she spent some quality time with Little Man. They took long walks, napped together on the leaky air mattress, read some great literature and played all kinds of games. I can't express how wonderfully helpful she was. (She also got to do some demo, so that was a bonus! More on that in another post.)

To most efficiently stain and dry multiple pieces of siding at a time, we set up two railings from the old deck and laid out quite a few strips. we'd stain, flip, stain, and shift. By the time we got  through half a dozen or so, the first few would be dry-ish, so we'd move them to another drying station down the driveway and would repeat the process. I think it was a pretty efficient process. At first we were bummed that the contractor hadn't left us any sawhorses, but once my brilliant idea of old deck railings came to fruition, we realized we were better off!

Since this is getting pretty long, I'll save the demo days for another post, but to tease, I'll tell you that (some)hardwood, carpet and a wall are gone, baby, gone! 

Are you folks taking a pair brush to anything? Anyone want to come take a paint brush to the pink and mauve striped walls that seem like they'll be that way for a while?