Entries in hall house - porch & exterior (6)


the madness has officially begun

For those just tuning in, after months (and months and months) of planning and financial wrangling, our massive series of home improvement projects are now underway. The good news is that we're going to be getting it all over with in one fell, relatively short, swoop. The bad news is that we might possibly be crazy. Because our plan involves accomplishing almost all of the following in 2 weeks:

  • new roof and gutters
  • repairing dry rot and water intrusion damage on the front facia and west gable/porch overhang
  • replacing all the plumbing (including installing shutoff valves, which I never realized how much I would appreciate in my previous life as a non-homeowner)
  • new furnace and thermostat
  • new heat pump to replace the decrepit and long-overdue-for-replacement water heater (no seriously, we have pushed our luck beyond belief with this water heater -- it was past its life when we moved in...12 years ago)
  • bathroom renovation, including: refinishing the original cast iron clawfoot tub; tearing out the tile floor and replacing with a new tile floor; installing wainscoting with trim and new baseboards; stripping paint from trim, window frame, both cupboards, and all drawers/doors; painting walls, cupboards, trim, ceiling; installing bathroom ventilation; installing a clawfoot shower kit; replacing the sink with a new pedestal sink & fixtures; replacing the light fixture; replacing window and cabinet hardware
  • replacing the attic dormer window (a 7 foot, 3 unit casement window) with a custom wood frame window
  • 12(!) Indow Windows for the main floor and attic (to make our original, single pane windows more energy efficient)
  • energy efficiency improvements -- air sealing, duct sealing, rim joist insulation, attic insulation, wall insulation, floor insulation

Today was actually Day 4 of this whacked out home improvement schedule of ours. The whole rolling snowball of insanity actually began last Wednesday -- which, I will note, was also my birthday -- with the removal of the tub. As mentioned above, it's the original cast iron clawfoot tub, over 100 years old and weighing about the same as a dumptruck. Much of its porcelain finish has worn off over the decades so we're having it refinished, which means it has to be physically relocated to the refinishers' shop in Vancouver.

The plumbers needed the tub out of the way before they could begin work, and the plumbing work needed to be done before the bathroom contractor could do their renovations, and suddenly we're in that song about the old woman who swallowed a fly. The kicker is that while the tub refinishers would pick up the tub, they would only pick it up from the street -- something about "liability" and "potential damage" and "holy crap all those stairs are you crazy, lady". Moving a tub that weighs a gazillion tons from the bathroom to the street is also not in the plumbers' wheelhouse, which meant we needed to hire movers -- because what's another contractor in a cast of thousands, really? -- to move it from the bathroom to the street. (It ended up being easier to just have the movers take the tub to the refinishers.)

Complicating all of that was the plumbing, which, like the tub, was also over 100 years old and thus had no shut off valves anywhere but at the main. So removing the tub meant turning off the water to the house until the plumbers could install shutoffs as part of the rest of the plumbing replacement, which is also why we had to time it closely with the plumbers' arrival, since we kind of, you know, need running water.

So the tub came out on schedule, and the plumbers worked their magic in two days, also on schedule. Next up on the schedule: the simultaneous arrival of the bathroom and roofing contractors today, who have this week to do their work so that the furnace, hot water heater, window replacement, Indow windows, and energy efficiency improvements can all be done next week. Also arriving today: 2+ inches of rain, finally ending months of abnormally dry weather.

Not all of the work will be done by the end of next week, unfortunately. The tub won't be back from the refinishers until mid-March, nor will the shower kit, sink, and fixtures. So what are arguably the most crucial and personally impacting portion of this whole complicated plan -- the tub/shower and toilet -- will also take the longest to be restored to normal.

The loss of our bathroom means using The Bathroom That Shall Not Be Named for toilet needs, which has the extra super duper bonus of being in the Totally Not Creepy basement. (As for bathing needs for 4 weeks, well, that's a whole other story.) This was planned insanity, to be sure, and we knew the loss of our bathroom was going to be a hardship. Somewhat less planned was that everything would get underway on my birthday, that it would coincide with a visit from The Albino and Family, or that it would come on the heels of a pretty spectacular winter storm that wreaked havoc with everyone's schedules. Completely not planned and really unnecessarily sucktacular was both of us getting struck with the flu riiiight as everything got underway, because apparently we stole Karma's lunch money in a previous life. Which meant spending the weekend that we were planning to do a lot of preparation for everything to kick into high gear instead doing a lot of sleeping and feeling generally miserable, trekking up and down two flights of stairs to go to the bathroom, and taking about four times longer than usual to empty the bathroom in preparation for the renovation.

But Karma's personal vendetta and flu obstacle notwithstanding, we were ready and waiting for the contractors bright and early this morning. It worked out that I had the day off as a work holiday, which was fortunate for coordination purposes, if not exactly relaxing when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head. I had to stay out of everyone's way so I spent the day in the kitchen with the kitties while a bunch of guys ripped our roof off and another pair of guys ripped out the floor of our bathroom. And in my NyQuil induced haze, I sometimes couldn't tell the difference between all the hammering and the pounding inside my skull.

The area around our house looks like the aftermath of a tornado, the front porch is overflowing with power tools and orange power cords, the toilet is in the library, my desk is functioning as a temporary vanity/medicine cabinet, and our toothbrushes are now being stored in the kitchen. But the roofing crew managed to get three layers of old roofs off in the midst of a downpour without once springing a leak, the bathroom crew laid all the tile before they left for the day, and by the end of the week, we'll have more than half of that list up there crossed off.

So, onward.


the gerbils have gone on strike

<-- So that's pretty much been my life in the two weeks since I first started writing this post, except without the adorableness. The gerbils who make my computer go are way meaner and far less eager to help than kittens.

The good thing is that my problem (hard drive failure in my laptop) happened in slow motion, which gave me time while I waited for a new drive to get here to double and triple check my backups, make a list of programs I'd need to reinstall, copy critical files to a flash drive so I could use other computers (i.e., Sal's) while mine was down, and all the other things that make starting over much easier. I'm the most prepared I think I've ever been for an imminent hardware crash.

But oh, how much it sucks nonetheless. Even though I knew it was coming and had time to prepare, and have a second computer at my disposal and a smartphone to keep me connected to email, just the thought of the hours of reinstalling the OS and software, swapping out disks through endless reboots, the inevitable glitches and unexpected errors, etc. etc. etc. made my stomach churn, nevermind actually having to suffer through all that. Pile on the fact that it requires hours I really, really don't have right now, that I was up against a deadline for getting everything up and running again due to work and my website business, and most importantly, my book was being threatened in whatever minuscule way...well, let's just say I have morphed into a female Bruce Banner, on the verge of hulking out at any moment.

When you're tech savvy, I think people assume that these kinds of things don't faze you. But I can tell you that when you're trying to resurrect what is essentially your day-to-day life in a fancy metal box and you're only a blue screen of death away from utter devastation, you're just as liable to commit ritual seppuku as a less tech savvy person. You'll probably just do it in a really geeky way.

Anyway, I'm still here, I've successfully avoided hulksmashing anything (yet), and I seem to be reaping the benefits of all that preparedness, since the transition has been relatively smooth thus far. (With the exception of about 30 heart-stopping minutes very late Monday night, when I thought I had accidentally overwritten my backup. Sal happened to call in the middle of my building freakout to tell me he was on his way home, and I'm pretty sure nothing I said was coherent, but I don't know for certain because I've blacked it all out.)

Since I had a post mostly written before my laptop started bidding adieu to this mortal coil, I'll just quote it below. More for me than for you, if only to remind myself that we had a life before the gerbils went on strike, and we will again soon. (Also, I won't try to post makeup listings of my bentos in that time, but you can see them all here.)

(post originally written on August 14th, 2012)

Sal did the Bridge Pedal Sunday, riding his bike on a route that crossed all 10 city bridges. It's about 35 miles altogether, plus the 18 miles he rode to and from the race start/finish. Whew! We met up for lunch and drinks when he was finished, which is proof that I'm way smarter, since I skipped right to the good part with none of that silly bike-riding nonsense.

Sunday was officially hot enough that we set up the bed on the back porch and have been sleeping out there since. It's supposed to be even hotter later this week, so we're going to be out there for a week or more. [ETA: And so we did, for a full week, and it was glorious.]

Getting to sleep outside is pretty much the only upside when it gets hot. It's like camping, sort of! We camped all the time when I was growing up -- the really real kind of camping, where you hike into remote areas and cook your food over a firepit you dug yourself and the nearest bathroom is a good 20 miles away -- and I miss that kind of summer getaway sometimes.

It always takes a couple of nights to get used to the change and remember the details of sleeping outside: the rustling of the raccoons on their nightly sojourn through the backyard, the scritchy screetchy sounds the possum family makes as they shuffle under the porch and around the side the house, the occasional mortar round sound of an apple falling onto the porch roof.

Or, I should say, it always takes me a couple of nights to get used to those details. Sal sleeps like a damn rock, and whether it's the creaking sound of a floorboard that may or may not be the footfall of an axe murderer, or the unidentified but very clear sound of something rustling about under the apple and maple trees where it's too dark to see, he sleeps blissfully on.

I've gotten used to the nighttime sounds of our neighborhood wildlife, and with the exception of the apples, no longer shoot bolt upright in bed every time there's a new sound in the dark outside our screened-in porch. In fact, I've even been able to enjoy my current reading material -- a book about the zombie apocalypse -- in this setting, read under the covers with a flashlight*. Without nightmares! I think I'm officially a Big Kid now.

*(I have read many a book with a flashlight, snugged down inside a sleeping bag out in the middle the damn wilderness, but it's been a long while. It's kind of made me all nostalgic. )


we are human beings, not human doings

contemplations on life, the universe, and everything, from under the apple tree on a perfect summer eveningAutumn is my season, but I seem to develop amnesia about summer. I enjoy summer, too, but I tend to remember the hot days and sweaty nights more than I do the heartachingly gorgeous days of just-the-right temperature, maybe a lilt of breeze to make the windchimes sing a little, a bit of smoke from the coals in the grill, and a whole day to just be. Perhaps I forget so I can have the joy of rediscovery every year, a gift to myself that reminds me about blessing and peace and abundance. A reminder about my cup, so full.

Our long vacation endI come home from the beach each time with rocks and shells stashed in pockets. I tuck them around the yard in little collections like this, under fern fronds and other secret green places to remind me of the ocean. Sal calls them Bitty Vignettes.ed with the holiday last week, but I've been determined to carry over a piece of it into my every day. Trying to leave the office earlier than I have been lately, spending time on the patio and the front porch and the back porch, reading for a bit during the daylight instead of only at bedtime. Setting aside some daily burdens for another day, trimming that to-do list to the essentials, and then trimming some more.

We've been spending our weekend days in a similar routine: breakfast on the back porch, our weekend NPR shows in the background, cats demanding scritches behind the ears and good morning wake-up snuggles. Then to the patio at some point for most of the day, and to the front porch sometime after dinner to enjoy the last sunlight turning the bridge gold, and to the back porch when the bugs finally drive us to the protection of screens. We read, we sketch, we write, we grill, we talk, we putter in the yard, we sit idly by. Such a luxury in lives that are harried and hurried, too much of both. It's good, all this just being time.

I always think of summer as the season of going and doing, and I love going and doing. But there are also the lazy days, the sit-back-and-enjoy days, the I-think-I'll-take-a-nap-in-the-shade days. I needed the reminder.

lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • Thai peanut chicken (grilled on skewers)
  • fried rice
  • carrot sticks
  • sesame green beans
  • cherries

i cleaned all the things!

courtesy of the always spectacularly hilarious Hyperbole and a Half, taken from the all-time best post ever (except possibly The God of Cake) and you absolutely must click to read or an asteroid will hit the earthWhat a jam-packed and productive weekend!

Friday, I worked a half day and then spent the afternoon poking around downtown, splurging on a few art supplies for me and Sal and then playing with my supplies when I got home for the rest of the evening. Saturday, we got our New Seasons delivery of all our groceries for our part of the Thanksgiving menu (more about this later in the post), which means yet another year where we do not have to brave the scary grocery store crowds for the last can of Who Hash. So because we didn't have to play Killer Shopping Cart Grand Prix, we instead did some straightening and made a great dinner in honor of our dear friend Kurt who was visiting from out of town.

Kurt is the bestest. He shares my geeky love for intricately programmed Excel spreadsheets and has the best joke delivery of anyone I know, except possibly Sal. He and his wife, Sylvia, are from South Africa so he has the most wonderful accent, and he says delightful things like "Cheers!" instead of "goodbye" and "Howzit!" instead of "hello", which is my favoritest Kurt-expression ever.

Sal (who was taking the picture one-handed with my cameraphone, which is tricky as hell), Kurt, and meKurt and Sylvia share our love for pretty much the greatest TV shows in existence, and Kurt will gladly fan-squee with me over whatever show they're currently watching. And he and Sylvia's stories about their kids are not to be missed. Oh, every parent tells their funny kid stories, and some of them are funny (and some, I'm sure we can agree, are only funny to the parents). But Kurt and Sylvia's kid stories are the stuff of stand-up comedy.

So over another excellent meal courtesy of Chef Salvatore of dry-rubbed pork chops, roasted parsnips pureed with leeks and fresh parsley, and creamed brussel sprouts*, and later, a dessert of tart tatin, we talked non-stop for hours and laughed enough to come close to someone snorting a liquid through their nose at several points. We talked about the awesomeness of Portland, and the good things that Texas has, after all (that's where they live now), despite not being Oregon, and politics and the housing crisis and Arrested Development and the merits of Buffy vs. Angel. Goodbye came too soon, of course, but we were glad to get to see him for a bit.

(Kurt, upon hearing we were having brussel sprouts, proclaimed he would try them but admitted that he'd always hated them since he was a kid. I'll note for the record, as proof to Sylvia since she was on the phone with him when we said that there'd be brussel sprouts, that Kurt did indeed have seconds on them.)

Yesterday, with the prospect of the lowest temps of the year and the forecast of snow, we were finally motivated enough to get outside and do some kind of nominal winterizing. We have seriously been the most procrastinatory (NEW WORD AHOY!) slugs ever for the last few months, blithely ignoring the lovely fall weekends we could've been working outside and not freezing our fingers off, opting instead to go to apple festivals and walks in the park and concerts in the middle of the city square. So waiting until the last possible minute, when it was colder than hell outside and starting to rain, was probably our due punishment for being so lazy.

We didn't get the veggie garden cleared out (I KNOW), nor the leaves raked and put into the raised beds (I KNOW OKAY), and the zebra grasses still need to be chopped back (YES I GET IT WE SUCK AT PLANT CARE) but! We did get all of the various decorations brought in, the twinkle lights in the trees taken down, the potted plants that are still blooming sheltered on the back porch, the porch swing and rocker removed to the basement, and all the stuff that gets stored on the back porch packed away in the steel bins or covered with plastic sheeting as appropriate. We also got the three potted trees on the patio and the two potted shrubs on the front porch covered for the next few days of below freezing temps, so we're feeling pretty proud of ourselves for being actually on top of things for once. Sort of.

I carried that sense of accomplishment inside with me and folded and put away the four (!) overflowing baskets of laundry while Sal ran more loads (I refrained from pointing out that Sisyphus and I have something in common, lest I seem to be an ungrateful wretch). And then! We made a full pan of enchiladas to freeze for Wednesday night's dinner, when the Hall-Smiley Family Thanksgiving Extravaganza officially commences.

For those just joining our program, the H-SFTE is an annual family celebration of food, slothfulness, and inappropriate humor, in which obscene quantities of good food are cooked and consumed continuously, games are played, Wii records are shattered, laughter is heard, dishes are washed, and new shows are marathoned. In pajamas. It is the very best holiday ever invented.

Sister, Guy, and the Fabulous Miss M arrive on Wednesday night (hence the enchiladas, which can be thrown into the oven for a quick and yummy dinner), Miss M is put to bed in the princess bed (aka my old canopy bed*), and pies and casseroles are baked while we wait for Sally to get home from a long day. Beer is consumed by Guy and Sally and we all stay up way too late, the aero bed is put up in the living room, and we all finally go to bed at some ridiculously late hour.

*(this will become her bed later this year, but it will be the last time she sleeps in it at our house...awww)

On Thanksgiving Day, we have a simple breakfast and get started cooking, but there's none of that putting-the-turkey-in-at-5-AM nonsense. No ma'am, we sleep in and get cooking when we damn well feel like it, as god and nature intended. Other dishes are prepared while we nosh on bread and cheese plates and then crudites, all while playing with Miss M and watching movies. And usually, there's a walk in the park somewhere in there. A literal walk in the park. Hee.

We eat late, depending on Miss M's schedule and whatever's easiest. We laugh and we play and then her bedtime comes and we either eat after that if we haven't already, or we eat again if we're hungry (we usually are). And then comes the marathon of whatever new show we're introducing them to (Friday Night Lights this year). When Sister starts to get a little droopy, we liven things up with a Wii tournament (Wii Sports, Wii Resort, and Raving Rabids are the family favorites) and end up eating and drinking even more, and then at some point we realize that Miss M will be up in a few hours and we all finally say good night.

Friday is the late morning brunch of some wonderful elaborate family breakfast usually involving pancakes or waffles, and dishes are done, and leftovers are packed up, and at some point in the early afternoon, goodbyes are said. And thus, another fabulous H-SFTE comes to a close.

(I'd normally stick a pic of today's bento here, and I actually did have it all written up last night after I packed it, but ended up coming home early to get a jump on the inevitable traffic snarl that happens when snow starts to fall. Since I knew I was going to come home before lunch when I left this morning, I ended up not bringing my bento with me. I could've eaten it here, but opted instead for leftover enchiladas so I guess I'll eat it tomorrow.)


it takes a village

Today was our neighborhood block party. There was lots of food and a bouncy house for the kids, and a makeshift stage for neighborhood musicians, chalk for the kids to draw to their hearts' content and a plant exchange and a map for us to mark neighborhood assets for trade and barter, or neighborhood activities: "Mike and Michelle -- garden with veggies for trade, flowers to share", "Ivy and C -- chicken coop, eggs to barter, cob structure sauna", "Mona -- textiles, music", "Paul and Pete -- carpentry and woodworking, foreign language lessons". Like that.

click to see more picturesBut the main event was the "intersection repair": painting the intersection down the street with a big compass rose design created by a collaboration of neighbors. There were buckets of recycled paint in nine colors and a chalked out design on the street. Everyone brought a brush and spent this gloriously beautiful day painting the hell out of the intersection. Mother Nature herself was completely on board, because she called a temporary stop to the weeks of rain that've put a damper on even the hardiest Pacific Northwesterner's spirits and even intermittently shut down the annual Rose Festival. Until late afternoon yesterday, no one was sure if this long-planned street painting project was going to happen.

But happen it did. With kids running about and a band rocking out in the background. And the end result? Pretty damn awesome.

We stuck around for a bit, but decided to skip out on the evening BBQ even though we'd spent the earlier part of the day making potato salad and cookies for the occasion. We love our neighborhood to itty bitty bohemian pieces, but it was a lot of people, and we already don't get a lot of time together as it is. Plus, with the first nice weather we've had in weeks, our little backyard sanctuary was calling to us.

We were sitting there watching the goings on after the painting was finished, just soaking up the moment and the lovely weather, and Sally said, "Sooo...do you still want to stick around for the potluck?" I grinned. "Do you?" "Not really." I had to hug him at that moment, because that's what you do when someone reads your mind and understands everything without you having to say anything. "Me neither."

So Sally threw a few skewers on the grill and I drizzled some fresh asparagus with a bit of oil and sea salt and pepper, then set the little table on our back porch. While we waited for the coals to get going, we did some trimming of the roses in the back corner and walked around the yard and marveled at how much it's changed in the 8 years we've been here.

Then we kicked back on the porch and talked while we took our time enjoying our dinner -- spicy marinated pork and Thai peanut chicken skewers, my famous dill and vinegar potato salad, and grilled asparagus -- the new star-shaped curtain lights for lighting and the local jazz station on low volume for atmosphere.

Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.


i vote for three day weekends every week

How was everyone's weekend? Did you get to do something fun and relaxing?

Ours was nice -- a good combination of fun, productive, and relaxing. We spent Saturday and Sunday in the yard working on our To Do List to get it ready to enjoy for the summer. We didn't get everything on our list done, but we accomplished a lot:

  • weeded the back bed and cleared out of the last of the spring bulb plants that have died back, which were beginning to choke out some of the other stuff trying to poke up through all that decaying vegetation; we've gotten so much rain that everything was slimy and squishy...yuck!
  • Sal trimmed the apple tree, including a lot of trimming and shaping of the under-canopy
  • raked the patio and the areas under the apple and Japanese maple trees
  • Sal trimmed the rosebushes in the front; I trimmed and re-directed the canes of the climbing rose in the back -- we're going to need at least one more trellis on the back fence this year because that bad boy is going completely bananas
  • Sal trimmed the lilacs, part of a 3 year plan to get them whipped into shape after several years of not tending to them like we should've
  • back porch cleaned, swept, and mopped, including the screens all the way around and everything set up so we can now sit out there and walk around in our bare feet without turning the bottoms of our feet black
  • yard decorations (wind chimes, lanterns, etc.) unpacked and set out
  • install my new star-shaped curtain lights from IKEA (that I bought six months ago and completely forgot about until I unpacked the yard stuff)

And all of that despite the gray days and wet weather. Actually, it was pretty great working-in-the-yard weather Saturday and Sunday -- not too hot or cold, didn't really rain, and it was gray (not just overcast) so we didn't have to worry about sunscreen, with some nice sunbreaks here and there. However, despite wearing two thin, long-sleeved shirts, pants, gardening gloves, and work boots, I still managed to get bitten all to hell by mosquitoes. I have about a dozen quarter-sized welts on my legs that are going to drive me mad for days.

Left to do:

  • plant the salvia that mom gave Sal for his birthday
  • plant my annuals that we started when we did our veggie starts
  • put up the twinkle lights in the trees
  • weed the sidewalk strips
  • replace a few of the plants we lost over the winter from last year's landscape-o-rama (namely, the jasmine and one of the clematis)
  • get two more metal bins from IKEA to store a few things on the back porch
  • oil the front porch swing and rocker

There are other things we want to do, of course, but once we've taken care of those items, we'll be able to call it good for enjoying the yard whenever we want this summer

But working in the yard wasn't all we got accomplished this weekend. We relaxed in the evenings watching movies and cuddling under blankets with the kitties on the couch. And yesterday was reserved for non-work or chore items: Sally brewed another batch of beer (his third batch this month!) and I spent the day writing. Also a productive day: he got his batch put up AND the last batch bottled, and I reached a milestone of my own.