Friday, August 29, 2008

Whoa... That was close!

Turns out that thirty six hours of indecision was long enough to take the decision out of our hands. Someone jumped ahead of us on the road to crazytown - the house down the street is already under contract. Someone is getting a terrific bargain. Or soul sappingly deep money pit.

We hope they're "owner/occupants" and have what it takes to put this 140 year old gem back together. Most of all I hope the first thing they do is rip that goddawful porch enclosure down. I've wanted to do it ever since we moved here. It's one of those things that can bug you - like a big fat white head that needs popping - I have to keep my hands in my pockets to keep from crossing the street and picking at it.

HandyKid, who is actually more mature than me when it comes to stuff like this, seems okay with it. Something about "for the best", "timing", "cash", "priorities", yadda, yadda, yadda...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are We Crazy?

After fourteen months of back breaking, budget busting work we finally have our home in pretty nice shape. Not "done" mind you, but at a place where we can live comfortably and do the rest as time and money allows.

So what are we thinking of doing? Seriously thinking of doing?

Buying an even OLDER, even WORSE house than ours was when we got it! Arghhh... My palms are beginning to sweat just typing this.

Okay - here are the details:

I conned convinced my early 20's son, hereafter referred to as HandyKid, to move to Pittsburgh with us earlier this year and help us with some projects. It's been great. We've got a lot done and it's a nice arrangement - all living comfortably and not in each others hair at all. Honestly, I wouldn't mind if he lived with us forever. We've got the space. It's not like we're tripping over each other.

But HandyKid, quite naturally, longs for a place of his own. Somewhere to swing a sledgehammer with wild abandon. And who can fault him for that? (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.) And right now there's a mess of a house available, right on our street, for a probably never to be seen again bargain basement price.

So what's the problem? Well, hubby and I have already thrown every cent available at our current house and HandyKid has next to nothing to start with. Even if he can arrange financing for the purchase the house is going to need tons of work and even more tons of cash to get it up to snuff. It would be a long term project. And I'm scared. On the other hand, at least he'd have the advantage of being able to continue to sleep and shower here while his plumbing, wiring, plaster etc are in a total state of disarray. An advantage that we didn't have last year.

And he wouldn't have to re-purchase all the hand and power tools we've already invested in...

Is this a good idea? Or are we just flirting with disaster (again)?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Confessions of a Pack Rat

Originally uploaded by gimbler
I daydream of a clean clutter free home. Where everything has a place and is in it's place from the basement to the rafters. But, in my heart of hearts I know that it's never going to happen - it's too far from my nature.

I don't have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I have a pack rat who sees some unrealized potential in every piece of junk on one side and a Cleaning Demon on the other who wants every square inch of space to look permanently "staged".

My pack-rattish-nish gets too much positive reinforcement for me to ever really tame it. I can't even count the number of times I've thought I needed to buy or make something to suit some purpose and then found that all it really took was a trip to the basement and a sharp eye to turn some old thing I had no use for into exactly what I need.

Like the other day when I carried an old milk-glass vase of cosmos and dahlias into the bathroom and put them on the vanity. Oh, they looked nice there - really they did. But, they blocked the toothbrushes. So I moved them to the other side. Too near the soap dish. Blocking the cotton swabs. Gonna get knocked over... That's when I noticed the unused space on top of the cold radiator. What I need, I thought, is a little shelf to sit on top. I have lots of scrap wood... I could whip something up... paint it white... or maybe black... Do I really have time for this now? I just want to set this vase down and get back to dead-heading and weeding.

A quick trip to the basement, a narrow eyed scan of "THE WALL OF CLUTTER" and there it was - a dented old Ikea metal file box - with a LID. That lid looks about right. Let's try it!

Vindication is hers - Pack Rat scores! Then rubs Clean Demons nose in her victory reminding everyone within earshot how this moment would not have been possible if we'd listened to Clean Demon. Poor Clean Demon - she wins the occasional battle, but she's never going to win the war.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Loving the Floating Deck

Backyard "after" 2
Originally uploaded by gimbler
Sorry - we didn't take any "during" photos. This thing came together so quickly any pictures would have been a blur of action anyhow. Okay... I exaggerate. But, not by much.

We found everything we needed to make this deck - from design, instructions, shopping list and price estimate at Sure, almost any home improvement store, large or small will help you design your deck in order to better sell you their products. But, will they let you make endless modifications without losing patience? Are they available at 3am when you're suddenly struck with inspiration and longing? I think not!

We built on a slope and over a former above ground pool depression in the lawn without the back breaking and time consuming task of digging holes or pouring cement. Deck Blocks Rock! You can change your mind... move a little to the right, a little to the left... Then just plop your 40 pound hunk of block down and level it out. Easy Peasy!

The instructions on the site are quite easy to follow, but just in case here are a few things we did to make it go smoothly for us. After we laid out the four corner blocks for the 10'x12' main deck we laid the two 2"x6" x 10' frame pieces on the ground, evening up the edges and screwed on all the galvanized joist hangers at once. Then we attached those to the 12' long pieces to make one big rectangular frame that we lifted in place and rested on the corner blocks. After that it was a breeze to set the rest of the blocks.

We cut the 4" x 4" post for the corner blocks first and when we got the frame level we started laying the 2" x6" x12' joists into the joist hangers, but not screwing them in yet. We just set them in place one by one to measure how tall the 4" x 4" needed to be cut in order to seat in the deck block and support the joist. After they were all cut and set in place it was time to toenail the joists to the 4" x 4" posts and screw the joists into the joist hanger and end boards.

It was so fast and easy and the results were so solid and pleasing that before we knew it we were building another multi-level deck down behind that little red tree you see in the background.

Last summer our back yard was a no mans land of mud, weeds and ankle twisting holes. We spent as little time as possible in it. Now we spend as much time as we can out there.

Thank you!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Becky Puts Out

Originally uploaded by gimbler
Becky the Shasta Daisy, that is! She puts out blooms all summer long.
A perennial that blooms like an annual - does it get any better than that?!?

My grandmother, the ultimate gardener, turned me on to Shasta Daisies. They were her favorites. I have to admit that they were not mine while she was living. Maybe I was too young to appreciate them fully, preferring more colorful flowers. As I've matured so has my taste and I'm turning more and more into my grandmother with each passing year. Becky Shasta Daisies are now MY favorite.

I've come to appreciate the phrase "fresh as a daisy"! How could I have once not loved a flower with a bright, perfectly symmetrical yellow center surrounded by petals so white they're practically blinding? I dunno... The folly of youth?

The "Becky" daisy is a relative newcomer in the Shasta daisy world and in my opinion is the best you could possibly hope for in a daisy. In fact it was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2003. It asks for nothing except sunshine and in return it produces profuse blooms between mid June and September. But, does it give up in September? NO! This plant keeps blooming, if not as heavily, right up until frost.

It grows about three to three and a half feet tall and needs no staking. The leaves are lush and green, it's flowers upright and proud on long stems perfect for cutting. It's one of those plants that lets you fill a vase without robbing your garden.

I love her...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sweat Equity - a surprisingly nice fragrance!

Originally uploaded by gimbler
So - where'd we go? What did we do? LOTS!

We refinanced our house for a sweeeet lower interest rate and learned while in the process that our house, in less than one year, had appreciated more than 30%!

:::: takes a bow :::

How did that happen, you might ask? With real estate values flat-lining or sinking across the nation? Well, for one thing we're in Pittsburgh - and Pittsburgh never experienced most of the "bubble" that was happening elsewhere. According to Citibank we're in a "neutral" zone. Yay Pittsburgh!

Now on to explain how we added value. You've already seen photos of what we did inside. Nothing really that major - switching out a sink, some light fixtures - replacing trim, painting, adding a 2nd floor laundry - patching holes. The usual "we bought a fixer-upper" stuff. And sadly most of it I think cost us more to do than the "return on investment" so far. But, that's okay cause it's our home, and we love living comfortably in it.

What really knocked the appraisers socks off and gave us a lot of bang for the buck was what we did outside. And comparatively it cost us very little. In fact I think in terms of equity we may have doubled to tripled what we spent. It has been a LOT of work, but oh so worth it - dollar-wise and enjoyment-wise.

When you last heard from us a bitter (to me!) Pittsburgh winter was coming to an end. Our yard was an inhospitable nightmare that I knew we couldn't ignore for another summer. So, the minute the sun came out so did we. And I'm sorry I didn't have time to talk about what I was doing while I was doing it, but I hope you'll understand that the work we were doing literally consumed every waking moment that we weren't sleeping or "working for the man" between April and July. (I've spent August just enjoying the fruits of our labor!)

First we knocked some stuff off of the ole New Years Resolution list and moved that silly hose bib. Then we tore all the rotting wood out from under the front porch and the off railings. (Tip: It's always more than you think!) Then my son and I scraped every square inch of peeling paint from the porch floor and repainted it. We hung a porch swing and I made some cushions for it. While I had the sewing machine out I made some cushions for the radiator bench. (It's awesome!) Found a rocking chair on Craigslist and another on clearance at Michael's crafts and painted them black to go with the new railings.

Replaced the rotted porch skirt with nice new lattice, and the board under the top step (that was home to about a million carpenter ants) with new wood and trim.

Had five yards of mulch and garden soil delivered and carried it up from the alley one bucket at a time in order to create a new flower bed.

Built not just one - not just two - but THREE decks! Okay - so one of them is really small - only 4' x 12' and might be considered by some to be part of a multi layer deck - but, not me. I built it separate and I want credit, dammit! lol

We put up a privacy fence along one side to block the neighbors chain-link fence and their pool. Who wants to sit on their new deck sweating their butt off staring longingly at the neighbors while they splash around? Not me, I assure you!

After learning that we could still hear them and that that was just as torturous we bought a little pool to cool off in from Target and honest to goodness I'm enjoying it as much (if not more!) than I did our in-ground 18 x36 from two houses ago.

It's tucked tastefully down a slope practically out of view and not taking up any of our precious little yard space. We have a HUGE parking area between the alley and the retaining wall and steps up to our yard and since we don't normally need to park like six cars it's a much better use of the space. It's like reclaimed! Woo Hoo!

Oh, and before I forget - about that "nice fragrance" - in addition to the swell new equity, and having a yard that feels like a mini-resort - it smells WONDERFUL out here. Especially the pretty flowers like the one in the pic above. It's some kind of African Gladiola (I'll have to look it up) and they've been blooming non-stop for the last eight weeks. Their fragrance is heavenly!

-Update -
Since I spent all afternoon uploading pictures maybe I oughta post a link, huh? If anyone is interested this is the entire history of the yard - from the first time we saw it in April of 07 through today.

A Perfect Home

Originally uploaded by gimbler
In 1830 it was a snug little collection of modest one and two story frame dwellings whose white-washed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of of rose vines, honeysuckles, and morning-glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds, touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old fashioned flowers; while on the window-sills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss-rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house front like an explosion of flame. When there was room on the ledge outside of the posts and boxes for a cat, the cat was there - in sunny weather - stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry paw curved over her nose. Then that house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat - and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat - may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title? - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

The above is one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite writers and I am reminded of it every time I find one of our cats stretched out enjoying the "amenities". Too bad they refuse to be captured on film in these totally relaxed and vulnerable positions. Still... I can feel the evidence of " perfect title" reflected in my own heart wherever I find them lounging.

Please forgive my months of absence from blogging and forgive in advance the flurry of posts I feel coming on. We've been VERY busy and there's much to tell.