Subscribe to RSS feed


Labor Day laboring

I suppose my resolution to start blogging again should include actually writing a post that has something to do with the topic of this blog – home renovation. Which means that I should actually do a project or 2 around the house.

Fortunately, we just had a 3-day weekend so in addition to sleeping in, a night out in San Francisco & attending a bbq (thanks for the tri-tip Rachel!), we were able to squeeze in a few home projects.

Now we didn’t get nearly as much done as we did last year during our 1st weekend in the new house when we tried to get as much done as possible before moving in at the end of the month. But we did tackle a few things:

Project #1 started when I came home from work during the week and Hugh told me to go outside to see what he did. To my surprise, I found a huge new dog house that wasn’t even in the planning stage when I left for work that morning.

 dog house made out of scrap wood

Then Hugh’s Saturday trip to Home Depot included a surprise for me – a spray paint attachment for our air compressor! Awwwww….that means he really does love me :)  (wow, have I changed over the last year). As part of my prep for the upcoming kitchen cabinet painting project, I’ve been taking on various furniture painting projects to improve my painting technique before committing to the kitchen cabinets. It’s ok if I have some imperfections in Craigslist finds or cheap furniture we already own, but it would really bother me to see them in the kitchen. I’ve done a number of projects with rollers & brushes, but I wanted to give spray painting a try to see what the results were and how much time it saved.

That’s a lot of babbling to simply say that part of our weekend was spent spray painting a dog house that probably has a better roof than my own house.

Did I mention the fact that I have a broken ankle in my excuses post?

boot for broken ankle

Not the most flattering angle, but this shows (half) of the lovely footwear I've had to wear for the last 1.5 months

 I was tired of not getting anything done so did some improvising (sponsored by HomeGoods)

Protecting the boot

After some experimenting with settings & adding water to thin the paint, we loved the spray gun and can’t wait to use it for more projects. We still have plans to bedazzle this to bring out more of Wally’s personality but it’s looking really good now:

painted dog house

painted dog house

Checking to see if there's room for both if Hugh gets in trouble

Project #2 was somewhat related to #1. One of the projects that Hugh took on while his kids were in town was building a railing for our back steps. Lack of a railing was noted in our home inspection and my Gramma. Having a broken ankle also demonstrated the need for one each time I precariously wobbled down the 3 steps. So I came home one day to a new railing that was installed & primed. While I don’t want to complain about free labor, one of the downsides to having an 8 & 10 year-old paint is that they’re not as careful as I would be about getting white primer on our yellow house.

Among the paint left behind in the garage by the previous owners was the house paint. I figured that was as good a color as any to use for the railing & the dog house since I’d be able to paint over the primer on the house at the same time. Plus, it would help everything blend into the house and not stick out so much. Unfortunately, this is what was inside the can:

dried house paint

I was able to bring a chunk to Home Depot to have it color matched. I almost kissed the guy from HD when he asked if I wanted an exterior paint + primer in one – one less step, at least for the unprimed doghouse! I didn’t want to use the spray paint on this one and take a chance on getting paint on other surfaces so did this one by hand, but it was a simple project and only took about 30 minutes.

You can see the painted railing next to the pic of the finished dog house above – it’s not exciting enough to warrant it’s own pic. Stay tuned for some touch ups of the house now that I have the paint.

Project #3 was all Hugh. We (meaning Hugh) installed the new wood floors in the hall & bedroom almost a year ago. And for a year, we walked over these ragged, uneven transitions.

unfinished wood floor transitionsCreating these transition pieces involved a ton of cuts to fit around 2-3 layers of door trim. I’ll go over all of the gory details in a later post when they’re done (we’re letting varnish dry before installing), but here’s a gratuitous pic of Wally trying to help:

Wally helping with transitions

So we got some things done around the house without making the whole weekend a DIY workfest, a good balance.


Introducing Wally – the cutest excuse for procrastinating

So the blog goes silent from December to September and all of the sudden there’s 2 posts in one day. Don’t expect this too often – based on my past history, consistently posting 1-2 times per week is my current goal.

But this specific post is long overdue. One of the reasons for leaving San Francisco for a house in the ‘burbs was to have a yard that was big enough for a vegetable garden (Hugh loves to grow veggies and I love to eat what he grows) and a dog. I’ll go into the garden update another time. Because the first order of business after my mea culpa for being absent is to introduce the biggest change to our house – our puppy Wally.

He’s not really a new change. We got him in January from a wonderful rescue in the Bay Area called Pound Puppy Rescue. They foster puppies, whole litters and their mommas in people’s homes to keep them out of shelters. We had talked about getting a puppy after all of our holiday travel was over. So I started stalking PPR’s website to check out the new litters. Hugh & I went to check out a dachshund-mix litter at one of their adoption events. Those puppies were very cute, and as I was checking them out I suddenly noticed that Hugh was gone. He had wandered over to another enclosure where this little guy was sitting all by himself:


Meeting Wally for the first time

How could you not take this little guy home?

That eye patch totally stole our hearts! We couldn’t believe that he was the last of his litter. I guess that he was just meant to be ours.

He’s an Australian Cattle Dog mix. We’re not sure what he’s mixed with. But he’s smaller than an average ACD and has shorter hair, so we’re guessing he’s mixed with some kind of terrier. We named him Wally (short for Wallaby). He’s about 10 months old now.

Enough of my blabbing, here are some puppy pics & a video:

Wally in his new crate

1st day home - getting settled in his new crate


Puppy napping
It was a big day for the little guy




And here are a few from more recent months:


dog chewing on stick
Wally’s favorite pastime – chewing on sticks
dog taking firewood
Did you cut all of these sticks for me?

dog with eye patch



I can’t blame the lack of blogging (for 8 MONTHS!) & project progress on him, but can you blame me for choosing to snuggle up to this little guy instead of hunkering down in the garage to paint?

 Snuggly puppy

That’s enough Wally pics for now – don’t want this to all go to his (adorable) little head. But he’s not camera-shy so you’ll see him show up on almost every project post going forward.


Bad blogger!

There’s no denying it – I am a very bad blogger. As all of my loyal readers (Hi Mom & Dad!) keep telling me, they’re a bit tired of reading about how I used a machete to break down compost.

Last week hit a major milestone – 1 year of owning our house. So I thought it was a good excuse to dust off my WordPress password and start blogging again. Hopefully I’ll stick with it this time.

I wish I could say that we were too busy to blog because all of our time to spent doing tons of mind-blowing DIY home renovations, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

We worked like crazy during that 1st month before we moved to tackle everything on our ambitious pre-move project list. Not having to move furniture & boxes multiple times was great motivation to get the basics (wall repair/paint, floors & baseboards) done in time. Once we moved, we thought we deserved a little breather. That breather lasted almost a year. It’s not that we didn’t get any projects done, it just didn’t feel like they were big blog-worthy projects. Or noticeable ones to anyone but us (like taming our crazy yard). And this blogging thing takes up a lot of time. Especially when you have a day job. And like to chillax after work instead of spending evenings working on projects and then staying up late blogging about them.

But I did really love posting what we were up to with the house. It was a lot of fun looking back on what we were able to do, especially since I’d never done anything like this before. It was also a huge motivator to want to show our progress. 

So I’m going to give it another go.


Machete + Compost = Fun!

I don’t know what is the stranger word combo in the title – machete/compost or compost/fun. I’m actually enjoying my first foray into composting so I’m going to vote for the machete/compost combo.

I suppose I should explain how I got to this lovely little formula. Before Halloween, Hugh bought a pumpkin for us to do the usual Halloween things to. We planned to carve it on Halloween itself. But then on Halloween we (meaning Hugh) started digging around the front corner of the house near where we have permanent standing water in the crawl space. It’s a long story that needs to get added to the list of future posts, but the story ends hours later with us turning off the water supply to the house as daylight was fading. Needless to say, physical exhaustion + no running water for cleanup = uncarved pumpkin.

After a month of the pumpkin sitting in our kitchen, it became clear that my plan for doing something useful with it (like cooking), wasn’t going to happen. So while Hugh did some frivolous concrete work to patch a crack in the foundation (another future post), I took on the critical project of sending the pumpkin to the compost bin.

But you can’t just throw it in whole. Well, you can. But it will take forever to get all composty. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area there is for all of the microbes to do their business, resulting in faster compost creation.

So I set out to find the best way to break down the pumpkin. For some reason, using a kitchen knife never occurred to me. Instead, I thought it would be fun to raid the tools in the garage to see what I could come up with.

I looked for a mallet and couldn’t find one. So I grabbed a hammer. And a pick axe. And a machete! I briefly considered trying out the crowbar, but that just felt a little too Wiseguys to me.

I should have taken photos during the experimentation phase. But being the blogging newbie that I am, I was just having too much fun to think about pictures. What I found was that the hammer & pick axe just didn’t cut it (sorry for the bad pun) – they made holes, but didn’t really break it apart.

The machete was a different story. I had soooooooo much fun whacking away at poor Mr. Pumpkin with this bad boy. Look at what I ended up with.

Pumpkin meets machete

pumpkin meets machete

As a bonus task, because I needed a lot of leaves to cover all of the carnage (to avoid attracting pests & keeping the compost from stinking up the place), I happily took our leaf blower for a spin to get some “browns” to cover the “greens” (in this case the greens were the orange pumpkin carcass). That’s one way to get me to volunteer to do yard work.

adding leaves to compost

Buried the evidence of the pumpkin masacre

Now I know how Gallagher got his inspiration – composting watermelons!


Out with the gold, in with the…

Brushed nickel!

I’m not a gold kind of girl. So of course the house we bought came with gold fixtures galore (apparently I can’t take pictures anymore, blame it on today’s gloomy weather. You’ll have to trust me in the following pics when I say something is shiny gold that it is ugly shiny gold and when I say that it’s brushed nickel that it’s beautiful brushed nickel).

For example, here are the bathroom knobs & handles…

Gold hall bath hardware

Not only is it gold, but the shape of the handles is awful too

…and the kitchen handles…

Gold kitchen cabinet hardware

Yes, the grainy wood will be painted (eventually)

…and the kitchen faucet….

Gold kitchen faucet

How often do you see a gold kitchen faucet?

There’s also the hall bath shower head & bathtub faucet, hardware + faucet in the red room bathroom, and the front door locks (actually we have 2 “main” doors, both with big gold shiny locks – I’ll rant about those another time) but I figured that’s enough pictures of ugly gold shiny things for now.

The good news is that we’ve started to replace the tacky gold, generally with brushed nickel. A few weeks ago we decided to replace the kitchen faucet. There was also a water filtration system installed, but the equipment took up half of the space under the sink. Since our tap water tastes fine and we could use the storage space, we yanked it out and installed a soap dispenser in the hole instead. We totally love it –makes it easier to wash dishes and gets the huge Costco-sized bottle off of the counter.

So this is our sink area now:

Brushed nickel kitchen faucet

I ordered new cabinet hardware that arrived this week so today’s project was installing it all. I’m going to eventually paint the cabinets (future kitchen plans need their own post) so I’ll have to remove them again at some point. But have I mentioned how much I HATE shiny gold things in my house? Since future kitchen renovations will result in a huge cascade of projects, I don’t know when we’ll actually get to them. So I went ahead and installed the new hardware today, even though I’ll have to remove & reinstall it later, since I just couldn’t stand looking at the gold knowing that I had their replacements in my possession.

Brushed nickel kitchen hardware

The picture looks gold, but trust me, it's nickel

I especially love the cup pulls we used for the drawers, which are typical for bungalow-style houses like ours. Most images I saw paired the cup pulls on drawers with simple round knobs on the cabinets. But since we already had 2 holes drilled in each cabinet from the previous handles, we went with simple handles instead to avoid having to fill in the extra hole. I’m really happy with the way they all look together. And they’ll look even better after the cabinets are painted.

The hall bath hardware went next

New hall bath hardware

I swear these are nickel - will upload a better pic soon

Followed by the red room hardware. In this case, the bedroom already had a lighting fixture & switch plate in oil-rubbed bronze, which we liked. So we’re staying with that finish for the bathroom hardware.

Bronze bathroom hardware

Really need to replace the gold faucet here now

It’s amazing what a huge difference these things have made.


Fortune cookie

We ordered in Chinese food for dinner tonight since we were both too tired to cook. When it came time for the fortune cookies, this is what mine said:

fortune cook

Tomorrow will be a productive day. Don't oversleep.

But tomorrow is Saturday! A no alarm clock day. This fortune is sooooo not fair. We’ve got our first completely unscheduled weekend in ages. And I’m not supposed to sleep in a little?

Although these days, “unscheduled” means more time for projects around the house. And I did publicly commit to getting a number of things done before the end of the year, which is really not that far away. Hugh is planning on getting started with the sump pump installation. I want to at least finish up the hallway baseboards plus paint and install the closet door in the Red Room. Among the gazillion pre-holiday sale emails I get every day I saw that Home Depot has 20% off on a lot of drawer pulls, so that would also cross something off the 2010 to-do list. And then there are some things I’d like to get done that aren’t on the official list.

So it looks like I’m going to have to be productive after all if I want to get it all done. No lounging in bed all day for me.


Getting started composting

Our renovation adventure isn’t limited to the inside of the house. We’ve started to adventure out in the back yard too. In addition to the never-ending quest to tame the growth back there, we’ve got big plans for a big garden overflowing with fruits and veggies.

But the soil back there (among other things) needs a lot of work. So we recently started composting. Hugh has done it before but this is my first experience (although living in San Francisco we did have compost collections every week).

As all projects around here start off, during our weekly visit to Home Depot we picked up a compost bin.

compost bin

We made some modifications to keep rats & other unwanted visitors out. Although our bin had a bottom piece, we also laid the bin down on ¼-inch wire mesh to prevent anyone from digging in. It also had little doors on the bottom for scooping out finished product. But the doors weren’t secure enough to keep out hungry pests so we permanently closed them by nailing them shut using scrap wood. We’ll either have to open them when the compost is done or shovel it out from the top.

I then excitedly scooped up as much yard waste as I could. Not only was I anxious to get the compost process started, but our yard waste bin was already full so sticking stuff in the composter was another way to clean up the yard.

I wasn’t until I finished that Hugh mentioned that the juniper from the front hedges may not be something that should go in compost. Um….wouldn’t it have been better to bring that up before I started filling the compost bin? He wasn’t positive, so I went inside to do some research. I had no idea that there were some composting no-no’s so I figured I should get myself educated in the composting arts ASAP.

Here’s what I found (most useful BEFORE you start):

What is good

  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Hay/straw
  • Other garden wastes (except those that aren’t good)
  • Fruits & veggies
  • Coffee grinds
  • Egg shells
  • Dryer lint
  • Wood chips & sawdust

What is not so good

  • Meat, bones, fats, dairy – they’re hard to break down and will attract critters
  • Diseased plants
  • Human and pet waste – really don’t want to think about the collection process for the human stuff
  • Weeds that have gone to seed – unless you create a very hot compost pile, you’ll end up transplanting the weeds you added to your pile
  • Newspaper – ink has chemicals
  • Certain leaves (like the Juniper I added) should be used sparingly. So I just won’t add anymore juniper clippings in the future and we should be ok.

Hot vs. Cold: Compost piles can either be hot or cold. Hot piles are a factor of their size and the composition of materials added. They can get up to 140 degrees in the center. Both hot & cold piles will eventually turn into compost. But the hot ones can do it in a few months vs. up to a year for the cold ones. Since I am definitely not an authority in this (yet), see the links at the bottom of this post if you want more details.

Worms: aka Vermicomposting. This is typically done indoors. Basically the worms eat your food scraps & poop out compost (that’s probably a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea). We’re not using this method, but when we find worms in our yard, we have a lovely relocation program for them in our compost bin. I haven’t found anything online about this hybrid method, but we’ll see what happens with ours. Hopefully they’re all happily eating, pooping and creating more little worm babies to speed the process along.

Collecting compost worms

Tip: Use your nephew to transport worms to your compost bin

Air: The microbes that break down the compost need both air & water. So your bin needs to allow some airflow (although you also don’t want critters getting in and making a home there while feasting on your leftovers). You should also avoid smooshing down your pile. You’ll also get more air in the pile and a more even mix of your ingredients by turning/mixing of your pile every week or so.

Moisture: Your compost pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Some of that moisture will naturally occur from adding wet vegetation (especially wet grass clippings) or food. But you’ll also be adding things like dry leaves with no natural moisture. I don’t think we kept ours moist enough at first, but now when we take out our food scraps each week, we also fill up the bucket with water. This has the added bonus of cleaning out our stinky food scrap bucket at the same time.

Avoiding pests & stinkiness: besides ensuring that your compost container of choice doesn’t allow critters in, you can decrease the temptation and stench simply by burying food scraps underneath a few inches of dried leaves. Avoiding adding any meat or dairy products will also help. Despite our backyard being a veritable Wild Kingdom of unwanted critters, we haven’t had any issues by following this advice.

Balance: As with life in general, the key (and most difficult) part to composting is balance. You should have the right proportion of “greens” (fresh green grass/leaves and food scraps) for nitrogen and “browns” (dried grass/leaves) for carbon. The ideal mix is 4 parts brown to 1 part green. That’s one more thing we haven’t done. When we have yard clippings we throw them in. Whatever food scraps we have are added weekly. I’m sure there are a lot of amateur composters who just throw in materials as they become available like we’re doing. I’ll just consider this year an experiment for that method and see how it turns out. Which is basically how we’re approaching everything around here.

Multiple bins: since it takes months to complete the compost process, many people have 2-3 bins that they rotate between. When a bin is full and you’re waiting for the compost process to finish, you start adding to another. Since we have a lot of yard waste and can quickly fill up our large bin at certain times of the year, I think we’ll get at least 1 more since we have the space.

So now you know everything I do about composting. For anyone interested in more authoritative resources than me (especially in this inaugural experimentation year), here are some great composting sites to check out:


Renovation goals for the rest of the year

I was just thinking about what we plan to accomplish for the rest of 2010 when it hit me that there really isn’t all that much time left. Especially since there are a lot of holidays and holiday-related activities thrown into these last 2 months.

Without being overly-ambitious, this is what I realistically think we’ll accomplish this year. Unfortunately, the bulk of the work will be the unsexy, under the house foundational stuff that no one who hasn’t seen our inspection reports will notice. But once we get this behind us we’ll be able to start tackling the more noticeable & fun projects in 2011.

 Under the house/foundation

  • Install sump pump & all the drainage-y things that go with it (obviously that’s Hugh’s project)
  • Seismic retrofit – leaving this one to professionals
  • Get all dirt away from the wood siding
  • Seal the cracks in the foundation (our foundation contractor actually said we should do this ourselves vs. paying him – how often do you hear that?)

foundation and crawl space 


  • New drawer pulls to replace the last of the shiny gold things in that room


  • Finish up the baseboards
  • Finish repairing the crack in the wall (lots of finishing to do in this little hallway)
  • Paint the walls
  • Install the transition pieces between the new floor in the hallway & the gazillion doors
  • Find a light fixture to replace the granny one we removed when we painted the ceiling (that will never be coming back)

 Red Room

  • Paint & reinstall the closet door (it was removed when the floor was refinished and hasn’t made its way back out of the garage yet)

Blue Room

  • After all of the pre-move work and looking at the rest of this list, I’ll be happy if we occassionally make the bed and put away our clean laundry.

And of course, FINISH UNPACKING. I shouldn’t have a problem finishing by Dec. 31, 3 months after we moved in. Right? Please don’t make me have to put this item on my 2011 to-do list.


Taking inventory

I’m a bad blogger. It’s been 3 weeks since my last post. Wish I had a good excuse, like I’ve totally finished unpacking. But the truth is, the time I haven’t spent blogging has not been used to complete unpacking even though we’ve been in the house for 6 weeks now. We are making progress on the unpacking front. But we’ve gone from a 1600 sq. ft. apartment to a 1200 sq. ft. house so it’s been challenging to find space inside the house for everything and decide which items get demoted to the garage/storage shed or get donated altogether.

But we haven’t been total slackers. During our non-working/non-traveling/non-socializing hours we’ve been splitting our time between unpacking and continuing to work on the house.

To keep everything in perspective, I made a list of what we’ve done and I have to admit that we’ve accomplished a lot so far. Here’s a breakdown room-by-room:

Blue Room

  • Repaired serious lath & plaster cracks
  • Primed & painted it blue (duh!)
  • Painted trim & doors
  • Painted ceiling
  • Fancied up the baseboards
  • Pulled up carpet
  • Pulled up vinyl found under the carpet
  • Installed wood floor

Red Room

  • Primed & painted it red (duh again)
  • Painted trim & some of the doors (reminds me that we still need to paint & reinstall the closet door we removed when the floor was refinished. Note to self: find that door, last seen in garage)
  • Fancied up the baseboards
  • Refinished hardwood floor


  • Replaced shiny gold faucet (I’m not a gold fan so replacing gold XXXX will be a recurring theme in this house)
  • Removed huge water filtration system
  • Installed soap dispenser

Dining Room

  • Replaced shiny gold locks & doorknob (wasn’t meant to be done so soon, but when it’s your main entrance and your key stops working…)

Living Room

  • Purchased new tv stand (hey – shopping counts as work!)

Hall Bathroom

  • Nothing yet besides unpacking & organizing

Red Room Bathroom

  • Can’t even claim unpacking since boxes are being stored there. But it is now possible to get to the shower so that’s progress.


  • Primed & painted ceiling
  • Started to patch major hole
  • In process of fancying up baseboards
  • Painted trim
  • Installed wood floor

Laundry Room

  • Installed utility sink


  • Never-ending quest to tame the overgrown front & back yards
  • Found source of water under the house & had it fixed
  • Replaced driveway sump pump
  • Fixed numerous sections where drainage pipes weren’t actually draining (note to previous owners: it helps to actually connect these things and to remember gravity’s effect on the flow of water)
  • Set up compost bin
  • Ran electricity under house for future crawl space sump pump
  • Installed light in crawl space for future sump pump work
  • Halfway done digging around the house to remove the soil that’s up against the wood siding

So considering that we took possession of the house 10 weeks ago, I guess that’s not a bad list of accomplishments. It’s just hard to see that sometimes with all of those freakin’ unpacked boxes staring at me.


Fixing Lath and Plaster – Applying the Joint Compound

Lath and Plaster

It’s been a while since I originally posted talking about what is needed to complete a lath and plaster repair.  There is so much one can learn by doing this and you will find that the more you do of this you will become more relaxed and significantly better at it.

Understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day – which you will need to take your time and not try to rush this work and let the plaster set properly before piling more plaster on top. So let’s just assume that you have already cleaned and chipped away all the cracked plaster from the wall, now you will need to fill in the crack.

Mixing the joint compound for the initial layer is really something that you will find your own pace and style in doing, I myself found that mixing it in a plastic pail, using a drill and a power mixer to mix it quick and easily to the consistency of peanut butter (not crunchy) and smooth and silky consistency. You can get sealer for the existing plaster or simply moisten the existing plaster with a spray bottle and water.

Placing the mixture on the Hawk (or the upside down trowel) then using a smaller taping knife place the joint compound within the crack going in the same direction as to make sure that you have the cracks filled without being lumpy or uneven.

Lath and Plaster repair

Filling in a huge crack in the plaster

Remember that the more you put onto the wall, the more you have to sand off, so learning that “less is more” can make the job a lot easier and significantly less dusty.

While the joint compound is still moist I normally apply the joint tape over the crack to help build strength and stability to the new compound and then basically you are trying to get joint tape to lie over the new compound bridging the existing plaster and the new stuff. You have to learn to walk away and let it set (this is hard for those who want to rush). I would normally go back once dry and a apply an incredibly thin layer compound over the tape to insure that its covered and then can be easily sanded without worrying about the joint tape being frayed and mess up your smooth texture.

So – now you will go through sanding and applying, then applying again until you have the proper even levels between the repair work and the original wall.

Matching lath and plaster to a textured wall – this is a little harder and hopefully you will have the ability to match the texture (be it from spray can or from mix to apply to the paint). However once you have a good match try to feather out the new texture to match the surrounding area of the wall, this truly is the hardest part of the project for me.

Remember to prime the applied area and then paint once its dry.
Good luck folks

Older posts «