2014 in Review: Home Projects

Owning a home is hard. I think too many people view owning a home as this magical, fairytale experience that is heartwarming and goal-worthy. And while it can be those things, it’s also a lot of hard work and stress, unless you’re a billionaire with employees who do everything for you.

Too often, I find myself overwhelmed by thinking up projects to do. One of the first and best pieces of advice I received (from a random stranger on the Internet, no less) was “write everything down.” It seems obvious and simple, but I hadn’t taken the time to do it. With Kevin’s help, I compiled a list of home-improvement goals—a combination of small projects that we can easily accomplish and projects that are more expensive and would require a contractor. Once we complete a project, we move it to a “completed” list. I can’t recommend this enough. I’m always so quick to feel deflated because there is so much I want to do and I feel like I’ve done nothing, but then I look at my list and remember that we have, indeed, done a lot this year.

Plus, home improvement is a function of time, money, and ability. If you’re lazy, miserly, and only slightly skilled, as we are, projects are seldom and move at a snail’s pace.

Below is a gallery of most of our completed projects from this year.

The Raised Garden Beds

Raised garden beds.

Simply put, I was tired of the weed-ridden, dog-trampled, always-in-the-way garden Kevin had planted when we first moved in. We both liked the look and idea of raised garden beds, but they can be very pricey if you buy them in the store. For example, we saw kits at Costco and Sam’s Club, and both were selling them for $80+ (and that’s BEFORE the cost of filling these deep beds with dirt!). We, of course, decided to build them ourselves, which required us to buy the circular saw that Kevin had been longing for. All of the credit for this project goes to Kevin. He was the one who creatively though to use treated fence posts as the siding, instead of the more expensive treated 2x4s. We used cardboard as the bottom (not that you need a bottom, but this helps keep weeds from infiltrating the beds), and we used the clearance wood (i.e., the wood that came in dented and chipped) as the stakes for our climbing plants. I thought the beds turned out beautifully, and we plan on building more in the spring for our re-vamped herb garden.

The Rain Barrel

Our water-diverting rain barrel.

Kevin and I had been wanting a rain barrel for a long, long time but didn’t want to spend the $90+ they can cost. At one point, we purchased a huge plastic drum (similar to the ones Walter White acidified dead bodies in in “Breaking Bad”) on Craigslist, thinking we could make our own. We had every intention of doing so; we even purchased the hardware from Home Depot (HD)! But a few weeks later, HD had a sale on all of their overpriced rain barrels, rendering them much more affordable, so we caved and bought one. I spent an hour putting it together, with Kevin helping when it came time to drill the nozzle holes and connect it to our gutter downspout. The hose connection is at the very bottom of the barrel, so to ensure proper water flow and elevation if we ever attach a hose, we placed the rain barrel on two concrete blocks. The cool things about this rain barrel are A) I can plant flowers on top (we chose purslane because it is perennial and does well in pots), and B) it features a water diverter, so when the rain barrel fills up, the diverter then sends water down the downspout instead of into the barrel. Cool!

The Brick Patio

Amateur brick patio.

When we moved in, the area behind our screened porch was mostly dirt/mud mixed with a tree stump and some gross weeds. I had never seen a porch lead to just dirt, and I didn’t like it. Sometimes a girl just wants to stand outside without getting her feet muddy. At some point, there had a been an extensive brick pathway all over the yard, bordered on both sides by railroad ties. (We discovered this as Kevin was digging his first garden.) Over the years, the path had been overtaken by weeds and grass. It would have been much too much work to try to uncover the entire path; we had no idea how large it was, but we knew it traversed at least half of our back yard. Plus, most of the railroad ties we unearthed were rotten. Instead, I dug up hundreds of the bricks and reworked them into a very amateur brick patio leading from the porch. It took two tries, and it’s still uneven, but I’m not going to redo it again—slinging bricks around is backbreaking, perhaps some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. My beginner patio serves its purpose, so I’m satisfied…for now.

The Composter

Composting is a great way to reuse your food scraps to create fertilizer for your garden. Like rain barrels, real composters are very expensive. We had seen one we really liked at Sam’s Club, but it was $80 and, to us, not worth the cost. To try to make a cheap version, Kevin purchased a 30-gallon, plastic, outdoor trash can from HD, drilled some holes in the side (for air circulation), and added earthworms (to break down the food). To mix the compost (which has to be done to stir in new items and circulate nutrients), he would either use a shovel or put the top on, turn it on its side, and roll it around a few times. It was arduous and messy but good enough.

Then, on a serendipitous expedition to the dark corners of our Sam’s Club, I happened upon the clearance-items rack. Lo and behold, there was a composter, on sale for $30!!! I couldn’t believe it. According to the label, there was nothing wrong with it; it just happened to be the last one they couldn’t sell. Ecstatic, I hurled it into my cart and ran off to show Kevin. With the $10-off coupon I was toting, we got that beautiful space pod for only $20! Though not so fun to put together, it is so much easier to fill and flip than our old garbage can. Needless to say, we now check the clearance rack on every visit to Sam’s Club.

Miscellaneous Projects

This includes a few of our smaller projects. Special thanks to Mr. Hublou for finding, giving, delivering, and installing our sort-of-new, high-efficiency washer and dryer!

Projects for Which I Have No Pictures

Some things we just didn’t photograph…our bad. Here’s a list of those projects.

  • Scraped the master bathroom ceiling to remove moisture bubbles that were forming when hot water was used. Refinished and repainted entire ceiling with moisture-resistant ceiling paint. (This project I did all by myself because Kevin thought it was pointless and refused to help. In the end, he admitted that I did a great job.)
  • GFCI-protected our kitchen and bathroom outlets, and added an outlet to the master bathroom. (Who builds a bathroom with no outlet!?!) These projects were done by my favorite master electrician, my dad!
  • Replaced the overhead light fixtures on the front porch.
  • Purchased a carpet cleaner and cleaned the crap out of our carpets.
  • Built a shelving unit to serve as a pantry (and not as pantry-moth breeding ground!), since our house does not have one.
  • Landscaping…lots and lots of landscaping.

Phew. That’s a lot. Here’s hoping that 2015 finds us just as productive and hardworking!


Dobby in the Sky with Diamonds

The other evening, when I arrived home, Peanut and Dobby seemed normal. Both dogs were happy and eager to go outside, and they very obediently performed several tricks for treats. I settled down with a book, waiting for Kevin to arrive home. After 10 minutes or so, Dobby left my side to stand in the corner of the room. His back to me, he began making heaving noises.

Now, Dobby has what I call an iron stomach. This dog is like a goat. He eats everything and never, ever has a bad reaction. Peanut, on the other hand, has a very sensitive stomach, the balance of which can be thrown off by simply breathing too much air.

Dobby on adoption day.

So when I heard Dobby making the tell-tale regurgitation noises, I was surprised, and I ran to his side to hold him as he vomited up his breakfast, his treats, and a ton of dark, medium-sized seeds.

Weird, I thought. Dobby was only outside for about 10 minutes, certainly not enough time to ingest the amount of seeds that I just saw leave his tiny body.

After that, everything was fine for about an hour, but then Dobby began to change. His eyes grew wider, like he was in a constant state of surprise. His whole body twitched every now and then, and sometimes he would shake like he was cold. He walked strangely, like each movement was a huge strain, and his back legs extended out further than usual. Mostly, he would stare into space, his breathing pattern a strange requiem of quick, loud inhales followed by inaudible exhales.

My dog is going to die, I thought. But I resisted the urge to take him to the emergency vet because A) it is extremely expensive, and B) he clearly had eaten something bad but had already barfed up most of it, meaning there was probably nothing left in his system to harm him and nothing that an expensive emergency vet could really do to help. He was just going to have to endure.

Of course, Peanut, being a bigger jerk than usual, took advantage of Dobby’s deranged state by tormenting him. She pawed at him trying to get him to play, growled at him in consternation, and even used her teeth to attempt to drag her blanket out from under him when he plopped down on it, much like a magician attempting to remove a tablecloth from a dining table. Dobby, meanwhile, ignored all of her advances, as if Peanut were not even part of his world, and for the rest of the night, he simply sat and stared.

The next morning, Dobby seemed back to normal, though slightly sluggish. Outside, I checked his morning deposit for any sign of seeds but saw none. I began the hunt for the mystery seeds, relieved that my dog had survived the night.

I checked the bag of wild bird seed, and it was clipped tight. I checked Cheepy’s seeds, even though I knew the mystery seeds were not in his mixture (which Dobby sneaks bites out of all the time).

Then, it dawned on me. I had failed to check the one place that only Dobby goes: under the bed.

Dobby has shown an affinity for being underneath things since the day we adopted him. He frequently seeks shelter under our bed to escape Peanut or have some alone time. We often find him half in, half out: his head and front legs under the bed, his butt and hind legs sticking out flat behind him.

And I know that he hides things under there.

Energized by my epiphany, I grabbed a flashlight, lifted the bed skirt (“WHY DO WE NEED THIS?” roars Kevin every time we make the bed), and nearly collapsed with laughter at what I found.

There was an empty, cardboard bullet box (chewed to pieces), which had fallen from Kevin’s nightstand at some point. There were no less than three open condoms, some still in the wrapper, some strewn about, their packages torn to shreds. (These came from Kevin’s survival backpack, which we keep in another room. Only Kevin would think to practice safe sex during the zombie apocalypse.)

I made this picture of Peanut a while ago and now it’s finally (somewhat) relevant.

And then there were the seeds, lying in a pile next to the empty plastic bag from which they came. I retrieved the bag: morning-glory seeds!

Kevin originally purchased the seeds back in February, just after we had a huge tree cut down. The tree cutters had left a 7-foot stump, claiming they couldn’t cut any lower because of our fence. Puzzled over what to do with this ugly stump, Kevin thought it would be visually appealing to plant some morning-glory vines. Indeed, the stump is beautiful now: the vines climbed the entire stump (and the tree canopy above) and produced an abundance of royal purple flowers that bloom every morning.

And while morning-glory seeds do spawn beautiful flowers, they also produce psychedelic effects if ingested.

Unbeknownst to us, Dobby had found the seed package, dragged it to the depths of his under-the-bed lair, and ingested nearly all of its contents.

Though I felt horrible, I could not stop laughing at my discovery. Dobby certainly had his vices: condoms, bullets, and psychedelic drugs. I can only imagine what Dobby’s trip was like, and I hope that he at least had a good one.

“Maybe he finally saw in color,” my friend Chris suggested.

(For the record, Dobby is back to normal, suggesting that there were no long-term effects of his wild night.)

Our First Home

Last week, I posted about our house hunt. Last Friday, we signed our contract for…House #3! Kevin and I are officially tenants in common with rights of survivorship!

Our house, which does happen to be in the middle of our street.

Although House #3 was more than we initially thought we wanted to spend, it has a 3-year-old roof and a brand-new A/C, which means that two of the most expensive renovations we would have to do to a home are already taken care of (for now). The only major repair we will have to do is re-pipe the entire house, hopefully 5 to 10 years from now. Our house was built in 1969, and it still has the original galvanized steel pipe, which we will have to replace with PVC eventually. The location is pretty central and yet close to the highway for Kevin’s commute. The yard is huge, and I love the screened porch. The bonus room is a nice addition too, though for now it will just house all of our yard equipment until we can knock down and replace the rotting shed.

The closing was more fun than I expected. We signed our names so many times that my signature morphed into scribbles toward the end. I had imagined that it would be terrifying, like a trial or something, where we would have to answer for all the information in our loan application. Instead, it was an easygoing sit-down where the title lawyer explained our entire contract to us as we signed what I consider to be a document more binding than marriage. We also received a very sweet note from the sellers wishing us well in our new home, and our Realtors gave us a gingerbread-house kit as our first Christmas decoration. (By the way, if you’re ever thinking about buying or selling a house in Gainesville, I cannot say enough great things about our Realtors, the Suskins.)

After the closing, we headed to Lowe’s to start on our first few projects: painting and yard work. The two guest bedrooms and the two bathrooms need to be repainted, as they are ghastly colors that no one should have ever chosen. The worst offender is a lavender room that is not only hideous but also poorly painted. There is paint on the ceiling, on the molding, etc. It’s like a mother asked her child what color her room should be, and the child replied “purple, and I want to paint it myself!” Our first project was just getting the Killz primer on the lavender room walls.

Man at work.

Our painting agreement is that Kevin does the edging and I do the rolling. This works well for us because I am too much of a perfectionist to do the edging (I would spend hours mulling over one inch of edging), while Kevin cares just barely enough to make fast work of it while still doing a wonderful job. Plus, I like to use the roller.

By day 2, we had primed all of the rooms and finished the first cost of paint in the lavender room (I say “first” because it may require a second coat). The new color is “Sisal,” which, as we learned, is an agave plant that is so loved that it has its own website.

The lavender room…post lavender.

We also spent some time digging up nice stones and bricks in the backyard. We imagine there was once a lovely walkway back there, but it has become so overgrown that we have to dig it all out, inventory it, and create a new path. Kevin began digging for his future garden too. He spent over $50 in weird vegetable seeds to plant, but I gave up vegetable gardening a long time ago, so this is all up to him.

Dig and dig and dig and diggity dig.

And we also brought Peanut by to check out her new yard and to make sure there weren’t any ghosts. (As I learned from The Conjuring, when your dog refuses to enter your new home, and then you find him/her dead in the yard the next morning, move out of that house immediately.)


From what I can tell, Peanut loved it, and she christened the yard in the same way Kevin did the house—with a lovely pile of waste. Unfortunately, hers was not flushable.

(PS: One day, this blog will be about wedding planning again…)