Build-a-Bar Workshop

(Warning: This is a long one with lots of pictures. If you don’t like to or can’t read, just scroll to the bottom to see the end result. <3)

Once upon a time, we bought a house, and this house had a very annoying wall between the kitchen and living room. The wall blocked light and air from flowing through the house, making it feel small and stuffy.

Hi, I’m a wall. I like to divide spaces for no reason!

To my relief, however, our home-closing inspector assured me that this wall was indeed not load-bearing and could be removed.

For over a year, I dreamed of everything this wall could be instead of a wall: a basic hole, a bar, a doorway with bookshelves on both sides. Kevin, however, spent the majority of that year reminding me what a pain constructions projects are and that removing the wall would be a lot more work than just cutting it out. But his negativity did not deter me. I kept dreaming.

Eventually, in January 2015, when we decided that we wanted to have our wedding at our house, Kevin flipped sides. We decided we would build a bar, and he got to work right away planning our new construction project. In his enthusiasm, he made the first cut (mostly just to look for the electrical wires):

The first cut!

Kevin enlisted the help of his dad, a seasoned construction project manager, to cut out the wall. The two spent an entire Saturday in January cutting, reinforcing, and dry-walling our new hole:

And what, you ask, was I doing during this part of the project? Attending my little bachelorette party, of course, planned and executed by my wonderful sister.

Nothing raunchy. Just some yummy food and a fancy hotel in Orlando.

But once I returned and Kevin’s dad was gone, the rest of the project was up to us.

Our next big decision was what to build the actual bar out of. Our first idea was to buy a piece of tree, since there are several folks in these parts who cut down trees and make them into other things. We searched but couldn’t find a piece that really wowed us, especially given the $250+ price tag of these humongous tree parts.

We started brainstorming other materials we could use and the ways in which we could morph them to look fancy. We considered butcher block, tile, laminate, and about a hundred wood options from the aisles of Home Depot and Lowe’s (because they really do stock different products!). Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in big-box construction stores before finally settling on a beautiful piece of plywood (which, by comparison, was only $30).

The plywood was about 1.5 inches thick, which we thought was too thin for a bar, so the plan was to cut it in half and glue it to itself to double the thickness. We used liquid nails, actual nails, and 122 pounds of Carly to fuse the two pieces together.

Always use protection…especially when sanding!

Once the glue dried and we were sure that it was sufficiently sturdy, it was time to sand. Home Depot’s cuts, while convenient, were far from precise, and so the two pieces we glued together did not match up perfectly, plus we needed to smooth the edges. Using a palm sander borrowed from my friend Jason and the tiny sander piece from Kevin’s Dremel accessory kit, I sanded all of the edges and rounded the corners.

Meanwhile, Kevin continued working on the never-ending sanding and dry-walling required by the hole in our wall. If I had known ahead of time the level of sanding required by this project, I would have declined. Kevin was quick to criticize my pitiful drywall-sanding attempts, but I reminded him that my small lady arms were no match for his testosterone-rich man arms and that he was really the best sander out of the two of us. This logic worked for a little while, but inevitably I was roped back in to drywall sanding.

Next, it was time to mount the bar…or for the bar to mount the hole…yeah, there’s no good way to phrase it. We used the strength of my thighs and some water bottles to hold the bar level (enough) while Kevin use liquid nails and regular nails to place the bar.

It may look like I’m using my arms, but my legs are doing most of the work.

Here’s a super creepy picture of Kevin, just for fun. Yes, he’s wearing a robe.

Trying to nail the bar into the wall was a most unpleasant experience, especially because failing at these sorts of tasks is especially frustrating for Kevin. We couldn’t decide whether it was our higher-end nails or our low-end drill bit that was the problem, but Kevin kept stripping the nails before they made it all the way in to the wall, leaving us with little nail heads poking up every few feet. I promised him we weren’t screwed (haha…ha…ha….) and that we’d find a creative solution. Using another attachment from his Dremel tool kit, he sanded down the nails until they were slightly lower than flush with the bar, and I filled the holes with wood putty.

Sanding down the rather unruly screws.

We also added heavy-duty shelf brackets under the bar, mounting them to the underside of the bar and the studs in the wall, just to make sure it wouldn’t budge.

Then, it was time to stain the wood. After another long, drawn-out discussion in Home Depot, we finally decided on a Minwax ebony stain. To me, it seemed the most interesting, even if it wasn’t the same color as our kitchen floors. Plus, the bar would extend mostly into the living room, where our furniture is black and white, so ebony seemed to make the most sense.

Unfortunately, having already tested the stain on the underside of the bar, we knew that the wood putty stained differently from the actual wood. It was then that we decided to go for a more distressed look. Once again, Kevin resorted to his magical Dremel accessory kit and used several tools to achieve a “we rescued this piece of wood from the side of the road” look. The wood putty areas that we stained now looked like additional “distresses” in the wood rather than glaring mishaps.

Next, it was time to paint. We wanted to keep the same neutral color in the living room, so Kevin saved a small sample of the wall he had cut out, and Home Depot used it to match the color perfectly. (Pro tip: If you need to have Home Depot match a paint color, go to the store first thing in the morning. We learned that this is the best time to go because the paint machines are freshly calibrated each morning and will produce a better match than they would later in the day.)

We also had to choose a color for our accent wall in the kitchen. Now, for me, this was one of the most difficult decisions because I am terrible at visualizing. It is the one skill I regrettably lack. While Kevin found it easy to visualize the room each time I taped up a new paint sample, I struggled to see the color outside of its tiny space on the sample paper. Plus, I kept trying to match the paint to other things in the kitchen, like our curtains or our clocks, and Kevin reminded me repeatedly that decorations can be replaced while paint is permanent. (OK, I know, paint isn’t permanent, but getting Kevin to agree to paint is harder than getting him to pick out new decorations.) I brought home at least 30 paint samples (who knew there were so many shades of blue??) before finally settling on Blue Agave (which happens to also be our favorite Mexican restaurant in Gaineville).

Finally, after over a month of work, it was time to add the finishing touches: glaze and moulding. We spent (literally) another four hours in Home Depot debating the pros and cons of epoxy versus polyurethane before choosing the latter. While the epoxy would have made our bar more resilient, I didn’t want our hand-crafted piece of wood to lose its wood-like qualities. I wanted to be able to put my hand down on the bar and have it still feel like a piece of wood, not a piece of plastic. Plus, the epoxy (~$50 after purchasing the two boxes we would need) was waaaay more expensive than the polyurethane (~$7 for 8 ounces), and we thought the polyurethane would be less of a bane to apply. Indeed, it was relatively easy (we got the three coats we needed out of one can), and we ended up loving the way it looked.

To cover up where the uneven drywall met the bar, and to add some final pizzazz, Kevin wanted to get a few strips of moulding. Picking out the moulding was the easy part; cutting it was horrific. We don’t own the proper tools to cut moulding, but that didn’t deter us because Home Depot provides a moulding-cutting center in its stores, complete with a variety of saws and these plastic boxes that help you cut angles accurately. The saws, however, are tired, old, dull saws, and plastic is never a good material to use with a dull saw. What we thought would be six easy cuts turned into six cuts featuring sound effects from 1980s slasher films. EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK. We drowned out the aisle; anyone who entered it left shortly after. And even after enduring the nails-down-the-chalkboard saw music, we still had to sand down the edges at home because the cuts weren’t precise enough. Next time, I think we’ll bring our own saw…

Meanwhile, our house had devolved into a renovation nightmare. Dust was everywhere, as were the sheets that were supposed to protect our stuff from the dust. The kitchen was…well, I’ll just let these next few photos speak for me.

Cleaning was a bitch.

As a side project, we decided to use the leftover wood stain to upgrade our kitchen light-switch covers. Originally a boring, country-ish, light shade of wood, they now match the bar and look great contrasted with the blue of the wall.

As a final touch, we purchased some funky bar stools from IKEA. We finished the project just in time for our wedding, and it served as a great gathering point for our guests.

Overall, the project took 2 months to complete, but we only worked on weekends, so it could have been done in much less time. We’re so glad we did this project. It really opened the living areas without sacrificing the separation of spaces. (I am not really a fan of the “open-space” concept.) Air and light flow so much better, and we’re excited to have added some character to our little home. We’re also incredibly proud that we were able to complete this project without looking too much like amateurs.

For your viewing pleasure: the “after” pictures:


Planning Poor Does Attic Insulation

Think of the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. Also, think of a time in your life when you have felt the hottest (temperature-wise).

DIY blown-in insulation is worse than everything you just imagined. It blows. (haha…ha…ha…)

Our home inspector had noted that the attic insulation was embarrassingly bereft; the A/C duct was completely uninsulated and exposed. We passed this off as something that we could do many years down the road. Besides, it’s not cheap, especially if you don’t do it yourself. Home Depot (HD from here on) charges $1 per square foot. It sounds cheap, but our humble home is 1,476 square feet, and it would cost us the dollar equivalent of that figure (plus tax) to have them do it for us.

And why have someone do for us what we can easily do ourselves??

Required materials: masks, protective eyewear, headlamps, long sleeves, and long pants!

As summer rolled around, our GRU bills began a steady climb towards $200 (and any GNV homeowner will tell you that this is actually very low for a summertime energy bill, thanks to Gainesville having the highest utility rates in the state). When our July bill showed that we owed $249.36 (1,168 kWh used), the attic-insulation project was moved to the front of the queue, but the price tag still deterred us.

In an effort to postpone, we began looking for inexpensive ways to improve our home’s efficiency. We updated the weather stripping on our exterior doors (<$20), and I started shutting my computer off when not in use (which not only saves energy but also keeps our office much cooler). Begrudgingly, we set the A/C to 80 during the day and used ceiling and floor fans to keep cool. (Kevin somehow agreed to this in exchange for the 72 degrees he insists on setting the thermostat to in the evening).

We were excited to learn that our efforts and suffering had paid off: our August bill was slightly lower ($205.82, 916 kWh used), even though the average daily temperature and rainfall numbers had remained the same.

Then, in September, HD advertised a deal: if we opened a store credit card, we could get 10% off any purchase. And because we are masochists with excellent credit, we decided to take the plunge and insulate the attic…in September…in Florida…in swampy Gainesville.

And did I mention that this task requires one to wear long sleeves and pants??

Our attic is very shallow, which is good (we didn’t need to buy a TON of insulation) and bad (it was extremely difficult to maneuver around). We estimated we would need 28 bags of the itch-free, recycled insulation, and at HD if you purchase 25 bags, you can rent the blown-in insulation machine for free. So that’s what we did.

This is what a Mazda Tribute full of insulation (and Carly) looks like.

During checkout, we were asked several times if we wanted to rent a truck to tow all the materials and the machine. But we declined, confident that we could fit everything in the back of my small  SUV. Indeed, it took only two trips (one with Kevin and the machine and one with just me and 28 bags of insulation) to bring everything home.

We had read reviews on HD’s website and knew that we would have to make some adjustments to the hose connected to the machine. Made from flexible plastic, the hose was not sturdy. This is great for maneuvering through a house and an attic if your attic is tall and allows you to stand and roam easily. However, it is not so great for shallow attics that require one to lie on her belly and slither through the rafters.

Our hose addition (minus the pole).

To make the hose work for us and reach the spaces where we could not crawl, we took an old Trader Joe’s coffee canister and duct-taped it on to the end of the hose. We then took a wooden pole we had removed when redoing our master-bedroom closet and duct-taped it to the end of the hose too. This allowed us to extend our reach and angle the end of the hose, controlling the direction of the flow of insulation.

We have two attic access points: one on the north side of our house in the laundry room and one on the south side of our house in the hallway. We decided to start at the laundry room, since it was close to the exterior side of the house where the machine would be. Since the laundry-room access point is the hardest to shimmy into (it’s right where the roof starts to slope, leaving not much room to crawl in, let alone maneuver), we agreed that I would start in the attic and Kevin would start on the machine.

Me, readying myself for round two in the attic.

At first, it was great. I was getting a breeze, the air was breathable, and the heat wasn’t too unbearable. After about 15 minutes, however, the dust from the insulation was so thick that I could no longer see. When I realized it wasn’t really necessary to use my eyes, I began aiming the hose randomly. This worked very well for about another 15 minutes, but then I needed a break. Kevin and I switched places.

I thought it would be better to be outside and work the machine, and while this job was definitely the lesser of the two evils, it was still evil. I had to cram tightly packed cubes of recycled material into an archaic machine and then use a meter stick to jam them down into a terrifying mechanism that would chop them up and shoot them through the hose. Despite being in the shade and the fresh air, I was still sweating my ass off and standing in a cloud of insulation dust.

Kevin working the machine.

Dragging the hose through the entire house to get to the other attic entrance. This exacerbated the dust issue.

What’s worse, once we moved to the other attic entrance, the insulation-stuffer had to constantly run down the hallway to the insulation-blower to make sure they weren’t dying. The machine was too loud for us to communicate using our voices, and the hose was too long to communicate using hose signals. Walkie-talkies would have been very helpful, but I’m not sure we would have understood each other over the roar of the machine and through the face masks we were wearing.

We continued like this for hours. Based on reviews we had read, we estimated we would need three to four hours. In reality, we took at least six. Eventually, I got so fatigued that I insisted Kevin be the insulation-blower permanently. Because he is such a gentleman, he obliged, but I checked on him every 5 minutes and brought him drink after drink. He also donned a headlamp, though it really didn’t help him to see through the dust storm.

The heat was extreme and stifling, despite Kevin lugging one of our portable fans into the attic to try to keep the air flowing. We both sweated so much that we changed our clothes and then sweated completely through those. Our lungs were thick with dust (our one downfall: not getting high-grade face masks), but we couldn’t breathe anyway, so it didn’t really matter. Our house was also covered in dust, even rooms that we didn’t enter and had closed off.

By the evening, we had finished, but our work was hardly over. We still had to drag the machine back to HD. When we returned home, we had the entire house to clean, because EVERYTHING was covered in a thick layer of dust. I would not be exaggerating too much if I said it looked like ground zero.

When our GRU bill arrived the next month, I was gripped by anxiety as I opened the email, fearing that we had gone through hell for nothing. But there it was, our amount owed: $183.95 (804 kWh used).  In October, our bill was $154.32 (579 kWh used), though it was 7 degrees cooler on average that month.

In all, we spent just under $400. I suppose we won’t know until next summer if it paid off. I’m eager to compare this year’s usage to last year’s.

Kevin, heading up for one of his final trips. (You can see we’re nearing dusk based on the darkness of the room at the end of the hall.)

A few weeks later, I found a cube of insulation that we had forgotten to return. Somehow, it had nestled itself among our things and we’d overlooked it. I returned it to HD, and the lady at the customer-service desk was the same one who had signed me up for the credit card and sold me the insulation. She looked at me in awe.

“You’re the first person I’ve ever met who actually did this themselves!” she gawked.

“Really?” I asked. I found this quite unbelievable, considering how cheaply it can be done by oneself.

“Yeah. Everyone else just uses our service!”

I beamed with pride. Yes, it sucked, and we probably have lung damage, and though we may have to do this project again in the future, it was undoubtedly worth the effort, considering we saved over $1,000 by doing it ourselves. (Though next time, we will probably splurge and use the AttiCat brand, which supposedly produces significantly less dust.)

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!

Pantry Moth-strosity

It’s Tuesday, 8:08 AM. I open Gmail on my computer, and a new chat from Kevin pops up: “CARLY! I found a MOTH in my teabag!”

Instantly, my heart sinks.

Sometime around January 2013, when we lived in our little apartment in Tampa, we started noticing a moth here and a moth there. I thought, “How cute. Baby moths! The best kind of bugs to have! They are going to eat all the other bugs that we don’t want around!” We assumed that a few little friendly companions had moved in, and we felt led to do nothing about it.

And then the moths started having babies, and the babies had babies, and soon we were sharing our apartment with a civilization of moths.

We searched the Target “Home” aisle for a solution. I had heard of mothballs, but I wasn’t really sure what they were. Based on the information I read on the side of the mothball products, I realized this wasn’t the answer to our problem. I asked my mom, but she had never heard of a problem like ours.

Then I asked Kevin’s mom.

“Oh! You have pantry moths! They feed off your grains!”

Suddenly, the veil was lifted, and I realized that what I had thought were beautiful, winged cohabitants were actually disgusting, tiny pests. We didn’t have a few little friends; we had an infestation!

Yes, pantry moths—the most putrid thing that can happen to your food-storage area. They crawl through infinitesimal openings in your food bags and feed off your food. They can get in your house a number of ways, but many times they enter via something you purchased at the store, which is an even more despicable thought. Then, they lay eggs either in your food or in your food’s container. Our pantry moths seemed to especially favor the tiny space on the bottom of tin cans where the lid meets the side. Next—worst of all—comes the cocoon/worm phase. The blog No Ordinary Homestead describes the pantry-moth life cycle best:

“You may first notice the little brownish moths that flit around your kitchen. They will lay somewhere between 60 and 300 eggs which will hatch 2-14 days later. The mommy moth […] will usually lay these close to a food source. Then, once they hatch, they don’t have very far to travel before they start to feast. The larvae/worms look a bit like small caterpillars are a whitish-yellowish color with little black heads and about 2/3-inch (1 cm) long. They will burrow into anything and everything they can find, continuing to eat for 2 – 41 weeks, depending on the temperatures. […] And once they are finally full and have left behind their tell-tale webs, they will find [sic] crawl off somewhere looking for a cozy place to nest and spin a cocoon. This will often be crevices in your kitchen you don’t normally see or maybe even where the ceiling meets the wall. […] We promptly killed them and hoped not to find anymore. But there were more…there always are.”

But why me!? I had never heard of nor experienced this problem in any other place I had lived. And it’s not like I was suddenly very bad at closing my open food containers. I felt violated, like my apartment and the moths had teamed up to torment me in my own dwelling. I hypothesized that the moths were attracted to Tampa’s warmer climate; it seemed to be the only major difference between Tampa and the other Florida cities where I had lived.

The Pantry Pest Trap: Our best friend against our worst enemies.

After hearing the verdict from Kevin’s mom, we headed back to our apartment, fearing what we knew we had to do next. We searched every grain-type food we had—quinoa, cereal, rice, bread—and found moths, eggs, cocoons, and worms in all of it. We promptly threw away everything grain-related, wasting a lot of food and money in the process. Kevin’s mom—who, I learned, has a lot of experience with pantry moths—bought us several Pantry Pest Traps, which we installed immediately. The traps tricked several moths into killing themselves, but we still saw moths fluttering around. We brushed it off, thinking it would just take time for them to die off or find their next family to haunt.

A moth month later, we moved back to Gainesville. “Free at last!” I thought. No longer would pantry moths infest my house and dreams. I would finally feel comfortable in my living space.

After the move, I traveled back to Tampa to tackle the task of cleaning our old apartment—alone. I spent three evenings (eight hours total) cleaning that apartment (and got most of my deposit back!!), but every day I returned, I found more moths. I sprayed so much bug-killer into the pantry that I’m afraid for whomever puts their food into it next. And yet every day, I found another worm, cocoon, or moth flittering around inside it. I even found a few moths flapping around the bedroom closets. Eventually, they were all dead, their bodies dragged from my pantry by a mix of chemicals, paper towels, and pre-menstrual feminine rage. I won.

Or so I thought.

Dead moths = happy Carly.

We were excited for the fresh start in our new pantry in Gainesville. We set up a moth trap immediately, and we also invested in some fly tape to hang in the pantry doorway, just to catch any moth or fly that might outwit the moth trap. We sprayed every shelf of the pantry with white vinegar and sprinkled bay leaves everywhere. (Kevin had read that these were other ways to keep unwanted moths out of our pantry.) As if that weren’t enough, we invested in airtight storage containers from IKEA to house multi-use, boxed items like cereal, crackers, quinoa, and pancake mix.

As we put away food into our new pantry, something on the bottom of a can caught my eye—a moth nest! I couldn’t believe it. Those little buggers had caught a free ride on our non-grain food, determined to torment us for all eternity. Distressed, we began checking everything—every inch, inside and out, of every can, box, bag, packet, jar, etc. They were in the oatmeal packets, the popcorn packets, the tomato soup cans, the macaroni and cheese boxes, the folds of the cookie packaging, the inside of the cereal boxes—the list goes on. We threw away any opened, perishable food item that had a moth in/on it, and washed the outsides of unopened cans, jars, and bottles with vinegar. By the end of this second attack, we had thrown away almost all of our food.

After that night, I never saw a cocoon or a worm again. Our moth and fly traps caught the occasional moth that had slipped through the cracks of our hunt (which is a scary thought, but I let it go), and we could finally sleep (and eat!) peacefully, though it took a while to stop analyzing every corner of my food and containers each time I used them.

Moth trap in our new pantry.

When we moved into our current house, we followed the same new-pantry-prep procedure, minus the bay leaves (it’s just kind of messy).

This past Sunday, over our weekly pancake breakfast, Kevin opened a brand-new, sealed bottle of agave nectar. He flipped open the top and gasped: there, inside the cap, were two moth cocoons. Naturally, I freaked out, leaving my uneaten pancakes on the table (and at the mercy of Peanut and Dobby) to rush to the pantry and frantically search all of the syrup and ketchup caps.

Luckily, I found nothing; apparently we had purchased the agave nectar just before leaving Tampa, so it was completely plausible that these moths were leftovers from the original infestation.

And then Tuesday, 8:08 AM comes. Sitting at work, I feel myself begin to panic. Kevin had taken a teabag with him to work and discovered a dead cocoon, and there were nine hours between me and getting home to tear through our tea supply.

Later that evening, when we were both home (because I was not going to do it alone), we pulled down all of our tea, which we keep in a cabinet in the kitchen rather than the pantry. We had the same arrangement in our Tampa and Gainesville apartments too, which explains why a moth might have escaped the Great Pantry Purge of 2013: we never checked the tea supply! Luckily, we found no moths. Perhaps it was a fluke or Kevin’s failing eyes that caused the uproar. Regardless, we did toss the box of tea from which Kevin grabbed the questionable bag.

I feel fairly certain that we have escaped the infestation for now, though we do find the occasional dead moth in our current trap.

But we may never stop looking over our shoulders or straining to hear for a light fluttering of wings flapping in the pantry….

Surviving Homeownership

I have finally moved in and settled down, both into our new house and into my new job, and feel sane enough to resume blogging. As someone who has rented apartments for the past 8 years, the transition to homeownership has been a roller coaster of fear and excitement. Kevin can attest to the stress I have put myself through over the past 2 months. Between closing on and deep cleaning the new house, packing and cleaning the old house, traveling for Thanksgiving, buying presents and traveling for Christmas, ending my old job, and starting a new job (phew!), I declined into a constant state of anxiety.

To anyone considering undertaking a new adventure, I highly recommend tackling only one life change per annum.

Though excited about all of these huge changes, I was freaking out about everything. I called Kevin at work in tears one day, certain that I had found a termite and that we would now have to pay millions of dollars to deconstruct and rebuild the house. I still don’t know what kind of bug I found, but after hours of research, I determined that it was not a termite, and I can now differentiate between termites and ants. To any experienced homebuyer, bugs are a natural part of moving into a house that has been vacant for several months. However, I found so many and such variety of bugs that I was sure I would never be able to live comfortably in my new house.

This, of course, was irrational. A month after our move (and some serious self-pest-control initiatives), I rarely see a bug inside the house, if ever, and Peanut keeps watch over the backyard.

Peanut on the prowl.

For the record, some of my other freak-outs included the following:

  • Situation: Someone down the street was burgled.
    • Fear: Robbers.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a monitored alarm.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. We have a dog for an alarm.
  • Situation: There is an off-colored spot on the ceiling.
    • Fear: The ceiling is leaking.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new roof.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. It’s not leaking. The roof is 3 years old.
  • Situation: There was a funny smell coming out of an electrical outlet when the cover was removed.
    • Fear: There is mold in the walls.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new house.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. Every house has some mold. Nothing is perfect. Life will go on.

These days, I feel like my normal self and am absolutely loving being a homeowner, mostly because it means that I will not be moving my house-load of crap for at least 5 years (fingers crossed). Having moved three times since July 2012, the thought of never moving again is a sweet release. I have also learned that owning a house means that, yes, unplanned repairs will be necessary, and they will occur at the most inconvenient time in your life possible, but most things are manageable and don’t require an immediate emotional breakdown. Plus, we’re aggressive savers; if we have to pay for a repair, we probably will be able to, or we will learn to live without (looking at you, toilets that won’t stop hissing!).

So what are the perks of owning a home? I’m still discovering them myself, but here is a collection of what I love so far:

  • Trash pickup and recycling. No longer do we have to trudge copious amounts of drippy garbage a quarter mile across the apartment complex. The trash man comes to us! And, since we now have recycling bins, we barely make any trash at all; most of what we use goes to recycling or the compost bin. We only throw away un-compostable food and un-recyclable plastic. Our huge reduction in waste makes me really excited.
  • Fixing it up. I never thought that laborious work would be fun, but it is when you own your house! Things like re-sealing the roof, digging up bricks, cutting down dead trees, deconstructing and burning the rotten shed, and replacing small plumbing fixtures are all fun adventures rather than tasks from hell. (As the installer of all things I can’t do myself, I’m sure Kevin has a different opinion.) And small improvements make a big difference; it feels (and smells…) like a totally different house from the one we purchased. Every time I improve something, I imagine the house smiling on the inside, happy to be so loved and cared for after years of neglect. (See also: anthropomorphism.)

New faucet!

  • Decorating. Want to color the walls with crayon? Chalkboard paint? Go ahead. The house is your canvas. No permissions necessary.
  • Mailbox. I have a real mailbox, and it doesn’t require a key or a stroll, and it’s right outside my door!
  • Hanging out on the roof. (No commentary needed.)
  • Wanting to be cleaner. When I lived with my parents, I was always in trouble for having a messy room. My argument (however untrue) was, “It’s my room and I like it this way!” My father’s retort, without fail, was, “Well, it’s my house and I don’t want it to look like a pig pen! When you own a house, you can do whatever you want!” Naturally, this logic really appealed to me. Once I moved out for college, I never moved home again, and every place I lived did, indeed, look like a pig pen. But now that I own my dwelling, I want to make it nice. I want it to be fresh and clean, and I don’t want to leave dirty hideaways that might appeal to bugs. Being a homeowner has made me so eager to keep clean that I find myself with some kind of cleaning device in hand nearly every day. Thanks, Dad. I get it now.
  • No HOA. Though homeowners’ associations provide a lot of benefits, they also cause a lot of undue cost, stress, and pain. I’ll mow my own lawn and skip the community pool (inevitably full of germs, icky band-aids, and piss) in exchange for doing what I want with my land and structures, thank you very much. The last thing I need is another level of government telling me how to live my life. (See also: Libertarianism, HOA tyranny.)
  • Cheaper than rent. Okay, so maybe the house payment (which equals mortgage + taxes + insurance) isn’t cheaper than my Gainesville rent was, but it is cheaper than my Tampa rent was—and it’s 600 SF larger.
  • Fenced-in yard. I no longer have to endure the freezing morning air while my dog takes her dear sweet time sniffing out the perfect place to unload. She can stay out as long as she wants and freeze her teats off; I’ll stay inside and drink coffee. (Side note: I just learned how to spell “teats” and also that Googling “teets” is NSFW.)
  • No shared walls. Time to see just how high we can turn up that sub-woofer before our ears explode! TURN IT UP TO 11!!!
  • No annoying maintenance guy who leaves his skinned hunting prizes on the hood of his truck to dry out during the day and then steals your plants because he thought you had already moved out of your previous apartment, even though some of your items were still clearly sitting inside the living room!! Yeah, you know who you are, creeper. RIP jasmine, rosemary, basil, and lantanas. I hope you’re not dead.

Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of things I will miss about apartmentship, like stress-free living, sharing walls (a bane, but at least someone might hear you scream if you’re in trouble), and mega dumpsters for disposing of large items (or bodies) easily.

Speaking of getting rid of bodies, Gainesville’s handbook for garbage collection strictly prohibits disposing of dead animals in your residential garbage cart. So while we may be surviving homeownership, someone’s pet did not. RIP, Fido. Despite an unceremonious removal from this life, your memory lives on in every new-resident garbage-collection pamphlet.