Thursday, April 26, 2012

Garden Updates

Hidden below are 5 asparagus crowns.
March was warm and wonderful, but April's been rather chilly, almost winter-like. We survived the "winter storm" this week, and didn't get any actual snow. Plenty of rain and cold, though, and my garden isn't thrilled. The potato tires still haven't dried out at all three days later, and I'm worried they'll rot.

Soggy Spuds
The berry twigs (they can't really be called plants yet) really needed the rain, but aren't big fans of the cold, so nothing much has happened to bring them out of dormancy.
Berry Twig 

Meanwhile, the cauliflower is loving the cold and the rain.
Cauliflower in pots

No spears yet from the Asparagus patch, but I'm hopeful that it'll happen this week once the soil warms a bit more and the sun comes out for more than 3o seconds at a time.

We've transplanted the onions, kale, cabbage, and brocoli into the raised bed, so new plantings of chard and more tomatoes and kale are under the grow lights.

Peas, spinach, and even carrots are sprouting in the raised bed. I hope if they get a little sun this week they'll shoot up big time.
Peas & Rutabaga

Rosemary, Stevia, & Collards
Goodies inside!!

Collards are happy, and the Stevia and rosemary are at least not dead... so that's positive.

The coop has arrived and we picked it up from the freight place, but we haven't graded the yard yet, so it waits patiently on the patio.

Appliance Breakdown

When you buy a home, most of the time appliances come with it. For this house, however, all we got was the stove. Oh, and a broken dishwasher which the seller was supposed to remove but never did (this saga has been handled in great detail).

So! I needed to purchase a washer, dryer, refrigerator, and dish washer. I also wanted a chest freezer for the basement to store all the garden surplus so I could feast on my homegrown veggies all year 'round. I considered my options:

1) Energy Star

Energy Star Appliances have been so connoted for their energy efficiency. The program is the joint venture of the DOE and the EPA, and Energy Star appliances all feature this logo:

The idea is that by purchasing an energy efficient appliance you will save money over time because you'll use less electricity, water, or natural gas to operate the machine. The problem, however, is that they are SO EXPENSIVE upfront. Take a washing machine, for example. Most side loading energy star washers ran between 800 and 1300 dollars! The standard top load models are still 600-ish dollars, but that's a big difference. And then you have to buy the dryer!

According to the Energy Star website, the average energy bill for a single family home is $2,200 per year. 13% of that goes toward appliances. Meaning that a washer probably costs about 50 bucks to operate per year. Now assuming the Energy Star option cuts that bill in half, it would still take between 8 and 28 years (depending on if I went with the cheapest EnergyStar vs the most expensive EnergyStar) to break even. Not to mention that Energy Star ratings don't take into consideration the entire life cycle of the product, meaning how much energy and and how many raw materials are used to make the thing.

2) Used

Buying used appliances means you aren't using new resources, and you certainly save money. A quick Craigslist search showed I could get a used washer that looked pretty decent for 2-300 dollars. Of course they don't come with warrantees and there's no accounting of what treasures its previous owners shoved into the lint trap. Used appliances are also by nature older, and therefore less energy efficient. Another downside: you have to go pick them up and haul them into the house yourself. Boo.

3) Outlet Shopping

This is the direction we went. We headed to the Sears outlet on a Monday morning and found:
Estimated Operating Cost for a Year = $40

~A dented Energy Star refrigerator for 400$, that kind of looks like a vintage icebox, which is fabulous
~A brand new Energy Star chest freezer for 200$
~A returned Energy Star washer for 300$
~A dented gas dryer (not energy star, sadly, but it was the only one they had) for $300

All of these items are under warranty. Most are energy efficient, but for a fraction of the cost. Some were saved from the landfill when other people rejected them. I feel pretty good about our choices. What I REALLY wanted to do was buy a gorgeous Big Chill fridge for $2300 dollars, so I'm feeling very reasonable about outfitting the whole house for 1200 bucks.

No luck on a dish washer at the outlet; I'm particular about them and all the ones at the outlet store were powerfully ugly. I HATE when the buttons show on the front, for example. It wasn't worth saving a few hundred dollars to destroy the aesthetics of the space (yes, I feel that strongly about heinous front-button dishwashers.)

Cool, right?

I love the old gas range, though it has its idiosyncrasies; some burners will only light with matches. It's great looking! And I'm going retro in that room anyway.

Friday, April 20, 2012


The painting is complete in the living room, and I REALLY want to start living in there, given that we've begun demolition in the dining room. It seems within reach, but nothing looks finished because there isn't any molding up yet.

This is sort of a joke with Alex because there are many places in his childhood home that still don't have molding, so he thinks everything looks great.

Home Depot had no selection when it came to molding and no good options for big casings and base pieces (which we need for the arches and to match the original wall construction.) So I did a little research and found this place! Allegheny Millwork and Lumber is massive, it isn't a chain, it's reasonably priced, and they were very friendly and helpful. Looks like we've found our lumber source moving forward.

This is just a tiny corner of the huge, extremely well-organized warehouse.

Currently, the casing lives on the porch....along with everything else. I'm hoping to install some tomorrow.


Turns out dishwashers aren't just a pain to get rid of. They're also impossible to install.

After calling two plumbers, getting a 440$ estimate for professional installation, another trip to Home Depot, a trip to Lowes, discovering I'd lost my hack saw and heading to another hardware store, we still couldn't use our dishwasher.

Yes, it is (relatively) inexpensive, looks great, and gets great marks for energy efficiency. All this meant little to me when its main function was as exercise equipment. We weight trained shifting it here and there when making tea or washing dishes. When I was too annoyed to move it out of the way, it functioned as pilates machine as I arched my back to chop veggies a yard to the right of where my feet were planted.

But now it's installed, and we ran a test load. The dishes are clean, but the water-in line leaked a little. Still not there, but in the home stretch!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Frustrations/Elations

1) After three coats, the squiggles on the wall where adhesive used to be are still visible through the navy blue paint. It doesn't matter how much you sand, this is still the case. The white walls look quite a bit better - perhaps because they're flat instead of satin finish? Perhaps because it's paint and primer in one?

2) After three days and lots of yucky dish water in the face, we did finally manage to de-install the ancient, broken dishwasher. Tomorrow we pick up the new one and then get to figure out how to install that. Sears would have delivered it and hauled the old one away for 80$. Seems worth it at this point. We'll know next time. Oh, and the old water-in pipe is leaking into the basement a little.

3) As we were removing more paneling in the dining room today, we discovered a small patch of mold near the top. I'm very nervous about this! We bleached the wall and got the panels out of the house ASAP. It's a very small patch, but I do not like this. I also googled the fabled black mold, and it looks nothing like the kind in the house, but I'm still going to check every hour or so for the next dozen years.

4) Inexplicably, the wall below a window in the dining room is wet. Outside there is no visible problem with the window well and no cracks in the mortar. The caulk is old and cracked and it has been raining a little the last two days. Only thing we can think to do is to re-caulk and hope for the best. If that doesn't work, we'll hire a professional. This does make me grateful that I have plaster walls that can hold up to this kind of crap, though. And the warm days should help.

5) We found the perfect used compost bin at construction junction but didn't want to haul it around with us on a cart. By the time we came back 10 minutes later, someone had taken it.

6) I can't remember if I mentioned this last time or not, but the outside spicket leaks into the basement, so we need to get that fixed too. This renders my sweet soaker hose system unusable.


1) All kinds of peas and lettuces and root veggies are budding in the garden.

2) The asparagus patch was planted just before the aforementioned 40 hour rain, which means we should be seeing stalks very soon.

3) The colors in the living room (minus the fancy squiggle effect) are gorgeous and I love what the room will look like when we're done for real.

4) We've ordered some gorgeous wall flats for the dining room from inhabit so we don't have to scrape and patch and paint one whole wall in there.

5) We'll have a dishwasher tomorrow.

6) The chicken coop arrives on tuesday.

7) We found the perfect sleeper couch for a very popular price, which should arrive in a little less than a month. More on that later.

We're breaking even, I suppose. Doesn't quite feel that way, though. I'm really looking forward to the semester being over so I can devote all my time and attention to getting the house squared away. Living in a construction zone makes me a little crabby.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wall Drama

After tearing down all the panelling in the living room, we got many more fun surprises. Naturally, the adhesive they used was impossible to get off. And naturally, in addition to the glue and finishing nails, the previous owners also used what appear to be roofing nails to attach the paneling to the studs. One can only guess their logic, but it seems that in the event that a tornado destroyed the home, they wanted to be sure that paneling stayed in place.

After days of trying to scrape the adhesive off with a putty knife, I had a small nervous breakdown and insisted we try something else. Alex dutifully drove me to the home depot. Again. And we purchased a heat gun for 29.99$ Melting the adhesive off worked quite well. Still not fast, and probably pretty toxic, but the alternative was committing me to the nuthouse or putting the paneling back up.

They also did some cool things like rip enormous holes in the walls and then patch them with drywall. Drywall, I might add, that they decided to install with same weird nails instead of drywall screws. And just to make things spicy, they installed it backwards, so the finished side was laying against the wall. They also chose drywall that was too thin, so it didn't meet up with the existent plaster at the seams. I suppose this didn't matter at the time, since they were planning on paneling over it, but it matters now.

I think the best part of removing the paneling has been the discovery of some ancient cave art, recreated by the previous owners on the plaster walls. They are certainly hard to decipher. I've consulted a local anthropologist and this petroglyph appears to symbolize DIY prowess.

After all my complaining, though, just look at how gorgeous this wall is! Hole-free and ready for a final run with the sander and on to paint! The adhesive leaves little trails where it once was, like a slug.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm torturing Alex

Why, you ask?

Is it because I'm forcing him to renovate a house with me for the next trillion years? I am, but that's fun for him, not torture (yet.) Is it because I keep saying stuff like, "you're really cute, but you're not as cute as the baby chicks?" Again, I'm doing a lot of that, but I don't think he's taking me seriously.

No, I'm torturing him because I insist on keeping the house insanely cold. All winter the thermostat at the old apartment was on 60. MAYBE 62 if it was snowpocalypse outside and we'd be home all day. At the new house, however, I'm insisting on keeping it at 52. Last night the furnace switched on, meaning it was colder than 51 degrees inside the house. It's a compulsion! I can't help it! I'm already furious that keeping the pilot light on wastes so much natural gas; I can't actually USE the gas on top of that!

The house gets cross breezes and has ceiling fans in most rooms, meaning the poor man will also probably never feel the cool breeze of the central air this summer either.

Weekend Progress

Inside the house:

Curiosity got the best of us and we began ripping down the trim and panelling in the living room. We're delighted to find that there are actual plaster walls underneath and not just cinder block or frame (though given the home's age that wouldn't make a lot of sense.) We are a little dismayed at what bad shape they're in. Do stud finders not work on plaster walls? Because someone dug a dozen holes in this section alone trying to find them.

I also found a vintage dining room table and five chairs for an excellent price. They fit the room perfectly and the couple who runs the furniture store delivers for 25$! Yes, we could have hauled it into the truck ourselves, and up the trillion stairs, but it was great to have someone else lift heavy stuff for once.

Isn't the detailing on the chairs so fun?

Outside progress:

I revised my initial planting plan a bit since we only had one bed in the ground and filled with soil. We keep a binder with all the home stuff like beer recipes we like, cheese successes, garden plans, and all the receipts for the house projects.

The peonies are looking excellent! I wonder what colors they'll be. Had I known the house came with peonies, I'd probably have bought it sooner.

There is ONE BERRY on a few of the strawberry plants, which is pretty thrilling.

AND: the first raised bed is in the ground, level-ish, and planted with the cold hearty veggies like spinach, peas, and root vegetables. We had a nice sprinkle last night; now all we need is good sun for the next few days and magic should happen.

Progress not pictured: we framed up the other raised bed, I bought paint for the living room and kitchen, Alex fixed the back screen door, and I dug a few trenches for Asparagus. I thought about planting them, but the soil temperature should really be a bit higher than it is right now. We're still digging out from under the pile of dirty laundry we took with us from the old house (our washer and dryer at the apartment were broken and expensive.) Somehow, though, the laundry machine pictures didn't turn out as gripping as I thought they'd be...