9.11.16 – A typical, uneventful Sunday

As a working mother to a busy and demanding 7 month old, it’s often a toss up whether weekends become a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of the work week, or a stressful scramble to get an endless list of things done around the house, oftentimes while keeping up with social engagements.  Despite the fact that we had no plans, this weekend had turned into the latter.  Yesterday was a whirlwind of cranky baby, food prep and projects around the house.  I went to bed tired and expecting to continue the string of hellish nights we’ve been having due to teething- the screaming fest that had gone down at 8:30 pm made it seem all that much more likely.  But, to my surprise, he only woke up once to nurse and went right back down until 6:20 (in our house, that’s a good night).  All in all, Sunday was looking up.

A nice breeze complemented the break in humidity and lower temperatures that we desperately needed after a sweltering and miserable early September.  Today, for all intents and purposes, was an absolutely perfect and ordinary Sunday.  We took the baby to his first swimming class.  Mike mowed the lawn. I made a chicken in the crock pot, homemade broth for soups and baby food, and a few purees for the baby.  I folded laundry.  I went for a run- much needed, considering I am signed up for a half marathon in just over a month and I haven’t ran since Monday.  Mike rigged up a TV on the back porch and we enjoyed the first Giants game of the season as well as the beautiful weather.  Lovely. Uneventful. Typical.

But this date.  This date makes it so this typical, beautiful September Sunday is anything but.  September 11, 2016… 15 years since the terror attack that changed everything.  I was a freshman in high school when it happened and my emotional relationship with 9/11 continues to evolve today.  Maybe it was the fact that I was essentially still a child and didn’t have the mental bandwidth to fully process the gravity and horror of what happened- and, that’s probably for the best.  It wasn’t until 9/11/06, as I was watching the memorial program on TV, and I saw the name of a friend’s father come across the screen as it was read aloud by the presenter.  I had met this person in college and there were context clues that made me realize that the name on the screen belonged to her father- previously, I had had no idea that her father had been one of the many innocents who lost their lives on that horrible, fateful day.  I’m not sure why exactly this particular fact finally made things click, but I’m pretty sure I cried harder that day, for hours, than I ever had before.   It took 5 years and this hard, home-hitting truth and it seemed I finally was able to feel and process and acknowledge everything that I had previously been unable to.

Several years after that, I think it was in the spring of 2012, I had the privilege of visiting the in-progress memorial with family.  We toured the grounds and it was overwhelming to say the least.  As we paid our respects at the memorial, I poured over all of the names listed.  All of these people went to work that day without any clue that they were never returning home to their families.  There were two people who stuck out to me- two women whose names had “and her unborn child” added to them.  These women were at a time in their lives that was supposed to be filled with hopes, and dreams, and possibilities.  A time that my sister was in the midst of, as she had welcomed her first child that fall.  A time that I hoped was on the horizon for me.  At least two pregnant women left in the morning that day and never returned to their husbands, left to grieve their wives and the children they would never get to meet.  I wondered how many children were left without mothers or fathers…  how many spouses were waiting, or parents, or even friends.  These were all things that I had obviously thought about on some level before, but to see those words inscribed- “and her unborn child”- truly moved me.

It’s now been 15 full years since those horrible, Godless terrorists attacked us.  I was a child, now I’m a wife and a mother.  I go to work every day to support those who protect us from those who seek to threaten our way of life.  I hope and pray for a lifetime free of tragedy for my son, but I would be naive to think it’s even a remote possibility.  We have been at war for just over half of my life.  We have unrest within our own nation beyond anything I’ve seen before in my lifetime.  It’s hard to feel hopeful sometimes (let’s not get started on this upcoming election).  All of this, juxtaposed to the fact that life has gone on. I find it difficult to process. My sister is due any day now with her third child, and she had mentioned at one point that she hoped he wouldn’t be born on 9/11, but then pointed out that “9/11 is basically going to be just another day for our kids,” and she is right.  I’m not sure how to feel about that.   A part of me feels like it means that evil did not win.  I hope that’s all it means.

As the anniversary approached, I wasn’t sure how to acknowledge it.  Typically I watch the memorials and say some prayers and make a promise to myself to not forget.  I also often post a quote- “Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew,” spoken by President George W. Bush on 12/11/01.  Still love these words- specifically, the parts about the self-sacrifice and the love that was so abundant in the US post the attack.  If only there were a way to inspire that sort of unity, selflessness and service in the absence of absolute catastrophe. Perhaps, we need to start with ourselves.  Filling our own lives with presence and unconditional love and living in the moment and doing for others.

So today, on this typical, uneventful Sunday, I commemorated 9/11 by being present.  I drank in my son’s smiles and cuddles.  I laughed with my husband.  I took a few moments to let myself cry.  I didn’t stress about the work week, or that the kitchen is always a mess, or that I haven’t slept longer than 5 hours since 2015.  I promised myself that I will not forget what’s important.  I remembered that life is beautiful. That the amount that I have to be thankful for is truly astounding.  That 15 years ago people spent their typical, uneventful Sunday’s doing typical, uneventful Sunday things for the very last time.  I will never forget.

 

Juggling Projects and Parenthood

It’s coveted.  It’s elusive.  It’s an overused buzzword that is becoming obnoxious.  Balance.   The internet is full of articles discussing how to achieve (or how difficult it is to achieve) some semblance of balance if you’re a working professional.  Oftentimes the context is specific to working parents and even more often, working mothers.  Truth be told, even before parenthood, we struggled at times to maintain a work/life balance.   We both have several personal interests and responsibilities outside of work;  fur children, exercise, volunteer work, travel, good tv, bad tv, family, friends and, of course, projects around our home.  Add a tiny human to the mix and throw in some prolonged sleep deprivation, and there are weeks where we are barely keeping our heads above water just doing the bare minimum.  Sometimes all we can do is get through the work day, feed ourselves and our dogs, and care for and enjoy as much time as possible with our little one.  That is something that I will NOT compromise on.

Every day we make choices to prioritize what little discretionary time we have.  Silly example:  my hair air dries and gets shoved into a messy bun every day at work.  Why?  Because I could spend 10 minutes drying my hair, maybe even throw on a little makeup-  or I could spend those 10 minutes playing and giggling with the little guy.  Easy choice.   However, we both feel that it’s important to maintain an identity outside of being Shane’s Mom and Dad – it is admittedly MUCH easier for my husband to do this than it is for me.  I think it’s partially self-inflicted and partially just comes with the territory of being a mama.  I will say, that I started writing this on Friday evening after a long week and my workweek stress level didn’t really seem to taper off at all- until Sunday morning.  We were up early (what else is new) and I decided that instead of just heading to the food store, I would go to 8:30 am spin class and THEN go to the food store.  I even treated myself to a smoothie while food shopping.  I came home feeling legitimately rejuvenated and so much more like myself- and actually got a whole bunch of laundry and cleaning done (it didn’t hurt that the baby took a 3 hour nap!)- simply because I got to spend an hour getting my endorphins flowing and a little time to do something just for me.  It makes me feel guilty to even admit it, especially because I am working all week now and I try to maximize all of my time with our little man, but it’s amazing how much more present I am as a mother when I have the opportunity to do something for myself!  These people who tout the merits of self-care might actually be onto something.

But I digress from the main intent of this post, which is how it’s damn near impossible to continue to work on large projects around the home once you have a child.  Considering the fact that we were in the middle of our large flooring project when we welcomed Shane into the world, we didn’t have much of a choice other than to figure out how to complete loud, messy and time consuming home improvement projects with a tiny infant blob to tend to.  It hasn’t been easy, but in the last 6 months Mike managed to complete the flooring downstairs and is THISCLOSE to finishing the staircase!  A strategically planned weekend where the baby and I headed out to visit family, a few Saturday day-long visits with friends or family, and a few days where I went to the office and took the little guy to day care while Mike stayed home and worked have gotten us this far.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Completed flooring tasks post-parenthood:

  1. Demo and install floors downstairs
  2. Demo/prep stairs for flooring
  3. Order more flooring because we ran short for our downstairs bedroom and the stairs (lol)
  4. Wait for additional flooring to arrive, a week late, and drive to Cranbury to pick it up
  5. Install flooring in remaining area of first floor bedroom
  6. Order new newel post and balusters for railing update

In progress or to be completed:

  1. Lay flooring on steps (92% complete)
  2. Install newel post
  3. Install balusters and railing, stain everything
  4. Purchase and install runner for stairs (which I have been waiting to do since we moved in almost 3 years ago!!!!! long time coming!)  And…believe it or not- I may be taking the lead on this one 🙂

I was going to give a sneak peak of what we have planned for the railing but decided just to wait until it’s all finished!  I will give an in progress shot of my hard working hubby though!!!  Weekend nights look so much different now, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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home stretch!

Once this is FINALLY all done, we may ACTUALLY be taking a break from major projects for awhile!  Because we may or may not be planning for a major renovation/expansion of our 2nd floor and a kitchen update in the *hopefully* next summer timeframe.  No, we’re not crazy at all. I swear.  Maybe.

Until then we will be enjoying planning and brainstorming. (I’ve been going a little nutty on my pinterest boards!  https://www.pinterest.com/kerripolidore/addition/ https://www.pinterest.com/kerripolidore/kitchen-update/)

And of course- most of all- we are looking forward to enjoying our little man with fewer distractions!!! I’m already starting to plan all of the details for his first birthday… 6 months in advance!  (P.s. how is it possible that I have a 6 month old?!  I swear he was 6 weeks a minute ago).  I guess it’s just the nature of this season of life!  I’m sure our “new normal” will be ever-evolving- right now it’s hectic, stressful at times (to say the least), and tiring- but we’re never bored and our hearts are full.  Balance is overrated anyway, right?

Flooring Update

Before we had the baby, I had laid out our decision making process & plans for installing new hardwood floors.  It’s been just over 5 months since my last update (https://loveandelbowgrease.com/2016/01/10/new-flooring-project-commence/)  and I can happily say we have new floors!  The upstairs flooring was completed (“Phase 1” as Mike would call it) ~ January 24th, so just in the nick of time (baby was born on the 31st)!  Mike ripped the flooring up in what is now our bedroom first and we hit a snafu- getting the debris out of the house.  It’s an old house, with small doorways and hallways and a deceivingly long distance to maneuver through to get big piles of splintery wood outside.  We quickly decided the easiest and quickest way was out the window into the backyard, so the two of us had a nice little assembly line going (even with me being 9 months prego!) and actually got through the massive piles quite quickly.

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the dogs had a field day with their new toy pile

 

After demo, there was a lot of shop-vacuuming to be done to prep the subfloors so he could make the necessary repairs and lay the felt paper.  First, he had to replace one board that had been displaced & broken when we installed a new beam in the ceiling below.  He also nailed the subfloor boards down in additional places in an attempt to make the floors less creaky.  (spoiler alert- a few months later I can assure you it did not work).

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on our way to restoring flat floors!

 

As I was typing this post, I asked him what the felt paper does, to which he responded with a blank stare followed by a pensive, “I don’t know,” and a minute later assured me that it’s to provide a vapor barrier.  A quick google search brought me to a forum (http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/community/forum/green-products-and-materials/15913/were-getting-hardwood-floors-installed-they-want-) where I found the following information:

“Neither 15# felt nor red rosin paper are vapor barriers. Their purpose is NOT to keep subfloor moisture from the flooring. The purpose of these membranes is to control dust penetration (more important when subfloors were boards rather than plywood), to create a slip plane to allow for differential expansion, and to cushion the interface to minimize squeaks. A membrane should always be installed between subflooring and a nail-down wooden finish floor.”

Thanks for the information, Riversong from the greenbuildingadvisor.com forums!

 

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Taking a sneak peak- floors laid out over 15# felt paper

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another “in-progress” view

 

Once the prep work was done, he was able to spend a few weeknights laying the floors in about half of the one bedroom.  That weekend he had the help of our dear friend Matt, and  they made quick work of getting the floors laid and the other room demoed.  They had some hiccups laying the floor in the hallway and lining it up between the rooms, but overall they made a quick and easy job of it.

Main takeaways:

  1. Doorways/closets are difficult.  Mike says that laying the floor was super quick outside of these areas.
  2. Keeping things in line through doorways/hallways and into other rooms is difficult.  They were able to come up with some work arounds and line everything up nicely, but it was touch & go for a few hours trying to merge the hallway and the 2nd bedroom.
  3. It pays to have helpful, intelligent and overall amazing friends.  This we seem to learn over and over again.  Thanks, Matt!!!
  4. If you’re not replacing the sub floor, make sure you’re REALLY thorough in nailing down the existing surface.  Unless you want to be quietly making your way out of your itty bitty baby’s room and trying to avoid 75% of the floorboards because they creak.

Phase 2 (the first floor) was completed when I got the little guy out of the house for a long weekend to visit my family.  I use the term “completed” loosely- there is a section of our first floor bedroom/office that is still not done, as well as our entire staircase, because DIY = steep learning curve = not ordering enough materials.  I’ll get into that eventually in a future “blooper reel” post.  Mike is finally (2+ months later) picking up the supplementary flooring this week and will hopefully be able to finish up by the end of the month.  Until then, you can look at this picture and pretend like you don’t know that the whole house isn’t quite done.

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ta-da!!!

Will post an update when the staircase is complete! We are also updating the railing and balusters to be a little more our style, which I’m super excited for.  There’s always something on the to-do list here 🙂

 

 

it’s been awhile…

Since my last post, a lot of things have changed in our household! We have new hardwood floors, finally got a Roomba (with two extremely hairy dogs, it was about darn time!), Mike screened in the porch in the back, two bird families moved into our portico and … oh yeah, we had a baby!  A boy, named Shane, who is the most perfectly adorable being I have ever laid eyes upon.  Parenthood has been a blur of sleepless nights, doctors appointments, and me having total breakdowns over everything.  Example:  one day upon careful examination of his legs I was horrified to notice we was being bow-legged.  I’m talking tears, self-loathing, wondering if it was all the corn muffins I ate.  Or was it the prenatal yoga?  Did I bend him permanently? And then I googled it and found out that all babies are bow-legged.  Phew.  That was a close one.

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be still my heart…2 weeks new

 

In all seriousness, our little guy is my perfect angel baby, but there were some complications surrounding the end of my pregnancy, his delivery, and his health initially due to him being intolerant to multiple food proteins through my breast milk.  Maybe I will write about it someday but for now, despite the fact that everything is under control and he is a healthy little bub, I will just use that as my excuse for being the neurotic nutcase of a mama I never fancied I would be.

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and in the blink of an eye, he is 4.5 months old… (!!!).  I think I’ll call this picture…”the object of my neuroticism”

 

 

Time flies when you’re having fun and our baby boy is now 4.5 months old (20 weeks tomorrow, actually!).  I just closed out my first full week back to work and little man had his first week at day care (he started on Tuesday).  Talk about stressful- leaving your little mush ball in the care of, for all intents and purposes, complete strangers.  Licensed and accredited and legitimate strangers, but strangers nonetheless.  We had planned to enroll him at a childcare center basically halfway between our house and the office, but when we were offered a spot at the child development center at work, we decided that that would be the best option.  We know many people who have had their children through the program, and all gave really positive feedback.  It’s literally across the street from my office, so I can visit with and nurse him at lunch!  We did have to lose out on some really awesome perks like an app where I would get live updates on him during the day, the ability to log online and watch the in room cameras throughout the day and more flexibility regarding his diet.  The jury is still out on whether we made the right choice.

I had been working part time for 6 weeks prior, going into the office on Tuesdays and Thursday with my Mother-In-Law watching him, and working from home on Fridays.  It was difficult managing that schedule and flipping back and forth between work-mode and Mommy-mode (Mommy-mode is obviously steady state at this point, but it was hard being disconnected from work every other day).  I have found it much easier to get things accomplished with a little more consistency in my schedule, but I would still classify my word of the week as “guilt”.  I know it will take time to adjust, but there are a few things that I’m really not happy about.  First of all, I feel like every time I drop him off or pick him up, it is straight into a bouncy seat he goes or straight out of the bouncy seat he comes.  I recognize that he is at a tough age for his caregivers, and obviously he can’t be held or the center of attention all day- but the keyword in “Child Development Center” would be DEVELOPMENT, no?  Shouldn’t he be doing tummy time?  Playing with toys?  The other big issue- sleeping and eating.  I understand that his naps will likely be short and crappy until he adjusts to the new environment- but twice this week I showed up around lunchtime and my poor 4.5 month old baby had only slept 15 minutes in a total of 5 hours of being awake.  For any non-parents reading this- that is NO BUENO.  This may go back to me being a neurotic mother, but I try to follow wake times very closely.  A 4 month old should be awake for 75-105 minutes at a time:  otherwise you run the risk of them being put down over or under tired.  Obviously there is a little flexibility there, but I would think this would be the type of thing an experienced caregiver in an infant room would know.  However, it seems like the go to reaction to any type of fussing is to stick a bottle in his mouth.  In general he eats every 3 hours (sometimes 2.5). On Friday, even though I communicated that he had woken up at 6:40 and taken a full feeding, when I picked him up at 11:30, he was being fed a bottle (2nd of the day!) and this is how the day had gone:  Took 3 oz of a 4.5 oz bottle at 8:50; Napped from 9:10-9:25

His teacher said that he was fussing at 8:45 so they fed him.  Um, hello.  He was not hungry (as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t finish his bottle.)  He was tired.  You know, because he is a 4.5 month old baby who had been awake for over 2 hours.  So, not only were my baby’s needs not met, BUT they also wasted 1.5 oz of my breastmilk.  (Any of you breastfeeding mamas out there know that even a small amount of wasted breastmilk is too much!!!)

I got some really good suggestions for how to handle the situation in one of the Facebook mommy groups I’m in (you know you’re old when…), so I feel a little more prepared going into next week.  I know we aren’t the first family to go through this, nor will we be the last, but that doesn’t change how much it sucks.  My only comfort is knowing that I get to see his drooly, smushy little face at lunchtime, and his smiles and giggles make me feel more confident that he is not miserable and knows he is secure and loved.   I’m prepared on Monday to provide them with more information on his schedule and needs.  I did provide a write-up that indicated his general feeding schedule and that he goes to sleep an hour and 45 minutes after his last nap, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt (knowing they have several other children in their care so getting used to a new little one is not going to be an immediate adjustment), and lay it out for them more clearly and directly.  I also plan to check in more frequently and see if the situation improves. If not, I’ll quit my job.  (Kidding, Mike!  Maybe…)   But, in all seriousness, we may be revisiting our childcare situation shortly.  The idea of a nanny is sounding more and more appealing (just not to our wallets).

I enjoy working, and I believe there are benefits to me going back to work:  setting a good example for my son, continuing to grow my career and providing him opportunities to become more independent and socialize.  Of course, it’s also much more feasible to raise a family on two incomes than one.  Who am I kidding- if we won the Powerball I would quit in an instant and find other ways to utilize my skillset/have adult time- and also spend a boatload of time snuggling my little guy.  For now,  I’m going to keep telling myself that millions of other new parents have gone through this and their children have turned out perfectly fine- but continue trying to advocate for my son to ensure that he is in a healthy, nurturing environment.

This post is obviously completely off scope in terms of the original intent of this blog but our little guy is the newest and most important focus of our love and elbow grease. If and when I find the time, trials, tribulations and adventures of new parenthood will likely be a fairly regular topic that I write about.  Writing about this stuff is therapeutic/a stress reliever for me, and who knows- if someone else in a similar situation happens to read it, they may find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone in these struggles!

Becoming a mama has simultaneously been the hardest and best thing I’ve ever experienced.  I guess I still need some time to adjust to having my heart and soul out in the world away from me- if it’s really possible to ever fully adjust to that!  I suppose it gets easier.  Or so I’ve heard.  Not sure I buy it.  Time will tell 🙂

New Flooring Project Commence

In my last post I detailed the difficulties we were having making a decision on our flooring, and how we are very limited on time with Baby I’s arrival expected in less than 4 weeks at this point.  Since that time, after carefully considering our options, we decided to rip up our old flooring and replace with new solid hardwood.  With the quality of materials and warranties available now, and Mike’s ability to DIY (with help), it just seemed to make the most sense moving forward.

Mike had decided quite quickly that hickory would be a great material for us to use from both a form, function and financial standpoint (maybe I’ll call those “The 3 F’s of Home Improvement”!)- it’s higher on the Janka scale than Oak, which means its harder/more resistant to wear and tear.  (check out this link if you’re interested in the Janka scale:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janka_hardness_test, thanks Wikipedia!).  We have two very exuberant fur kids and we are anticipating even more spills, drops and other accidents with the upcoming addition of our non-furry little one, so we needed something durable.  (At least, I hope he or she isn’t furry.  Fingers crossed for the appropriate level of furriness. But I digress.)

When selecting new wood floors, there are a TON of options.  It helped going in with an overall budget in mind and a few priorities in terms of features, but it still was really overwhelming trying to narrow down.  My being under the weather complicated things further, but luckily Mike was able to take the lead after we agreed upon a few things.

1)  Solid Wood vs. Engineered- after talking to a sales guy at a flooring showroom to weigh our options, and also going with our gut, we agreed that solid hardwood was the way for us to go.  Engineered wood is great, but we would have had to lay new subfloors.  Plus, we don’t live in a particularly wet area, so it wasn’t necessary for us.  We like the longevity of solid wood/the ability for us or a future owner of our home to refinish if the need or desire arises.

2) Plank Size- We weren’t going to splurge for super wide planks.  While we LOVE the look, we hated the price of going to a 4 or 5 inch wide plank, especially since we wanted to stay with solid wood instead of engineered.  Plus, after some research, we learned that less wide planks offer a slight benefit for structural integrity/durability, and you’re also less likely to have to toss out boards because of bowing etc during the install.  This appealed to our sensibilities/training as engineers.  Of course, if I’m being honest, this decision was 97.8% based on the price tag.

3)  Type of Wood – Mike basically read up on different types for two days straight so when he said we should go with hickory, I didn’t question it.  Easy-peasy.

Other things that weren’t as easy:

1) Finish Color- we wanted to do something timeless but also wanted something that would be different than what we had before/would have more of an impact.  Our style overall is pretty traditional, so we knew we didn’t want to stray too far from that (or our house’s 1948 cape cod roots). I was pushing to go for something really dark, but in the end, Mike convinced me otherwise.  Now that we have some flooring laid out upstairs, I’m super happy how it worked out.

2) Other finish details- who knew there were so many options???  Go to a flooring showroom and it will truly blow your mind.  Many of the floors that look super sharp require hand finished detailing from skilled workers- and unsurprisingly, coming at a premium on the price tag.

We were originally zeroing in on a flooring manufactured by Shaw- “Lucky Day”, in the finish “Horseshoe”.  (https://shawfloors.com/flooring/hardwood/details/lucky-day-3-25-sw478/horseshoe)

 

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Smooth Finish Hickory Flooring- Shaw “Lucky Day”

Based on the target price we were looking in at the showroom, factoring a discount for ordering more than 700 square feet,  (somewhere around $6/square foot), this material was a great option for us.

Ever the bargain hunter, Mike went to work looking at online suppliers, and was able to find it for slightly cheaper on http://www.flooringmarket.com.  He started looking at other options on that site just for comparison purposes, and ended up finding a different hickory floor by Shaw, called “Pioneer Road”, that caught his eye (https://shawfloors.com/flooring/hardwood/details/pioneer-road-sw508/trail).  It was slightly more expensive because of it’s hand-scraped finish (see not-so-easy decisions #2, above).

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Hand-Scraped Finish Hickory Flooring by Shaw- in “Ridge”

However, playing around in the online shopping cart he actually realized that while the material itself was more expensive, our costs would actually be lower because shipping was cheaper for this flooring vs. the Lucky Day. We assume it must be kept at a warehouse that is closer to us.  He went to go check it out in person at a showroom (while I slept on the couch in a sinus migraine induced stupor), and brought home pictures to confirm that we preferred the detail of the hand-scraped finish.  It also lends itself more to our lifestyle, with the pups and future toddling kiddo-  it has a bit of a “pre-worn” look so that in the event that the material does give way to some wear and tear, which it inevitably will, it won’t stick out like a sore thumb.

I was really pushing for the finish “Ridge” featured in the picture above, but Mike kept insisting it was too dark and “Trail” would be the better choice.  After re-examining his in person pictures and also finding this gem on Houzz (LOVE that site, BTW), I decided to trust his judgement.

He placed the order on New Year’s Eve, and it shipped from the warehouse that following Tuesday or Wednesday, and arrived Friday afternoon (8 days later, not too shabby considering the warehouse was closed for the holiday) via FedEx Freight.

What an experience getting the material off the truck and into the house.  I watched from the window with bated breath as the delivery driver struggled to maneuver almost 2 tons of floors onto the lift-gate thingy on the back of his truck, convinced he was going to fall off and perish under said 2 tons of flooring.  Minutes later, the driver is safe, but I’m watching my husband throw himself under said 2 tons of flooring as it starts falling off the truck (all the while I’m screaming “OH MY GOD!!!! OH MY GOD!!!!”).  Luckily the driver got the platform to lower while this was happening and the physics of it all somehow worked in a way that did NOT result in Mike smushed under a pile of flooring materials at the base of our driveway.

Off the FedEx man went, and we were left with 39 100-lb boxes to move to various locations in our house.  At 36 weeks pregnant, I was strictly forbidden from trying to help, and if we’re being honest I wouldn’t have been much help more than likely anyway (probably would have helped carry in a few boxes and then given up- those boxes were HEAVY!).  Mike, true to form, insisted he was going to do it all himself.  He brought 4 boxes in, was hyperventilating, and I sent a text to 4 of his friends and got 3 positive responses of people being able to come help at some point that evening.  Our dear friend Steve won the coveted spot, as he was available earliest.  Less than an hour later the poor guy showed up in work clothes and they were able to get ALL of the boxes inside, including 12 maneuvered upstairs through our teeny tiny stairwell and hallway.  Props to Steve (and our other friends) for being the best ever.  I was too busy executing my all important job of opening and shutting the door, so I only got a picture at the tail end.

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“We get by with a little help from our friends.” Or a lot of help. A whole lot.

Now, we have to give the boards some time to acclimate to the temperature and humidity inside the house.  The floors have been ripped up and the sub floor has been prepped in our bedroom, and installation will start this Friday.  Sneak peak of some of the flooring laid out:

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I really should take better pictures

Here’s hoping Baby Ivey keeps cooking for at least another 3 weeks and we can get the 2nd floor finished and the nursery set up prior to his or her arrival.  Our life may be crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Flooring Debate

So I have about a billion projects I need to go back and write up, including a post that is about 85% finished about the work we are doing upstairs to prepare for bringing home our baby in T-minus 6 weeks (gah!), but I decided to take a minute to lay out some thoughts on the current debate we are having regarding what to do about our flooring.  We have hardwood throughout the downstairs and upstairs (except for the kitchen and bathrooms).  In the midst of some structural work we did last spring that required jacking up the ceiling in the living room, two boards in the middle of the bedroom above separated/split a bit.  That, coupled with some legacy water damage from before we lived here, other normal wear & tear that you would expect from original flooring from 1948, and the fact that we aren’t in love with the color/finish made us add refinishing & fixing the flooring in the bedrooms & hallway upstairs to the list of must-dos prior to baby arriving.

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Gap/damage from structural work below

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Legacy water damage

Fast forward to now, where we are weeks away from bringing home our little one.  We decided that sanding, staining and applying poly would be best left to the professionals so we had a few contractors in for quotes for a two-phase job, starting with the upstairs and staircase and then coming back to do the downstairs at a later date (perhaps sometime this spring or summer).  Two of four never actually provided us pricing (I guess business is booming?! Either that or people are just extremely unprofessional).  One of the two quotes we did receive was from a well-established & professional local company, was significantly higher than the other (almost double).  The rep that came to give the quote actually said that he wanted to get his foreman to the house to take a look because he wasn’t sure about the shape of the floors- specifically whether there was sufficient space left above the side fastening features (not really traditional tongue-in-groove) to really be able to sand and refinish, without having to replace a significant amount/have a lot of gaps and issues.  The other estimate came in, and the guy seemed reputable but I always get nervous going with a lower estimate and ending up paying for it down the line if issues arise.  My worries were, of course, heightened by the fact that he didn’t mention any of the concerns the other person brought up.  We already have anxiety about hiring people to come in to do work vs. rolling up our own (Mike’s) sleeves, so it wasn’t making our decision any easier.

I was talking to a few coworkers about the whole ordeal, and one woman I work with suggested that if the floors weren’t historical/I wasn’t attached to them, it might make sense to replace them instead of refinishing them.  I thought about it for a bit and realized it might make sense- especially since that is something Mike could do himself.  He had already helped friends of ours lay hardwood in their townhome when they were getting ready to sell, so diverting the full refinishing budget of labor & materials to buying new, high-quality flooring might actual give us a better bang for our buck (factoring in yet more sweat equity on the part of my dear, dear husband).

I was nervous about broaching the topic with him since he is still putting the finishing touches on several other massive projects he has worked in the past 7 months or so, but I should have known not to be.  Leave it to Mike to start getting antsy after a month or so away from a lumber supply or wholesale showroom.   He immediately spent an entire day researching and dragged me to a flooring showroom that night (Tuesday), to take a look at hickory samples (the material he decided would be the right balance of quality within our budget).

We got quotes from the showroom and from a few online suppliers, and Mike was bugging me to go look at more samples and make a decision so he could order and get to work.  It was now Wednesday.  I woke up with a nasty head cold, my parents were arriving that afternoon, I had to get my Christmas baking done.  Also, I was (and still am)~8 months prego.  I asked for a reprieve to get through Christmas before we had to make any decisions.  Mike begrudgingly relented (although it didn’t stop him from a few more trips to look at samples on his own).

After a few extra days to think about it and plan, we still haven’t come to a decision.  The major complicating factor that has arisen is the fact that floors in the other bedroom upstairs appear to be basically new.  They are 2.25″ oak, like the rest of the house, but they are in noticeably better shape.

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Transition from old to new flooring in the bedroom- and a puppy head for good measure

I don’t think it would be wise to completely waste perfectly good floors, but it’s also very important that there be continuity throughout the house, so I suggested we install oak floors and then sand & refinish the room above at some point to match.  Mike doesn’t want to spend all the time, effort and money and not change/upgrade the look at all, which I understand.  However, I think for resale (and our sanity), it would make sense to have more continuity throughout.  I’ve even started wavering back to the repair & refinish route, instead of replacing.  I’ve spent a lot of time googling and haven’t had much luck, but based on the few forum topics I’ve stumbled upon, it seems most people tend to agree with me.

So here is where we are at with our options:

  1.  Repair & refinish (~3500-6000, depending on contractor)
  2. Replace everything except the bedroom where the floors appear to be basically new & have one room mismatched (~5000 + Mike’s time & effort, not including the stairs)
  3. Replace everything and have continuity throughout (~6000 + Mike’s time & effort, not including the stairs)
  4. Replace everything except the good bedroom with Oak & have continuity throughout (haven’t gotten any quotes yet but likely would be on the order of #2, possibly slightly less expensive)
  5. Abandon ship, get big area rugs, and spend our time getting everything set up for baby’s impending arrival.  (floors will likely never get done until we up and move out of this house)

At this point, to channel my inner basic b*tch, I literally can’t even.  This homeownership stuff can be a real drag sometimes.   The Systems Engineer in me can do a quick decision matrix in my head and tell you that option #4 is likely the most sensible one to go with, but the wife in me can do similar calculations and conclude that there is no way I’m getting my husband on board with that one.

So, in conclusion, from Love & Elbow Grease –  HELP!!!

Operation Curb Appeal Part Two- So long, shanty awning

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, we had a particularly hellish house hunt (think 9 months, 5 offers, and nothing but bidding wars…).  We ended up with our cute little house in a great neighborhood and an AWESOME yard, and while it was definitely “move-in-ready” it also provided us PLENTY of opportunities to freshen things up a bit.  Case-in-point was what we dubbed as the “Shanty Awning”.   I used to describe our house to people by saying “It’s the little blue one on the road to the park, with the ugly brown shutters and the awning that looks like someone floated to the U.S. from Cuba on it”.  People would laugh, but then once they saw it, would wholeheartedly agree.  Here it is, in all its glory:

That’s my wonderful hubby diligently working on some landscaping in the spring, since there were literally NO plants in the front (see Operation Curb Appeal- Part One).   Maybe the previous owners thought shrubbery would take away from the magnificence of the shanty awning?  I guess we’ll never know- but I digress.  It’s obviously ugly.  We hated it from day one.  However, we really didn’t want to take it down without replacing it because it WAS pretty clutch having cover when it was raining out (for both us and the bird family that was living in it), and hiring someone to build a new portico would have been really pricey.   Thanks to the confidence instilled in DH by his friend Joe, an architect, who told him what fasteners we would need and said “you can totally build that yourself”, we (he) took on our (his) biggest project yet!

Being the enginerds that we are, we started with a plan.  Mike downloaded SketchUp, a free google program for engineering models/drawings, and drew up the front facade of the house.  It was a really useful but admittedly not very user friendly.  I got a little ambitious and tried to draw up our full floor plan in a separate file and I couldn’t figure it out, and I do have experience with engineering graphics software (it was 9 years ago, but still).  However, my wonderfully smart and hard-working hubby put in the time to figure it out.   After playing around with dimensions and materials, we settled on the general style/form factor below.  Don’t mind our improperly sized door and light fixture screen shot- we’re not professionals here.

Mike took the plans, based on the SketchUp drawing and general information on the up-to-code fasteners and supports he would be using, to the building inspector to get a permit.  The town engineer had a few suggestions/changes and gave us the go-ahead.

Then came the fun part- demo.  While on all the shows on HGTV, demo day IS the fun day- but I use that term VERY sarcastically. We really should have had a camera crew on site, because true hilarity ensued and nobody got to witness it.  We managed to disassemble the awning (I tend to use the term “we” loosely but I did help!!) to the point where it was no longer really attached to the house, and was supported by a few 2x4s perched underneath coming up at an angle- image below.

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No birds were harmed during the demolition of this structure

We had a fool proof plan.  Mike was going to stand under what was left of the awning and support it with his man-muscles and brute strength, while I removed the wood supports and got out of the way so he could toss the metal carnage onto the lawn.

However, as soon as I removed one 2×4, the shift in weight caused the other one to fall onto the ground at the foot of the stairs.  I froze, as Mike stood literally holding a gigantic, heavy mangle of metal parts over his head.  This was not part of the plan!  What do I do?  Do I go pick it up? I didn’t have to think on it too long before a bellowing “MOVE!” came out of my hulk-husband’s mouth, which I promptly did, and he walked down the steps, tossed the awning onto the lawn, turned to me in disbelief and asked me if I was trying to kill him.  We still laugh every time we think about it.

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There’s a hole in my roof

Then, he set to work on building.  The picture above shows initial progress of removing some of the roof for the interface of the new structure.  The hole is so the beam at the top of the portico could tie into a beam in the house.  One of our neighbors joked that our house may blow away in a storm but that portico will stay standing, and he is probably right!  Honestly, Mike completed this project so long ago that I know I’m missing a bunch of details and pictures. So, to skip over the rest of the details that are boring and/or I forgot, here are two big lessons we learned throughout this project (after the demo day debacle):

  1. Know your abilities:  Mike and I thought that the two of us, equipped with just the ladder pictured above and a metal folding chair, would be able to get the top beam into place.  The beam had to have weighed over 100 lbs, mind you.  It was clear basically immediately that I was an insufficient helper and that we were ill-equipped to get the task done, but Mike didn’t give up until I literally yelled “I refuse to work in these conditions!” and went inside.  I think it was when he suggested I use another piece of wood to support the beam while he maneuvered it into place, which brought immediate images into my head of  a 100+ lb beam cracking my head open as it inevitably fell off the piece of wood I was attempting to support it with.  Our friend Matt came over later that weekend with an a-frame ladder, additional man-muscles, and fewer inhibitions and the job got done.  Mike even admits that with a better suited helper and more appropriate equipment it was still tough to get done, so I consider myself vindicated.  Next time, I’m calling my union rep.
  2. Measure everything.  And then measure it again:  Prior to the columns being installed, which was one of the last things to be done, the top structure was supported by temporary supports (sistered 2x4s on each side).  When the cuts were made to install these support structures, we were very embarrassed to realize that two engineers with masters degrees in Systems Engineering made the rookie mistake of making assumptions and not documenting measurements.  Basically, the porch is graded away from the house (which makes sense for water management, duh).  However, the temporary support posts were cut under the assumption that the porch was level and their length requirement was the same as the measurement up against the house, and did not account for the porch’s slope, and were too short.  It’s amazing how such a slight gradient makes such a big impact over the course of ~6 feet.  In hindsight, we probably could have just made another trip to Home Depot but that just felt like too much to deal with at the moment, and instead we spent 2 hours arguing and coming up with a work-around with the scrap wood we did have on hand.

I’m sure there were a million other things that we learned along the way, but those seem to be the most memorable.  It’s a year later and there are still some finishing touches left lingering (railings, some trim pieces, etc), but like many of the small details at the end of all of our projects, they’ve been de prioritized.  The “finished” product is below!  What a difference it has made for the whole look/feel of our home!

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DIY success! 

If you were worried about the displaced bird family, fear not- to our surprise, they returned and took up residence in the new structure.  I wonder if they’re impressed with their upgraded digs.  Maybe I’ll have to work on a bird house project this spring!

Summer Renovation Plans

We have had quite a whirlwind of activity this spring, and I can’t believe it’s already Memorial Day Weekend!  We have a bunch of work planned in the house this summer, some of which is already completed or in progress.  I will hopefully get around to writing detailed posts on each of these projects, but in the meantime I figured I could provide a high-level summary of what we are working on!

Beefing Up Structural Support in our Living Room Ceiling:

When we bought our house, I noticed during the inspection that there was a dip in the floor in the bedroom on the left side upstairs.  I went back down and took a look at the ceiling in the living room, which was directly below, and it was also noticeably not level.  It seemed like someone had removed a load bearing wall at some point and not resupported to account the load that the wall carried.  While we were assured it wasn’t anything to be alarmed about, we worked with our realtor and a friend of the family who is a contractor to get an estimate for the work required to rectify the issue, which would entail opening up the ceiling and sistering stronger support components to the existing structure.  We were able to negotiate a credit at closing to cover the costs.  We finally got around to getting it done ~1.5 years later.

This is actually one item we can check off our list!!  Big thanks to Dave Breuder at Breuder Home Improvements for giving us peace of mind!!!

Recessed Lighting in the Living/Dining Room:

Since we already had to open up the ceiling, we wanted to take the opportunity to install recessed lighting.  The only places in our house that currently have any overhead lighting are our kitchen, bathrooms and hallways.  Our bedrooms, living/dining space and office are so dark and it’s a major problem- to the point where we end up moving lamps from other parts of the house when we are entertaining.  Sometimes it’s the little things that you may not notice off-the-bat when you’re house hunting that will end up really driving you nuts down the line!!! Because we use the living room as a living/dining combination, we are putting a fixture over our table as well, instead of recessed lighting throughout.

This is in progress, and Mike, aka Super-Husband, has done all of the wiring and installation himself.  Jack-of-all trades much?!

Removing the Built-Ins and Adding French Doors to the Back Porch:

Again, taking advantage of the disarray that would be inevitable giving the structural work happening in our living space, we decided to bite the bullet and begin a project that we really went back and forth on.  Along the rear wall of the space, there is a door to a sun room/porch, with built-ins surrounding on either side.

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Before!

I LOVE built-in shelves for their character and function in general, especially in older homes, but our built-ins really weren’t especially nice.  Additionally, because we use the room as a dual-use space, eating up ~26 square feet of floor space with built-ins that were 24+ inches deep wasn’t optimal.  Lastly, the door that was currently there wasn’t a proper exterior door, was super drafty, and also didn’t allow for very much natural light in the space.  We really loved the idea of adding french doors for an up-scale, classic impact.  Thus, our brainstorming resulted in demolishing the built-ins and making room for 5′ of french doors.

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In-Progress (my life is a swirling vortex of entropy)

We picked up the doors yesterday and hope to get the framing done sometime in the next two weeks.  This is another area where Dave Breuder will be helping us out.  We love to DIY but when it comes to structural type stuff, we think it’s much smarter to consult a professional!

Refinishing our Floors:

We had been considering this for awhile, but removing the built-ins has given us the kick in the pants we need to bite the bullet and do it.  We needed to do it sooner than later regardless, but we definitely need to sand the area that used to be under the built ins to be level with the rest of the floors immediately.  We also have a few unfinished steps at the bottom of our stairwell and have not yet succeeded in finding a matching stain to the rest of the stairs or floors.  We are concerned with logistics of the floors, because 1.  our house is not an easy place to relocate furniture within and 2. we have active dogs that we are worried will ruin them immediately.  We are leaning toward hiring professionals for the floors because of these reasons, and also because I’ve read that even the savviest DIY-ers can have trouble when refinishing floors.

Things on our “Maybe” List:

Rebuilding the Porch and Adding a Deck:

If you ask Mike, this is on our “definitely” list, but I think we will have to see how the rest of the summer plays out.  The porch off the dining area, which we call “The Shanty Porch”, does desperately need to be repaired, and adding a deck next to it would really bring more continuity to our outdoor space and access to our kitchen. We currently have a paver patio off the kitchen and next to the porch, but the two spaces are very disjointed.

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Shanty Porch (not to be confused with Shanty Awning)

I’m still not convinced we shouldn’t add living space on to the back of the house so I’m hesitating to pull the trigger.  The plans that Mike drew up are looking pretty epic though, so maybe we should just go for it!

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Grand Plans!

Kitchen Refresh:  

My kitchen is my least favorite part of our house.  It’s small, closed off from the rest of the house, has no room for seating and consequently has become the bane of my existence.  If we were to open it up to the bedroom that’s next to it, we would be able to pull off a more open-concept kitchen/dining space.  However, bringing the house down to two bedrooms is not smart for resale value (hence my hesitation to take adding on off the table that I mentioned above.)  However, we found a designer kitchen online that served as inspiration and made us feel like we could actually make our kitchen work better without changing the footprint.

We started looking into replacement countertops, floors and backsplashes, and things were really looking up!  However, once I stopped focusing on how much I hate my countertops and the fact that there is no seating in our kitchen because solutions were on the horizon, I realized how much I truly hate my cabinets.  They are white, and at first glance, not offensive- but they are cheap, poorly laid out and now I can’t stand the thought of spending money to put beautiful countertops on top of them. So, we are putting off decisions in that area for the time being.  Basically, we need to decide how much we are willing to invest in the kitchen in it’s current footprint, because even with improvements in functionality and aesthetics, it will still be far from an ideal kitchen.

I think that’s all that we have for now.   I’ll throw in a picture of what our yard looks like currently for good measure, since Mike doesn’t want to get a dumpster until we demo the porch.

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I think I’ll call this one… “Gonna vom”

Is anyone else taking on Summertime renovations?  Am I the only one whose home is a swirling vortex of entropy?

What kind of projects are you taking on this Summer?

Have you ever had to make tough design choices?  

What are the things you didn’t think about when you were house-hunting but completely and totally drive you nuts now that you are in your home?  

Operation Curb Appeal Part One- Landscape Overhaul

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, we had a particularly hellish house hunt (think 9 months, 5 offers, and nothing but bidding wars…).  We ended up with our cute little house in a great neighborhood and an AWESOME yard, and while it was definitely “move-in-ready” it also provided us PLENTY of opportunities to freshen things up a bit.  Most notably, it was severely lacking in curb appeal.  The shanty awning, the lack of landscaping, the powder blue siding and poop-brown shutter combination- it certainly seems like years of poor decision making and lack of effort really took its toll on our poor little house.

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Curb appeal fail.

We didn’t have delusions of grandeur- recovering financially from buying the house and all of the wedding and honeymoon expenses was not going to allow us to jump headfirst into any major projects.  The first thing we did was paint the shutters.  We admittedly did not end up with as dark of a blue as we had hoped, but after some close calls on the ladder due to a standoff with the wasps that had taken up residence behind them, Mike was not exactly volunteering to hop up there and redo it (and it still looked better than it did before).

The next thing we thought we were ready to tackle was adding some curb appeal with landscape improvements.  We are very fortunate to have many multi-talented people within our network of family and friends, and our awesome friend Dave spent several years running a landscaping business and he kindly lent us his ideas, time, pick-up truck and elbow grease to get us started.  The first thing that they did was prepare landscape beds and build a small stone wall to give the space a little bit more “oomph”.

Once the area was prepared for planting, it was time to get to our local garden supply to pick out our greenery.  I am warning you right now, if you are taking on a ground-up DIY landscaping project- DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Mike and I have proven to be less than stellar at plant planning and selection.  There are so many plant choices and sizes, and it’s worth the extra time up front to get a real strategy on what exactly you are going for.

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Front garden beds & our first shrubs!

We had originally planned on a few boxwoods on each side and if you’ll notice in the photo above, there are two boxwoods on the right.  Fast forward through a few more trips to Morris County Farms and poor Mike was digging one of them up and planting it on the other side to make way for larger, more cost effective plants once we realized how slow-growing AND expensive they were.  “Sure, this will grow into exactly what you want it to be in 5 years, but it will be super tiny until then and cost you a billion dollars today.”    I do worry that we lost sight of the big picture, but the nice thing about gardening and landscaping is that you can always add, replace or attempt to move things around (much to Mike’s dismay).  We added some burning bushes, peonies, a variegated shrub, and a bunch of other plants that I don’t even know the name of at this point.  Our track record with plants up until this point had resulted in me dubbing our home as “the place plants go to die”, so I’m just happy they survived.  Except the Rhododendron… RIP Rhododendron.  (FYI, if you plant a rhododendron, fertilize sparingly, if at all.)

To circle back to my point about planning ahead and doing your homework… seriously, do it.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  We still haven’t fully learned our lesson, and on our last trip for a tree and a few filler shrubs we found ourselves in our familiar nightmarish situation, frantically looking at tags for how large things grow, googling whether they were deer resistant, arguing the merits of Autumn Brilliance or a Juniper tree.  Every trip inevitably ends in me saying, “I’m (hungry/tired/hot/bored) and I want to go home,” (which I may have picked up from my three-year-old niece), a hasty purchase of whatever random conglomeration of plants has wound up in our wagon, and a silent ride home.  Consider this a Public Service Announcement-  don’t do the farm and garden store like we do.  All you’ll end up with is shame, and a front landscape that you refer to as “the jungle”.

There are a ton of websites out there that provide a wealth of knowledge on different types of plants, tips for layouts, example landscapes, etc, so to reiterate my “plan ahead” point above, research beforehand and understand all of your constraints and you’ll limit rework and end up with a more optimized result. These are best practices that we both use in our jobs as engineers on a daily basis, but we have learned the hard way several times as homeowners that if you cut corners in planning, you WILL get burned.  For example- ask your wife if the holes you dug are too close to the house before you plant anything, or you will end up replanting them.  Not that that happened to us or anything…

Despite our trial-and-error approach last year, now that Spring has sprung and everything has started to bud and bloom I have to say overall I think the result is simply beautiful.  It’s certainly an improvement from the baseline!  It is definitely a work-in-progress and will evolve over time but I’ve come to love our little mismatched jungle.  Doing the work ourselves and trying to choose shrubs that would be aesthetically pleasing as well as cost-effective, it was a relatively small investment for a large impact (I would estimate we spent somewhere between 1500 bucks but Mike would probably have a more accurate number).  Before and after picture below shows the original picture juxtaposed to what the house looks like as of a week ago, after adding a Juniper tree on the left and white hydrangea on each end (which I am hoping will bloom for us this year, but may not because they were just planted).

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Before & After!

Obviously there is another big change between the before and after- we ripped the shanty awning down one Friday night in August on a whim, and we designed & Mike built a portico in its place.  I will write about that in a future post:  Operation Curb Appeal Part 2- So Long Shanty Awning!