Saturday, December 27, 2008

I'm in pieces, bits and pieces...

Yesterday, I renewed my library card, finally. :)

That gave me access to several things online...and I was able to find a couple interesting things about the house AND about my family and the house I grew up in...

1. I found a 1948 Chicago Tribune story about graduating high school seniors at the local public high schools who were to be some sort of award-winners, as voted on by their classmates. A girl named Patricia Morrison, who attended Steinmetz, came up as living at our current address here in Portage Park (as the story listed the addresses of the kids up for this honor as well as their high school). So that's a lead, definitely.

2. I got onto the Cook County Records page and was able to find a few things out about the owners of our house just prior to us. Apparently, Ronald Schabinger (the softball Hall-of-Fame member who lived here just prior to us but died about six months before we bought the house) had this house for quite a while. Or at least, a family member of his did. There were three different members of the Schabinger family listed in the records at different times going back to 1987. In 1987, the Timko family appears to have owned the house. But that's as much as I got. Still, again, a good lead.

3. As believed, the Sanborn fire insurance map showed that the back porch of the house once was a separate porch with a side entrance (where our current stove/oven sits), much like the "typical" Chicago-style bungalows out there. However, what is further interesting from the Sanborn maps is the fact that our house apparently had NOT BEEN BUILT in 1924, when the map for this area was first drawn. In fact, the second house in from the corner was on a three-wide city lot, including our lot AND the corner lot. What intrigues me about this is, there had been confusion to begin with over whether this place was built in 1922 or 1924. What also intrigues me is that the second house in from the corner (our neighbor's house) looks like it's more of a twin that would have been built around the same time as our place. Maybe not. Anyway, this will lead to more investigation.

4. The other interesting stuff I saw was mostly related to the house I grew up was apparently one of the first built on its block on the Southwest Side, because it's surrounded by empty lots in the Sanborn map for its block, and things like that.

Anyway, today I've been spending most of the day fighting the backyard floodwaters again, trying to keep them at bay and from coming in the house. Went to Home Depot and got the last pump they had, and so far, it's been great. Maybe I'll post a review at some point!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking for Ikea Trofast reviews/alternatives...

Hey, wonderful, glorious readers of Build a Better Bungalow (and wherever else this might end up...Google?

I need some help. Going into Christmas, we knew our son would get tons of toys for his first Christmas...we knew it. But we didn't have a toy box or toy "storage." Well, he did, and now we have to make our move!

I don't want just some old toy box, even though a traditional box would be, well, traditional. I want a storage unit that will allow sorting of the toys and will prevent little pieces from falling to the bottom and being forgotten or lost. I also want something that can change as he gets older and will give us some versatility. As such, Ikea's Trofast system came to mind. Here's a picture and a link:
So, aside from the Ikea Web site really, honestly sucking, and my general derision toward the thought that I would buy anything at Ikea (I don't like the quality I've seen on many things I've browsed or that my wife has owned from them, and typically I'm not attracted to their styles of furniture), this does actually seem like it would be a solid purchase to make.

My question is, has anyone out there used this system at all? Any positives? Negatives? Any better options out there at other stores that might cost less but provide more or equal to Ikea?

My wife and I traveled all the way to the Ikea in Schaumburg today, but couldn't find this particular combination or figure out how to get it. And, after dealing with a stupidly laid out store (again, my humble opinion, but I shouldn't have to lug my 9-month-old son in the doors, up an escalator and halfway across the 2nd floor to get a shopping cart -- he's not a feather, you know), invisible employees and other headaches, I decided to leave and see about getting it online. Of course, I got back here and checked, and I can't order this specific combination I wasn't happy about that.

So, I'm actually hoping someone else will give me a better store/better option than Ikea! Comment away!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all, especially Target...

Originally uploaded by southsideandy
So, OK, this picture isn't of the tree I'm about to discuss...the picture is our tree, tonight, on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas to everyone out there!

Here's a tip for all of you least my local Target is doing this. I was at Target during the day Christmas Eve, picking up a few things. I noticed that they were selling the floor model pre-lit Christmas trees for 75% off! Gina and I thought about getting one this year, but just decided that it wouldn't be a good move at the moment, especially since the trees I liked were all regularly $250 and up.

But holy cow, 75 percent off for a floor model tree? If it was something else, I might hesitate, but here's something that has been a floor model for only about three months and is up high where people can't just grab at it and poke at it and drag it.

So I bought it. Furthering my discount was the fact that the employee gave me an incorrect tag for a tree that was $200 regularly priced (compared to my tree, which would have been $275 regularly). So I got a great, great deal, and all that's missing is the box!

I'm excited for next year!

Everyone have a great holiday!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Family first... has been HUGE. Huge, I tell you...

I've found so much stuff on my family ancestry, I can't even begin to describe it all. Some of it I didn't know. Some of it, I knew but did not have confirmation. The rest, I knew, it's just nice to get it down "officially" and all that.

As such, my house genealogy has taken a backseat for the moment. Like I said though, I'm going to have to go to the library and find out what I can during my work's "winter break"...gonna have a lot to look up, that's for sure!

And hopefully, then, lots to report back here! But we shall see how it goes. I needed to get some family genealogy out of the way, given that I'm going to see my family here next week for Christmas, and want to be armed with the stuff I know in order to "interview" my uncles, aunts and parents on what they know that I don't.

Should be fun...just like the 6-12 inches of snow we're expected to get tonight...yippee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

House history: It's contagious...

Spurred on by The Bungalow Chronicles and Bungalow Insanity, I decided to scratch the House History itch this evening...using their methods of checking the 1930 Census data, I found out about a previous owner of our house -- the Stoffer family. Julius P. and Margaret Stoffer were of Romanian descent, and came to the U.S. sometime between 1913 and 1921 -- I know this because they had a 17-year-old daughter (Elizabeth) who was also born in Romania, and a 9-year-old son (Martin) who was born in Illinois.

Julius was a bricklayer in building construction, according to the census data -- his neighbor to the east was a Romanian cement finisher in building construction as well. I wonder if they worked together and/or built these houses? Of course, I believe our house was built about 8 years prior to the census, so anyone could have built these homes and lived in them prior to the Stoffers. That said, the "cement finisher's house" and mine are extremely similar, so who knows?

Elizabeth, it appears, worked as a bookkeeper for a furniture moving company, for what it's worth, at age 17.

So now I'm curious about all this...I wish I had the time to research more. I did confirm that the previous owner died about six months before we bought the house, and was relatively young (50 years old). I do know more about him though, having done research and asking neighbors about him before, when we first moved in.

But I'm excited -- yet, finding out more, I fear, will require a trip to the Harold Washington Library downtown, and would probably require a day or two for it all too. That excites and scares the hell out of me, mostly because I wish I knew where to start first, rather than wasting time figuring out what to do. You know?

I did spend a lot more time today on researching my family tree, rather than my house's previous owners (I hardly know any, so that's why). It's a really cool tool for that, if any of you are into genealogy of your families.

Anyway, if I figure out anything else, I'll record it here, of course.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Not a moment too soon...

Well, the insulation work was done this past week, but I had to travel for work and was fighting through a tough cold the entire week. Not fun.

We got Pro Pink loose-fill insulation blown into the cavities between the first and second floor, which was my main concern, as we were getting serious drafts under the floor on the second floor that were actually cooling that level quite a bit more than was comfortable. We also had the kneewalls on the second floor insulated fully and covered with housewrap on the non-finished side of the wall. The access panels were given a foam insulation backing, and the hood vent ducts from the kitchen through the crawlspace and out through the roof were wrapped in foil insulation.

All in all, it took about a day for them to come in and do the work, and it was reasonably priced, in my humble opinion.

This all comes not a moment too soon, as our most recent gas bill arrived today and is near $400. That's ridiculous, since we spent less than $300 last year for the month of November. So I'm hoping to death that the insulating we did will put a serious dent in that number. I am concerned, though, about the fact that the roof did not get any insulation, because they couldn't access behind the drywalled ceilings to inspect for it. Personally, I don't think there's a lick of insulation up there, but I could be wrong. I'd like to know and find out if it could be insulated. I just wonder how much heat is escaping through the ceiling/roof of the second floor finished space. We shall see, I suppose.

Now, on to getting that basement family room finished already...Lord knows it's been sitting there for a while now...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama or not...

I'm still skeptical of politicians and promises from them...but hey, at least my alderman was nice enough to answer my long-ass email and tell me he'd look into the funding issue. That's nice of him. :) Here's the response...


Thank you for your email regarding the Historic Chicago Bungalow program, and welcome to Portage Park! I was unaware of the funding problem you referred to until you called it to my attention. I will make an effort to work with the HCBA and DOE to try to find the funds necessary to implement the goals of this very important initiative.

My office has been in contact with the executive director of the HCBA and we will keep you apprised of any developments. In the meantime, if my service office can assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Ald. XXXXXXX, XXth Ward

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's gettin' hot in here...I hope...

So, after assessing the insulation quote we got, and then (as previously mentioned) finding out that the HCBA had run out of funding for its Energy$avers grant this year, we decided that insulating the first floor brick walls can wait. First of all, it would cost us as much as it would to insulate the portions of the second floor that need insulation, in effect, doubling our ultimate bill. Secondly, I'm not entirely sold on the effectiveness of insulating the gap between the lathe/plaster and three wythes of brick. I mean, these bungalows were built originally to be energy efficient, in a sense...the brick is thick enough to keep the air out, and I'm not sold on the fact that foam is going to make a major difference, honestly. Maybe I'm wrong...if I am, and there's some evidence out there that supports it, please, let me know. I'm just operating on common sense here! :)

So, we're gonna get the floor in between the first and second floors filled with ProPink blown-in insulation, the knee wall on the slanted side of the roof insulated and house-wrapped (though I need to ask them about what that might do to the storage in the crawlspace--make it cold? make it "damp"? That would be bad. Also, there are two areas that we currently do not have access to in the corners of the dormered side. They'll cut an access hole in the wall to each and insulate behind there and under the floors there too. The only "disappointment" is that they can't get access to the flat dormered roof...I was hoping to have that insulated as well...particularly in the hopes that it would help to soundproof it, since we hear the rain falling on the roof a lot of times, and that's kinda distracting, particularly at night when you're trying to sleep. But they couldn't do it, apparently...oh well.

All in all, I'm hoping that this, coupled with weatherstripping the stupid casement windows up there (I HATE casements, especially since they have no storms and the screens are on the inside of the windows), will help us out on our gas bill, and possibly on our electric bill in the summer.

The insulation company did tell us that a lot of the upstairs is insulated and that the kitchen addition is insulated also. So that's good.

In terms of the Energy$avers grant, we're hoping that next year, we'll be able to use it to replace our water heater, furnace or see about installing some sort of energy-efficient central air system. The grant is awesome, and I'd like to get as much money out of it as I'm eligible for -- which is probably what everyone did this year, and that's why they ran out. It's not's smart! :)

Anyway, the insulators are scheduled to come the week after Thanksgiving, so we might even get to feel some positive effects of all the insulation this winter. And that's good! So we'll see how it goes...I will certainly keep you all posted!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Taking action...

I decided to post the letter I wrote to my alderman regarding the Energy$avers grant money running out...if you're an HCBA member and feel as though this crystallizes your thoughts, you're more than welcome to "steal" it, change the info and send it to your alderman as well. It's a bit informal, yes, but I'm not "defiant" about this. I understand they run out of money now and again, I'm just hoping that he'll push for more funding next year, to prevent this. I back-dated the post to Nov. 2 as well, to help differentiate it in case anyone is searching for info on it, somehow.

Dear Alderman XXXXXX,
My wife and I recently (well, 1.5 years ago) moved into our bungalow just a few blocks from your offices, actually, and were really excited about getting our bungalow registered with the HCBA (Historic Chicago Bungalow Association) and the pride that went along with it, as well as, of course, the grants and whatnot.
This year, the HCBA launched an Energy$avers Grant program that tied their previous multiple grants together into one easy-to-use, very generous but very necessary program. It made it very easy for HCBA members to be reimbursed for energy-efficient home improvements, up to $6,000.
I'm not one to complain about free money, mind you. I very much appreciate the program. It's a WONDERFUL program, and it's great that the program helps those of us who are not "disadvantaged" as well as those who really need it, financially. Many programs don't do that, and it's nice that this appears founded on the idea of conservation/environment rather than class and status.
My wife and I had our first child earlier this year, and with winter approaching, we were concerned about a lack of insulation in our 8-month-old's bedroom upstairs. Insulation projects qualify for the Energy$avers grant. So I was excited that I would be able to do this home improvement, for all the reasons you can imagine, as a homeowner yourself, I'm sure.
When I contacted the HCBA, however, they told me that because of demand, the grant's funding had completely run out. I was shocked, and I'm quite a bit perturbed about it. Although my wife and I hold stable jobs and have steady incomes, we probably could not afford to properly insulate our home without the help of the Energy$avers grant. I'm sure there are folks who are in much more "dire straits" than we are in this realm. I've attached the letter they've sent out to people applying for the grant and I've also pasted in my correspondence with the very helpful XXXXXXX at the HCBA, below, for context if you need it.
I'm not writing to complain. I'm not writing to bash the HCBA or the city. In fact, quite the contrary. The HCBA has been marvelous, fantastic and great, and is a great, great resource for those of us who own bungalows in the city. I'm also not writing you to say that my wife and I deserve anything more than others (because, truthfully, there are people probably in more need than we are) or that we need someone to go to bat for us. Not at all.
I am asking, however, that you to do everything in your power to persuade your fellow council members and/or the mayor that this program needs additional funding, either emergency funding this year (apparently, HCBA has a backlog of people who applied for the grant already and have to WAIT for approval -- which is required for the projects they want funded -- to be eligible for the grant money), or simply more funding next year in response to this year's "run on funds."
I know that the city has been all over the news for deficits, layoffs, funding, etc. I know there probably isn't much money out there. However, at the very least, I hope that when budgeting rolls around in 2009, the bungalow owners of the XXXXX Ward (which are many, given the Bungalow Belt's swath through the ward) can count on you to make our case for additional funding. Energy efficiency helps not only homeowners, but also the utilities, the municipalities and the communities, when adopted across many households. This might be only a drop in the bucket, but for this city, which hasn't been top-of-the-line on recycling/conservation like many others, this would be a good "show of force" to convince some people to minimize their energy use.
I appreciate your time and what you do to keep our neighborhood clean, safe, friendly and a nice place to live. I grew up on the Southwest Side, in a neighborhood that was once like this, until gangs took over. That neighborhood hasn't recovered since, and it's unfortunate. I hope to be able to do my part as an adult to help keep Portage Park and the XXXX Ward as good as it is, for my family and those around me.
Thank you for reading this email, and all the best to you...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another insulation disappointment...

Let me start off by saying this: I'm not complaining. I'm not saying that we need financial help more than others, because, honestly, we don't.

However, I was disappointed to hear that, after I got a quote for insulating pretty much every exterior wall and the floor between the 1st and 2nd floors, that the Energy$avers grant that the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association (HCBA) offers has completely run out of money. Therefore, they're giving no other grant money this year. Meaning, we can wait until next year, but there's already a backlog of requests that get "priority" over any new request...basically, it's a "get in line" scenario.

Now, I love the HCBA...I've professed that in previous posts. I think it's an awesome, awesome association for an awesome cause. But I was kind of disappointed that they'd not said anything about it, particularly on their Web site (which, honestly, looks nice, but isn't updated that often and could be better in terms of content, overall).

So, I decided to write an email to my alderman, letting him know that I hope he can push for additional funding for this grant next year. I can't imagine actually NEEDING this funds from this grant to fix my bungalow and stay warm (like some disadvantaged folks might have to do). It's just a shame I won't be able to reap the overall rewards of having the whole house insulated this winter.

As such, I will probably have the insulation company come out and insulate all the 2nd floor stuff, as it's not as expensive as insulating the 1st floor (between the plaster walls and brick). Pending, of course, whatever else happens around here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First time for everything...

I just went to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association's Insulation seminar today and, for the first time on anything HCBA has done that I've participated in, I was quite disappointed.

I was late, but apparently so was the speaker, as he was setting up when I walked in, about 10-15 minutes in. But, that I can forgive...not a problem.

Problem was, he didn't seem prepared enough. He asked a few questions of the group to start, answered those questions and then just meandered, train-of-thought-style, through tangent after tangent, many not even touching upon insulation and air-sealing. Further exacerbating the problem was the thing I hate MOST about these types of seminars. People ask questions of the speaker during the presentation that are so detailed and specific that no one else in the room could possibly benefit from the answer. I HATE that. Not that those people shouldn't get answers to their questions, but wait until afterward or the Q&A session to ask that stuff. This only really tends to happen when the speaker simply can't command the room with a well-put-together presentation or speech. And that's what happened here, in my opinion.

I just recently got a quote from an insulation company on doing pretty much every wall and floor/ceiling on the 1st and 2nd floors, and I was hoping to hear some good info to let me know if every aspect is worth it, or if I can buffet-style pick and choose projects. So now we'll see...I'll have to figure it out.

I also need to find another good insulation company or two to get a quote from...I've had one company out here, and although I'm pretty cool with the price they quoted me, I'd like to get another perspective too. So we shall see!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Tis a fine barn, but sure 'tis no pool, English."

Day 2 fence 5
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
The fence is DONE. Thankfully. I have way too many 8-foot 4x4 posts (several of which are bowed, which sucks), because we didn't have the energy (and didn't really need) to replace all the posts. So about 8-10 old posts made the "final cut" as it were. Yeah, they look marginally out of place with the new panels and new posts, but if they're sturdy, why go through all the trouble?

Anyway, the fence isn't perfect, as we had to go uphill a bit as we got closer to the house (who would think that a postage-stamp city lot would have "terrain"??? :) But it's good terrain, because it keeps the water flowing away from the house.

Now, the trick will be to fill and level the yard, particularly the area adjacent to the fence, so it doesn't flood. As you can see from the picture, we raised the fence up about 4-6 inches toward the alley, with the idea being that I'm going to get a load of dirt and fill that all in so it's more level with the alley (and the top of the concrete "piers" we created), and so the fence doesn't sit in floodwater whenever it does think about flooding.

So, the first test will be the first major windstorm...we sank those posts down about 3 feet, and dumped a helluva lot of concrete down there. In fact, I feel really, really, really sorry for the next person (hopefully it won't be me) who has to attempt to dig up those concrete piers. Good luck. You're gonna need a backhoe.

Of course, this whole project has left me tired and beaten down badly. So much so, I will probably hire someone to finish my basement family room. I'm not giving up on the DIY bit, that's for sure. But man, moving earth takes a LOT out of you. I'm not as dead tired today as I was yesterday, but I'm certainly more sore and stiff.

If I get any pictures of the full fence, I'll post them...but this gives you an idea.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Not so great progress...

end day one 2
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Hopefully we do better tomorrow...we got several of the old posts up, but couldn't get the rest to budge. So, we decided to cut them off at the bottom and shift the short panel to the other side. That meant we had to dig new holes for the posts. Which then meant we had to go rent a post-hole auger. As such, we got two posts in the ground with four left to sink. The rest of the posts will remain in the ground, and we'll simply hang the new panels on those posts, as they're really solid, honestly.

I am completely dead tired though. So much so, I probably will go to bed soon here. Tomorrow, we'll have four posts to sink in concrete several feet worth of panels to still rip down, and panels to hang and, in some cases, cut to size. Also, I have to place landscaping stones below the fence in the back, because it's going to be raised above the ground level to be even with the alley (it's several inches BELOW the alley right now...thus the flooding.

We need to get this done, but I think that the worst part is honestly over. Well, I mean the absolute worst part...digging up the posts/cutting them down and digging the new holes. We'll see how things go tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One way or another...

I'm getting the fence up this weekend. Period. I just hope I have enough help to get the fence up this weekend...including tearing down the current fence.

Also, I have to, in short time, figure out how much topsoil I need to raise that area back there between the garages to level or higher than the alley. I'm not gonna install the fence in a depression where water is just going to pool whenever it rains for a lengthy period of time or when spring thaw rolls around. Forget that!

So, much work to be done this weekend here! Finally, I know...thanks for being patient out there in houseblog land!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New fence? Please...

While I should have been installing my new fence this weekend with the help of my great friends and family, I was doing this, instead:

Apparently, this is record rainfall for Chicago. It's the remnants of the Pacific storm Lowell (sp?) I guess. And the remnants of Ike are supposed to come perilously close to Chicago tomorrow and tomorrow night. The water is so high in the backyard, it's going into the basement now.

Now, so long as that drain doesn't back up or the water doesn't come in any faster, we should be OK. I did have to get out on the roof, briefly, outside our bedroom window, however, to bend the downspout off, as the morons who originally installed it put the elbow at the bottom on backward (bottom portion outside the top portion), so the water was shooting out the seam and creating a lake in between the houses. We had some serious seepage into the room under the front porch because of it, and that seeped into the family room, onto the carpet. I was going to tear that carpet out anyway; now I'll have to do it much earlier than anticipated.

Now, I know that, obviously, what I'm currently dealing with is minimal compared to the folks in Iowa earlier this year and the folks along the Gulf Coast and whatnot, and in Texas. But, even this "much" water is a big deal here. And it's a big deal to me too, especially since I'm going to finish that family room at some point. In a sense, it's making me rethink the next steps.

Hopefully the rain subsides enough to let some of this water soak in and go away, and stop pouring into my basement!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I think they're alive...

fence panels...
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
...because five of them have moved into the yard. Into position.

Next week, believe it or not, we resume activity at Build a Better Bungalow. I have a crew of great friends coming out to demolish our fence and help me install the new one. These are the panels I sealed...I've got about 5 or 6 more in the garage, waiting to be sealed, which I'll have to do this week, in advance of next Saturday's big day.

Plus, I might be able to get the monstrosity around and over the hot tub demolished and outta here as well. And maybe, just maybe, even the hot tub will be disassembled and destroyed. We'll see. Our yard, in just over a week, could look tremendously different and larger than it does now. And that's exciting.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In the garden, in August...

bumblebee hyssop 10
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Hey, it's August, and that means we have a new wave of blooms in the garden here. Since I've been kinda quiet lately (especially since little has happened), I took pictures today to show you all what HAS happened in our garden, with little help from me.

Plus, it was good practice...I like some of the bumblebee pics, like this one. They came out really good, in my humble opinion. :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Helping out folks in need...

It's been a while, but I have to post conscience won't let me not post it.

I'll try and fail miserably to keep this short.

Yesterday, I was fielding a short story out in Minnesota for my mag's HR awards program. This company has a program in which they help employees who have been struck by an unexpected financial crisis with a donation/grant. It's a great program, but that's just the background.

As part of my interview time, they wanted me to talk to someone who had taken advantage of the program recently, and I met a family (the wife works at this company). About a month ago, their house was hit by an F3 tornado, only six months after they bought it. And here they were, taking time out to relive it all and tell me about that day and everything since, and how this program helped out -- just one month after it happened.

Anyway, I felt pretty helpless and terrible for them. They gave me CDs with before and after pictures, and the house had serious damage (about half of it was blown away and the rest pretty badly damaged). They had huge, 85-year-old trees all over their property, pretty much all of which were obliterated.

I felt like I had to do something to help...and this is it.

Isn't it what houseblogging is all about? Sharing your dreams for your home and your accomplishment of those dreams with others? Here, we have someone who was able to start to provide those dreams to their children, only to have Mother Nature step in and throw in a setback.

I'm just going to pass along this link. Apparently, they are using the funds to rebuild their barn and daughters' dreams of owning/keeping their horses. If you are interested, buy something and help the cause. If not, just ignore this post.

Either way is OK...I just wouldn't feel right if I didn't pass it along.

I should note, these are not relatives or friends of mine, nor would I even call them anything more than just acquaintances. I don't get any cut, nor do I want any recognition or anything like that -- I didn't tell them I had any blogs or any ability to "advertise" or post to help them out. I'm doing this out of the kindness of my heart and because, well, I can.

Obviously, none of you is obliged to buy anything or do anything. Again, I just wouldn't feel right if I didn't pass it along. Feel free also to pass it on to anyone whom you think cares.

If this offends you, I apologize...just ignore it and move on. If I were a beat reporter for a major metro, this would be blasphemy. But I'm not a beat reporter. I'm a b2b editor. And I want to help.

If this is all I can do, then so be it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Leave them wanting more...

Holy crap! I exist!

Well, not much, honestly, has been going on around our bungalow lately...I've been traveling for work, playing a bunch of softball and weathering wicked storms. All just barely getting lucky enough to cut the grass and keep the place moderately tidy. And then, when I think I've got a weekend to do something, bam, I have a wedding or BBQ. I can't, of course, deny the friends my presence, right? :)

So, today, I put aside a little time for my inner DIYer. Yes, it was time to start tackling the fence. Though, we have a very important step before destruction of old fence and installation of new fence. That is sealing new fence panels. I bought 8x6-foot panels at Home Depot a few weeks ago when they were on sale, but they're untreated pine. So, of course, I have to treat them before I put them to Mother Nature's test.

Last week, I went all over looking for Thompson's Water Seal's green-label water seal and wood protectant...the kind that supposedly keeps the wood from turning gray "naturally" as they say. Personally, I don't like that gray look and would like to keep it away as long as I can, if possible. Anyway, a finally found a place that had enough of it (I needed about 5 gallons, and nowhere could I find the 5-gallon drum of the green-label stuff) in the one-gallon size (which was comparable in price). So I bought it.

Today, I went to work. Opened the garage doors for ventilation, cracked out the new 4-inch brush and started going (note, I would have preferred to spray, but I had nowhere to spray and no help to move the panels to a spray-able location). It took me two hours to apply the sealant to both sides of two whole panels. I decided to try a 1-inch nap roller. Took half as long, but I felt as though I was totally overcoating the panels and wasting product (I'm cheap, especially with paint and the like). So I switched to a combination of hitting the flat face of the panels with the roller and the back, with the braces, with the brush.

When I was done, five panels had been sealed/stained. I called up my little bro to have him help me haul them out of the garage to dry outside (lest the fumes build up in the garage and blow up or something). It's a small victory, given the lack of project work that has been done around here. I have seven panels left to do, but I need to look ahead and pick a weekend on which I can bribe a crew of friends and family to come out and help me install the new fence and maybe take down and apart the hot tub and roof contraption.

And then, of course, there's still the basement...looks like my goal of finishing it by Halloween is going to be (as I figured it would) an unattainable goal. I guess we'll see.

Anyway, hope to have some pics of the fence panels and of what's blooming in my yard...I've got some Anise Hyssop -- let me tell you how many bumblebees are on this thing every day...tons. And I think there are some honeybees on there too, which nature-lovers would be happy to hear...I'm not sure what honeybees look like, exactly, but I think these are honeybees.

Until next time...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's amazing...

blue hat 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
...what a baby will do to your home-improvement projects and your house blog. :)

Sorry I haven't posted as frequently as I did to start...I figure quality is better than quantity for my blog. :)

Keep reading though...I promise we'll have things moving in the future...projects are lurking and time is running out on them!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What's in bloom...

An idea plucked from The Bungalow Chronicles, I bring you, "What's in Bloom at Building a Better Bungalow." If it were a question, the answer would be: "A lot." Here are four can click here to go to my Flickr page for the other flowers in bloom on July 13...enjoy!

Red daylily--Chicago H. variety--planted a couple weeks ago:

Yellow coreopsis, planted last year, looking beautiful this year:
Orange coneflower with white yarrow in background...again, planted last year, looking good this year:
Shasta daisy, planted a month or so ago...the best success I've had with these, even though they're supposed to be "easy":

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back to the drawing board...somewhat...

OK, I fashioned up a prototype of the basement ceiling yesterday, and found the widest joist-to-joist distance to use it on. I took no pictures (sorry Fred!) because I'm seriously disappointed in it.

1. The 12x12-inch ceiling panels don't reach from trim piece to trim piece well enough to make me feel as though they won't shift and fall out, which means I'll have to buy the molding from the original plan. I thought, well, at least maybe that will help it look "fancy"...sure, it will, but it will also cost more money. Even if I buy 1x6s rather than 1x4s, buy (or rent or borrow) a router and do the work myself, it's more money in the end. So the jury's still out on that.

2. Speaking of not square or plumb, helpful Anonymous commenter...either the whitewood trim board I'm using is warped (raising another concern for me), or the joist (more likely) is not flat and flush down the entire length. This is a more serious problem, since it basically "corkscrews" the trim board to where it's not level where it meets the wall. That's a problem, big-time. That's a lot of planing or sanding or whatever the hell you do to level off the bottoms of the joists. And a lot of hoping that I've done it right. Although, I have another idea of how to address this, and it might just work. We'll see...these prototype boards are going to certainly be worth the price once I'm done with them. :)

So, it's back to the drawing board, more or less, on the basement ceiling idea. Needing a big DIY and "project completion" win, I decided it was time to give myself a fighting chance in the battle to replace our backyard fence. As it stood, I had bought the posts and concrete and was planning to meticulously take down the pickets (hoping, but doubtful, that they're panels and not individual pickets) and rehang them on the new posts. The great prognosticator that I am, I saw into the future and saw myself cursing the god of picket fences under a hot summer sun, working with one or two other people, not finishing in one weekend (dogs necessitate that) as planned and generally getting totally pissed off. So, seeing fence panels on sale at Home Depot for a mere $25 for a 6x8 section, I bit the bullet and bought enough to replace the fence on the west side of the yard entirely. Originally, I didn't want to do this, because of the pocketbook hit, but the fence is currently being held up by a 2x6 propped dangerously against the leg of the deck. Not smart, but there's nothing else that can be done right now, honestly.

So, big win there. Even bigger win was that it cost only $59 to have them deliver the fence panels for me...would have cost me that much, if not more, to rent a truck and buy my brother dinner or beer for helping out. :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Minor update...

After having measured the space between the joists this morning, I've found two things:
1. There probably won't be much space, if any, for molding above the trim board (if I want to put can lights in).
2. Joists are not (?!?!?) evenly spaced, somehow...I measured a few spaces...some were 13.5 inches, some nearly 15. That sounds not right to I missing something?

I didn't measure them all...maybe three or four. But seriously, there was a discrepancy, which I find to be odd...any ideas?

After measuring, I went to the ol' Home Depot to get some materials for a trial run...some hardwood 1x4s, some stain and the ceiling panels. I ended up bringing home a whitewood board and a poplar board. The poplar was way more expensive than the whitewood, and the two are distinctly different-looking. The poplar has a very wide grain, while the whitewood has tigher grain and several smooth knots along the face. The poplar also was less heavy than the whitewood, but not a great deal. Since I'm going to be using this as trim, I want to use as few finishing nails as possible, so lighter is better, in this case. For now, anyway.

I chose Minwax Red Mahogany and Minwax Early American stains. I actually applied the first coats to each this evening, and will probably put on another coat tomorrow morning, maybe. We'll see how they dry.

I also found a USG ceiling panel product that doesn't use tracks to hold it up. In fact, it appears to be the variety that you'd simply glue to the ceiling and slot the pieces together. No tracks means I don't have to worry about it looking too much like a drop ceiling, and the panels themselves are smooth white. So I'm pretty happy with the potential those bring. We'll see how it ends up looking.

Other than that, I'm going to try to get a prototype up tomorrow, and I'll take some pictures, but no promises...we'll see how it goes! :)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Months of thought, hours of "doodling"...

...but I think I finally, FINALLY, have devised what I want my basement ceiling to look like, at least in the main area. See the pictures added here to get the idea for the rough draft, drawn up in Sketchup (sorry for the sloppiness -- there are some rogue lines and planes floating around!

(EDITED, ADDED LATE JULY 4): Here are my thoughts on this whole basement ceiling thing.

1. I tore down drywall, so I didn't want to put up drywall again, since nothing was really wrong with what I tore down.
2. To the bottom of the joists, it's about 73 inches, so a drop ceiling was out of the question. There was no way to modify it and make it look OK that I could think of, either.
3. I wanted something more "sophisticated" looking than a drop ceiling anyway.
4. Leaving the beams and such exposed and painting it was not an option either, because of the total lack of sound insulation. Also, I hate track lighting. Also, it felt like a crime to paint what appeared to be beautiful woodwork on the underside of the floor. Also, the joists were in pretty decent shape, and it just wasn't for me.
5. Leaving the ceiling exposed created the difficult conundrum of what to do at the wall-ceiling corner. Examples I saw of this were not up to my liking, and I couldn't think of anything better.
6. The more I saw boxed beam ceilings, the more I thought that would look great in our family room downstairs and could be exactly up my alley.

So this is what I came up with when I finally sat down with all the ideas bouncing around in my head. It's actually a raised "drop" ceiling, in a sense.

I will buy nice flat trim wood to cover the bottoms of the joists. They will protrude just outside of the joist widths to create a mini (like, less than an inch) "shelf" above which I'll fasten some crown molding the entire length of the joists. On top of those joists, I will rest the acoustical panels that are typically used for drop ceilings.

As you can see in the cross-section version, there will be a gap above the panels, allowing me to tilt them up and pull them out. This way, if I ever DO need access, I'll have it. Furthermore, the acoustic tiles are probably lighter than drywall, so the weight load will be better on the crown molding/trim. I'm aware I'll have to cut the panels smaller to fit, but that's easier than cutting drywall, and they don't have to be perfect, just so long as they clear the edges of the moldings on each side.

Lighting: This is the tricky part. I know that I'm going to have a few fluorescents here. In the sketchup model below, in the righthand part between the joists, you can see my plan. It's going to be inset fluorescent lighting, with the housing separated out by a couple 2x6s (or so) that will run 90 degrees to the joists on each side...the molding will be parallel with the regular molding and I will hide a fluorescent bulb on each side behind it, bouncing the light off the ceiling and to the floor. I also plan to have small can lights throughout the room, assuming there's enough "headspace" for them above the ceiling panels.

Since I haven't officially measured this, it's probably not an exact representation, and the final version may differ. But at least I got these ideas into a working drawing that I can manipulate now.

Problems this doesn't solve, however, are workload (lots of cutting, staining, fastening, etc.), what, exactly, to do at the wall-ceiling corner to minimize drywall cutting and such, and how to maximize sound insulation. I know the acoustic panels are OK, but will they be enough, I wonder? I guess we'll see!

Have a happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scarlet and Green Leafhopper...

Never saw a bug like this before in all my gardening and backyard roaming days...but today I happened to be wandering by my goldenrods and saw two Scarlet and Green Leafhoppers on the leaves. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to figure out what they were (and thanks to the shared photo via Flickr, not taken by me, since I wasn't able to get my camera and get out there fast enough). The pictures online, though, don't do justice to how pretty the colors are...though they are a little more light blue than green, and the underbelly is definitely a yellow color.

Otherwise, I'm just looking for time to do things around here, more than anything...eventually, time will come. :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shrubs in...

shrubs in
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Here's the new look on the west side of the porch.

I went and bought a big ol' ax and a bow saw at Menard's this morning, sawed off a good foot of what was left of the stump and beat the rest into submission as best as I could. I then buried most of it underground, so hopefully that will be the end of it.

The rhododendron, the bushier looking shrub to the left, is supposed to get to about 5 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, while the Sutherland Gold Elderberry will get to 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide. I also planted about 10 ferns in the empty spaces between them and scattered a box of marigold seed mix all over the barren ground around them. We'll see how they do.

The rhododendron, it should be noted, has been one hell of a trooper. I got it from my mom last spring and never planted it. I just left it in the store-supplied pot and sat it out in front of the porch, basically where it is now. It survived and came back even with the hellish winter we had. Granted, I haven't seen it flower yet, but the fact that it survived was good enough for me. Hopefully it will now respond with lots of ground for its roots to infiltrate.

But I can't wait for the S.Gold Elderberry to grow -- it will be a phenomenal focal point for this side of the house, what with the dark brown facebrick as a backdrop. Much more interesting than the evergreen tree.

OK, name this flower...

mystery flower
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Since I didn't get much feedback on my "Name this bug..." post, hopefully I'll get somebody who can help me find out what this is. I didn't plant it, and it looks like it's in an old garden area, so it could be a reseeded perennial...but we didn't have these last year, that I'm aware of.

It only seems to open in the morning, if that makes any difference...there's a wider shot of the whole plant also up on Flickr...any help would be appreciated. I feel as though if it's something cool, I can transplant it and save it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Name this bug...

mystery bug
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
I don't know if it's a grasshopper or not...looks like it, maybe. Anyone know what "type" of grasshopper it is? I'd be curious.

Also, there are pictures up on my Flickr page of the latest garden developments, as promised, along with the major change in our curb appeal so far. Check it out!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Slow week...

Well, it's been kind of a slow week at the bungalow...but today, I took a big step and chopped down the evergreen on the west corner of the front of the house, where I plan to put the Sutherland Gold Elderberry I purchased. The stump proved really tough to deal with, and I actually have a pretty good scrape down the back of my arm, from sliding down the brick wall while trying to kick the tree, using the wall for leverage.

Also, lots o' flowers are blooming really well.

But, I went to the Sox game this evening, so I didn't have any time to take any pics, and I'm off to Utah for work for a little while, so you'll all have to be patient. :)

Have a great couple of days, and I'll see you all on the other side...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

In case... thought I didn't do anything this weekend...we did buy a new, much-needed microwave. Here's the before:And here's the after:
Have not, unfortunately, tested the new one yet. And yes, I understand that the most work involved in this before and after was lifting the microwaves to eye level as well as in and out of the truck from Best Buy. But hey, that's work too, you know! :)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Summer's here, I guess...

dianthus in front
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Didn't do too much today...although we did go out and buy a new microwave, which you can see the before and after of that on Flickr as well...really exciting, right? Hey, while you're there, check out all my garden pics...I've got some great things growing out there, and finally starting to do well. Including these Dianthus that I planted last year around the base of the tree out front that have come back (with the exception of one "runt" of the litter on the left side.

I like when perennials come back and thrive, making me, Mr. Stick It In The Ground And See What Happens, look good and knowledgeable. :) Happy rest of the weekend, everyone! Hope all your projects are progressing nicely...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1 out of 3 (so far) ain't bad...

Sorry that there hasn't been too much to write about over at Build a Better Bungalow lately -- it's been busy in other areas aside from home improvement and even (sadly) gardening.

But, today, I went out to the backyard to check (as I do daily) on the "bag o' plants" I bought from Costco months ago and planted in the big empty space where I lost a bunch of perennials over the winter. Thus far, three weeks later, I had not seen ANYTHING sprouting through the dirt and mulch there. I was really starting to worry.

Until today. FINALLY, I saw about three or four Acidanthera shoots protruding from the mulch. That makes me feel better that I didn't bury them too deeply and that I still have a shot at the Salvia and Black-eyed Susans coming up. So, as the title of this entry says, 1 out of 3 ain't bad. Of course, I won't mention that I planted about 12 Acidanthera bulbs, so I guess I'm still OK, mathematically, with that statement...

I'm really itching to get more gardening done...but now I'm getting the basement itch again too. I think I'm going to shoot to have it done by Halloween-time, so we can host a Halloween party. That's actually aiming very high, truthfully, given the rate of work thus far and the impending/non-impending economic recession and higher prices for everything. So we'll see how that goes. I sure would love to pull off that remodel by then, but we'll see how I find a way to ignore the beauty of summer and work inside. :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

All quiet on the home front...

Well, traveling's done, and this weekend, family obligations have pretty much taken over. But, I have done some planning for the front garden, so we'll see what and when that happens. But at least I'll always know I have a plan for this spot:
This is where I want to put my rain garden, much like what the HCBA did at the North Side Model Bungalow they renovated last year...though different. But same theory. Below is my plan. I searched long and hard for just the right centerpiece for the background of this garden and finally found it in my friends' garden in Grayslake. It's Sutherland Gold's so beautiful, and it will play perfectly against our dark brown brick and the shaded gangway area between my house and my neighbor's. I'm really happy about it. Now I just have to find it somewhere (then chop down the evergreen "tree" that is currently there) and get crackin' on making this garden. Here's my not-so-rough-anymore plan below. Again, for this I used for the initial dimension-based stuff, then exported a photo and worked on placement of "my" plants in Photoshop.

I should follow this up with, we still have the fence to do in the backyard before I can really dig into this project up front. Pun intended.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Leavin', yet again, on a jet plane...

Could I possibly travel more than I am for work right now? I'm off, again, on business for the next couple of days, so unfortunately, all will be quiet here. But please, come back! There's much more ahead, when your regularly scheduled blog continues. :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Legs like jelly...

What a busy weekend! Unfortunately, little was done in and around the house. My little bro graduated with his Master's degree Saturday, so we drove out to the boondocks to have a family celebratory dinner. That was fun, but it pretty much shot Saturday in the foot.

Today was also shot mostly in the foot, in that, I decided it was high time to get back on the bike and do what I once did semi-regularly for a couple years back in high school and college. And that is ride my bike on long, organized event-type rides.

Today, I rode 25 miles on my new bike in the Prairie Pedal event up in Grayslake, Ill., sponsored by the Liberty Prairie Conservatory. My friends live up there in the "subdivision" that hosts the event, and it was really nice. Obviously, though, my legs and rear-end are not used to all that work. It was chilly, but nice bike-riding weather, except for the ever-present wind, of course.

I was happy with how I rode -- I rarely felt truly winded, which made me feel really good. My legs just didn't have the stamina in them to keep up the pace beyond the 25 miles we did.

Of course, my friends are big-time gardeners in the same mold as me -- buy something, preferably native, regional or perennial, stick it in the ground and see what happens. So, we went to a couple of Lake County's finest garden centers. I was impressed, more or less...though they didn't have a ton of what I was looking for (which I didn't even know what I was "looking for" either anyway), I came away with some good ideas. And, my friends gave me a FANTASTIC idea for one of my tall shrubs out front. Now, if I can just find it to buy it, we'll be good to go!

Hope all your weekends went well...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A slap to history's face...

You all might remember these posts from a few months ago, about a Chicago-style bungalow being basically destroyed, for lack of a better term, and my struggles witnessing this every single day since it's on my way to work (and there's no way around it, really).

Well, work had ground to a halt for a while with the crappy early spring weather, but they had taken off the top (scalped the thing) and gutted out all the walls and floors and everything. They also tore out the back of the entire house.

Then, nicer weather arrived. To my horror, I watched (well, saw the results on my back and forth commutes) as they removed all the stained glass windows and completely removed the entire front porch, framing and walling it off. They then made the dining room windows the new entrance and began building a giant addition on top. All that was left of the original bungalow, for a short while, were the three brick walls. I thought, well, this should be interesting (in a bad way), as they build a second story and put a roof on, obviously all frame construction. I thought, boy, whatever they do up there isn't going to match the yellow face brick on the first floor.

Well, silly f-in' me. Just this week, the bricklayers appeared and began cover the entire face of the now 2-flat with the same boring-ass b.s. brownish-red face brick that every damned townhome and condo building up this way is built with. So, the yellow face brick will be behind this crappy brick.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't know WHY this bothers me so much, but it just pisses me off to no end, and saddens me a bit as well, as to how this type of thing happens, especially in a city with a "bungalow initiative" like Chicago. Now, I know that not every bungalow is salvageable or worth saving, but this one, at least on the outside, was a great example to me of a Chicago-style bungalow, and with developers thinking this way, someday, they might not be any left. Furthermore, if I'm the neighbors, how do I not fight the fact that parking over there's probably already a pain, and now they're going to add more people by upgrading that building?

It's just ridiculous, and I wish there was something someone could have done. Unfortunately, too, this is Chicago, and unless you know somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody, forget it. That's probably why this happened -- it was just an election year. Somebody filled somebody's campaign coffers.

Anyway, the before pic is up above...when they finish, I'll try to find the time to snap an after, so you can all share in my disgust.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What lurks in the gangway...

My blogging compadre, Fred, over at One Project Closer is hosting a giveaway for a set of two solar lamps, so you should head on over and check out his blog, and maybe enter -- but don't put forth too good of an argument, I want to win! ;) Just kidding...good luck to all, of course. Here's a link directly to the post I'm talking about.

Anyway, as promised in my "entry" for that contest, here's a picture of the unlighted gangway and the back of the house. It's a photo at night during the winter that shows the stark contrast between the lighted backyard and the dark, "scary" gangway (on the right of the photo). As you can see, it's not the safest setup in the world. And although I've been thinking about getting some solar lamps, I'd of course love to try some out for free and give them a great review, if indeed they deserve it. :)

I should mention that I have not messed with the brightness or contrast of this photo. This is the real deal. Besides, if I went to all that trouble for two free solar lamps, what kind of nutso would I be? :) I mean, free is free, but I'm not that competitive or insane. :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A week wasted...somewhat...

Well, I didn't get too much done this week, unfortunately. I spent a day in Atlanta for a seminar and thus a lot of time at airports and such. Always a blast.

Other than that, this weekend, really was more family-oriented and all, given Mother's Day and this being my wife's first Mother's Day as a mom. So I did a bunch of shopping yesterday for her and a couple other things we needed around here. I also bought a neat little pocket video recorder -- an RCA Small Wonder -- that I'm mainly planning to use for A.J.'s daily "adventures"...i.e., when he's being cute or reaching milestones. But, hey, maybe this thing will bring some video interactivity to Building a Better Bungalow as well. We'll see. Lord knows, it's really, really easy to use and get vids onto the CPU and then uploaded. So I'm psyched about that.

Thankfully, this week, I have no travel scheduled, so I might be able to do more work around the house -- I hope. There's just so much going on that it's tough to carve out a niche where I have the time to do this stuff. I'm sure you all have similar problems. :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Decisions made (maybe), things planted...

Well, I didn't get around to cutting the grass until Sunday, as I was too lazy to change the oil and go buy gas for the mower on Saturday, especially given the dreariness of the misty rain falling as well. But I did cut it Sunday, and it needed it.

Also Sunday, I hung out with a few longtime friends at one of their daughter's baptism celebration. After chatting with a couple of the guys, two of whom have done some serious work to their houses, and one of whom remodeled his entire family room in his basement about 2 years ago, I've come to a couple conclusions.

1. I'm pretty sure I'm going to put down laminate flooring, assuming it isn't cost-prohibitive or my floors are horrifyingly uneven (which they shouldn't be, as I have carpet down there now, but we'll see). My buddy did a floating floor down in his basement and suggested the same for me. I'm probably doing that. Either way, the carpet's gotta go.

2. I'm framing the walls and insulating using 2x4s and fiberglass batts. That's what he used and says I'm right in thinking it's the best for my situation.

3. The serious work will come from the ceiling, which I hope will pay off in the end in terms of the look. I've described it before, I think, but if not, well, then it'll have to be a surprise. :) But we'll see for sure, I never know until you try, I guess. :)

4. In an unrelated issue, I have to fill up and test the backyard hot tub, as this friend might want it and would be willing to disassemble and haul it out of here, assuming it works. So that's good. I didn't want to have to sledgehammer the thing to bits (which I may have to do anyway, if it's broken and no one wants it), so that'll be great.

Aside from that, this evening after hitting the gym for the first time in a couple weeks (stupid Germany biz trip!), I came home and planted a whole bunch of bare-root and bulbs from a package of flowers I bought at Costco. Included Acidanthera (which I've never seen or grown before), Black-Eyed Susans and a blue Sage/Salvia type of plant. So we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, my garden's doing OK...I only appear to have lost a couple of perennials over the winter, which is nice, and the plants I put in the new front porch planters are doing great, except the Coleus, for some reason. It says Part Sun, and that's what it gets, so I don't know what's up. But the other two plants are growing and blooming, and the marigold seeds I planted (that weren't eaten) have sprouted, so it should look great soon!

Now, if I only had the time/ability/money to get the other garden ideas I had going, I'd be set!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Germany pictures...

me at the castle
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Since I haven't posted anything in a while, having been on business in Germany, I figured I'd at least give you all something to look pictures from Germany. Enjoy!

Today, I have to cut the grass, and I'm hoping to get a few things planted/taken care of outside. We'll see how it goes and if the weather cooperates.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guten Tag...

Just wanted to send an update to all my loyal readers out there...I'm on business in Germany...was down south in the country the last two days and took the train up north today. I've seen some really beautiful countryside and some really cool home and villages and such. Wish I had my camera out during the train ride, because some of the mountain villages we stopped in were just beautiful and nothing like what I'd ever seen before.

That said, I did take pictures of the ancient castle in a small town I stayed at, as well as some homes in a pretty nice neighborhood at the top of the same hill the castle was on. Of course, I didn't bring the USB cord to transfer the pictures to Flickr, so you'll all have to patiently wait for those. I get back on Wednesday sometime, and probably will be totally jet-lagged. But I'll do what I can!

Until then, the blog will be pretty quiet...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We have plants...

west planter 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, I tried to make my rookie visit to Gethsemane Garden Center over near the Lake in the city here, but I should have known better than to try. of the very first really nice Sundays, and I tried to swing by around 11 a.m. I should have known that I'd end up just driving right by while traffic backed up on Clark to get into the parking lot.

I said, "Forget this," except replace "forget" with everyone's favorite "f" word, and headed on out to Meinke's out in Morton Grove, planning to just hit up Home Depot if Meinke's selection was lacking this early in the season. I'll try Gethsemane at some other time. As you can see, I got just enough to get the planters going at Meinke's. I am happy. Plus, I got some great ideas for more plants that I can put out in the front garden once I start cranking on that...I was looking for shade-tolerant ideas and walking around the nursery reminded me of several of the plants I used to have out in Bolingbrook in a shady spot that I liked.

So we'll see. I spent much of the rest of the afternoon sketching out and measuring the entire front yard from the house to the street and then drawing it on that site I used way back in July for my backyard garden plan. Now, I can print it if I want and/or just drag and drop potential layouts together on a whim. Should be nice.

So go ahead over to Flickr and check out the flowers I got. I like what these planters have the potential to look like. I just hope I got enough verticality in them to offset the horizontal shape of the planters and the vines. I guess I'll find out soon enough!

The new planters...

As promised, here are some pics of our new stone planters on the wing walls. I'm so psyched. I'm off to look at plants and flowers today! Gotta get things going!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

BIG day at the ol' bungalow...

Wow. I look back on today and I'm pretty impressed with how we've turned some bad things around today. We didn't do "a lot" of work, but a host of things have improved.

1. The plumber came today and installed the new supply line from the city shut-off to the tee to the rest of the house. Has it made a difference? Hard to tell...but, I'll tell you, that 85-year-old galvanized pipe was nice and crusted up inside. So, if anything, at least we're not drinking THAT water anymore! Sorry that I forgot to take a pic of that, and of course, the alley scavengers took that pipe in about an hour's time. There's one piece left to swap out, and that's the valve. We need to get the city out to locate the outside shutoff so the plumber can swap out the old valve. Then, we're good to go.

2. Bungalow Avenue (see previous post) delivered my two new stone planters for the front of the house. I'm FLOORED at how PERFECT they are and how beautiful they look. I'm so glad that, for once, I saw something early enough that I was able to take advantage and do something nice. I will take pics tomorrow, I promise...wait till you see them. They couldn't be more perfect.

3. I put my Chevy Equinox to the test today as well...after crunching the numbers every which way possible and then taking a good hard look at the current fence, I decided to go with the idea suggested by my dad as well as Jennifer from Tiny Old House, which was to keep the rails and pickets and just buy new posts. So I did that. I bought 20 4x4 8-foot posts and 10 bags of instant post installation mix. I figured I'd try that stuff, although my dad is bound to scold me for not doing it the old-fashioned way. Hey, I've mixed up enough concrete in my life to earn a pass this time. Anyway, we loaded all this ridiculously heavy stuff into the Equinox and set off, gingerly, from Morton Grove on back down to Portage Park. Thankfully, there weren't a lot of big bumps on the way, so we survived. But it was a harrowing feeling, worrying about somehow damaging the car...oh, and having blind spots all over the place. The boards barely fit from the dash all the way to the back door, stacked from floor to ceiling. Not the safest, but what could I do?

So we're about ready to do the fence, whenever we actually get the time to do it. For now, the stuff will all have to sit in the garage, waiting for the right weekend. :)

4. I figured out that the upstairs shower problem was the shower head. Since I didn't like it anyway, and it was, in effect, broken, we bought a new shower head. Waterpik makes an "el cheapo" rain head (which just means it's chrome-plated plastic rather than metal) that was, like, $20 or so at Menard's. I figured what the heck, why not try it? Now, the key thing here is, I know I've learned some things because, for once, a project that the box claims "Installs in minutes!" actually took only minutes to install. So that was a nice feeling. And the shower works well, so far. Of course, I pulled the restrictor out, because I'm just not an environmentalist (just kidding...don't they say, "Know your audience?" ;) ). Nah, I pulled it because I wasn't sure if the water pressure would still be too low up there. Turns out, it's pretty good. So I'll leave it and see how it goes for a while.

Tomorrow, I think I'm going to plant and plant and plant. And probably cut down the Hicks Yews I have in front. Anybody in the Chicago area who might want them, you're welcome to come and save them. There are two chest-high ones (I might transplant one, rather than chop it to bits) and one vertical, about 8- to 10-foot tall one that are definitely getting either moved or chopped down. Let me know ASAP, of course, and we can try to work something out. I don't expect anyone will want them, but I thought I'd ask.

So we shall see. For sure, I'll have pics though!

Oh yeah, and last but not least at all, head on over to One Project Closer to read about all of Fred's great stuff and to see my Houseblogger Interview from Friday's edition. It's good reading, if I say so myself. :)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Going out of business sale...

Anyone who might need a couple reproduction stone/cast planters for their front porch in the Chicagoland area, head on over to, as they're having a going out of business sale. I feel bad for them. Really, I's a shame, you know?

But I feel good for me, as I've been looking (not really ACTIVELY) for a deal on the old-fashioned stone planters for our bungalow. So you all can head over there and pick through what's left. I got what I wanted, and I'll be sure to share pics with you once they're delivered (since they're 110 pounds apiece!).


Monday, April 14, 2008

Everyone swears by freecycle...but I don't get it...

Maybe I'm a moron. Maybe I'm just unlucky or something. But, this is my second go-around on Freecycle, and let me tell you, I'm really, honestly not impressed at all.

Maybe it's because I'm in a big city (Chicago), or maybe I'm not looking at it the right way or something, but to me, all that appears to be offered is a whole bunch of useless junk (at least to me). I've not seen anything, thus far, that I'd have even a close interest in. Furthermore, a lot of the stuff, it's like, "Maybe I need that, but am I really going to call my brother to accompany me to go pick the thing up, waste my evening and his, for something as miniscule as that?" Further, there's just SOOOOOO much junk to weed through. It's like attempting to find a needle in a haystack, and really, I just have a hard time committing to doing something like that.

I understand the "penny saved, penny earned" idea behind it. I get that, totally. And I'm far from the person who needs to have everything new and fresh and, even, hip. I grew up wearing hand-me-downs and that was fine. But I just don't get it. I'll probably stay on there, only because, well, you can disable getting daily emails now. Occasionally, maybe I'll stumble on over and stumble upon something I want. But, really, I don't have high hopes.

Maybe all you freecycle vets can tell me what I'm doing wrong. WITHOUT being preachy about it being right and good and all that. ;)

In other news, I calculated out the cost for replacing the whole fence. All 200 feet of fence (believe it or not, we have that much fence around our city lot). It's going to be cost-prohibitive. So, despite two posts ago saying I think we'll replace the whole thing, that probably ain't happening. The one side is likely to get done, and that's about it. In and of itself, that should be a blast, let me tell you!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What a difference a day makes...

new arbor 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Though rain was predicted for today, it held off, and we had partly cloudy skies, meaning we saw some sun today! That allowed me to go out to the garage (well, I was going to do this rain or shine) and build the arbor I bought at Menard's the other day. The fact that it didn't rain allowed me to put it in the yard and plant the grape plants too. So here's a picture of the arbor. It's not in its permanent home, though, as that garden's still a thought in my mind rather than a reality. So for this year, this is where this arbor will go. Next year, it'll move to its permanent home at the entrance to the back garden, between the garage and fence (hopefully).

Now let's hope the grapes grow and do well, but don't go bonkers and overwhelm everything around here! I don't really know what I'm getting into, honestly! :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

When will it end?...

Yes, folks, it's currently snowing here in Chi-town. This after rain. With more rain tomorrow. Granted, it's light rain, but still, it's preventing me from doing anything outside.

This worries me, because the great grape plants I bought, which are supposed to be dormant, are actually growing in my basement. Even though I have them in a dry, pretty much dark room. This is not good, since I have no actual place for them right now.

I was hoping to get out there and build the arbor I purchased from Menard's for these very plants today, but with the chilly weather, I didn't feel like sitting in the garage working on this all day. Plus, my White Sox were on and playing well (nearly a no-hitter), so I was distracted by that.

Tomorrow, maybe, hopefully, I'll get out there to build the thing, and then maybe in the next couple of evenings, I can get the plants in the ground. Even though, again, I don't really have a dedicated spot ready for them yet.

Today, I instead swung by Menard's to look at fence material. I think that we're going to redo our entire fence on both sides (even though only one side is technically our responsibility). We need the privacy fence on both sides, and since M's has their BIG card no interest for 6 mos. deal going, we figure now's as good a time to at least buy the materials as any. So, it's likely that I'll be at M's this week buying about 200 feet worth of planks, posts, rails, concrete and gravel.

But we probably won't build the fence for a few weekends, if not until after Memorial Day weekend, even. Lots to do before then. But we'll see how it goes, I guess.

In the meantime, the plumber is coming out next Saturday to replace the water pipe from the city shutoff to our utility room, in the hopes that the added volume and new pipe (currently, it's pretty much the 85-year-old galvanized pipe, which is probably corroded to no flow inside) will give a boost to the water pressure in the house. We shall see. Crossing our fingers though!

Part of me is even feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything going on. I'm going to have to step back and really just kind of take a breath and figure out what we really can/should do and what doesn't make sense for this year. That's not an easy task, as many of you know!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

As promised...

new pots
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Here are a couple of pictures from the backyard garden. The pots I obviously bought the plants this weekend. But you can see the barren-ness of the main garden (from a distance). If you get down on your hands and knees, you can see the Yarrow, Coreopsis, Goldenrod and other flowers starting to come back.

The butterfly bush, I've read, is a late bloomer, but I'm wondering about my rose bush. Anyone? Do rose bushes typically take this long to sprout buds?

I'm going to have a decent amount of transplanting to do this year, I think, however. Once I get my front garden and garage-side garden constructed. That's a chore and then some. It might have to wait...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

For joists, have you ever ... ?

Went to the ol' Home Depot today...was looking at fences. Fences are ridiculous in terms of pricing. So much so that we might have to bite it and only replace half the fence this time around, and just get new gate hardware to make it through. We'll see.

But, while there, I got to thinking about my basement family room ceiling again. So I have a question for all y'all...

Has anyone ever sanded joists smooth and stained them? I'm talking OLD joists, not new construction joists. Nevermind how much work it will be. Whatever I decide to do is going to take work. If you have, and you have pictures of how it turned out, I'd love to see them.

I think I'm going to try this first in a couple spots, mostly because my alternatives will likely cover up whatever the heck I do if I don't like it.

That's about it for now, though...back to your regularly scheduled programming. :)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Some work done...but not much...

Leave it to me feeling as though I'm starting to get sick to somewhat hijack part of a beautiful day.

I did travel over to Menard's and Home Depot to take a look around, specifically at fencework materials, which are on sale at M's for the next two weeks. I also measured the entire fence, which we have on both sides (though one side is not our responsibility, but we have a privacy fence on that side, because they don't have a garage and the P.O. probably didn't want people seeing him in his hot tub).

Of course, the good news, in a sense, is that the P.O., for whatever dumb reason, put the fence up backward, with the posts and rails on the outside. So, I'll get to "reclaim" about 4-6 inches of yardspace (garden on that side) once I install the thing the "correct" way. That'll be a nice little bonus, of sorts.

I also couldn't resist buying two flowers for the containers I have in the yard, as well as a small flat of one of my favorite, easy-to-grow vegetables: Swiss Chard. I LOVE the stuff, particularly as an alternative to spinach (which I also love, by the way). I grew this stuff in a 16-inch round container on my deck when I lived deep in the heart of the city (well, deeper than now, anyway) in my apartment, and a little bit at our condo on the balcony. It's awesome. Furthermore, I make a mean Swiss Chard fettucine that I really haven't made since the condo days because, believe it or not, Swiss Chard is just not that easy to find at the supermarket. Probably if I hit the produce stores, maybe, but I never thought of that until now. Oh well, home-grown tastes much better.

My recipe for swiss chard fettucine, by the way, is based off a Victory Garden recipe found here. However, I add more garlic and substitute lime juice for lemon juice, and mushrooms in for the walnuts (the wife's not a fan of lemon or walnuts). I've also added hearts of palm on occasion and other things I simply can't remember right now. Now, I've tried this dish with spinach, by the way, and didn't really like it. But that's just me. Really, it's a versatile dish, so it's not a huge deal. But it's nice to be able to go out and just pick the chard right out of the container, wash it and use it.

Otherwise, like I said, I'm not feeling so great, so I'll try to snap some pics of the new plants and the now cut back and pruned garden. I've gotten some new buds in the garden (aside from the tulips growing up against the house), which is GREAT to see!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Maybe I'll go to bed early... that I can get up earlier and start working around the house tomorrow.

See, it's going to be BEAUTIFUL tomorrow (comparatively speaking) here in Chicago...60s and sunny. I can't believe it myself!

I missed going to the gym today, but I did buy a new bike, which I've been itching to ride. So maybe I'll get up really early and take a long bike ride. Then come back and do some work. I've also been itching to get to work outside, but I want to make more progress down in the family room before I start playing around outside.

Still, I bought a bunch of dormant plants at Costco the other day, including a batch of grape plants, which I'm REALLY excited about planting. Gina loves grapes, and I like them. But it would just be cool to be able to grow them and pick them and all that good stuff. Of course, I have grapes, but no trellis or pergola, or really a ready spot for them. So we'll see. I might have to improvise. Some of the outdoor projects I want to knock out this year:

1. Cut down and dig out the yew bushes in front of the house. Gonna keep the nice, full ones on the side of the main face of the house, but the ones in front gotta go. They're in sad shape, and I want nicer curb appeal.
2. I bought some ferns and some other shade-loving plants for the front (we're north-facing) to replace those at least as a base for this year. This way, I have something there if I don't get around to totally renovating the front.
3. HAVE TO, HAVE TO, HAVE TO replace the fence in the backyard, and especially the gates. They are in sad, sad shape. This will be an early project, I'm hoping.
4. Want to tear out the hot tub and the "carport" covering it, and then reclaim that for grass. I would reclaim it for, say, a mini prairie, but with a child and possibly others in the future, I don't know if reality would win out in that case. But, hey, the wheels are turning. :)
5. Definitely going to build a garden in the back, next to the garage, though. That plan was brainstormed long ago, and I'd like to move on it this year. I'm hoping that I'll be able to do that, but we'll see.

So there's much to do...

I did get one thing done yesterday, I should say. I took the day off because of A.J.'s one-month checkup, and spent part of the afternoon tearing down the soffit in the family room so that the plumber has access to the water supply pipe for replacement. Hopefully that will be able to be scheduled for next Saturday. That would be nice, let me tell you...

So what are you all doing this weekend? Anything cool?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Let the discussion begin...

OK...put your thinking caps on.

As you know, if you've been reading, I'm remodeling the basement family room. I've finally made a decision that I'm ripping out the furring-strip "studs" and starting over with 2x4s and fiberglass insulation. It took forever to just say, "Screw it," and make a decision on that.

My latest mental wrestling match has been the ceiling. I tore down drywall, mostly because I didn't want drywall up there. I don't mind "can" lights, as we have them all over the kitchen and second floor. But, I wanted to do something different. Yes, it's fluorescent lights, but I LOVE the look and the space-saving-ness of this idea particularly. It's better than the fluorescent shop-lights with covers we have down there now. I've kicked up the contrast and only included part of the page, for copyright avoidance purposes. :)

Unfortunately, as you can see in this picture, it looks really nice with a drywalled ceiling. Factor/problem #2 here is that, although our joists look pretty dirty and cruddy in spots, the bottoms of the floorboards above are really in beautiful shape. I like the idea of keeping them exposed, but I DON'T want track lighting, for sure. See the joists below.

Am I missing something here when I think that there's no way I can do both: (1) have the light boxes and (2) avoid a drywalled ceiling, especially since I just tore down all the old drywall that was up there (which I might have done anyway, honestly...wanted to see what was above it)?

My thought was to have three fluorescent light boxes where the current fluorescent fixtures are, then maybe install some sconces along the walls for softer, dimmer light when needed. The bar area would probably get can lights or something else--probably not a fluorescent, as there's no fluorescent light there now.

Or, and you can be honest here, am I just COMPLETELY out of my mind for thinking that these light boxes will look nice, given that it will be fluorescent light emanating from them?

I'm open to any and all suggestions on this lighting idea, a ceiling idea, etc., etc. Given that little A.J. is taking up a lot of my time lately and preventing frequent posts (he's doing GREAT, by the way), I figure I'll start a discussion. Let the discussion begin! Oh, for reference, here's a Sketchup of my basement "plan"...with bar now included! :)