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! :)