Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just insane...

Well, hey there everybody...anybody who I've disappointed, no doubt, over the past two months with my lack of blogging. I'm a journalist for a living, so you'd think, you know, I'd have plenty to say and report on around here and all, but it's been just crazy.

An 18-month-old son will do that...along with a crappy economy that just affects everything you had planned to do. And then add in the need to still be social, do things and somehow keep up with the household chores and stuff, and well, you know how it goes.

So, in bullet form, here are some updates since last I spoke:

1. Garden
The vegetable garden in the back was pretty much a smashing success. But I learned a few things.
--(a) 9 cherry tomato plants and 9 Big Boy tomato plants is too many tomatoes. And don't tell me about making sauce and ketchup and all that. I tried making sauce one evening, and it took me all evening. I simply don't have the time to do that, sadly, nor the canning ability to can tomatoes either. Not at this stage. Fortunately, I made a lot of friends and family members happy with the "free" tomatoes. :) After really struggling to start the year, over the past two months, I've pulled probably 1-2 dozen cherry tomatoes off every 1-2 days. The Big Boys took forever to grow and ripen, but I'm getting maybe three per 1-2 days now. They bounced back. But, it's very much a jungle back there.
--(b) Broccoli does much better when given sunlight. In Bolingbrook, I grew it in dappled sunlight, and it did well, I thought. But now, much better. I've cut main heads that were larger than my fist a few times already. Only thing is, I planted too late, as what I'm cutting was supposed to be my spring crop. It just now is producing.
--(c) The soaker hose hooked up to the rain barrel has made a huge difference, but I'm tired of stepping over it. Next year, I'm going to look into a less "in-the-way" option...copper tubing, maybe. We'll see...
--(d) Knock on wood, for some reason, I had NO critter invasions. I hope that lasts. I know I'm lucky. :)
--(e) Grapes need a lot more room to spread out. Sometime in the last two months, a windstorm blew over my top-heavy arbor loaded with grapevines. The grapes were doing OK, but it wasn't going to work. I cut the vines down, removed the arbor, and planted some new perennials. You can go over to my Flickr account to see the result. I'm hoping next year they'll come back as strong as the others have.
--(f) Two years in a row proves you can control Butterfly Bush and get it to grow 7-8 feet tall in a narrow space, with the use of a tall tomato cage and pre-emptive "training" of branches to stay in the cage and grow upward rather than outward.
--(g) Garlic takes a long, long time to grow. Still waiting on my garlic.
--(h) NOTHING beats carrots right out of the garden. Nothing.

2. Family room
Well, this is the project that has suffered from the economic downturn. It's been pretty much static since early to mid summer. Until recently, when we bought a nice sectional from Ashley Furniture, finally paid off the floor (which has yet to be installed) and turned around and purchased the subfloor materials. We still need to do a decent amount of painting/priming, install the floor and the trim. But we do have cable down there now, and like I said, we'll be getting a comfy sectional, so there might just be motivation to get this thing done already. Stay tuned.

3. Other projects/happenings
Outside of those two things, really, there hasn't been any major goings-on at the house. My parents just had their house (a pre-bungalow bungalow, if that makes sense) exterior walls repointed, washed and the brick walls on the roof (they have a flat roof) completely rebuilt, and for cheap. So, if my dad gives me the contact info, I might give this company a call and get them out to repoint the facebrick on my bungalow. I was going to do it myself, but if these guys are as good as the work they did on my parents' house suggests, I'd be comfortable with it. But we'll see. The only other thing I'd like to do/have to do, is to weatherstrip/proof the windows and some of the doors. Gotta do that before it gets too cold...but time's ticking away.

Ah well...I hope I still have some readers left! Thanks for sticking around and checking back...I'll try to be better, I promise!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yeah, beets...

beets 71609 5
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Pulled up four Chioggia beets today...the four were more than ready! Took out the cheese shredder, sauteed them in a frying pan briefly with some butter, and they were tasty. More coming!

We have our first official harvest success!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In unison: "It's about time!" ...

July14garden 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Where have I been? Very, very busy. But that hasn't stopped the gardening from continuing...and the beauty of perennials is, LITTLE MAINTENANCE!

I love it. But, check out my veggie garden...it's actually growing and growing well, given the cool, wet conditions we've had most of the past couple months...

More later...but for now, check out the pretty pictures!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's hot and way too rainy, but...

beets 62209
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
...the good news is my plants are doing pretty good (knock on wood). I didn't get any shots of the tomato plants, but pictured above is a shot of one of the beets. I thinned out the beets and carrots, and they're growing pretty well, which is nice. If you click on the picture above, it'll take you over to Flickr where the rest of my most recent garden pictures are. Looking good, in my opinion...of course, what do I know? :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Last year/this year and before/after ...

CURB APPEAL, sort of...
Last year, here's what it looked like after I finally pulled out one of the evergreen bushes and planted a rhododendron and Sutherland Gold Elderberry, as well as a handful of ferns at the base:
shrubs in

This year, here's the update:
bushes year 2

I hate covering up the beautiful hardwood stairs:
stairs before 1

But after I slipped and dropped my son down the stairs, there was no way I wasn't having them carpeted. A handrail is next on the docket (though it would not have prevented the accident...). He's OK, but still...one hell of a scare:
stairs after 2

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rockin' broccoli...

rockin broccoli
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
As promised, I finally got out to take some pictures of the various garden updates. Head on over to Flickr to check them out...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

And the rains fell, and the dryer broke, and so did my wife...

So, between a trip to the hospital for emergency surgery (she's fine now) last week for my wife, the dryer breaking down and general Memorial Day madness, I was only able to construct the third veggie bed, though I need to get another bag of garden soil to really complete it.

This is a bummer, because I wanted to plant the tomatoes I started indoors. They're ready to be transplanted, but because of the rain showers, they're still inside. I had to economize my time outside in between downpours, so the picture-taking got sidelined.

It was also sidelined by us having to buy a new dryer (and then deciding to get a new washer too, since we "have to" have a matching set -- so if anyone wants to buy an older, but working well, wash machine for a cheap price, let me know!). I had to disconnect the washer and dryer, which is simple enough, except when the gate valves are seized up from years of immobility. I broke one and couldn't budge the other. Fortunately, I had two perfect gate valves laying around from a previous plumbing event, and was able to change them out without any trouble, amazingly enough. Also, I was nervous about the gas line to the dryer, but after shutting off the valve, it held (no leaks) and there was no problem there either (for a change)! I had to connect the new dryer, though, because the delivery guys did not have a vent pipe, and I wanted to replace the fire-hazard plastic pipe that the PO had put on there. Again, amazingly, no problems going to get a vent chute (UL listed flexible aluminum), installing the vent chute or reconnecting the gas line. I was thrilled.

The good news for the backyard is, the first two veggie beds are sprouting nicely.

In Bed No. 1, the garlic is growing great and was the first to sprout. Then, the asparagus started coming up. They aren't kidding about it being spindly the first year -- the spears are no wider than a typical spaghetti noodle. But they're neat to watch. Once they break the surface of the soil, they sure shoot up in height pretty fast. I was impressed! Finally, in Bed No. 1, the broccoli I started from seed began to sprout. It seems to be lagging a bit, but the plants appear healthy and in good shape, so I'll just need to be patient.

In Bed No. 2, I planted beans, carrots and beets, all from seed. The beets started sprouting earlier this week, and today I went out to find nice rows of seedlings peeking through the dirt. Yesterday, the beans began to push their way through the surface, and today, they've broken through nicely. Also, a surprise, the carrots are sprouting like mad today...I'll have to cull those rows heavily, as I simply scattered the seed in rows. So that will start soon. All in all, Bed 2 is in good shape, it appears.

Bed No. 3, like I mentioned above, is a few inches low on soil, so I have to go get more before moving on to construction of Bed No. 4. When that will happen, I'm not sure...but it has to be soon! Even though they're predicting storminess on and off for the next few days...might be sketchy.

Complicating matters is that my birthday is coming up this weekend, and my brothers were nice enough to get me Lego Indiana Jones for the PS3, and a Best Buy gift card, both of which have and will, respectively, distract me from doing "yardwork" around here! Ah well, I'll get back to it soon enough, I'm sure!

So there's the update...I leave you with this: It's a picture of my son attempting to eat a marigold when I told him to sniff the marigold in the planters out in front of the house. I did plant those up, and the flowers are doing well.

Edible marigolds...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The early bird gets the truck...

Well, quick post before I head to bed, following my successful completion of the Walk & Roll 50-mile bike ride today (from which I'm beat, obviously).

Yesterday, I got an early start and headed out the Home Depot to get a "load" of topsoil, peat moss and manure to make another veggie bed and finish filling the second one. When I walked in, I decided to see if they happened to have one of those nice rental trucks available. When they said they did, I decided to get 30 bags of topsoil, and enough peat moss and manure to fill up (hopefully) the last two, yet-unbuilt veggie beds.

Got home, and with the help of my bro, tossed all these bags over the fence. I felt vindicated that, for once, I was there early enough to get what I wanted and get out, knowing full well that yesterday's beautiful weather coupled with the technical passing of the frost date spelled doom for any gardeners trying to shop there after, say, 10 a.m. I was right. It was fine when I got the truck, but already a madhouse when I returned it.

I filled the remainder of the second bed and decided to plant seeds instead of start building the third bed, given I didn't want to do too much hard work given today's bike ride.

I planted a row of beans along the wall of the garage (will string up some wires at some point to carry the beans), and then several rows of Chioggia (sp?) beets and several rows of carrots. All seeds, of course. I also bought a Big Bertha pepper plant and put that in one of my freestanding pots near the deck.

Today was the bike ride, and I'm way too tired to go on...it was a beautiful day, and a beautiful ride -- but next year, we'll probably do a shorter run. We missed out on a lot of the fun at the end, because we weren't speed-demons. Ah well, live and learn...the most important thing was that we raised a great amount of money to help fight the battle against cancer. I think you can donate after the event, so if you want to, go ahead...otherwise, wait till next year!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Donate to fight cancer...

OK, well, this is the first blatant solicitation you've seen here, but I'm making it for a good cause. On the left, there, you see the American Cancer Society's logo, and a link. I'm riding my bike in this year's Walk & Roll North Shore in order to help raise money to fight cancer. I've had tons of relatives and some friends diagnosed from cancer -- some won the battle, some did not.

Doctors found cancer in my Dad's prostate last year, and fortunately they caught it early enough -- he had the prostate removed, and life has gone on. Thankfully, he's a good news story. Not everyone comes out on the positive side.

Anyway, I'm riding in two days (this Sunday), and although I don't expect anything from any of my loyal readers, I did want to offer up the chance to donate. My team and I will ride 50 miles, from Skokie north to Lake Forest, down to Evanston and back over to Skokie. (We didn't pick the route, of course.) I feel very prepared, even though this is the most I'll have ridden my bike in one "sitting" since college. I've gotten some good riding in lately in preparation, so as long as the bike doesn't break (knock on wood) somehow, I should be fine.

Please consider donating to the cause -- if you don't want to click on the link, then find the Walk & Roll official page, find the Walk & Roll North Shore (Skokie, Ill.), then you can find my team, the Whammy Ka-Blammies, and find me (Andy)...(I just don't want to post my last name here...paranoia and all).

Thanks for listening...and, amidst all the biking prep, I've done some housework and yardwork, and I promise to have photos and updates very soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A busy week, followed by another...

Since I'll be too busy for housework this week, I figured I'd try to cram as much in over the last week as I could, weather permitting. Rains and events yesterday and today kind of limited my abilities, but I do feel well-positioned to get the vegetable raised beds completed in the next couple weeks -- maybe even next weekend. That is, assuming I can get all the topsoil, peat moss and manure that I need.

Since last weekend's bonanza of work, I haven't raised any more beds in the back. But, I did assemble the former fence pickets into walls and then went to buy a few more cedar boards for the other walls of the three remaining beds (didn't have enough fence pickets or retaining wall blocks to complete the job). I cut those and assembled them too. It also gave me an excuse to buy myself a circular saw, which, believe it or not, I did not have to this point. I got a Ryobi 12-amp, which cost me only about $40. So it was worth it.

Today I finished assembling the walls for the three remaining beds, so they'll be ready to rock and roll when I get time to take them into the garden.

Yesterday, before the rains came, I went to Home Depot to get gutters for the garden side of the garage. The water was running off and creating a trench in the raised bed. Also, I think that diverting that water out to the alley or wherever will help to minimize the flooding in the yard, somewhat.

I was only able to get one 10-foot length of gutter up, however, before we had a social obligation, so today, the back area was flooded because of the rains. Of course, the raised bed is not affected, which is good (and was the goal). So, once that water goes down, I'll be able to work back there again.

So that's where I stand right now...I'll hopefully have pictures once there's something good to take pictures of. We'll see how much more we get done next weekend!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

First raised bed finished...

first bed 2
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
...and I'm tired as hell. Did all the work myself. Heck, these last three days, I've done all the work myself.

That's OK, because I didn't really want help. Mostly because I was somewhat "winging it" on this...wasn't sure how it was going to go, wasn't sure how I was going to put it together. Was just kind of building as I went along, in a sense, and troubleshooting as I came upon an issue. Not many issues cropped up though.

The construction went as follows...
I got a leftover 50-lb. bag of sand, which I used as a base below the stones and bricks (especially given the unlevel ground situation). I laid the front stones first, then laid the bricks on the left.

I left a few inches between the bed and the garage, mostly because, when I decide to raise up the ground around the beds (once THEY'RE done), I'll want to obviously raise the little strip of ground back there, so water doesn't collect there either.

I then set the stones on the right side. As you can see, I staggered the stones only slightly. That's mostly because I didn't have the patience or tools to cut the blocks. This is sturdy as it is, even if it's not half-staggered or whatever they call it. I also used.

Finally, I got two of the fence pickets from the demolished hot tub wall structure and secured them together, side by side, with three pieces of wood (one longer in order to pound it into the ground. I took two stakes and pounded them into the ground at the ends, for added stability (just in case).

I then got the Sunday Trib and laid about three layers of newspaper directly on the grass (weeds). I wet it down really, really well. I got the big, 3-cubic-foot "bag" of Peat Moss I bought yesterday, and spread that around. Then, I spread three 40-lb. bags of humus/manure. I busted out my trusty Garden Weasel and mixed those two layers together a little bit.

Then I started laying bags of topsoil. 12 bags later, and here we are. I haven't planted anything in this bed yet, mostly because I was probably going to put the taller plants (tomatoes for sure) here. But now I'm not so sure. I have broccoli which does OK in less sun than some of the other veggies (I know this from experience, albeit limited, with growing broccoli in a part shade situation). So we'll see.

Anyway, I'm pretty darned tired...and I still have three more beds to build. Obviously, with rain on the way, this isn't happening tomorrow. But I'm happy to say that, aside from being one hell of a back-breaking three days, I got a decent amount of stuff done and took full advantage of the beautiful weather we had.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, the humanity...OK, that's a bit overly dramatic...

halfway 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, hey there loyal readers...Wow, almost a whole month of no posting by me. That's a record that I'm sorry to admit to for this blog (I think).

Basically, I've been way the heck too busy to post of late. Much has happened, though, in the last week or two, so I thought I'd share some photos and an update. It's long overdue.

1. The basement family room has been mostly primed and is just about ready for paint. The review of the Behr New Drywall Primer is that I really liked it. I put one coat of the primer on the ceiling, and my buddy Luis (who has made appearances on this blog in the past) put on one coat of Behr White Ceiling Paint, and other than probably a touch-up here and there, that's ALL the ceiling needed. Primer on the walls was a little thinner, but it looks like it's covering enough to put paint up. So that will be the next step.

I've decided I'm going with two-tone walls. Top half will be a color called Harvest Brown (710D-4) and the bottom half will be a color called Smokey Blue (540F-5). I got the color combo off the Yellow-Toned Neutrals Style Card, actually. Even though in the style card, the Smokey Blue is only the napkins in the photo. I think this will look really nice, and I like the fact that I'm adding some color, not just beiges and yellows and browns and whatnot. I'm gonna split these with a white (or ivory, we'll see) chair rail, which will run perfectly below the windowsills and perfectly above the fireplace to form the top part of the simple mantel.

Of course, I bought the primer and paint on Tuesday, and Home Depot decided to have a $5 rebate per can offer that started today. Bunch of jerks. I wish I would have waited two stinking days...

I did get the floor I wanted, so I can't gripe too much, I guess...since it was 89 freaking cents a square foot and no interest till 2010. That gives us several months to pay it off without penalty of any kind. And that's HUGE.

2. Backyard plans are running full bore right now. I've started some tomato seeds and broccoli seeds, and have a whole slew of other vegetables waiting in the wings to be planted in the new garden that I'm working on constructing (currently in my brain, very soon in the yard). I'm going to have to get three cubic yards of dirt/compost/peat moss/manure/whatever to raise the bed up high enough in the back that floods to avoid future floods. So this garden will have the dual purpose of being a garden and taking care of part of the flooding problem. So I hope anyway.

The veggies I have in my possession (and should have room for, I hope -- I probably won't plant a forest of each of these, just a couple of each...I don't need 200 tomatoes) are: cherry tomatoes, big boy tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, garlic, green beans, carrots and beets. I'd like to get a pepper plant as well, and maybe some rosemary.

Today, I knocked down the "walls" of the little shelter that the hot tub is under...40 pickets of a fence. Fortunately, they were nailed to the rails, so I just hammered the hell out of them to break them free. Several of the pickets are in fantastic shape still and will be used in this garden, either as backup support around the beds or as walkway planks or something. We'll see for sure. It was definitely hard work, but I wanted to get it done because the garbage men come tomorrow, and there were some unsalvageables that I had to toss.

As you can see from the pictures on Flickr (click on the photo here), the yard looks significantly different with the walls of the shelter down. You can also see that I tried to pry the roof off, piece by piece. But, after climbing up the ladder and working for about 15 minutes plus to get that one panel off, I realized that it was going to work, and that, oh, these appear to be some sort of fiberglass panels, and my forearm itches and hurts like hell. I got a ton of fiberglass fibers rubbing on the underside of my forearm because I rested it briefly on the panel to try to pry it up. Live and learn, I guess.

So, tomorrow is supposed to be another unbelievably spectacularly beautiful day here in Chicago. I took the day off today, and will have most of tomorrow off, so I think that I will do some more work out there. Maybe I'll go buy the 70 or so bags of topsoil and stuff...but that would mean I'd have to rent one of those menards or home depot trucks...anyone done that and had good/bad experiences? (Anyone still reading at this stage?)

Anyway, we shall see how it goes tomorrow. I'm pretty tired from today's adventures...more soon, I promise!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stay on target...stay on target...

It's been a quiet week and a half here at the bungalow...and that's OK. We've just had too much going on. But I haven't lost track of things that need to be done. It's been brainstorming time, and here at the house, we've been brainstorming ways to solve the backyard flooding issue, brainstorming ways to get the painting and flooring done in the basement family room, and brainstorming ways to feel a heckuva lot better about the sewer main situation.

I've also been getting the gardening itch. Ever...so...slightly.

The good news is, I visited Menards and Home Depot today, and definitely found the laminate floor I want. Let's hope they still have it in stock tomorrow, when we'll probably go back to get it. It's EXACTLY what I want, on sale and everything. Plus, the no interest until 2010 is a big, big plus right now!

Also, at Home Depot, I took a gander at primer and paint colors, and I actually think I might have found some colors that I really like that seem to go together and may very well go with what we plan to move down there too! It's Behr paint though...any reviews from any of my regular readers out there? Have you had any problems with Behr? Gina and I, since moving in together, have used exclusively Benjamin Moore. But I've not been all that impressed, specifically, for the price. I mean, it's been fine, don't get me wrong...but it's not like it's been so above and beyond that I'm dying to use it over anything else.

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Behr paint. I'm looking at a darker color on the bottom half and a neutral on the top half.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The tropics, without the warmth...

Just when I think I have the damned floodwaters figured out, something else happens. (NOTE: This is long, but I got a lot to say...a lot happened)

Friday night, I went to two Home Depots and one Lowe's to get those stupid 60-lb. tubes of sand that people put in the backs of their pickup trucks in the winter to weigh them down in icy weather. Got five of them, knowing that I'd be gone most of the day Saturday, and I could sandbag the basement stairs in the event that water flooded the backyard and got close enough. So I set them up Friday night.

Saturday morning, I double-check them, and we were gone for the day. In the evening, I come back to find no floodwaters in the yard. Nice. But rain on the way overnight. Rained all night Sat/Sun. I woke up purposefully at 2:30 (3:30 after the spring ahead) a.m. to go outside and downstairs to check the situation. Happily discover no floodwaters in the yard or the basement.

Get up Sunday morning around 9 a.m. Electrician comes at 10, done by 11:30. Still no danger, although I notice there is some standing water in my catch basin in the backyard. Odd, but not bad. I decide to keep an eye on it.

Then, the niagara falls apparently opens above my house. Suddenly, the backyard is flooded badly, but I suspect that the sandbags will hold up fine. My plan will be tested, but appears OK to work. Then, while I'm checking the sandbags, I look down the stairs into the basement to notice that, what the hell? Water is rising up from the drain, and that kinda fast. It's going right into the laundry room, which is fine, except that drain feeds the same pipes.

I scramble (I'm on my own at this stage) to grab all five 60-lb. sandbags and try to manipulate them between the drain and the door to the basement. But I'm too late. Water is not going down in the laundry room, and I look off in the distance to my newly remodeled family room and notice that there is water now coming up through THAT drain as well...much more and much faster than in the laundry room.

I get the sandbags positioned as best as I can and at that stage resign myself to simply hoping and praying that the water coming up stays pooled "around" the drain and doesn't hit any of the new drywall or framework. Thankfully, it does. The drain is depressed in the floor, which is good, because about an 8-foot diameter portion of the floor has been soaked, and there's still about 3 inches of water over the drain at this juncture. This after two downpours.

Now, I'm pissed and confused as well. Also, the yard floodwater is now coming down the stairs slightly, only adding to the backed up drain problem. I get the pump and set it up in the stairwell drain and run the house out to the front of the house. I'm confused because there is no standing water at all on the street, and nobody else is out running around trying to bail out water except me. I surmise that I must be the only one getting water in the basement, or the only one who cares.

After talking to my dad, we realize that my main must be clogged/blocked. That means, I need a plumber/water department guy to come out with a power rodder to clear the main. Fortunately, Gina's cousin knows a guy, and this guy agrees to come out and help me out. He suspects the roots of the bushes (the evergreen-types you see in front of everyone's bungalow, practically) in front of the house have grown through the main and blocked it. I tell him that I was going to pull those out. He says good idea, because they are the absolute worst -- worse than trees. I say, good, one more reason to destroy them.

After two hours of power-rodding the main and pulling out a couple sizeable handfuls of root mass, and nearly $300 to get that done, the drain is opened again and working, and the catch basin is empty.

Supposedly, Tuesday, we're gonna have another similar freaking storm. That will test whether or not this was the real issue today. I hope it doesn't come back as a problem again, because I have enough of a problem with the backyard floodwaters. I don't need sewer backups, especially now that the family room is on its way to being done.

I'm tired as shit -- my back and legs hurt and I'm just so out of it. The basement is a total mess again, and I really don't even feel like cleaning any of it. It's such a freakin' pain in the ass. Sometimes, as much as I absolutely love it, homeownership completely and totally sucks.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Words are very, unnecessary...

The title is taken from "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode...and that's what I've been doing, at least in the realm of home improvement, for the moment.

A.J.'s first birthday party went very well. We had loads and loads of people, and when he wasn't overwhelmed, A.J. had a very good time. Thanks to everyone who came out, brought gifts or themselves and joined us for our son's big day!

The basement family room walls and ceiling got done, as did the electrical work. We cleaned the floor about 3-4 times and got it decent enough. The fireplace works and definitely warms it up down there, and overall, it's just a nicer room to be in.

We still have plenty of post-party cleaning to do (the garbage men don't come until tomorrow, and there's full trash bags all over that need to be shed). But we're getting there. Work is kicking me in the ass right now; but at least I'll get back to it soon enough. I now have motivation, and something I didn't have before the party: TIME. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too tired to blog...will attempt post in near future...

A night that was supposed to be focused entirely on working on the basement was partially sidetracked by YET ANOTHER record-breaking rainstorm in Chicago. We got nearly two inches of rain today out near O'Hare airport. Two inches too many.

Me, my dad and my father-in-law spent a good portion of the night attempting to control the floodwaters that this time POURED down the back stairs. The drain couldn't keep up, so we had to makeshift sandbag to slow things. I had about 2-3 inches of water in the foyer out there, with some seeping into the laundry room (and thankfully right into that drain).

Eventually, the rain stopped and the drain caught up...but there is more water in my backyard than there ever has, and this water came relentlessly this time. This worries me, tremendously.

Worth noting, the family room, where the drain tile and sump pit service, was dry as a bone, and the sump pit filled up to the bottom of the drain tile pipes and stayed there. So that worked.

Too bad the backyard is a total, major problem.

Live from the new tropics: Chicago...more later.

Monday, February 23, 2009

If you've never seen our HGTV episode...

Then, by all means, you should set your TiVo, DVR or old-fashioned VCR to tape it...unless you're home on Wednesday at 1:30 Eastern time...


Enjoy! It's from the days prior to our bungalow ownership (obviously), when we lived in a condo a few miles east of here, in Old Irving Park. It was a great condo...but we needed MORE! :)

Oh yeah, and the final drywall mud coat is finished tonight...sanding on Wednesday!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What a difference a day-and-a-half makes...

drywall done 2
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, the drywall was hung in approximately four hours by some drywall professionals. And today, the taper came out to apply the second coat of mud. Tomorrow, a third coat. Then, who knows, to make it smooth!

Either way, we're looking good for this coming Saturday. Just will have to primer the walls and ceiling, get the last of the electrical hooked up (Friday) and clean the shit out of the floor...that floor is technically painted a dark-ish brown. Seriously.

Either way, it looks like a completely different room, and now I feel really good about how things have progressed. I'm psyched now!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'm thermal...

andy insulates 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, the insulation is done. Here's a picture of me toward the end of the work, getting ready to do one or two quick patch-in jobs.

I confess, I cheated, in a sense. I squished insulation at times, I cut it as straight as I could without using 2x4s (though with a sharp blade, it cuts pretty easily, usually, so I don't know what people are talking about).

I also cheated because I decided not to insulate the interior brick wall that is over my right shoulder in this picture. The brick doesn't face outside, and even though the room under the stairs is not technically heated, it's not an outdoor wall, so it should be fine.

I also did not staple the flanges except in a couple places. Why? Well, first off, my cousin said it wasn't necessary because he put the studs up perfectly on 16-inch centers (and he was right). Second, when I had to cut to fit, I made sure to get it right. In both cases, friction is tightly holding all the batts in place. Including the ones in the ceiling (except, again, here and there).

My dad said, "If it gets wet, it's going to sag down inside the wall." I said, "Well, given the plastic I have behind it to prevent any future seepage from hitting it, if this insulation gets wet enough to sag down the wall, it will mean much, much worse has happened."

Suffice to say, I have 7 total bags of R-13 93-inch fiberglass batt insulation still sitting in my garage. I hope that means that my cousin was compensating for the spots I didn't insulate, and it doesn't mean that I did it wrong. I also hope that the Home Depot will take them back, since I still have the receipt. Let's hope!

I also cleaned up a little more of the remaining demolition trash and stacked a ton of trim pieces left over from the PO. TONS of them. I'm hoping I can use them myself, possibly in this room even. If not, maybe I'll offer them up for sale or give away. Or something.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Next up, insulation...

The framing is finished, the fireplace is finished (and it works -- we tested it successfully this evening!) and the electrical work is nearly done. Today, my wife's cousin and I ran two coax cables and two cat-5 cables from the utility room (where we can access them AFTER the family room is finished) to the area where the TV/cable/entertainment center will be.

I have to get some speaker wire and run it as well, in advance of the drywalling and such, and I want to run speaker wire for the upstairs as well, if at all possible.

Then, I get to insulate my ass off...shouldn't be too difficult (knock on wood). And it's going to make a huge, huge difference in the room, no doubt about it. Hell, the fireplace, which doesn't have a blower fan yet, coupled with the 12 can lights that are currently operational, was doing a decent job of warming the room for the short time we had them going. So it'll be great when the insulation and drywall is in.

I can't wait! Even though I drew up my overall plan for this room on the CPU, I could not have realistically envisioned this in the end. Obviously, for our son's b-day party, we're just trying to get it to a presentable, safe point. The "good stuff" will come in to play later. Then the space will really take shape and look awesome.

But for now, it's already taking on a good shape...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meanwhile, back in the family room...

fireplace ready
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
The fireplace is in, the can lights are in and ready to go, and we're getting really close. Gonna run cable/phone/speaker wires Tuesday, probably, then insulate our brains out before the drywall crew comes in Saturday to rock everything.

We're within two weeks of my son's first birthday party...time's a-tickin', but I think we're gonna get it to a great spot for the party...which is awesome!

Because then I can slow the hell down and finish at an easier pace. :)

Danged previous owners' corner-cutting...

worst plumbing ever 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
As I told the electrician, even if I TRIED to do a half-assed job on things, I couldn't have done this stuff and more stupidly than these people.

Our main-floor bathtub drain sprung a leak the other day -- fortunately, we were working on the basement, in the utility room, when it happened. Otherwise, it might have gone unnoticed for a time.

This is what I was greeted with. You can read all about the stupidity in the photo's caption on the page. It doesn't surprise me one bit...and although it's an "easy" fix, it's not something I need to do right now, given all the other work in the family room downstairs.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I was framed...

Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, the family room framing is done. Thanks to Gina's cousin. And only 19 days left to A.J.'s first birthday party! Tomorrow, a couple more steps will be taken...you can see we decided to just install the fireplace now, so we don't have to demo the wall again. Probably a smart move...helps to know the fireplace installer personally! :)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Catching up...

What a weekend and what a Monday! My wife's cousin Mike came over (he's a carpenter) and started framing the walls on Sunday. I tried to finish demolition of the shorter walls, and got about halfway before the Super Bowl rolled around and we had to stop, as we both had places to be. Mike came back Monday afternoon and evening, and he finished demolishing the old furring strips and the wall separating the boiler room from the family room. That wall was out of square, so we decided to just take it down and start from scratch there.

Mike the electrician (a friend of Mike the carpenter) came over Sunday as well to see what was going to be required, and we got a huge relief. Apparently, the electric box(es) are fine, they're just a little messy. Nothing is piggybacked or doubled up -- each breaker is legitimate and to code. Thankfully. As I mentioned, I was worried about this very thing costing us an arm and a leg. Now, Mike the electrician will probably charge us the most, because he's more distant, but at least it won't be a much bigger project (knock on wood) than we hoped, electrically speaking.

Finally, yesterday, Mike the heating/cooling guy, who is my cousin's fiance, came over to coordinate with Mike the carpenter on where the fireplace will be and plan for proper framing. We weren't going to install the fireplace just yet, because we weren't sure that (a) it would take a short time, or (b) we'd be able to afford it. But, we should be just fine -- thank God for friends and relatives. Of course, this now also means I have to think about exactly how I want it to look...so I'll have to look around and see what I can see.

And, yes, there has been talk that I will have to name the bar "Mikes' Place" in honor of the three Mikes. Or, "Tres Miguels" or something like that. :)

So many decisions, so little time! Although, it does appear that maybe, just maybe, we're on track to get this room at least presentable by Feb. 28, our son's first birthday party at the house. Boy, that would be totally awesome! Still crossing my fingers...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After careful consideration and some number-crunching...

Well, I ran the numbers yesterday, and pored over what we could and could not do. Barring the electrician walking in and saying that his work would cost us a billion dollars, we should be able to squeak by and get the family room in presentably decent-looking shape for this party.

So I just went to the ol' HD and placed a large lumber order, for a load of studs, top plates, bottom plates (pressure-treated), insulation and plastic sheeting. It will be delivered on Saturday, and my cousin-in-law will begin work on it Sunday (prior to the Super Bowl). Thankfully, because of those beautiful Chase Rewards points, almost half of the total cost was covered by gift cards, which I had redeemed the points for about a month ago in anticipation of this. Of course, though, with work starting Sunday, that means I'll have to stop and get a few cases of beer too (the "unbudgeted" cost of this remodel!) on Saturday, since I'm traveling tomorrow through Friday for work.

It may take a little finagling of finances, and creative use of sales, promotions and "no interest till..." credit card use, but I think we'll be able to get the basics taken care of before the party. And that's good. That's the goal. After the party, though, things will go "on hold" until things lighten up around here.

I can't say we've "survived the scare" if you want to call it that, because it's in no way close to over, economically speaking. But, barring any insanity in the near term, we should be able to do what we hoped, which was have the walls and ceiling done by the party at the end of February.

Let's cross our fingers!

Monday, January 26, 2009

An economic standstill...

Our basement remodel is now currently in jeopardy of being put partially on hold...well, it's definitely going to be on hold after my son's birthday party, but now, there's a question of how we'll afford to get what we need done by the party.

You see, the economy hath taken a bite outta my ass. No, I didn't lose my job -- for which I am eternally grateful, particularly today, a day in which tens of thousands of people were laid off in the U.S. I've been there before -- would prefer to not go back, particularly not at this stage.

No, instead, my coworkers and I were forced to take a very significant pay cut...(which came on the heels of layoffs last week, mind you). So significant is this cut that we're going to have to rein in the spending. And my wife and I are not big spenders to begin with, so it's not like we can just skip the caviar or the $500 bottles of wine.

This is going to make life a bit trickier over the next months/year(s), particularly with so many things needing to be done around here. Sure, nothing's outright falling apart (knock on wood), but there are plenty of things that could be done to make simple things work better.

I need to talk with my cousin-in-law, the electrician and others to see what we can do about this basement family room -- now even more realistically speaking than before.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Step one: Completed...

drain tile
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
I only took one picture of the drain tile and pit installation, because I've been too busy otherwise. Here it is.

Suffice to say, aforementioned Contractor B, whom I now feel comfortable giving a public recommendation, was magnificent. The crew from A Better Crawlspace was great. They got in, got the work done and got out in about 6 hours. The foreman was excellent, excellent, excellent. I am typically a curious homeowner when it comes to work being done. Not because I don't trust the contractor, but because I want to learn and understand what is going on. That said, I'm not a hawk either. I think I went down there only about 4 times just to check on progress, understand what they were doing and whatnot. I also teased them about how good their lunch smelled. :)

We got the drain tile installed along the perimeter wall of the family room, into the front "cold storage" room under the front porch and stairs (where the real water problem was), and into a sump pit, which they dug and installed. No pump (probably won't be needed), but I have the option of patching a sump pump into the tile system later if needed.

They cleaned up as much as they could (which was a lot), and all that was left for me to do was to shopvac the floor to get whatever extraneous dust was left. I also mopped and soaked down a path to and from the laundry room, so we don't drag dust through the house.

Now, the next steps are to finish what is left of demolition on the walls, get the plumber out to finish his little bit of work and reconvene with my cousin-in-law about getting the walls framed and up. Followed by insulation and drywall...all by Feb. 28. This is a good start.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

That was fast...

So, Thursday, we fielded three estimates from basement waterproofers, and let me tell you, the three estimates we got couldn't have been more scattered about the universe than they were.

Contractor A, the contractor I'd call the "Big Dogs"...high reputation according to both Angie's List and BBB, but looked to be more on the expensive side, came first. The guy was nice (though I could see how The Box House could have found him to be condescending :) ) and explained everything they'd do for us. They would patch the 5 cracks and install a full drain tile system with a cleanout (because they'd use rigid pipe for the drain tile, not flexible). They came in at the high end, but under $8,000.

Contractor B, whom I called on Wednesday on The Box House's recommendation, and they squeezed me in, came second. The owner of the business actually came out, and he said he didn't think I needed to drain tile the family room, because the cracks in the foundation and the floor would have leaked already if exterior drainage was a problem. He said he would patch the cracks, but he wanted to get to the real problem in the cold-storage room under the front porch, where the water was coming from. With my permission (and me standing right there), he got down on the floor and started tearing out the rotted peg board and insulation on the wall. We found, stunning to both of us, that the area where the water was coming in was about a 10-inch-wide brick column in the foundation. The rest of the foundation is concrete but for this part. Has anybody ever heard of or seen this before? It's original, not a patch job. But it's obviously where the water is seeping in.
In the spring, he said, we'd have to dig up the outside and concrete patch over that, which is an easy and inexpensive fix. So Contractor B said, for future concerns, if you want, we can put a drain tile in, but you won't need a sump pump, given the small amount of water you need. But, if you're looking for peace of mind, then we can do that. So he would put in a drain tile and sump pit and patch 5 cracks for just over half of Contractor A's price.

Contractor C came in and appeared hurried. To me, HE seemed a lot more condescending, although knowledgeable as all heck. He said he would not install a drain tile, that the problems are completely related to cracks, and that he would patch the cracks at just under $2,000. He was in and out much faster than the other two guys.

We ended up choosing Contractor B, mostly because of purely dumb luck. Yes, we probably don't need a full-fledged drain tile and sump pump system as of now. But, we're planning on staying in this house for a long time, and if we're sinking money into finishing this basement the way we want to, we want at least the infrastructure to be in place, God forbid water becomes an issue. With a perforated sump pit, what little water we get will collect in the pit and drain out through the ground below. Water table doesn't appear to be a problem here (or else the cracks would have leaked), and I'll just have to check the pit during a few rains to get an idea for what we're looking at. If I notice that the pit is getting more and more full every time it rains or thaws or whatever, then I can get a sump pump installed. But if it never looks threatening, this will make me feel a hell of a lot better about my investment. We're not rich, so it's not like we can just throw money around at this stuff, but I'd rather throw the money at it now than have things ruined in the future.

Anyway, the dumb luck here is that it turns out, this bitterly cold weather had caused Contractor B to cancel a ton of work yesterday (Friday). He said to me Thursday he could knock off what amounted to 20% of the cost if we could have them come in yesterday (again, one day after the estimate) and do the work. The reason being? Because of the bitterly cold weather, all concrete deliveries had been canceled -- makes sense...something about working with concrete in below-zero temperatures doesn't really compute, you know? So his crews were without work, and thus he was without revenue. Again, makes sense. I said, heck yeah, let's do it, he sent the contract and I signed it. The Box House has a great picture and diagram of exactly what they're doing in this post from last week.

Of course, I got the call early in the a.m. Friday saying that it was too cold for his guys to even be out, and that if it was OK, today (Saturday) would be fine with them, at the same price.

So they're here today, digging up the floor, hand-mixing concrete to cover up the drain tile, and generally making me feel a whole lot better about this project's ability to get finished. Of course, they blew a fuse in the first 10 minutes of work, highlighting the need for me to get the electrician out here, but that's a project for another (upcoming) day. :)

I feel better about our ability to get this project done by my son's birthday party February 28. :) Hopefully that feeling will continue!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Moving right along...

On to the basement!

My cousin-in-law, a carpenter, came by this past weekend to talk family room renovation. Our deadline is Feb. 28, which is my son's first birthday party. We want to invite folks over, and thus need a ceiling and walls drywalled, sanded, painted. So, we need to finish demo (which my brothers helped tremendously to make a huge dent in on Sunday), bleach up the walls to clean them (tiny bit of mold splotches here and there), and then, most importantly, get a drainage system/sump installed.

We had some seepage in the super-fast thaw and rainstorm last month. So, we'll need to get some cracks patched too. And this spring, I'll have to solidify and rework a few of the downspouts, no doubt.

So Thursday, I've got two companies coming out to give me estimates. The third one I called, unfortunately, can't even visit for an estimate until Feb. 4, which simply wouldn't give enough time, I don't think, to get all the electrical, framing, drywalling and such done. So, I'm hoping this won't be a brutal, terrible cost. Until this seepage started happening last year, I was willing to roll the dice (stupidly) and not get this system installed, so, in a sense, this is an unexpected expense.

On the flip side, a drain tile setup will allow us to install a floating engineered hardwood floor as originally hoped, rather than a stone tile floor. I would be OK with either, honestly, but I like the wood floor look (sound and feel) better.

I'm also curious to see what they say when I tell them that the back half of the basement is finished, and as such, inaccessible for a drain tile installation...don't know if they can do it in one room only, or if it's ineffective or what. But I guess I'll see soon enough...

I'm also also also very curious to see what the electrician says when he sees our mess of an electrical box. That could cause an unforeseen expense too, if he says, "Holy crap...I'm going to have to just redo this whole box." He's a friend of the family too, so I can trust he won't just be saying that to make money off me. :)

And hopefully, things will go OK otherwise. Hopefully!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can someone help me make sense of this math?

1. We used 323 therms to heat the house last December, during which time the average temperature (outside) was 26 F.
2. We used 116 therms to heat the house this past October, during which time the average temperature was 53 F.
3. We used 273 therms to heat the house this November, during which time the average temperature was 36 F.
4. We used 383 therms to heat the house this December, during which time the average temperature (outside) was 22 F.

So, is there a way to figure out, based on the above, if our stinking insulation job really paid off? Reason being, the job was completed right around Dec. 2-4-ish, when this billing cycle started. Soooooo, it goes to say that we should see the effects of the insulation on the Dec. gas bill, right?

Well, that came in at the highest amount we've ever paid for gas. But it appears that it was, on average, much colder than other months during which we had no such insulation.

Can someone tell me if I'm imagining this, or is there a way to prove, using numbers, that the insulation is helping? Please! I need to feel good about having gotten this project done (especially since every single person out there says, "Oh, you'll save XXX percent potentially off your heating bills if you get additional insulation work done").

I don't want to be a naysayer, so someone tell me that the numbers point to an improvement in our heating bill, please! :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Either a breakthrough or impending doom...

So, Friday, my wife's cousin is coming over to talk basement family room with me. What can be done, what can he do, how much, etc.?

I recently invested in the stock market, and one of the interesting things I read, on occasion, is the reports on which companies are going to announce earnings statements in the coming period of time, and whether they predict good or bad news. I kind of feel this way about my basement right now. So, I'm selling stock in my basement...it's an IPO. Who wants in? It'll cost you about $25 a share... ;)

Anyway, I'd do it all myself, but I need some professional help, and nothing like a professional I know and trust and am half-related to now. :) The kicker is, we're having our son's first birthday party Feb. 28, and we plan to invite a decent amount of folks. So we need the basement...the entire basement, not the cordoned-off half-basement/dungeon that I created for our Halloween party. For the Halloween party, demolished walls were OK. Not so for a first birthday party.

We have several issues that need to be sorted out before walls can go up...
1. demo-ing the current furring-strip framework and odd pegboard baseboards.
2. plugging and filling the cracks in the foundation, which are not leaking and don't appear to ever have leaked, but could someday.
3. figuring out how to solve the serious seepage issue in the cold-storage room under the front porch, which then spills into the family room on its way to the drain.
4. figuring out how/when to get my other cousin in to install the fireplace.
5. figuring out how/who to get for the electrical work, whether we're talking outlets or lights.
6. getting the cable guy to come in prior to drywalling to run cable to the new TV area.
7. and, how could I forget: figuring out what this all is going to cost and how we're gonna pay for it without sucking up every inch of our life savings.

It should be a lot of fun! I certainly can't wait.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year, happy new storage...

trofast storage 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, despite the deafening silence in response to my request for reviews on the Trofast storage system that Ikea sells a few posts ago (I was hoping somebody might have found it after Googling it or something), I decided that I'd seen enough of the pieces in the store to determine they were sturdy enough and quality enough to meet my needs.

Of course, I had to go to both the Schaumburg AND Bolingbrook Ikea stores to get everything I wanted; and I wasn't going to wait for them to get it in stock or have it shipped. Since the two stores are about 30-45 minutes apart and I was out and determined, I decided to make the drive, especially since Bolingbrook is quite far from my Northwest Side neighborhood. Having lived in The Brook for three years earlier this decade, I know just how far it is.

So I made the trek, brought these babies home and set them up in my son's room. I'm disappointed in two things, that are somewhat "trivial."

1. The selection of colors of the bins are great...across all sizes. But within the individual sizes, there are only a couple choices, and most colors are only available in one size...in other words, if you want red, you have to get the medium bins in red, or you get no red. Minor issue, but still, made the puzzle more difficult to put together.

2. The lowest part of the left piece (the three varied-height towers) was lower than the height of the right-hand piece (the three level "towers"). This was disappointing, because I was hoping for a longer plane for a seat when A.J. gets older. This will work, but still, it would have been nice for consistency's sake.

Anyway, I think this will do a good job, and what's nice is, we can add more later as he gets older, turn them into shelves or put doors on them too. It's really versatile.

So there you go...in the meantime, Happy New Year!