Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Landscaping and Outdoor Projects

When we bought our house, it was brand new.  A huge benefit of this is obvious: it's new!  That means no pet stains and odors, no stains on walls or carpets, etc.  However, the downside is that the lot was just the house.  No landscaping at all.  It had a driveway and stairs to the front door.  That's it.  We did luck out that it was already fenced on two sides by the neighbors; though we ended up replacing one side because it was falling down.  So here's what we've done so far.

The back yard was the first priority.  Partially because we really wanted grass, and partially for our dog, Cassie, who was our only dog at the time.  So the first summer/fall we were in the house we had the back yard area leveled, put in an irrigation system and had the area hydro-seeded.  It turned out lovely, but there is still much we want to do in this area (I know, it's hard to imagine me having a to-do list).  We have very sandy soil (I know, imagine that living by a river/lake) so last summer we spent lots of time fertilizing and working to build up good sod base in the yard as our grass tends to be thin.

The shed and back yard at move-in with our temporary green fence

The back yard at move-in(note the old grey fence)

Grass in, it is much thicker now.
Living a block from the lake and having private access we are so lucky to have a fishing boat that we use often.  Our driveway when we moved in, however, had no storage for said boat.  So, it was time to dig out a hill and build a retaining wall.  It is now a wonderful spot for the boat in the summer.  In the winter we now park the truck there as we are lucky to have boat storage at my parent's house a few miles away.  This gives the truck partially covered parking which is a plus in the winter.  We also graded the hill to the back yard so it is easier to drive in the back yard as needed.  The back yard is where the sailboat lives so being able to back it in and out is a necessity.

Future boat/truck parking

Future drive to back yard

Retaining wall done and drive to the back

Gravel in, boat in

From doing these projects, we accumulated a massive amount of river rocks in various sizes.  And yes, we moved them all by hand, what a project!  My husband used to laugh and say we would never find a way to use all the rocks; but we have!

Our rock pile in the front yard, it grew bigger before it got smaller
As you walk up the steps to the front door, there was bare dirt on both sides that was positioned well for flowerbeds and easy to hand water as there was a facet there as well.  So we spent a weekend picking some rocks and defining the flower beds.  We planted tulips in the lower beds and are now looking for solutions for low maintenance summer flowers that we don't have to plant each year.  The upper bed by the front door we don't mind planting so it gets annuals each summer.  I think these flower beds turned out wonderfully!  And the leaf bird bath made by a dear friend of mine is the perfect accent.

Before on the left side of the walk

After on the left side, we added two rock walls, one by the house and one to divide the upper and lower beds.

Before on the right side of the walk

After on the right side, one wall and tulips in.
The fence became a necessity the summer before last when we got a puppy, Aria.  The green plastic construction fencing was more than enough to contain our old dog, Cassie, but for Aria it was much too easy to escape from.  So we replaced one side of the fence and extended it out front to the hill and put in a fence and drive through gate on the other side.  We also stained the shed that is in the back yard.

Stained shed, and fenced in the back left. More fence pics later in post.
Our driveway is up a big hill and began to slough off some after the first and second winter.  So, we knew a retaining wall was needed but due to the extent of the project, and the necessity for engineering plans and oversight we did not complete this project ourselves.  We hired it out and are so pleased to have a secure driveway and now a parking spot on the street below.  We will be planting some no-maintenance plants on the hill to keep weeds down next summer.  We've also begun placing rocks by the mailbox (to the right of where the first picture leaves off) to help keep the weeds down.

The new wall and parking space  

View from the top; much less steep now.
By the mailbox so far

When we moved in, the front hill and front yard area were weed patches, much like the back yard and on the side of the house.  We didn't want to run irrigation to the front of the house as we don't want to mow the area (and it's a pain to dig irrigation lines with all the rocks) so we decided the front yard area will be a patio with a fire pit.  We will plant a tree in the corner. The patio hasn't been created yet, but we are on the way as this area is much more level than when we began.  And the front hill is almost done.  All that river rock was put to good use!  My folks were a huge help with this project and they worked hard to help us get it finished up this fall.  Next spring we will plant some desert grass in the fake "river" that we created and this project is finished.

The front hill at move-in

Mapping out the "river"

Completed front hill.  Plants to come in the spring.

Remember the giant rock pile that was the front yard?  No more, it's also on its way to being level.  Someday this will be patio.  Aria is being a big helper in the picture, as usual.
The side of the house has been a bit of an eyesore and generally avoided.  But this fall we tackled it with the help of my folks and our German exchange student who was visiting for a month.  With the area leveled off, we decided it would make a good dog run so we moved the dog house over and put in a second gate to the back yard so we could contain the dogs there as needed.  It has been a nice improvement to get the dog house off of the deck and free up some space.  This area will get a small retaining wall on the fence side next year and some planting will also happen there.  Eventually it will have some sort of pavers on the ground as well.  A cover for the basement windows is in the plan too.

Side of the house at move-in.  Note the falling apart fence.

The new dog run and fence(with the dogs of course!)  Some updates still to come.

We still have many projects to go outside including edging the lawn, the front patio, planting the driveway hill, laying pavers by the shed for the sailboat, and at some point the shed will need re-built. Every winter it survives we breathe a sigh of relief!  Writing this post has me excited for spring so we can get to work on some of the next projects outside.

On a separate note, electric fan switches are in!  These make life so much easier.  We used to have fans on all day in our house because we would forget about them, or we would turn them off when we left and really they needed to run a bit longer.  No more, these solve all those problems.  I highly recommend them.

Auto fan switches.  Still some leveling of the switch to happen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Interior Projects and Laundry Room Remodel

Three and a half years ago, we decided the pace of city life was not what we were looking for long term so we relocated.  We lucked into a deal with the builder of our new house as they purchased our old house in order to make the move possible.  The house was new, a block from the lake with private access, and huge! What's not to love really?!  Of course, that doesn't mean that our to do list is any shorter.  As is the case with most, it grows instead of shrinking, but we have crossed some things off of the inside list.

When we moved in there were alcoves on the side of the fireplace that were big and empty.  So, we built some shelves and stained them to match our furniture.  We also added a splash of paint to the insets on the fireplace for character.  I think it dresses it up a lot.

The fireplace at move-in

The fireplace after

There's a picture alcove also in our living room which was painted the same color as the walls (well as with most new houses, everything was the same color) so we added a splash of paint there as well to help the alcove stand out a little.  

The picture alcove on the left of the arches

Picture alcove after
We also replaced a lighting fixture in the dinette area of the kitchen.  It looks much more like our home with the canoe chandelier instead of the stock builder one :)

The dinette area in the kitchen

With new chandelier and barrel table (more on this amazing table to come)
In the master bathroom, there was a large amount of dead space in the toilet room that drove me crazy. There was just no good way to utilize the silly corner space the way it had been built.  So we added in a corner linen closet for storage.  After all, have you ever walked into a house and thought 'now this house has too much storage'?  I sure haven't.  

Hard to see, but the dead space in the master bath

And now with a closet!

Completed closet
The basement is an ongoing project.  It was completely unfinished at move-in other than the stub ins for plumbing in a bathroom someday.  Being unfinished is nice because it means we get to choose exactly how we want to build and purpose this rather large space.  Unfortunately, it is also a slow process as we have to save the money bit by bit to do the construction.  But, luckily we have a friend who is a wonderful contractor and he did a small job for us and helped us get the walls for the future basement all framed up.  Someday it will have a bathroom, walk-in pantry, second kitchen, and a second laundry room.  No more canning in my nice kitchen!  And no more hauling dirty garage towels upstairs and through the whole house!  We have begun collecting appliances from family as they have replaced them to keep the cost of this room down.  So far, we have a washer and dryer, a stove, and a toilet.  We also already had a fridge and freezer for this space as we had purchased them on craigslist when we moved in and wanted some extra food and beverage storage.  Next up in the basement is to work on the wiring and plumbing.  We already have several of the needed supplies to get started on these projects.  The basement currently functions as storage and a game room with the ping pong table and a couple of free couches.  The function won't change terribly much once it's a finished great room!

The basement at move-in

The other side of the basement at move-in

The framed in bathroom, pantry and kitchen area

Future kitchen and through the door is pantry 

Great Room Area

Ping Pong/Great Room Area

Storage/Future Laundry & Utility Room

Upstairs, the laundry room remodel has been the greatest undertaking.  It was perfectly functional when we bought the house, but it was poorly laid out.  The counter-top by the sink was completely useless as soon as the appliances went in and if you were using the sink, you couldn't also have the washer door open.  So, after living with it for awhile and talking to my folks who have loads of remodeling experience we came up with a plan to make it more user friendly.  Really, the layout the builders should have done in the first place.  We began by ripping everything out of the laundry room, deconstruction is my favorite part!  For a couple of weekends we were 'those' people with a washer and dryer on the front porch, but as this project took longer than we thought with family helping from out of town, we moved them back in and used a half put together room for a bit. Next we re-plumbed and wired for the sink and washer and dryer.  Then drywall, texture, and paint.  After that we moved the appliances back and my dad built a storage shelf for the space that was left next to the washer and dryer.  We topped them off with a nice plywood counter-top so there is lots of folding space.  Next we moved the sink back in (thank goodness!  I had been really missing the utility sink) and did the counter-top.  Then my dad tiled, and gave us a lesson in tiling.  I'm sure next time we will tile while he supervises.  Hung the upper cabinet and we were done!  It turned out so well!  Sometime in the future we will add one more upper cabinet by the window for extra storage, but barring that this room is finished!  
The Laundry Room at move-in

The original layout of the Laundry Room

Finished Laundry Room

Finished Laundry Room

Next small project inside: installing automatic fan switches.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Homemade Christmas

As many of you know, I've been at home due to illness for several months which created some new factors for our Christmas this year (and was the motivation behind starting this blog).  Firstly, with me not working finances were more tight than in previous years.  Secondly, I had a lot more time on my hands!  Because of this we decided to do almost entirely homemade Christmas gifts this year, which was a delight and perhaps a new tradition in the making!  The only gifts we didn't attempt to partially home make were the ones we shipped (sorry to those of you we shipped to, maybe we'll be more on it next year).

The idea originally began the first year we were dating when I received a lovely homemade fleece blanket from my love.
Yellow side
Tree side
Isn't it holding up well after 10+ years?

Then last Christmas my husband and I decided to do only homemade gifts for one another.  What a joy this was to be able to put so much time, effort and thought into a gift and to know that the whole time I was making it I was thinking about him.  I made him a chessboard and chocolate chess pieces and he made me a wonderful fountain for our future front patio area.
Chocolate Chess Pieces
Chess Board

Fountain, the dogs approve!
They turned out wonderfully. So, with that inspiration we delved into this year's Christmas gifts which was a much bigger undertaking.  We also received several homemade gifts from our family as well which was equally delightful.

As you may guess a true homemade Christmas starts with homemade Christmas cards (actually our making process ended with these as we were further behind on gifts than we had planned, but alas I think most of them arrived by Christmas).

Our cards (next year hopefully the embossing works a little better, I'm still playing with this):

This was followed by peppermint themed gift baskets for some of my local and dear friends and their families.  They included:
White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Oatmeal Cookies:
Layered Cookie Mixes

Peppermint Hot Chocolate:
Layered Hot Cocoa

and Peppermint Sugar Scrub:
Sugar Scrub

One had Peppermint Play Dough as well for her kiddos.
Play Dough

I think they turned out rather well.

Basket 1
Basket 2

Basket 3
Basket 4

We made several magnet boards this year, one for both of our moms, and one for my dad.  I even made the magnets.
Dad's for his shop
Dad's with magnets

Mom-in-laws with magnets

Mom's for her sewing room
Mom's with magnets

My parents just moved which inspired some of our choices for them as they are still working on getting settled into retired life and their new house.  In addition to the magnet board for my mom, we made (with my dad's help) a thread and bobbin holder for her sewing room.
Thread and Bobbin Holder

The folks love spending time outside and have a wonderful campfire area at their new place so for my dad we made a set of cornhole boards.  I even sewed the bags (with serious supervision and tutorials from my mom, I'm not much of a sewer at this point).

Tree design on one board

Deer design on other board

Cornhole bags (4 of each kind)

We were so blessed to get my brother's girlfriend this year for Christmas and for her my folks and I made a photo ladder. We had the birch branches from some trees my parents had cut down this fall. I've now decided I like it so much I must need to build one for myself!

Photo ladder out of birch
For my brother we made a chess board (this year's model came with upgrades as you can see in the picture including dual sided purposing and grout in the lines between squares making the whole board flat and smooth).  On the other side we put a picture from a hike we had gone on several years ago just out of Bozeman.  We also equipped this board with hooks so he could hang it and display the picture when he wasn't using the chess board.  And we got some unfinished chess pieces and stained them to match his chess board.  We aren't yet quite to the chess piece making point yet.  Maybe next year.

Picture side
Chess board side

My father in law also got a chessboard (as you can see each one comes out slightly different and unique), though the backside was an entirely new creation.  An intricate cribbage board with a photo my husband took of the mountains where we grew up in the middle.  Let me tell you, drilling 242 holes in the right spot takes time!

Cribbage side with picture
Chess board side

On to my husband's gifts this year.  We have been experimenting with transferring pictures to wood and have have been successful as long as we make sure the paper is correct (trust me this is very important).  So, in cleaning out papers in the office I happened across a sketch I had done years ago of the mountain range where we grew up and my husband loves mountains.  So, I scanned it in, added a poem, inverted the image and wallah:

Picture transfer

I also made for him a table that folds up for his side of the couch/love-seat as we don't have one there since it's a high traffic area.

Table in down position

Table when it's set up

For me, he made a beautiful bath tray to hold my drink, book, iPad, etc while I enjoy our jetted tub.  This will be put to good use!

Bath tray

So handy!

Beautiful router work on the edges and a separate drink spot!

After all that we wrapped everything up in brown paper, tied bows with red tulle and labeled packages with photos of who it was to and from.  That was very fun, I'm sure we'll keep up the photo labeling!


Phew, that's it for the gifts we made, here are the homemade gifts the rest of our family made.

My brother's girlfriend made a myriad of delightful bath salts and scrubs for me (anyone else feel like the bath is beckoning now?)

Bath salts and scrubs

For my husband (and dad and brother) she sewed reversible hunting hats which turned out great!

Cammo side
Orange side

My folks knew I had been wanting a memory board in our office forever and my decorating theme in our house is canoes and cabin and outdoor based.  So I got this beautiful memory board and matching pillow!

Paddle Pillow

Memory Board

My husband had been wanting a rice bag & a long blanket for the winter as he always complains the blankets aren't long enough to cover his feet when he pulls them up.  Not an issue anymore!  My mom made him this tree blanket and rice bag:

Tree blanket
Rice bag

My brother outdid himself this year.  As I said earlier, I love canoeing and the decorating theme is prevalent in my house.  From shelves to figures to pictures and maps, etc.  For years, I've been eyeing this canoe shelf wine rack that I've seen online, but at over $2,000 I couldn't even bring myself to semi-seriously consider it.  I've just held out hope that someone would make one for me someday.  And guess what, this Christmas my brother did!  He had been given a couple of canoe shelves by a friend and he refinished it to match all the wood furniture in my house and added the wine rack.  How beautiful is this!?!

Canoe wine rack

What a talented family!  We are so blessed to have had such a wonderful homemade Christmas.  If you, or anyone you know are interested in any of the products in the first half of this post (the ones we made or my folks made) please let me know as we are willing to custom make them and sell to others.  We also have a PDF step-by-step tutorial on making the chess boards that is available for a small fee.  Feel free to contact me with any questions.  I hope all of your Christmases were equally blessed and that 2014 is starting out brightly!