Home and Renovation

Yard Progress

After necessary breaks for crazy work schedules, celebrations, and weather, we’re back on the home renovation wagon.  (Literally.  Stick with me a few and you’ll see what I mean.)

If you’re new here, here’s the jist: we bought a 100+ year old shotgun double almost 6 years ago.  When we moved it, it had no kitchen and no fully functional bathroom.  We’ve been renovating it ourselves (think optimistic D-I-Y) non-stop since then.  It’s a slow process.

With the onset of glorious 60 degree days, we’ve started to dig out the backyard.

Drainage is an ongoing issue here.  Paul dug out the mess the idiot builder of the pillar to ugly created along one side of the house and it works beautifully.  Paul’s now proven method?  Bring the house back to original grade.  This is where the sides of the house were when we bought it almost 6 years ago and finally, the sides are back.

The backyard has been another story.

A good foot or more of soil gathered over the backyard and it’s not draining well in rain.  Specifically, it wants to go into our foundation.  Our plan is to bring it back to grade (and to the same level as the shotgun double next door) as it was originally built.  We found treasure troves of bricks in our various projects, so the plan is to dig out the yard, lay down a gravel bed, and properly install the bricks in a patio — with raised planting areas around it.

The first step is to remove a lot of dirt.

Will has been helping, treasure hunting along the way.  What you can see below represents much of his collection.  Among the loot is a comb, a ninja bone, a square termite house, and various pieces of metal.  (He’s also found glass marbles, but they were washed and brought inside.)

See how much soil we’re trying to remove?  That’s the back of our house.  One day we’ll be able to climb outside without twisting an ankle.

It’s about a foot deep.  Over the entire back yard.

Every crumble has to be carried out of the back.  Paul has been coordinating folks interested in the free dirt — people with trucks and trailers come and pick up from the beds out front or let Paul fill up their trailers.

See what he’s pulling?

This is the helper.  Back on the wagon.  (A moan-worthy joke, I agree.)

Will shows me one of his newest treasure finds.

Treasures are collected near Will’s special stool.  Paul built this with scrap wood while he was framing the back of the house — he needed a place where Will would periodically stay put.  Will provided some decor.

I haven’t a clue what the drawing is representing.

Here’s the little man, hard at work.

And here’s a beefcake shot.  We’ve all missed them.

And here’s a Patootie shot.  Look who’s up from her nap!

Once dug up, the dirt is wheeled to the front.  Paul tells me this is the hardest part.

Will earns his ride in the wagon.

Meanwhile, Kate plays with Will’s treasures.  In this case, the glass marbles Will found.  They were a good foot down, so who knows how old they could be?

Home and Renovation

Comments (5)


IKEA hits home.

Last week, my Dad flew back from PA to spend a few days around the Fourth holiday in Mobile and see Will and Kate. Paul and I took the opportunity to outfit the office… which involved a 350 mile trip to IKEA Houston.

Here is the car while we were packing it up and watching the back end of the car go lower and lower and lower… this photo is NOT the finished packing. A mattress, another big box, and a ton of other little boxes (not to mention us, our computers, and overnight bag) also fit in. We had to sit one in front and one in back for the drive to fit it all.

Paul rocked the installation. Here is some video of the cluttered mess while we were in the process of getting everything in and up.

He made some custom adjustments with cords and attaching computer equipment to the back of the rolling shelves to keep it off the desks (not shown) but it’s helped to put away much of the mess. Our chairs (Swoopers!) arrive tomorrow — FINALLY.

This is my desk.   Please don’t think this is in anyway a DONE or AFTER or COMPLETE sort of thing.  Just one more step…

We used the BILLY bookcases, with height extension.  Mounted to the wall, they are quite stable, but these aren’t the sort of shelves that you can take with you, so to speak.

We actually wanted the glass doors, but there weren’t any left, so we went with the solid white.

Here is Paul’s desk.  Also, a painting of Will’s is framed behind his chair.  We brought back several frames for kid’s artwork to go on the walls.

Our favorite item?  The ALEX shelves in between the desks.  Actually, we wanted matching ALEX drawer units (smaller ones) to go under one side of each of our desks.  But they were out!  So we settled with the big one.

We’re still figuring out the organization of things, but it is a much, much improved work space for both of us!

Home and Renovation

Comments (4)


Stick with me, there’s an important question at the end.

Somehow over the last two months we’ve carved time for Paul to work on the outbuilding.

He finished the siding (all except for that top header in the front) and the siding along the back and sides.  FINALLY.  The piles of hardie in the backyard are gone.

This is what the back of the outbuilding looks like from the roof of the shed that belongs to the house behind ours.  Close quarters.  Let’s hope they have a termite contract, too.

Then Paul got to work on barn-style doors.  So that we could stop the rain from coming into the opened section of the building.

Here’s a newly hung door.

Ah, who I am kidding?  This is totally a beefcake shot.

Here are the doors.

And here is the question: what color should paint them?  (Or, should we stain them?)

(Note… I’m partial to paint because we’ve had bad luck with stain.  But I’m easily persuaded otherwise.)

The caveat.  This is the back of the house with the color that will eventually, one day, cover the entire house.  And outbuilding.  At least, this was the plan.  But, like I said, we could be persuaded by particularly fetching arguments.

Oh, and the color is more blue than aqua, despite what the photograph tells you.

Anyone have ideas or suggestions?

Home and Renovation

Comments (8)


The End of the Levee

April in New Orleans.  What a tease.

Beautiful, beautiful weather, low humidity, sunshine, and music, music, music.  She comes to us at the height of our crazy spring, coinciding with finals, abstract submission deadlines, and all of the other stress-inducing things that come when folks are trying to wrap up their lives to prepare for summer.  In New Orleans, you learn to stop and smell the roses when you may… because if you wait until you’re ready, it’s too late.  She’s gone.  April has run off into a breezy dreamland and you’re stuck with sticky, unpredictable May.

In an effort to keep the stifling grip of May at bay, Paul has been dedicating his afternoons to the repair and renovation of the yard.  Yup, we’re shifting gears yet again, before the summer hits full swing.  It’s yard time.  The schedule is a familiar one… he leaves for work before 6am, works until I’ve taken the kids to school and comes home to continue work, stopping around 3.  Then he starts on the yard and works until dark, when the kids are going to bed.  He eats dinner and showers and then works the second job for awhile, until he’s too tired to think and crashes.  We do this schedule a lot, with me sort of flying around trying to keep all the pieces from collapsing in order for Paul to make progress.  This is why DIY home renovation takes a lot of time.

The current project is the next phase in one we begun before Katrina, when the builder next door (Todd Tedesco) built the house roughly a foot and a half above grade and then brought in truckloads of sand to build up the land around it.  Paul realized quickly that the run-off would severely erode our foundation and built a “levee” to protect our house almost overnight.  We’re glad he did… the neighbors on the other side, who do not have nearly the proximity and volume we experience, have severe settling to their handicap ramp (and likely to their home) so it’s alarming to think about what state our house would be in if Paul hadn’t acted quickly back then.   (See the depth of the shovel?)

The levee was a temporary fix.  We had a site surveyor come out and was preparing a report about the problem… this was literally a day or two before Katrina.  After the storm?  Well, nothing is the same after. So we’ve had to deal with the problem ourselves.  The run-off, while not going under our home, is still a tremendous problem.  Rather than erode our foundation, it’s eroded our front yard.  We haven’t been able to plant anything in the front because it is washed away.  The entire front sidewalk has a lean that wasn’t there before due to the weight of the flowing water… it’s that dramatic a problem.

So, Paul has brought our side of the yard to grade.  Where it was when we bought the home.  Down to the original sidewalk.  This matches the other side of the house, where Paul installed a drain long ago to great success.  He exposed the downspout, created a bed of concrete to slope to the drain, and unearthed the original sidewalk, which naturally leans inward to prevent water from going under the house.  We are just thankful that the contractor the builder used* didn’t tear up the bricks when he dug up the area between the house to lay down plumbing from the backyard.

The other plus is that the wood used in the previous solution’s ‘levee’ was creating a termite draw.  Much better that these old pieces of lumber are away from our foundation.

Another benefit is that Paul will be able to access the underside of the house on this side — rather than having to crawl all the way from the opposite side to address an issue that is right there.  Considering this is the side that has the junction box, this is a big deal.  (Look below… see the light sand over the dirt?  It’s several inches thick.)

There is much work still to be done, but so far he’s laid more than 800 pounds of concrete and moved several hundred pounds of dirt.  In less than 5 days.

* Remember him?  He was very nice.  Let Will drive the bulldozer.

Home and Renovation

Comments (2)


Patootie Zone

Kate’s room, as seen last night while the kids were in the tub.  It is now officially Kate’s room.

We moved in furniture from our room and gathered it on one wall. Without the huge bed in the room, it feels cavernous.

The house is feeling strange. Posh, even.   There are no boxes piled in the kids’ “play” area.  Toys are displayed in places where kids can reach them and use them.  Children have separate areas.  There are places for imaginative play.  We are not stepping over drying pieces of wood trim.  Unprotected tools, wires, and other dangerous equipment are limited to a few places.

The canopy was one of Kate’s Christmas presents.  It has flowers and butterflies to decorate and hang at the top… I’ll tackle doing that with her one afternoon when I can pack up my crazies tight in a box and be okay with her going wild on those perfect little flowers…

We never painted Kate’s closet doors.  This is because we keep going back and forth on whether or not we’re going to put my Great-Grandmother’s vanity beside the closet — which would prevent the doors from opening.  If we did this, we were going to hang curtains over the door openings.  I actually have had the curtains since before Kate was born… but we can’t decide whether to actually move the vanity.

Sometimes, I seem to favor discussing the possibilities more than actually doing them. Also, I really like to move furniture around.

Now the thought is that we’re going to move the bookshelf into Will’s room and put the mirror up on the wall for Kate, with hooks along side to hang her hats and masks for dress up.

These wood pieces are from Iquitos.  A butterfly and 2 parrots are missing — they were missing anchors on their backs for hanging.  Another trip to the hardware store and they’ll join the bunch.

I finished this painting the night before Will was born… I never even signed my name!  Kate calls it “Mommy,” which I love.  The angels and moon/stars are Nancy Thomas, compliments of my Mother’s wonderful taste in fun, lively art.  (She worked for Nancy in her studio/store in Yorktown when I was in college.)

Kate has been enthralled with each and every part of the room… I was surprised she stopped for a second to smile at the camera!

The art on the door is from Will — maybe it’s time for Kate to hang up some door art?

I’m trying to think of other ways to display their art around the house… cords hanging on the walls to display pieces like a laundry line?  Other ideas?  It seems like they bring home volumes of paper from school and it just piles up in the kitchen.  With all the space in their rooms, I feel like it should have a place, too, where the kids can be proud of what they have done.  What do other parents do?

Arts & Photography
Home and Renovation
Mi Familia

Comments (8)


Designated The Will Zone

We’ve been using Paul’s ‘idle’ hours to move things along on the house.  Each morning, he starts work at 6am and works for several hours on the start-up.  Then around lunchtime, he moves on to working on the house.

Today we worked to finish many of the tasks in Will’s Room.

This included finishing the painting.

As a reminder, “painting” one of our rooms means sanding, washing, fixing, filling, priming, and perhaps doing all of those things two or more times before moving on to actual paint.  Then 1-2 coats of primer on the oil surface and at least 2 coats of paint on the walls and 2-3 on the trim.  Alllll the way up the 12 foot walls and on the ceiling.  Because of the humidity near the ceiling, it takes hours for paint to dry.  So it took the last three days to finish painting walls and trim.

Then Paul moved into baseboards.  Repairing open sections and installing toe molding.  Delicate cuts make it all fit…

Notice that our family room is the sawdust catcher.  We start to get nervous if at least one room in the house doesn’t have sawdust on the floor… it’s just not home without it.

Here’s the big picture.  I still can’t believe the awesomeness of this room.

He’s making a round cut around the edge so that it will mesh in perfectly.

Ta-da!  This also is to give a sense of how small the room is… although it felt huge after the paint was up.

The lights went in over 4 years ago.  Trim kits went in today.

We don’t claim to be speedy.

Ceiling view from the door to the hallway.  It took Paul a lot of research, trial, and error to figure out how to install standard lights and trim kits in old ceilings, where beams are not spaced the same as modern construction.  He actually fashioned special cutting tools and ways of working through the layers of lathe in order to place the lights where we wanted them in the ceiling and have them properly aligned and spaced.

When he was still trying to figure out the particulars, he actually contacted This Old House with specific questions about recessed lights in these types of ceilings.  They never responded.

I figure it’s ’cause Bob Villa has nothin’ on Paul.

See the beige oil paint around the door?  We’re still not sure what to do with the doors.  Dip them and stain them?  Paint the trim?  Paint everything white?

We want to have them repaired and have working hardware (none of our doors actually close) and figure we should go ahead and dip them, too, since it’s usually part of the process.  And it seems a shame to paint them after the beautiful cypress is exposed.  But there is no way we’re stripping the doorways, so would it be strange to just have the doors be natural wood?

Trivial details.

After scraping paint off the window, cleaning the floor, and hanging the curtains, we set up Will’s bed.  The one that has been sitting in our front room in pieces since last September — the kids have had to climb on and around it piled behind our couch for almost a year.  We’d have jacked it up on cinder blocks, but that’s how we store our cars in the front yard.

The bed!

Will currently sleeps in a full-size bed, so we have a mattress for the bottom bunk.  We realized that we wouldn’t be using a box spring… what do we do with a box spring?  Paul wants to put some carpeted plywood above to make a play space on top.  I’m thinking we’ll wait a little longer before anyone goes up… I’m nervous about Kate.

The bookshelves are still full of our work stuff.  All of Will’s clothes are currently in his closet and though he won’t have a dresser, he’ll have plenty of shelf space!

Family Life in NOLA
Home and Renovation

Comments (3)


Stuff Management: The next phase of home renovation

For the past few months, we’ve been getting wonderful surprise packages from my friend, Gwen. If you follow her blog, you’ll know that she possesses unlimited energy and discipline toward anything she puts her mind to (giving up dairy at the drop of a hat? not spending a dime on anything excess for a month?) but what she really excels in is household simplifying.  I can attest to the extent to which she reduces within her home, because as she does it, she is thoughtful enough to put aside little tokens for our family. They include sentimental objects (like sunflower bags we sewed together in 6th or 7th grade), fun things (a French book for Will), and little gadgets that she makes (hair clips for Kate).

I am not so disciplined.

In fact, my influence may work in the opposite direction; I sent back the sunflower bag with explicit instructions that she keep it forever, so that when we’re sitting together in the retirement center people will comment on how cute we look with our matching bags.  But this weekend, I let my inner-Gwen reign supreme.

In a fit of energy and enthusiasm, I stayed up all night on Saturday and organized the kids’ toys. Paul had a head cold and didn’t make it passed 10 — just long enough for me to nearly kill him by making him move pinball machines with me — so I was up all night working by myself.

My catalyst was the spring Children’s Clothing Exchange, which started accepting items on Sunday. Saturday afternoon, I talked Paul into buying a small storage unit for the toys and after the kids went to bed, I started in on the work. I literally poured each and every toy they own into the center of the front room. First I sorted by theme/type. Then I went through each and purged.

Unfortunately, I only have photos of the finished product, taken in poor light this morning.

Please ignore that we still have to sand, paint, and repair the walls and trim in this room. It’s one of several rooms we still have to renovate. As for the paper blinds we taped up there 5 years ago?  Hmmm, well, a drawbacks for having a handy husband is that he can completely be on board with spending a year’s worth of savings on better wood to use under drywall so that the walls are straight.  And contemplate a few year’s worth of work trim.  But window treatments?  Not so much.  Don’t misunderstand, it’s not really a financial thing, since I wouldn’t know what to do, anyway.   Actually, the one room in the house that actually has something in the vein of window coverings is the kids room… because my Mom gave me old curtains she had used in a previous home.  Our paper window blinds aren’t there because we’re tacky.  It’s because we’re clueless.

Games and puzzles are in a chest in the front room right now.  Except for some hats, costumes, and stuffed toys in their room, these are their toys!  They can see everything, it’s all organized, and clean up makes sense.  Same with inside the kitchen — just a few items and all organized.  Sometimes?  I like to just open the doors and look at how plates are with plates and pots are under the stove and all dessert toys are in one bin, separate from the fruits and vegetables.

The feeling leaves a fabulous, if unnatural, calm.

And did you note that fantastic kitchen?  We’ve had it for months, as a result of my favorite manner of shopping… bottom feeding.  They are floor models from the local pottery barn that we picked up at a discount of 75% off the original price.  A little beat up, but nothing a touch-up stick can’t fix.  We also bought a bunk bed for Will this way.  It’s not a fast way to shop (we signed up for the bed about 2 years prior) and it’s not particularly convenient (Will’s bed has been in pieces in the front room since August) but it is definitely a way to save.

Oh, and that table?  With the clear tape covering the rips and tears?  We took it and the matching chairs out of a neighbor’s garbage after Katrina.  Remember!  Not tacky.  Resourceful.

Will’s room is also getting together.  We emptied the closet and put in an organization system.  All his clothes are now here:

I talked Paul into going forward with this without refinishing the inside of the closet.  We still have to paint the room… and are working to find the inspiration for doing this.  Once we paint the room and finish trimming the lights we can put together his bed — and then the kids will each have their own room.  Whoa.

With Will’s room empty, this means we’ve moved into the study!  We’re using the old stuff now and hope to put matching work tables with wall shelves above in the future.

We switched up our standard paper window hanging routine to opt for the Priority Mall box look for this room.

Note the unfinished outbuilding in the back of the last picture.  We have many more beefcake home-fix-it photo opportunities in our future…

Until then, anyone have decorating advice?

Arts & Photography
Home and Renovation
Mi Familia

Comments (3)


Just Posts for a Just World: February 2009

Here in New Orleans, February was Carnival month. It’s the best and worst of life each day here, but somehow the dichotomies are heightened during Carnival. The joy coupled with the danger, the opulence and the excess, the celebrations and the hangovers.

Just Posts follow suit this month with a wide range of issues, views, expressions, and topics. There are poems, lists, rants, and realizations. Every one represents a piece to a larger puzzle, a few stitches in the tapestry of our world.

Before the list, though, I have a favor. I have submitted an entry to win my Dream Photography Assignment. In short, my dream is to have the funds to return to impoverished areas where I have worked in the past with the goal of providing portraiture photography to the families living there and then giving them copies of the photographs. It is a gift that I always try to give, but due to time constraints, logistics of travel, print availability, and cost — one that I am rarely able to do. In the few times when I’ve brought back a photo, I have been intimately moved by the response. So much so that doing this on a larger scale remains one of my fondest dreams. While there are opportunities for photographers to pitch assignments to document poverty, photograph landscapes, and capture everyday life — there are few (if any) funding opportunities for photographers to simply give back.

I am hoping you will help me. I’m hoping you will vote and spread the word for others to do the same. The ideas with the top 20 votes will be judged by a panel — and I need your help to get in that top 20.

Please consider visiting the site and putting in a vote for my dream.

And finally. Thank you thank you thank you for reading, nominating, and writing…

Our Readers:


Our Writers:

Amy at Je Ne Regrette Rien with A Day With Fibromyalgia and This Angel Needs SOLE.

Jen at One Plus Two with En Route and Welcome to the Jungle.

Thordora at Spin Me I Pulsate with When a Man Wants to Murder a Tiger…

Bon at cribchronicles with More.

Angela at Letters from usedom with We are in the Middle of Something New, I was given a beautiful award, and Tapestry of Life.

Reya at The golden puppy with Money Changes Almost Everything, Past Present and Future, and Right or Wrong.

Julochka at Moments of Perfect Clarity with School is Cool.

Hummingbird at Hummingbird with Friend, stop a moment.

Deborah at What if with What a Wonderful World and My Dear Valentine.

Peter at The Buddha Diaries with Film Review: Wheel of Time, Another much bigger ethical conundrum, and Post-Racial.

Third story at Three Stories High with Kites on a Corner.

Elder woman at Elderwomanblog with Just One Shift.

Jarret at Creature of the shade with Stay or go.

Maggie Dammit at Violence Unsilenced with The Beginning.

Erika at Be Gay About It with Violence unsilenced.

Em at Social Justice Soapbox with Take Action: Responding to the Victorian bushfires.

Susie J with Grow and Garden and Share.

girlgriot at If you want kin, you must plan kin with How now, Juan? and To B(oycott) or not to B(oycott).

la loca at baggage carousel 4 with  wrong reason, right vote.

Thailand Chani at Finding My Way Home with Jiho.

One Year to Change the World with To bin or not to bin and The Age of Noisy Altruism.

Brigitte Knudson with Education Stimulus: What America Really Needs.

Neil of Citizen of the Month with My Once A Year Jewish Rant.

Alejna’s conversation is up and singing, too!

If you’ve nominated or written for this month, please feel free to copy the button to your website. If you want more information about Just Posts, check out the Just Posts Page.

Art & Photography
Home and Renovation

Comments (5)


Room for at least a dozen air mattresses.

No visible drywall.  No nails underfoot.  It’s overwhelming.  We both go back there and just stand, looking around.

“Remember when it was…?!”

“I know.”

“Remember when we…?!”


“Can you believe this is…?!”

Yes, still some sawdust.  Still some tools.   But Paul put the locking door on the outbuilding and is moving things back out to their new secure location.  We’re getting closer to the day when our house has no dangerous power tools laying around for the kids to experiment on when they get tired of playing with matches.

The outbuilding is still very unfinished, even if we are able to lock one side.  See it through the windows?

But inside…

Below is the view from the family room to the laundry room, which is the official “pass through” point.  It’s a shotgun home.  These sorts of things are normal here.

Please ignore the pile of bedclothes which Will’s pull-up didn’t protect last night.  Isn’t the laundry room floor where everyone’s clothes go?   We want visitors to feel right at home.

Yes, the step is high.  We had to hire someone else to do the foundation for the approvals, and he poured it a little lower than we had thought it would be, relative to the house.  Oh well, we can live with it.  The current plan is to do some sort of swinging shutters for the doorway.  Or maybe make hang strings of all these Mardi Gras beads we’ve got layin’ around?

It’s not like we go step by step by the seat of our pants or anything.

The trim around the doors is in!  But unpainted and awaiting the full three coats.  The floor trim was prepainted, but it still needs to be caulked and finally painted.  Paul is also replacing the outlets, which were a little too recessed in the walls and got gummed up by the insulation.

Doesn’t that floor look hugely expensive and super fancy?!  It’s no-glue laminite flooring.  It snapped in.  Whole floor for both rooms with the padding was less than $300.  Perfect solution!  No worries if it gets destroyed and very easy upkeep.

Also, there is a door to the closet!  It isn’t painted and doesn’t have a knob, but it’s a door!  And it is actually level.

More detail of the study.  Those are the basic shelving pieces we’re putting in the study closet.  Almost time to start emptying out the closet in Will’s future bedroom!

Home and Renovation

Comments (9)


Making Lemonade

We knew it would come.  We just figured we had until the contract ended in a month.  Turns out, things went a bit faster than planned.  Thank goodness Paul obsesses over Quicken we’re thrifty.   So we’re on Day Two of no billable hours for Paul, and predicting this will reach into a third day… or more.

No demonstrable household income* = Lemons

Having some time to work on the house = Lemonade!

Like getting back to the front yard, which we hadn’t seen in a long while.  Weeding, top soil, mulch… and it’s a different place all together.  Remember us bricking in the plant beds? Time to finally get those last bags of concrete and mortar off the porch!  A few more days and the middle bed will be done.

We used our child labor to help on weed control.

We haven’t forgotten about that 4+ year and going renovation in the back!  More on that soon.  It’s just too overwhelming to get into tonight.

*No demonstrable income, meaning, nothing that we really can speak for or give strong evidence towards… as opposed to the little spurts of cash I bring in.  Some good news, though: I was recently offered a summer adjunct position to teach in the School of Social Work.  And a grant project I was written into as a consultant was funded.  So it’s not like I’m a total loss?

Family Life in NOLA
Home and Renovation

Comments (8)