Wednesday, December 4, 2013

DIY - Leveled Garden Boxes

     Well, now that summer is officially over... (and fall is too) I figured it was just about time to write up my belated garden box post!  

   Our garden boxes are amazing - all 6 of them.  Each box is 6x3 which gave us a lot of gardening real estate, but we managed to use all of it and are contemplating eventually adding 2 more boxes.  We could have made larger boxes but Clint read that if you get much larger than 6x3 you have to start adding support in the middle of the box because of the weight of the dirt, and that was extra work we didn't feel like worrying about.

Here's a sneak peak at the finished boxes:

     Don't they look great?!?  I've really gotta hand it to Clint - he did all of the research on making good garden boxes and did a majority of the work with help from me and his dad.  He found this great blog tutorial on making garden boxes on sloped ground:  But if you don't feel like going there, feel free to read on about how to make them.

     I can't tell how evident it is in the picture - but our yard slopes downward and toward the neighbor's house, so we had a lot of slope to work with.  I didn't even really realize how *much* the yard sloped until we were putting in these garden boxes and wanted to level them.  Fortunately it worked out really well and now we have these cute tiered garden boxes!

How to make the boxes:

1.  Have the right tools:
     Make sure you have a circular saw to cut the wood - there is a lot of cutting involved and you would not want to do it by hand. You'll also need 4 L-shaped brackets per box, a ton of 2.5" screws and a power drill.

2.  Choosing the wood:     
     Clint read that cedar was the best because it repels bugs and lasts a long time outdoors even without treatment, but we couldn't find any cedar wood.  Or maybe it was absurdly expensive.  So after some debate, we decided to go with pressure treated wood, but lined the boxes with plastic cover to prevent the chemicals in the pressure treated wood from seeping into our soil.  (Apparently the chemicals they put in it aren't supposed to be that bad for you anymore, but we figured better safe than sorry.)  You'll need a LOT of wood.  For each 6x3 box you'll need at least 18' for the frame, and up to 18' for the side boards, and ~3-6 more for the level supports depending on the slope of your ground.  Plan on purchasing ~40-42 feet of lumber per box.  The more boxes you make, the more likely you are able to reuse some of the cut wood for the sideboards, so the amount of wood per box gets reduced.

3.  Framing the boxes:
     For the initial box frame, we opted for 2x6s and used 6ft planks.  We used 3 6ft boards per box - cutting one in half for the short sides.  To make the frame, use a single L shaped bracket at each corner to shape the boxes into long rectangles and place them on the ground where you want them.
     One thing to note - since our ground isn't level, most of our boxes are well deeper than 6" post-leveling, but each box does have one corner/side that is only about 6" deep.  If you want your shortest corner/side to be deeper than 6" you could go with 2x8s or 2x10s for your frame.    

4.  Leveling the boxes:
     After making the frame of each box, the next step is to level. In order to level the boxes, work on one box at a time and level it specific to the ground below it.  This does mean that you can't move the box after you level it (unless the spot you're moving it to is exactly the same pitch/slope).
     Level the boxes by adjusting the 3 low corners of the box to the tallest corner.  Prop each low corner up with varying heights of scrap wood/items until all 4 sides of the box are level.

   When level is achieved, make 'leveling' support stands at each corner of the box and the middles of the long sides.  To do that, place one of the extra 2x6s into the ground vertically and against the inside of the box.  Kind of shove it into the ground so that it's perpendicular to the box top and leaves an imprint in the ground.  Then draw a line on this 2x6 along the top of the box frame, as a guide for cutting.  After cutting that stand to size, return to the frame and screw the stand into the inside of the frame, using your imprint for placement.  Start in the middle (where you don't have external supports you can knock out of place) and then work on the 4 corners.  On the corners, screw both sides of your box into the corner stands.  Even though one corner is sitting on the ground, make a stand for it anyways as it provides extra strength and support for the box.

5.  Making the sides of the boxes:
     After the boxes are all leveled with your support stands, you have to make sides for the boxes.  For four of our boxes the 2x6's we had were tall enough to fill the gap between the box frame and the ground.  However 2 of our boxes were on such a slope that we bought 2x8s (maybe 2x10s?) so that we could make the side out of a single layer of wood instead of two.
     To make the sides, you'll place your side board on the ground along the length of the side you want to fill, right up next to the frame of the box.  (I should have taken a picture of this, because that was a terrible explanation).  Then you can trace the bottom of the box frame (from the inside) to draw a line against your side board for cutting.  You will have to skip the spaces where your support stands are in the way, but you can fill them in with a straight edge afterward.
     After making your cut, your wood should fit pretty perfectly between the leveled frame and the ground.  We put the cut side on the ground for aesthetic reasons.  Then you can screw the sideboard to your support stands.  Voila!

    Not only do the boxes look great, but the tiers are so cute. Clint did a great job making sure all of the boxes were straight!

6.  Line the boxes:
     If you went with pressure treated wood, your last construction step would be to line the boxes with plastic if you're concerned about the chemicals.  Our plastic started to rip by the end of the summer, so I'd recommend a thick plastic as opposed to a thin one.  I think we used about 3mil plastic. Unfortunately I can't make a recommendation on thickness as ours tore, but if we make more boxes I'll update the post to reflect what we chose.

The finished product:

We added little stakes to use for bird netting,
in case small animals were a problem.

     And a cute picture of our helper Bizzy.  Can't forget her!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

DIY - Repurposing a Buffet or Dresser as a Bathroom Vanity: Part 1

We decided to repurpose an older buffet for use as a 
vanity in the bathroom remodel.  We chose this route for a few reasons - we like 'handmade' stuff, we wanted to save money,
and we thought the style would match the farmhouse well.

After weeks (months?) of craigslist browsing,
we finally found the perfect buffet.  Sadly it wasn't as 
cheap as a lot of craigslist finds (350, +25 for them to deliver), but I thought it was worth the investment. 

I really wanted a piece with center doors to maximize the storage we could get since we ripped a closet out of the bathroom to fit a double vanity.  Converting dressers with drawers in the middle requires cutting through several drawers to accommodate the sink drain piping and that kills a lot of your potential storage.

This is the buffet we chose:

I really loved the buffet feet (which remind me of the
clawfoot tub feet) and the woodwork along the base.  Because of the bowed front of the buffet, we've opted to use a single extra large (27" wide) oval sink, which mirrors the curve well.  

Originally it would have been nice to have his and her 
sinks - but it just wasn't right for this buffet.  And let's 
be honest, I doubt anyone had double sinks in 1911, right?  
At the end of the day, a single extra large sink is more 
era-appropriate and farmhouse-appropriate. :) 

 Though I'm not sure exactly what era this buffet is from 
(I highly doubt it's from the early 1900's), I am confident that it will match our bathroom perfectly!

* * * * *
The Refinishing Work

We knew we wanted to paint the buffet and stick
with our black and white theme, but we weren't sure how

much black and how much white to do.  After looking at several (dozens!) of b&w painted dressers on pinterest, Clint decided

that he preferred the 'less is more' look.

We decided to paint the entire buffet white except for the top and the hardware.  We thought it might be weird to have a white sink on top of a white vanity (and the whites might not match perfectly),  so a black top seemed like the perfect solution.

The first step in prepping the buffet was sanding
it and repairing the wood where needed.  We sanded with 100
grit sandpaper.  We probably *should* have gone over it again with finer grit sandpaper to make sure it  was really smooth... but we're lazy... and uh, this would make the buffet
look more 'antiqued' or 'rustic'... maybe? :) 

There were some chips in the top that needed filling,
and one part of the woodwork on the base needed repair.
We used Elmer's Carpenter Wood Filler.

After the filler dried, we sanded it flat and began

priming.  For the priming we used
Zinnser Cover Stain Oil-based Primer Spray.

After letting the primer fully dry, we applied
the actual white paint to the dresser.  For the exterior
We did several light coats. I think we used about 4 cans
for full coverage of the dresser and drawers.

After the white dried, I began painting
the buffet top - but I haven't finished yet.
I've been having some difficulties with the black
paint we chose for the top, and its been
nothing short of a huge pain! :(

Once I get that last coat finished, I'll seal the whole
piece using polyurethane on the top, and polyacrylic on the
body of buffet.  I've read that polyurethane is a better seal
against water (which is important for the top where the
sink will be), but yellows over time - which is why
we'll seal the white areas with polyacrylic
which isn't supposed to yellow.

I can't wait till it's finished - and to post an update
of the completed buffet vanity!
Stay tuned :)

Check out the final product in Part 2 here!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making a Nursery - Demo, Reno & Painting

With a little one on the way (eta 5.11.14!),
we decided to turn our smallest bedroom into a nursery.
Previously we had used it as a room for the kitties,
but sadly they got displaced to the mudroom, hehe.

The room is pretty small - about 12 x 7. This included
a long closet that spanned the entirety of the back wall. A
closet that was not particularly useful as storage and really
diminished the amount of usable space in the room.

Before we started painting any potential baby colors 
(wee!), I really wanted to nix the useless closet. Sure, 
without a closet it's not *technically* a bedroom,
but it's a lot more usable. And if push comes to shove 
we can always build in a small closet later on down 
the road for resale or something.

So after consulting Clint's brother - who
confirmed that ripping the closet out would be a 
piece of cake - Clint and I went to town on the demolition.
Erin said it would take like 20 minutes.  Ha. Ha.
Maybe it would have taken Erin 20 minutes,
but it took us 2 or 3 hours, hehe.

What Erin didn't mention was how hard fixing the room
would be after we ripped the closet out... The house is old 
and settled. When we replaced the drywall, the walls/seams were NOT flat and the ceiling was NOT level.  After copious amounts of mudding - probably about 5 rounds worth (and about 5 rounds less than was really needed) - we called it good enough.  :)

Post mudding, pre-painting.

Finally after we finished the mudding (thanks to a 
lot of help from Erin!!), we painted the room.  Yay!
And when we painted the walls and the ceiling a lot of
the unperfect and uneven elements nearly disappeared.
We went with a brown/taupe color palette.  
We won't know the gender for another month or so,
but we decided to just get started on the painting early 
and go fairly gender neutral. I think either baby 
blue or pink will look great with brown!

Here's the room after the painting:

Of course we did reveal more ugly flooring after
we ripped out the closet (as noted in a previous post).
We didn't make the flooring look any better with
the mud we spilled all over.  :)

Fortunately we made sure to do all the demo/reno 
work before the was carpeting installed so these kinds of 
messes wouldn't matter!  Once we got the carpet in,
the room looked so much better!

We still have to replace the floor boards
which should give the room a much cleaner look overall.
All of the accent painting/decor still needs to
be completed too, but that will have to wait until after we
learn the gender of baby nugget... and until
we clear all the bathroom stuff out of the nursery!

Hopefully we can get the bathroom reno
rolling so we can finish the nursery soon too :)

Updates to come!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hearty Chicken and Rice Soup with Asian Veggies (Naturally Gluten Free)

Since I've been feeling a little sick lately,
I thought that I should make myself some soup to feel better.
It was super easy to make - perfect if you don't feel great!

Originally I wanted to make chicken noodle soup but I 
wasn't sure how the gluten free noodles would hold up as leftovers, so I went with rice which was a lot simpler.

I started by adding chicken broth and water to a pot. (I bet it would be even better with homemade chicken broth!!) Then I coarsely chopped an onion, and threw in 2 frozen chicken breasts.
I added a couple of tosses of herbs/seasonings to add 
some flavor to the broth.

I brought the broth to a boil and left it to simmer for about an 
hour and a half while I did other things. I occasionally came around to stir the broth and shred the chicken.

 About 30 mins before I wanted to eat dinner,
I gathered up the veggies I had on hand.  I didn't have many 'traditional' veggies so I used carrots, enoki mushrooms, 
garlic, baby bok choy and savoy cabbage.

I chopped the carrots and enoki mushrooms into bite-sized
chunks and threw them in a frying pan with a healthy dose of
powdered ginger, minced garlic and olive oil.

 After sautéing the mixture for a few minutes, I threw
it all in the pot. Then I chopped up my bok choy and cabbage,
and added it to the mix.  Then I added some jasmine rice.

After letting that cook for about 20 mins,
it was ready to eat!

It was really tasty!  But then as I was happily eating 
my soup and I thought maybe I should add a bit more flair to
clear out the sinuses and threw in some sriracha.
That was *extra* yummy!

The Recipe

- 4 cups chicken broth (I used Wegman's Organic Low-Sodium Broth)
- 4-5 cups water
- 2 large chicken breasts
- 1 onion coarsely chopped
- 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1/2 tsp crushed rosemary
- 1/4 tsp celery seed

- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 2 packages of enoki mushrooms, chopped
- 1.5 cups chopped savoy cabbage (about 3-4 leaves)
- 2 small bundles of bok choy, chopped
- 2 tbsp minced garlic

- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 cups jasmine rice
- salt & pepper to taste

Putting it together:

1.  Put all broth ingredients (chicken broth, water, chicken breasts, onion, poultry seasoning, rosemary & celery seed) into a large pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and leave for 30 mins to an hour (or more).
2.  Saute the carrots, mushrooms, garlic and ginger powder in the olive oil for approximately 3 minutes, then pour into the broth.
3.  Add the cabbage, bok choy and rice to the broth.
4.  Add salt and pepper to the broth to taste.
5.  Let the soup cook for an additional 20-30 minutes on low heat, until the rice is soft.

**I wanted a really thick and hearty soup.
If you prefer a soup with more broth, you could
either add more broth, or reduce the rice to 1 cup.
Because of the nature of rice, this soup will continue 
to thicken as it sits out, and by the time you're eating it as leftovers it's almost a porridge.  If you'd like to preserve
the 'soupiness,' collect some broth to store separately and add back in when reheating (or add new broth when reheating).

*Find a printer friendly version of this recipe
on my Google Docs here!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bathroom Demolition Day!

As planned, we began demolition on our upstairs bathroom this last weekend. (I'm sure it will take months to complete, haha)

We're fortunate in that our bathroom gets a lot of
light, and it wasn't extremely small despite the age of the farmhouse.  We had good bones to work with, but we're hoping to give the bath a more 'farmhouse' style and upgrade to a larger vanity by removing the closet.  I was also excited to get a new tub, as the tub we had was a little stained and dingy.

Here's some before photos:

I clearly made no effort to beautify the bathroom before taking
these before photos...

My only real involvement in the demo was emptying the 
vanity and the closet and moving the contents to another room for storage during the renovation.  I also helped Clint take down 
the mirror, lights, and door - and of course took 
pictures of the process throughout.

But apparently when you're pregnant and under the 
weather, you don't get to be involved in the REAL demo work.
(I won't lie, I didn't mind laying about while 
the men did their thing...)

That said, I'd like to give a HUGE shout out to Clint's 
brother Erin and his dad Tom for coming to help with the demolition.  When Clint and I recently demolished just 1 small closet, it took us hours... I have no idea how long the full
bathroom demo would have taken without their help!

Everything got taken out from the back to the front - starting with removing the tiled wall and tub.  Then the toilet, vanity, and closet came out next.  Lastly the crew worked on removing approximately 18 layers of flooring.

You can see that we had several layers of flooring. There's the subfloor hardwoods in the back where the tub was, and the substrate layers on top of it, which apparently included concrete.  The flooring was definitely the toughest part of the demo for the men.

After a majority of the flooring was out, the guys
called it a day.  The closet was completely knocked out,
and the walls were opened up as we'll have to move
some of the plumbing around.

Sadly, there is still a bit of demo work left to be done.
The shower bump-out still needs to be taken down, and all of that plumbing and piping will have to be moved/reorganized 
to work with the clawfoot tub set up.

Additionally, there is still some substrate above the 
subfloor that needs to be removed.  Once that's done, all of the subfloor will be coming out as well.  There is a slope in the bathroom now that we've pulled out all those layers of flooring, so we'll need to rectify that before we 
put our new flooring down.

After we pull out the subfloor, we'll have to determine if its
better to shave down a joist, build up a joist, or a combination of both to get a level floor, while preserving as much floor to ceiling space as possible.  You can see in the first set of demo photos how low our ceilings were in the bathroom.  Erin is tall (about 6'3 or so) but the ceilings are pretty low.

One cool thing about pulling out the walls was getting 
to see some of the original wood framing of the house.  In between the insulation are *actual* 2x4's.  I'm not sure when 2x4's actually stopped being 2 inches by 4 inches and more like 1.5x3.5, but it was a long time ago.  :)

Hopefully it won't take us too long to finish up the last
of the demo and we can get to rebuilding everything as soon as possible.  Right now we can only use the bathroom downstairs,
and that really sucks when you wake up in the middle of
the night and have to go to the restroom.
Especially when you're waking up as much as I do!

I'm not sure how long this process will take, but I'll 
definitely make sure to update the blog as we go!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Carpeting Upstairs in the Bedrooms

Much like the hardwoods in our hallway, the flooring in our bedrooms upstairs wasn't in the best of shape.  We had always envisioned that we'd carpet more than just the hallway, and the time had finally come to make that vision a reality.

So we went back to Lowe's and matched the Stainmaster carpet we had previously installed, for a seamless look.

We actually opted not to carpet our master bedroom at this time because carpeting the master bedroom alone was $1300.
Since we're also about to renovate our main bath
we figured we'd rather spend that 1300 there.
We can always carpet our room later!

A couple notable problem areas that we did cover:

Again, what treasures lie below?

Unfortunately, the problem with carpeting after you
move in (and carpeting rooms filled with stuff), is that
you have to move a bunch of stuff.  Our upstairs (and some parts of the downstairs) was a total DISASTER zone!!

But it was all worth it after the carpet got installed!
Carpeting the bedrooms immediately made them feel warm and comforting, the way a bedroom should feel. :) The kitties love spending time in the other bedrooms now.  The carpet also really improved the flow between the hallway and the 2 bedrooms.
Take a look at the difference in one of the bedrooms!



While getting carpeting installed isn't a huge home renovation project by any stretch (and all we really did was move furniture), every little thing that we do to improve the house gives us a sense of satisfaction, and makes us feel that much happier with our home.  Especially when we can cover up bad floors and make our farmhouse more presentable.

Now that we have the carpeting in place, we're really excited to move onto bigger and better projects, like the bathroom renovation.  Demolition starts this weekend!  Yay!