Saturday, November 3, 2012

Around The Yard With Jack

There's a battle raging at my house, and it's Me vs. The Giant Oak trees. I realize that raking and bagging acorns and leaves is completely futile, but I'm not giving up. Jack has been very sick for a couple of weeks, so it was great to see him feeling better yesterday and it was great for me to get out of the house and work in the yard.

Who's sick? Not me!
I started in the front yard where there is a tiny magnolia tree growing beside of a much larger magnolia (definitely my favorite plants in my yard).
(Yes that is a Dunkin Donuts coffee growing on the left, aren't I lucky?!)
In the thousands of leaves in my front yard, this one stood out.
 It reminded me that being different is a pretty great way to be.
Any idea what this plant is? I haven't been able to figure it out, and now it is getting ready to sprout some flowers.
I found one of our adorable little birds in the yard and buried him here. I'm glad that my dogs are way too lazy to dig around. Rest well little buddy!
My neighbors have a beautiful persimmon fruit tree in their yard and he was nice enough to give me a couple. I have never eaten a persimmon so I am looking forward to trying these!
Here is just one of many giant trees that threatened to fall on our house during Hurricane Sandy. Thank you for not doing so.
Jack and I threw a watermelon under the bird feeders this summer, and guess what is starting to grow? Our own little watermelon November.

This tree is begging for some Charlie Brown christmas lights.

I'm so thankful that I grew up in the era before Ipads, computers, cell phones and texting and learned to love to work in the yard (and we also walked to and from school in the snow without shoes :-). No matter how many gadgets, inside toys or privileges Jackson has in his life, I hope he will always just prefer to be playing outside in the dirt!
...And sometimes when you are making cookies, it's best to just take the cookie beaters outside to share with Wrigley.
....And if Wrigley gets too close to stealing your snack, it's a good idea to run away!

If you find yourself, at the end of the day, with crazy hair and a dirty face, it's probably been
 A day worth remembering.

We've came a long way Buddy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Waterproof Wonder: Allure Vinyl Plank Flooring (Part One)

Of all the things that annoyed me about the house I currently live in, the top two on my list are:
 1. Flooring
 2 .The trim and mouldings.

I dubbed this place "The House Where Laminate Came to Die" and vowed that every inch of it would come out! The previous owner evidently caught a sale on some laminate and went to town in installing it- incorrectly- then trimming it out in some sort of styrofoam moulding (not meant for the floor and in my opinion, shouldn't be used anywhere...ever.). The second floor was lovingly wrapped in what I like to call "Sea Foam Gray" carpet.

It was at least seven years old, and even my best attempts with my carpet shampooer couldn't bring it back to life (and I have more experience with a carpet shampooer than I like to admit- thank you world's worst pack of dogs).

(This is of the four scoundrels!)
So first on my list of things to tear out was the lovely "sea form green" carpet that covered the upstairs. My initial conquest was the master bedroom. I hadn't yet decided what type of floor I wanted to install, but I got to work on ripping out the carpet and tack strips and the 5 zillion staples from carpets past.

(Side note- to do the best job possible, remove all baseboard mouldings. My mouldings are positively stuck on the wall- after years and years of being painted over, and when I attempted to remove them I was doing some major damage to the dry wall. So I have opted to leave the baseboard and install shoe moulding over the new floors. Which I hate, but my hands were tied on this one).

Once that was finished, I was ready to go. In case you haven't done this before and need some advice, the best tool to use is your husband's expensive swiss army knife tool  thingy (who knows what it's really called?!) and don't tell him that you are removing carpet with it (and after you ruin that, use a good crowbar, hammer and long flat head screw driver). So I hauled myself over to Lowe's and meandered around the aisles looking for a good deal on anything that didn't include the words "carpet" or "sea foam green". Here is where I made my first mistake. You see, I have this life long bad habit of shopping the clearance aisles. Sometimes my thrifty purchases are a home run, and sometimes you just get what you pay for. This was the latter of the two outcomes with my .99 cents a square foot laminate that I found on sale. Big Huge Mistake.

So I stacked about twelve boxes of this stuff (for the record, it was Swiftlock Aged Gunstock Oak) onto the not-for-heavy-items cart and left the store with a small price to pay for a new floor. I did buy the expensive underlayment- thinking that would make up for the crappy product I just bought. That cost about $100 for two rolls. That was the only thing I got right about this project and I'll be sad to see that expensive underlayment going on the trash soon!

Very long story short and after over 30 hours of work, I got what I paid for. The laminate would NOT CLICK TOGETHER! I would get the first section all hooked together, then when I moved on to the next section I would notice that a few rows up things were coming apart. This continued numerous times and it became by far the most frustrating project I have ever done. I'm going to be honest, there were some exhaustion and frustration induced tears involved. By day three (of  job that should have taken half a day) I had given up, started gluing pieces together and concluded that this would be a temporary floor until I decided on a product that actually did it was supposed to. A huge positive that came from this project was my new flooring saw, which I highly recommend. It is the Skilz floor saw and it did an amazing job. I have since used it for many projects, not just flooring, and would highly recommend it for trim and small moulding jobs as well! Well worth the $120 it cost.

So back to the carpet and for the main reason on this post. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs and all of the carpet had to go. I spent a ton of time trying to decide what type of floor I wanted to install and it had to fit these criteria: Waterproof, durable, must not be a floor you "click" together, ( because that just doesn't work for me evidently), and did I mention waterproof? (four dogs and a toddler who loves to play with all things liquid, especially dog water bowls).

My first option was laminate, but I now have a healthy and abundant hatred for all things laminate, and it is far from being waterproof, so I scratched that off my list. My second option was engineered hardwood, which I think is a great product and was almost the big winner...except it is also not waterproof. Tile was third on my list. I love tile and if this was Florida or Arizona my entire house would be tiled. Every. Inch. Of. It. But alas, my real estate agent told me that an entirely tiled house in Virginia is a bit kooky and not so great for resale, so I scratched that idea. I remembered a product I had dabbled with a few years ago and wasn't very impressed with it back then: Peel and stick vinyl. A few years ago I installed this in a room and did not like it at all. It ended up being an expensive pile on the curb. However, after a few years and some research it appeared that they had improved this product significantly. And guess what? It's as close to waterproof as a floor can be. I read so many positive reviews about people doing all sorts of water experiments on this stuff- and it wasn't affected at all. One guy even left the boxes out in a hurricane and the product was still completely usable. That sounds like the right product for me and my herd of dogs.

This is perpetrator Numero Uno, Ernie:

Back to the floors. Home Depot carries a product called Allure. It now comes in two forms- peel and stick vinyl planks and vinyl planks that click together (both are "floating" floors, meaning that they do not adhere to the current floor but stay put by adhering to adjoining pieces). I was very impressed with the new look of this flooring! It comes in many shades...but I will warn you, this stuff isn't exactly cheap. The first floor that caught my eye was almost $3 a square foot. I don't know about you, but I have seen quality hardwood on sale for around that price. But alas, I fell for that hand scraped click together version and brought two boxes of it home. I sat out to do a little experiment with the floor to see if my luck had improved with snap and lock technology....and big surprise, I could NOT get this stuff to click together. I watched tutorials on youtube, I googled the heck out of it as well, no luck. So I'm pretty sure that the problem lies with me and my ability to snap and click. The product did look great but I returned it to the store. I did not need a second flooring disaster on my record!

Very long story short (too late, I know!) I left the store with Allure peel and stick vinyl planks in "Teak" and a sharp new utility knife. I think the darker planks look more like wood and the lighter planks look more like, well, vinyl. So I went with a darker shade.  I was now a gal on a mission to lay some floor! So without further adieu, here is my two cents and installing this floor!

Allure Vinyl Plank How To's, and How Not To's:

1. Think about what you are about to do. That sounds silly and counter intuitive, but trust me. Sit down in the space and think about your strategy from start to finish. Write it down if you need to. I guarantee if you do this, you will make very few mistakes, and hopefully zero catastrophic mistakes. Since I had installed this floor before and made some costly errors, I spent some time remembering what I did wrong the last time, and how I would avoid repeating those errors.

2. Decide which direction to run your planks. There are all sorts of design rules for this- like determining which way the windows face and how the sun hits the floor, or running the length of the room. Both are good ideas, but really it is a matter of personal choice. It is easiest to run the boards the length of the longest continuous wall, but since I was starting in a hallway with multiple complicated cuts I didn't have that luxury on this project. So I decided to run my planks length wise of the house.This would also allow me to run the planks directly into two of the bedrooms without transition pieces (side note: this is a very positive aspect of this product vs. laminate. You do not need to use transition pieces. Laminate needs breaks in the floor for expansion and contraction purposes, vinyl does not). The directions of these planks also say you can change direction, but I think that makes for a very busy pattern and I would not recommend trying to do this the first time you use this product.

3. Gather the proper tools. The instructions for this product state that you only need a sharp utility knife. That makes it sound super easy, doesn't it? Beware of this- I'm here to tell you that you need several tools to make this a truly successful endeavour. They are:

1. Sharp utility knife with snap off blades (and I like to snap off the old blades with a pair of pliers)
2. Carpenter's square
3. Heavy duty scissors or shears
4. Measuring tape
5. 100 lb roller or heavy books
6. Dust buster/broom/vacuum
7. Undercutting saw for door frames
8. Helpers- like my buddy Wrigley, who was sad to see his beloved carpet (AKA pee pee pad) going bye bye:
Helper Jackson with the broom and some snazzy striped pants:
4. Prepare your sub floor. Those product makes the claim that you do not need to do anything to your sub floor and can leave previous laminate or thin commercial grade carpet on the floor and simply floor over top of it. In my opinion, it is best to start with a total clean sub floor- free of all other types of floor, nails, staples, etc. My floor was plywood and I started by adding additional screws to the floor to get rid of some pesky squeaks. It was almost worth doing the floor to address the squeaks! Once all items are removed, vacuum, sweep, and repeat this step many many times during the process. There's no good reason to leave dust and debris under a new floor. Remove as much of the baseboards as you feel comfortable reinstalling. If your baseboards are hopelessly stuck, leave them and add a shoe mold after you done (it pains me greatly to say that as it looks MUCH better to remove the baseboard and not use a shoe mold..but it's not always possible).
5. Pick the corner you want to start in and go for it! Make sure you leave a small space for expansion between the floor and the wall.  Unfortunately for me, I started under a door, but it was worth it to take the time to do it right, which means undercutting the door frame.

(This wasn't my starting point, but I wanted to show a picture of undercutting)
6. These planks are very sticky and the less mistakes you make in putting them together the better they will stick. You want to try to have zero gaps between the planks, so use whatever means necessary to get those seams super snug. I found it helpful to sometimes use a pull, a tapping block and rubber mallet. But mostly I just used good ole' elbow grease and pulled the planks as tight as possible.  It doesn't hurt to have some leather tipped gloves to help you press the seams (and to prep the sub floor). As you work, you will get better and better at putting the pieces together. I found it best to start at an angle when attaching the new board- corner first, then press the rest of the plan into place.
If you make a mistake, gently pull the planks apart and start over. You have a small window of time to do this in, so don't wait a few minutes to pull the planks apart- more than likely you will rip the strips and will need to start with new pieces. This is also where sweeping the floor comes in handy, because you don't want to get a lot of crud stuck on the sticky strips. You can use a hand roller to press the seams, heavy books or even just walk on them and use your body weight to make the seal tighter.
7. Cut the last piece of the row to fit. I found it easiest to use a carpenter's square to scour a straight line with my utility knife, then simply snap the board. It's important to snap in a straight line because this last piece will be the first piece of the next row. (use both hands, unless you are trying to take a picture at the same time :-)
8. After completing the first row, use the last piece that you cut to start the next row. This will give you a staggered look. You do not want all of your boards to line up for aesthetic as well as functional reasons. This is also where it is imperative that you think about strategy and making sure you start and end each row with the right orientation of the sticky strips.
9. The success of this product really is in the execution of the small details. If you cut corners and don't do things such as undercutting door frames or getting your seams tight, this floor will look very bad. So take extra  time to make those complicated cuts, like this one:
For pieces around closets and under doors, I first made a template using the paper that separates the planks in the box. Draw what you need, measure twice and cut once! I found these cuts were easier to do with my heavy duty scissors.
Because this is such a long post, I will post a follow up with all the before and after pictures with a completed floor!

Friday, September 21, 2012

All Things Jack

Meet Jackson (Jack, Jack-Jack, etc.). He is a super little guy who has already been through a tremendous journey. Starting out as a little fish baby in Alaska things were not looking so good for Jack's future. Thanks to an emergency relocation to North Carolina, and the team of doctors at Duke University, Jackson's heart was repaired as much as possible. His condition is called Double Outlet Right Ventricle (with characteristics of Tetralogy of Fallot), which is pretty rare and not easy to fix. The result of his complicated surgery at 8 weeks old left him with a damaged electrical conduction system. Thanks to the good folks at Medtronic, Jack has a state-of-the-art "keep me alive box" pacemaker. It will limit the amount of things he can do in the future, but that just means we have to think of other (and more fun) things for him to do! As he grows he will need several additional surgeries to repair valves and replace batteries in his pacemaker, but for now we just focus on the fun stuff.

Jack spends most of his time with our circus of dogs. That fat scruffy guy is Ernie (Nernie, The Nern) who had just received his insulin shot. So naturally, the next logical thing to do is to eat popcorn with Jack. The reclusive grumpy guy in the back is Wrigley (Wriggles, Wriggle Monsters).

This was this morning's post breakfast snack of champions. What's that you say? Oreos and popcorn? Correct. Jackson constantly gets a variety of snacks because he eats very, very little. After his heart surgeries he completely stopped eating and had to undergo an additional surgery to place a G-tube in his stomach. The G-tube was a nightmare, but it kept him alive. After his first year we were able to have it removed and he resumed eating on his own. So anything that I can get him to eat is a major success.

Jack is my miracle baby and because the first year of his life was so hard, our main goal now is to have fun! His favorite  activity includes feeding this guy, Mr.Stumps the Squirrel:

Mr. Stumps is a hungry little dude and at some point has lost his tail. All the more reason to take extra good care of him. Once we discovered that he was sorting out the food we left for him and only wanted sunflower seeds, we decided to make things even easier for Mr. Stumps and leave him only the good stuff from now on. Jack likes to supervise with his chocolate donut.

Another favorite game is peekaboo and he is quite the expert. He can hide behind just about anything, to include his hands or a door.

Several times a day he checks on the birds houses to make sure they have enough to eat.

This little guy has a lot going on, but always has time to smile at strangers! Jack also has a pretty cool family with lots of cousins, aunts, uncles and Grandmas and Grandpa. This is Jack with his best buddy and first cousin Matthew:
This is Jack with his daddy on his last day as an Army Physician at Fort Bragg. Always the lady's man, Jack is more interested in (Captain) Dr.Donoway and the nurses who had donuts waiting for him.

Jack especially loves his Aunts, and he has a bunch of great ones! This is his aunt Jeanine (Nean) whom he loves to call on the phone on a daily basis. Sometimes she gets lucky and he leaves her really exciting voicemails.

After all of this excitement, sometimes Jack gets sleepy. Mommy does too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Learning Who "Your Paint People Are": Lowe's vs. Home Depot

I think the most important statement that a home makes begins with the paint on the walls, and it is also the hardest thing to decide. Therefore the question arises: where do you go to get the goods? Until just this week, I have always been a Lowe's Loyalist. Growing up in the country with a mother who had two very green thumbs, a trip to Lowe's was a big deal. First of all, it wasn't like it was just down the road. It took about 30 minutes to get there. If any of my Peterstown, West Virginia, friends are reading this you know exactly what I'm talking about. So if you were lucky enough to score a road trip to Lowe's, when you got there it was a pretty big let down. It smelled like dirt and there was  nothing exciting going on for a teenager. Now that I'm much older and wiser, a trip to Lowe's is a pretty fun time. (Side note: Just a few weeks ago I had my most adult moment ever when I saw a guy with a power washer in his cart, and my first thought was "LUCKY"!)  I still love my Lowe's for all things DIY....until I discovered the paint section at Home Depot.

So I must confess that I am a bit of a paintaholic. Over the past ten years I've spent approximate 72 million dollars on paint. I once had a bathroom that I painted so many times the room shrank by at least an inch in diameter. That might be a stretch, but the room changed colors ten times when I lived there. I tried about five shades of beige, one super dark blue (you know the one- curse you Pottery Barn and your impossible-to-duplicate blue), green, then back to beige. As you can see, I gotta get the color just right- or I can't live with it and it has to change!

This was my biggest dilemma upon moving in to my current home. The colors in this house were such a nightmare when we bought it I still have a little PTSD just thinking about it. The color was called "Bicycle Yellow" by Behr. I do believe that if hell has a color, this is it. I hated it so much I couldn't even take a before photo, but here is what it looks like- and in case there is any doubt, it is the lovely mind blowing shade on the bottom:

That's right folks- absolutely everywhere, and in a lovely high gloss sheen. ICK.

After several gallons of paint, and several failed attempts to get the shade right through trial and error at my beloved Lowe's, I stumbled upon something that I wish I had found a very very long time ago: Hello paint section at Home Depot!

May I present, the Martha Stewart Living Complete Paint Palette for Interiors and Exteriors.

Seriously Martha? Why have you been keeping this from me for so long?  Inside this handy dandy pamphlet is every single shade of paint that Martha has conjured up (along with their extra snobby sounding names) and underneath of the color is the "Martha Stewart Living Color Coordinating System". Each color belongs to one of 6 families and if you pick paints in the same family, voila! Magically they coordinate.

So now I am on my way with my "Tailor's Chalk" white and "Driftwood Gray" for my kitchen cabinets, and so far so good. However, that is an entirely different post all together people. Can't hardly wait, can you?!

                            So what is this all about?

My love/hate relationship with home improvement began when the first home that I owned (now a rental property) was flooded by an exploding supply line to a toilet. On that glorious day, I discovered that I did not even know where the main water supply valve was. Ok, in the spirit of full disclosure, I didn't even know that a house had a main water supply line that could be turned on and off. So in a panic I called my sister and her super handy husband and they rushed to my aid at 5:30 a.m. to teach this gal how to turn off the water fall that was destroying my home. $8,000 of damage later and months of work, the house was transformed into a better version of its original self.

Moral of the story?

On that lovely day, I felt totally helpless and clueless what to do. Neither of which are feelings that are acceptable to me! How could a college graduate, a successful professional and a homeowner by the age of 25 NOT know something so simple? Well, I've discovered that it is not such an uncommon phenomenon. While we go to school to learn the classics or how to do statistical analysis on things that really don't matter at all in the real world, very few of us learn real life lessons that we will need to be a fully functioning adult who does not need to rely on a handy man for every little problem that comes along in a house. Do you know where your water main valve is located? Do you turn off your water when you leave the house for more than 24 hours? Do you know how to flip a switch in your breaker box? Can you fix a leaky faucet or a toilet that doesn't work? How about laying tiles, installing floors or properly installing closet brackets into wall studs? Well I didn't know how to do any of these things, but through lots of trial and error I have learned a great deal. In my new home remodelling project I've already had some failures, but I'm learning from them and trying to master my DIY skills.

So, on my page you can learn the basics of home ownership, tools and tricks on remodeling projects and I'll share a little about my circus of dogs and my super special kiddo along the way. All comments and questions are welcome. Thank you for reading!