Friday, April 30, 2010

In which I ponder lucite

I love my furniture. From the dining room table with scratches on top from the massive paper cutter we used when assembling wedding invitations to the beloved green piano (a mahogany 1937 Wurlitzer, painted green by my grandmother in a fit of pure genius in the late '60s) to the simple Ikea dresser I bought during a very odd business trip to Chicago – each piece is near and dear to my heart.

We don’t frivolously add furniture in this house. No sir. I have a small wish list of areas that need tables and benches and window seats, so hubs has promised to roll up his sleeves and build them. Our ultimate goal is to leave our future children and grandchildren going for each others’ throats over the furniture Grampy Hubs built. That’s what fams are for.

But lately, as I wait for a deck and paver patio to arise in the back yard so we can start building furniture, I’ve noticed my eyes are a-wandering. Specifically, they wander to Lucite furniture.

Yum! That bench is just darling. It seems like a good start for a lucite ludite like myself.

Yes, loving the legs! The '80s style, not so much. But this, in cream, surrounded by big, fluffy peonies in galvanized buckets in my breezy, imaginary attic master suite? Heck ya!

A tad fancy for my actual life, but - oh! so! pret-ty! Maybe a chair or two in our basement bar?

I love this! We already have a bed, but I'm sold on the see-through foot trend. If I can find lucite feet somewhere, I can definitely see adding them to the mid-century-ish cabinets we use for an entertainment center. Consider it on my to-do list.

Another good way to start small, with something like this set on an ottoman, but for $90, I'll have to pass.

No way am I tidy enough for this. But, for you clean freaks - this as a coffee table, filled with chunky blankets by a fireplace? Oh, how I love contrast.
Personally, after researching lucite finds for this post, I'm convinced I need something. You?

Deckstravaganza: Holey moley

For the first time since we started this deck-smash-and-rebuild deal, I abandoned my role as moral supporter and erratic sledgehammer swinger. That's right, I left hubs and our pal to round up debris and drill holes in the spaces we meticulously marked Wednesday night.
This means the dudes were charged with maneuvering the two-person auger, which was supposed to have a 14-inch bit, but only had a 12-inch bit because a certain hardware store didn't offer the 14-inch bit for anything other than a tow-behind auger (whatever that is), despite rate cards claiming otherwise. There were some frantic phone calls, but we got it all sorted out.
A report from the front-lines of this final foray into extreme power tools straight from hubs: "I'd never auger again." He's a man of few words, my husband. Everyone was covered in dirt and mildly insane when I came home.

We have no photos, but trust me - there are three very large holes in the yard.
Tomorrow, our friendly city inspector will come out and make sure these holes are juuuust right. It's raining, so the work crew has been given leave and will likely spend it at Old Chicago, working toward the Cinco de Mayo mini-tour shirt. Saturday will be a triple-header: yes, folks - we'll pour cement, attach a ledger and attend not one, but two parties - both highly fancy, one involving floppy hats and mint juleps, the other a real life gala. Don't worry, we're pros.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Thing Thursdays: Levanto, Italy

If it is not quite clear that I've got outdoor space on my mind, you're obviously illiterate.
(Youch, that was harsh. Allow me to recenter my mind and start anew.)

I wanted to show you all the amazing space that is our inspiration for this project. Not that they'll look the same, but we want to evoke the same feelings (look out, we're getting all hippie-dippie on ya) as the best patio I've ever had the pleasure of stepping foot on. So, without further ado:

One thing to do in Levanto: Stay at Agriturismo Villanova.

Last week, I told you all a little about the trip hubs and I went on after he graduated. Well, about eight months before we hopped on the plane, I was drooling over Italian villas online, weighing the merits of each. I settled on Agriturismo Villanova, a 17th century villa nestled in the hills above Levanto that produced its own wine and included breakfast. Sounds great, right?

Well, imagine my extreme delight when we drove up to the villa to find that it was even more amazing than I'd imagined. The villa was divided into a few rental apartments scattered throughout the main home, the barn and the church (yeah - the family had their very own church, how sweet is that?). We stayed in the area that was the kitchen and the living room had a giant old fireplace. As lovely as the inside was, though, that's not where we spent our time.

No, sir. Outside was where it was at. Wine on the terrace, looking at this:
And hanging out with this guy - Giro the villa dog. We're translating this into our flat Iowa yard by adding a trellis along one side of our deck and incorporating lots of bright flowers that will overflow from planters and creep up rails. Throw in some Peroni and prosciutto and heck, we're halfway back to Levanto.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Tonight, we build!

Tonight was the first night of building! You heard me - demo is over! While I'm sad my time communing with sledgehammers is through, we stand at the threshold of greatness.
Behold, the pile that will become the deck:
OK, our evening began consulting the best deck building book the Des Moines Public Library has to offer.

Sideways why now, Blogger?

Our goal for the night was to measure where our footings will go (hubs and his old roomie will be augering tomorrow while I hobnob it up at an awards dinner). We started by putting some screws in the house.

Then, we tied some string to some sticks and some more string to more sticks and measured and leveled and centered.
Why did we do this? You know, I'm not entirely sure, except that the almighty deck book told us this was the way to go. Hubs understood, but frankly - ever since my fourth grade teacher decided to skip the math curriculum and do theatrical poetry readings instead, I've been a little fuzzy on these types of things.
I held the plumb bob at the cross of the two strings so we'd know exactly, precisely, for sure where the center of the footings would be. It was maybe a little tedious.
But, it's OK because check out the magnificent end result!

Oh, you don't see our bamboo skewers shoved into the ground at the exact right spot?
We also realized we hadn't jack hammered far enough over. Luckily, we had brute strength on our side. Action shot!
So, three hours later, we had post markers, all set and ready to be augered. Then, we had Jimmy Johns and homebrews. Deck building is rough, rough business.

Deckstravaganza: A ton of work

We moved a ton of freaking rocks last night. No joke.

I came home to this:

And started helping build our pile of reusable rocks (yes, gravel is insanely cheap, but we're also trying to be super green here, man, and keep unlovable debris out of the landfill) until we had this:

As that pile was growing, the pile we had ripped from its patio home shrank:
And soon we had a clean patio:
and a big pile of soon-to-be under deck gravel:
and this pile of huge concrete chunks that we will hide in the corner of our yard until neighborhood clean-up day.

Then, we still had some daylight, so we started building some markers that we'll use tonight to measure out exactly where we need to auger the footing holes. Lord willing, hubs will auger tomorrow while I'm off at an awards ceremony for work, not eating pie. He'll have some help from a pal, so don't feel too bad for him. He'll also have the best foreman in the business keeping a watchful eye, assuming he's not peeing in non-litterbox sanctioned areas, as he has been prone to do this past week.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Lesson plan

I've learned a lot doing this Big Outdoor Do-Over. I know we're still in the demo stage (tonight: we'll finally clean up all the concrete we busted over the weekend), but we're seriously hoping Mama Nature cuts us some slack and brings the sun over to our little remodel party later this week so we can start to rebuild our pile of rubble. In the mean time, a few things we've learned:

  1. Cement takes a whole flipping week to fully cure. Surprise! We're hoping to pour our three footings (42 inches deep, by the way to avoid the dreaded Iowa freeze line) this weekend and pour the cement once Russ, our dear permit man, gives the final OK on hole depth. Meanwhile, we've got some siding to replace and a ledger to attach, so we won't really be twiddling our thumbs during the curing time, but seriously - who knew cement was so stubborn?
  2. Time flies when you work and remodel. We've got a carefully crafted schedule for things to do on our lunch hours to ensure we're ready to get to work (weather permitting) once we get home. If one call goes unreturned or one things gets forgotten at the hardware store, it wastes a lot of time we could have spent smashing or building.
  3. Friends with the ability to haul deck debris to a dumpster are worth their weight in gold.
  4. Brats for dinner almost every night isn't that bad.
  5. A glass of water and Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia is all you need to power through almost any rough patch of demo. I wonder what song will steer us through the murky waters of construction.

  6. Bumble bees love bright pink t-shirts.
  7. Combined, Jeriann, and a healthy dose of women's intuition are 99% accurate at predicting the weather.
  8. Was just informed that the pros never wait a week for cement to cure, which goes to show that there are two, completely opposite answers for EVERYTHING in home improvement. Yeesh.

Any additional pearls of wisdom? We're just getting started, imagine how genius we'll be by the end of this whole shebang!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Underground garden

We started our basement garden a few weeks ago with some peppers and flowers. Now, it's almost time to move the whole operation outdoors, but before we did that - I wanted to document the ridiculous setup that has overrun our laundry room/workshop.
Nice, right? Well, bright at least. And lovingly constructed, that's for sure. Nine flats and some random pots full of veggie and flowers-to-be.

I'm excited to move these plants outside not only because we'll have our basement back, but also because it means we are that much closer to all the fresh tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, squash, etc, etc, etc a gal can eat!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deckstravaganza: All jacked up

Saturday, April 24, 2010

7:00 a.m. - We wake up to gorgeous weather and decide to get started on our ambitious plan to jackhammer the patio we found under the old deck before hoping on our bikes and heading to an alumni BBQ at Relays. The patio looks like this:

7:30 a.m. - We get the wrong order at McDonald's, but solider through. Our aim is steady and true for the Home Depot rental department.

8:00 a.m. - I get a tad antsy when the tool rental guy tries to make small talk after the clock has started ticking on our four-hour jackhammer rental. Time is money, sir! Yellow lights may have also been run during this time.

8:30 a.m. - Finally home, where we measure and draw chalk lines. It didn't take long, but I wish we had done this before we picked up the jack hammer. Time limits make me anxious, can you tell? The patio looks like this:

8:45 a.m. - Jack hammering begins. Hubs, who at first was skeptical of the plan to jack hammer all morning and booze all afternoon, is delighted to find that jackhammering is not the hellish torture he thought it would be. The patio looks like this:

9:00 a.m. - We discover rebar within this four inch patio. Sure, the deck was held together with old nails and no cement footing and one post was actually a collection of random 2x4s, but this patio was built to last. Go figure.

10:30 a.m. - We finish jack hammering the area we will need to drill our footings in. We decide to skip the extrasupercautioussafetypants footings in our original plan (that middle chalk line) and move on to jack hammering the stairs. Things are about to take a turn for the worse.

11:00 a.m. - We have made little progress on the stairs as they are some kind of supercement that refuses to budge. Then, just as we are about to give up and go cry into the big, refreshing glasses of water I didn't allow us to stop to enjoy (four hour rental! four hour rental!), hubs smashes through a huge chunk of stairs, beginning a chain reaction. The stairs soon look like this:

11:30 a.m. - The stairs are demolished and our foundation is still intact thanks to some sad pieces of plywood we had protecting the brick walls. Victory and ice water for all! Our aftermath looks like this:

11:31 a.m. - We cannot celebrate for long - we have to return the jackhammer. We look like this:

12:00 p.m. - The rental time safely done and our bill all settled, I chat with the tool rental guy. Turns out, he's a Drake alum as well and sorely missing Relays this year. Small world.

1:30 p.m. - Showered and empowered by the productive morning, we set off on our bikes to go to Drake.

2:00 p.m. - We are mocked for arriving on bikes, but hey - parking's a pain at Relays. We eat BBQ and begin the celebration of Relays. The sun is still shining.

4:00 p.m. - Clouds are taking over the sky and we realized we better head home. Just as we say that, the skies open up and unleash some serious rain.

4:05 p.m. - We crack open another beer and decide to wait out the storm.

5:00 p.m. - Rains subside and we hop back on our bikes to ride home. I realize my bike's brakes don't so much like working in the rain.

5:35 p.m. - Miraculously, we arrive home safe and sound.

8:00 p.m. - Bed time. We're old alumni who jack hammered a patio, what'd you expect?

With another double-header this coming weekend, I'm glad to say that home improvement and a social life can coexist. What's the most you've crammed into a day?

Friday, April 23, 2010


Ah, Drake Relays time is here again. And depending on whose forecast you're watching, it might actually be nice weather Saturday. Late April in Des Moines can be hit-or-miss weather-wise, so warm and sunny Relays weekends must be embraced and loved when possible.

But this year, we've got a dilemma: we're building a freaking deck, people. A sunny Saturday is priceless when doing this. Our fingers are crossed that we can jack hammer through select spots in the existing patio to make room for the new deck's footings in the next two days.

However, two dutiful Drake alums can't really let a sunny Relays pass unadored. So, we're getting ambitious and hopeful - our tentative schedule involves an early morning wake up call Saturday to grab donuts and rent a jack hammer so we can spend the morning busting concrete before cleaning up and heading over to campus for the festivities.

Think we can do it? Where are you parking your keister for Relays fun (please don't say Peggy's, dear readers, you're better than drinking like a canned sardine and using portapotties, aren't you? Yes, I thought so. Yuck; I prefer my libations in koozies on a lawn with a nice bags game in the background.)?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

One Thing Thursdays, Portovenere, Italy

Absorb this: a post NOT about a non-existent deck.
I'm a very selfish gift giver. A few years back, I got a wild hair to give the dude that would be Hubs a trip for his college graduation, mostly because I wanted to see somewhere new and of the Italian persuasion. Seeing as how I'm a mature, older woman (by almost two whole years!), this seemed a fitting gift for a guy who had only been to Europe with the group that most closest assumes the definition of my least favorite traveling pack ever - People to People* (have you ever served hot chocolates to hoards of pre-teens in red polos and khakis? When you're the sole American working in New Zealand's national museum, you see some things, man. Some bad things. Some hot chocolate-spilling, pre-teen, khaki-clad things. Man.).


I plotted an amazing trip to Italy as a surprise for hubs and off we set on a ten day holiday to Levanto, Italy to explore Cinque Terre. We stayed in a gorgeous villa and took lots of day trips, one of which was down the coast to Portovenere, a precious city hubs had actually visited once before with the poloheads.

My one thing: Open your eyes!

Grab your walking shoes for this one. There is a lovely little church, right on the edge of a cliff. It's open air and you feel like you're in a tiny floating chapel. If that doesn't just make you want to stop and breathe slow, you're crazy.
Then, you walk a little more to the fort. There are graves below and then a drop to the sea. Best final resting place I've ever seen (too morbid?).
There are also turrets! Old, tiny turrets, for old, tiny Italian soldiers!
I think we took about 5,000 pictures in our ten days in Italy and at least 20% of those were in Portovenere. It was just gorgeous. A sunny day, surrounded by the sea and sweetly crumbling churches and forts, walking around with my favorite guy? It can't be beat! Plus, I think we had a really salty pizza for lunch at an outdoor cafe, further upping the perfectness of it all.

More Italian adventures to come in upcoming OTTs!

*Actually, I'm jealous - why wasn't I jaunting the globe as a pre-teen? I had the khakis, but not the tickets. Or the knowledge this program even existed. Deep, dramatic sighs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Decision time

Since we unexpectedly unearthed a full-on patio when we ripped up our old deck, we were faced with some major decisions:

1. Forge ahead with the new deck plans or be swayed by the siren call of the open-concept 100% paver patio (we loved the idea of bricking over the patio and then doing a step-down to a secondary level of pavers. Bricks everywhere!).

2. If we kept moving forward with the new deck, could we legally secure the footings to the existing concrete patio (we’d seen this on Holmes on Homes – love that burly Canuck!) or would we need to jack hammer the old patio so we could put in proper 42-inch deep footings.

I can tell you we’ve decided to stick with the original deck plan, but with a possible twist. Remember the prairie modern concept hubs came up with on day one of our demo adventure? Well, that’s illegal. Turns out, the city hates horizontal tension wires unless they are protected by glass or plexi-glass. Something to do with little kids climbing up horizontal railing like a ladder (and I ask – who is leaving these monkey children alone on decks? You ruined my aesthetic! Gaaawwwwd.). And vertical tension wire isn't structurally sound (pshaw), so that's out, too.

Thanks to Google, though, I've developed a new baluster crush:

Tinted glass! Too bad these puppies are wicked pricey. Anywho, we're now awaiting the quote from our lumber place before we decide exactly how classed-up this deck shall be. Honestly, I'm sure the wood (big), metal (better) or glass (best!) will look great, so we'll get let the moolah do the deciding.

We also had to ask the dear permit folk if we could attach our footings to the existing patio or if we need to jackhammer – turns out, we’d be fine if the patio was 12 inches deep (ours is a measly four). We're getting quotes now from dudes with jack hammers to see if the DIY route would really save us that much.

So, our momentum slowed a bit yesterday and we just planted some herbs. Add this to rain in the forecast for this weekend and we are experiencing a serious setback on the deck front. At least we have a usable patio and some cheap lawn chairs. I suppose we should enjoy this break before the hard work begins, right?

Tonight - we're hoping to avoid the rain and get the pile of deck scraps loaded up with our neighbor, who has graciously agreed to haul them to wherever piles of unloveable wood go.

What’s been your biggest remodel set back? Tell me we aren’t alone here!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Nemesis achieved

Day two of demo, chronologically.
We ripped up the remaining frame; hubs pulled the posts out by hand (they weren't cemented in. Also, he's like, totally ripped) while I manned the Sawzall, breaking the joists down to manageable sizes. I put them in a pile, as neat and tidy as a pile of rotting wood can be.
I swept the patio because there were years of dirt, slime and mouse carcasses under there. In doing so, I pissed off a huge bumble bee, who proceeded to hunt me down for the rest of the evening. I think we bulldozed his house in all this and that little jerk is taking his revenge out on me. Hello, nemesis.
Anyway, it didn't take too long to realize these poor siding plants need to be replaced. We'll be swapping out three planks and that little 2x4 under the door. It's ugly now, but we'll get it ship shape in no time.
Yours truly, the esteemed contractor and saw junkie, with hubs, who is apparently a lumberjack.
To reward ourselves for all this hard work, we ate this: A deep dish pizza pan filled with nachos. If this doesn't make your heart sing, I urge you strongly to re-evaluate your life, your priorities and all that is American.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Deckstravaganza: Undercover

Man, who are these lovely deck-wreckers? Why, silly, that's hubs and I, right after we started tearing off the deck trim!
Demo began yesterday! We started by pulling off the safety rails and then went at the floor boards. Once we pulled it all up and saw how great the open, uninterrupted view was, we started having second thoughts about our plain jane deck rail plans. Then, further confusing our plans, we found this:
Concrete stairs and a poured patio beneath the old deck!

It's amazing how much some concrete stairs can melt your mind after you've been sledgehammering for seven hours. Now, we're considering scrapping the whole deck plan and going for a big, curvy paver patio. We could slap some bricks on the existing stairs, layout tons (literally) of pavers and carve out some garden area under the bedroom window to soften the whole space.

Tonight, we're hammering away on the studs that are left and once we've got the exiting patio cleaned up, we'll make a final decision: carry on with a modified version of our deck (swapping the plain vertical wood spindles for a horizontal tension cable for a look hubs dubbed "prairie modern." Um, prairie modern? I've married a genius! Clean modern lines mixed with tall grasses and LOTS of Columbine flowers, maybe a few chickens scurrying underfoot? I swoon.) or go buck wild on an Italian-inspired paver patio the size of a baseball diamond.
What would you do?
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