Monthly Archives: August 2014

Gaining our footing on a new project

Behold our sorry side porch.

side porch from inside

rotten corner post

When I bought this house in 1984, there was nothing outside the living room French doors but an ugly concrete block planter and a long step down. The original porch was long gone. And it stayed gone until the mid-90s. The previous owner stopped by one day with her grown grandson and she showed me an old photo that revealed a bit of the old side porch. It was uncovered (and vulnerable to the elements), but it matched the front porch with its square posts and decorative low railing. My ex rebuilt a reasonable facsimile with what little we had to go on.

Almost 20 years later, it’s rotten and unsafe. I wonder how many times it’s been rebuilt over the years. The current porch fits over the planter, but we’re going to take it all out. That will eliminate the “raccoon run” that exists now, under the porch and through the planter.

concrete block planter

Raccoons are cute and all, but they compete for the food we put out for the homeless cats.  And they drive Duke wild. I wish raccoons would stick to eating nuts and berries, and quit stealing pic-a-nic baskets.

raccoon on porch

When Eric mentioned that he wanted to rebuild the porch to our neighbor Tom, who has lived down the street for nearly 80 years, Tom asked if we were going to make it bigger like the original one. Bigger? Tom remembered the original porch stretching from the cantilever of the dining room to the corner of the house, and extending further out, as well. Wow!

Eric found this circa-1930s photo of our ivy-covered house in the county records. If you look closely, you can see the cedar shingle siding, and just make out part of the side porch railing under the “A” of Auburn.

b&w photo of house in 1930s

First step: clear the area for demolition! Eric chopped out the euonymus hedge that fronted the porch, which made the view even worse.

hedge removal

Then I took the loppers and began whacking down the mammoth rhododendron that nearly engulfed the west side of the porch—a dusty and potentially spidery job. I transplanted that rhody from my parents’ house 30 years ago when I moved here, but it was time for it to go. It was overgrown, seldom bloomed, and … it was in the way. The hedge and part of the rhody filled our utility trailer.  The extra pile of branches and another just like it are the second load.

utility trailer full of branches

That left the stump. Eric made short work of the rhody limbs with a chainsaw, and then attacked the stump with a mattock. And a post-hole digger. And the chainsaw. He even resorted to blasting dirt from under the roots with a hose.

flooded stump excavation

All that excavating didn’t disturb the stump, but did unearth the original concrete footings. The porch had, indeed, come out to the corner of the house. When the water receded, we could see the footings on either side of the stump.

stumo excavation and original footings

But the stump wouldn’t budge. Its roots had grown under the footings. Eric split it with a wedge and sledge hammer (very manly), and eventually he was able to break it up and remove it. Success!

eric taking a break

Little Dot Morse stopped by to see what we were up to. Isn’t she a beauty?

tabby kitty Dot Morse

Eric poked around with a piece of rebar until he located the front edges of the corner footing. I couldn’t rest until I did the same at the other end. Sure enough, the original porch did span from the dining room to the corner of the house! I found a narrow footing running between the two corners, which I remembered from when the porch was rebuilt. The rebar stuck in the ground under the rhody marks the east corner footing.

rebar marks the east corner footing

A chat with the city planning department confirmed that we must maintain a 10-ft setback from the sidewalk, so that means we’ll be able to extend the new porch out about a foot beyond where it is now. We’ll go from an 8′ x 6′ porch to 14′ x 7′ — doubling our square footage. Awesome!!

All the action will happen over Labor Day weekend and the following week, which Eric is taking off work. Care to make a bet on whether we can finish in nine days? Now that the bushes are out of the way, we can wail on demolition.

But … by Sunday night, an angry rash developed on Eric’s leg. By Wednesday, he didn’t need convincing to see his doctor, who quickly surmised it’s a hobo spider bite. She loaded Eric up with antibiotics to fight any secondary infection, and outlined the rash in felt pen so we could tell if it was getting bigger or smaller. After five days, it still looks like this, but it is slowly starting to fade. I think. Maybe a little.

spider bite on Eric's leg

You can bet that I will be in the next county when he starts dismantling the porch and planter. I can’t stop envisioning a herd of hopping-mad hobo spiders crawling up our pantlegs and overrunning our house! (Quick—duct tape around the doors and windows!!) I feel sorry for Eric, I really do. He is not particularly fond of spiders, either, but he’s a guy, and he has to cowboy up while I mince around with a can of Raid. He will have rubber bands around the ankles of his jeans. I’ll be the one in the full hazmat suit. In the next county.

So here we go, and here goes the old porch! Labor Day, indeed!



Island time

On a gorgeous summer weekend, who wants to work on a renovation project? Not me, man! Which explains the general work stoppage we’ve been experiencing around here. Who wants to spend the day on an island in the Pacific? I do, I do!! Let’s go to Whidbey Island! Okay, it’s not exactly in the Pacific … it’s in Puget Sound, just off Everett. But Puget Sound is connected to the Pacific … so, close enough.


Eric lived on Whidbey Island for several years before we met. We have property there, just north of Freeland (where the 525 sign is on the map), where we plan to build our dream retirement home in a few years. Any day we visit the island is a good day. There are two ways to get there: a 45-minute drive plus a 20-minute ferry ride to the south end, or a two-hour drive from our house to the bridge at the north end. Of course, the ferry ride is much more fun than all that driving. But … as we headed north, we read there was a two-hour wait for the ferry, so we opted to drive around. It still took over two hours, but at least we were moving.

Our destination was the annual Coupeville Arts and Crafts Fair. (Coupeville and nearby Langley—and indeed, most of south Whidbey—are home to many artists, writers, and actors, something that I find appealing. I think we’ll fit in.) Coupeville’s streets were crowded with vendors’ tents and bustling with visitors, like any good summer street fair.

coupeville art fair1

We were thrilled to see tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain circling each other in Penn Cove, firing cannon shots at each other and occasionally toward the crowd at the end of the dock. (You might recognize the Lady Washington, right, as HMS Interceptor in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.)

Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington tall ships

The old warehouse at the end of the wharf now features a coffee shop, restaurant, kayak rentals, and a whale skeleton.

Coupeville wharf

It was a perfect day to stroll through the art fair, but we didn’t buy any art. Our art budget for the year has been spent—I’ll show you how in a future post.

We continued our journey south down the island, stopping at Greenbank Farm, a community-owned, not-for-profit historic working farm. In addition to the farm, Greenbank offers several art galleries, a café, wine and cheese shops, an event venue, and various gardens maintained by the Greenbank Garden Club and WSU Master Gardeners (one of my retirement goals is to become a master gardener).

Greenbank  Farm 1

Greenbank Farm garden

Greenbank Farm barn entrance

Still further south on highway 525 is the community of Freeland where, on the seventh fairway of Holmes Harbor Golf Course, our little piece of island waits patiently for us to retire. That’s our lot to the left of the “for sale” sign—the one covered in brambles and trees.

our undeveloped lot on Whidbey island

This bad patchwork photo will be our view: Holmes Harbor Golf Course in the backyard, Mt Baker to the north, Mt Rainier to the south, Holmes Harbor below, and the Cascades in the distance. Nice. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Whidbey view

Want a peek at our future? Our inspiration building is Windy Point Vineyards in Wapato, Wash.

Windy Point

Inside Windy Point

Windy Point is a large commercial building that we would need to scale down for a private residence, but as soon as we walked in the door, we both thought, “I want to live here!”  That glass wall would make us feel like we were living ON the golf course (to me, there’s no such thing as too many windows), and the interior is so open and airy. Yes, it’s very different from a Craftsman bungalow, but that’s the point. Looking to the future and aging, we want single-level living, a smallish house, and easy-to-clean surfaces. As heart-wrenching as it will be to sell our bungalow, I’m equally excited to dive into building a new house and creating our island life. A new blog opportunity!!

But, back to reality. And back home, this time by ferry. No matter how many times I ride a ferry, it’s always a treat.

Washington State ferry

Ferry Kittitas

Bye for now, Whidbey Island … see you soon!

Ferry stern





The D’Arcy decimal system

Can a right-brained DIYer actually have fun with decimals? Let’s find out!

After weeks of toiling in the spare room, it’s finally almost done. I still need to buy a new ceiling light fixture. Our electrician, if he ever calls back, needs to rewire the room … then we’ll finish the closet. But right now, I want to show you our new bookcases.

Before we could put them in place, we had to dismantle the guest bed, which our house-sitting friend used while we were on vacation. The cats were disappointed to see their quiet nap space go away.

spare room bed

To create our library wall, we purchased two bookcases: one to match the six-footer that we already have (one for me, one for Eric), and a shorter one in the same style, but with glass doors, which is identical to one in our living room. I was excited to move all of my books out of the dining room storage boxes and into the bookcases … but by the time I finished I was bummed that I’d only eliminated three boxes from the pile of stored stuff. Oh, well … reorganization happens one box at a time (I tell myself). There used to be three more boxes in the front row of this mess.

dining room

I also wanted to move this row of books that I had cleverly parked under the dining room window seat years ago, before so many cats lived here. Since then, these books have been clambered upon, hidden behind, and made to suffer many other feline-induced indignities. Plus, I have a stash of animal stories in the living room’s leaded glass cases. Oh—and all my landscape design books are in the living room’s glass-doored bookcase. Pretty scattered.

row of books under windowseat

I hauled everything into the spare room—all of my books in one place, at last! Well, not quite. I have several more boxes in the attic, which I’m sure could fill another tall unit … not to mention books I inherited from my parents. I don’t even want to think about Eric’s extended collection, the extent of which makes me cry, which fills dozens of boxes in a storage unit. It’s true … writers are loath to get rid of books!

I suppose simply getting the books on the shelves would be enough for some folks, but I demand organization. This is a quirk of my personality that I can’t explain. Why can I live with the household clutter of two pack-ratty people, pet-hair dust bunnies, and remodeling chaos, yet I alphabetize my spices and need a system for shelving books? I’ll let you ponder that.

alphabetized spice rack

Why reinvent the wheel? Why not use the Dewey Decimal system? You remember that, right? No? For as much time as I spent in libraries as a kid, all I could recall was that fiction is filed alphabetically by author’s last name, and biographies are in the 920s. Here are the nonfiction classifications. Does this ring a bell?

000 – Generalities
100 – Philosophy and psychology
200 – Religion
300 – Social sciences
400 – Language
500 – Science
600 – Technology
700 – Arts and recreation Literature
800 – Literature
900 – History and geography

For fiction, I thought about organizing by subject matter instead of by author, but alpha-by-author won out because at some level it bugged me not to have all my Amy Tan books in a row. (And anyhow, I have only three shelves of fiction—hardly unbrowsable!)

Armed with some categories jotted down on an envelope, I set to work putting nonfiction titles in order. It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. Where would you file Field Guide to Elvis Shrines? Soon I had to call in my computer. I discovered that I could look up most books by searching on “‘title’ dewey decimal classification,” and find the first three digits of their classification number. Elvis shrines, you’ll be happy to learn, belong in 782, vocal music.

Speaking of shrines, I decided to enshrine my beloved art (730–770) and architecture (720) books in the glass-front cabinet. Until I amassed them, I had no idea I had so many! They wouldn’t all fit.

unsorted books

So, I moved all of my gardening and landscape design books (710) back to the living room bookcase. Ditto my books about animals (636 – animal husbandry? Really?) I wasn’t fussy about how I ordered the architecture books. I simply grouped them by affinity: Craftsman bungalow, Midcentury Modern, etc. Okay, I was fussy.

The architecture and interior design (740) books alone completely filled the glass cabinet. The art books spilled over onto the bottom shelf of Eric’s bookcase, which he organized in a similar manner. (A friend of mine recently purged her book collection—something I should maybe consider. Instead, I enthusiastically took a pile of vintage art books off her hands. And you wonder why I have so many …)

Here it is—our library wall—DONE! (except for the books in the attic … and in storage.) It’s crowned with my mom’s monstrous 1936 Royal typewriter.

organized library wall

Royal typewriter

So … can a right-brained DIYer have fun with decimals? I have no idea. I used only the digits to the left of the decimal point. Hey, close enough!