Monthly Archives: September 2014


We last left the side porch … well, not existing. Demolition: complete. Site: clean and level. Building materials: staged. House: begging for a new porch to rise from the  ground.

That required more digging—six holes, one for each support post. After the demo, Eric probably felt like he’d had enough digging, but, soon the holes appeared. Well, it felt “soon” to me … I was inside, surely doing something … important. My bad back sure gets me out of a lot of work.

Porch building materials ready to go

Into both center holes Eric dropped one of the slabs he dug up (the corner holes already had thicker slabs in them, left over from the original porch). Onto each slab he placed a section of tubing to hold the cement. As if he had other things to think about, he failed to take pictures of this step.

Next, Eric set the 6×6 corner posts in the tubes. I may have helped straighten a post or two at this point. Then he braced the posts with 2x4s to hold the them vertical while he mixed and poured the cement into each hole. What?? Still no photos? Where was the freakin’ photographer? It’s so hard to get good help these days!

By the time the photographer showed up, this is what he found: corner and center posts installed, cement footings poured and cured, perimeter framing attached, and the surrounding dirt all smoothed out! This photo captures several days and evenings of work.

posts and perimeter framing in place

But wait—where’d all the extra slabs go? Just a few days previous, Eric had wondered what he would do with that planter full of dirt (I suggested top dressing our entire lawn). But as he filled the post holes and sloped the ground away from the foundation, he realized he was running short of dirt! That’s where the slabs went—back underground. I wonder … did they enjoy their time topside, or do they like it better down in the dark?

I meant to get a photo of the slabs in their new graves, but I got distracted in the house. For some reason, Eric didn’t want to dig them back up again for a photo op, but he was kind enough to brush back the dirt to expose a corner. Yup, they’re down there.

exposed corner of concrete slab

Then it was  time to tidy things up a bit. Weed block fabric went down, followed by 7/8 minus drain rock. I just want to give myself credit for helping with this part. It was the least I could do.

weed block fabric under porch

drain rock spread under porch

All pretty now. The spiders who move in under this porch will have a much nicer living space.

Unfortunately, with the first day of autumn came the rain, and progress stopped for several days. The good news is that the overflowing gutters dumped water to the side of the porch … and the water drained away from the foundation.

Eventually the joists appeared in their hangers (as if by magic). It’s starting to look like it might be a porch when it grows up!

joists in their hangers

Peggy Sue was our first porch sitter, even though the boards were only loose scraps. She thought it was an awesome vantage point.

Tabby kitty on the porch

This porch is hella stout. Next summer we’ll be able to host a party for all our friends, load them onto the porch for a commemorative photo, and the porch will not fall in. We will not appear on the eleven o’clock news.

Just wait till we finish it for you, Peggy Sue. You’ll love it.



This is where I really belong!

If Eric and I have a hard time finishing our projects, maybe it’s because I keep finding other things to do. Like when I read about the Seattle Floating Home Tour, I had to buy tickets. I’ve always been fascinated by living on the water—not just at the water’s edge, but ON IT. What are floating homes? You remember Sleepless in Seattle? Well, here’s the actual house where it was filmed.

Sleepless in Seattle house

About a century ago Seattle had thousands of “houseboats,” which were cheap shacks built on floats. The city tried to get rid of them, and it wasn’t until the owners organized in the 70s to save their communities that the houses gained respect. Now there are about 500, and believe me, they are shacks no longer. Gone are the days when, as Eric says, if you couldn’t afford an apartment, you rented a houseboat. The Sleepless in Seattle house recently sold for $2 million. (When Eric told me he lived aboard in his college days, I was so impressed, I knew he had to be the guy for me.)

Technically, houseboats have motors and can travel. These are floating homes, which are houses built on floating platforms. They’re not motorized, and they can be towed only if they’ve been unhooked from city utilities (yes, they’re all on the sewer system). But locals usually call them houseboats anyway, and everyone knows what we mean.

The houses are clustered in communities, circled in red on the map, on the east and west shores of Lake Union, and the west shore of Portage Bay near the University of Washington (click the map to enlarge).

map of Seattle showing houseboat locations

We started our tour on the west side of the lake, at a century-old bungalow that crouched like a troll under the spectacular filigree of the Aurora Ave. Bridge.

bungalow under big bridge

brown bungalow under bridge

Out of the eight homes we toured, this was my favorite. It felt like a miniature version of our house, but instead of a city lot, this one has the whole city for a backyard. I told the artist who lives here that Eric and I would be moving in. “Great!” she said, “I’ve got a guest room!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d have to move out. This really should be MY living room. And MY kitchen (although it’s a little cramped).

troll house living room

troll house kitchen

And above all, MY studio! With a view like this, how could anyone fail to be creative? Eric and I would have to figure out a schedule because it’s a one-artist garret room.

troll house studio

The infrastructure on these old docks isn’t pretty, but it’s … interesting … part of the ambience.

electric and telephone lines

We hopped on one of Seattle’s fleet of electric boats, hired for the tour, for a trip across the lake. (That’s how I took the waterside photo of the Sleepless house.) We hadn’t been on any kind of boat for a long time, so our two sunny crossings were a treat.

electric boat with canopy

Lake Union is a jumpin’ place on a hot summer day. The water is thick with kayakers and paddleboarders, and boats making their way from Lake Washington through the Montlake Cut, Lake Union, and the Hiram Chittenden Locks to Puget Sound. Every few minutes a float plane headed to or from the San Juan Islands or Victoria, B.C., has to find room to take off or land. It’s a lively scene!

boat traffic on Lake Union

float plane over lake

While the west shore seems private, quiet, and low key, we found the east shore of the lake has a different vibe. Here, the houses tend to be grander and the whole community feels unabashedly on display and part of the party on the lake. How’d you like to have this view? Yes, you’d have to put up with strangers paddling past your door, checkin’ out your style. If I lived with this much style, I wouldn’t mind.

view of Seattle from houseboat

Houses are crowded cheek by jowl down both sides of each dock. It’s definitely not a lifestyle for someone who doesn’t like being close—really close—to one’s neighbors. Just as on boats, every inch of space is used. Container gardens fill in for absent yards. Residents bedeck their decks with flowers and greenery.

typical dock with plantings

dock with plants

Must be nice to tie your speedboat right up to your house!

houses side-by-side

Floating homes come in all shapes and styles, from 1970s hippie pads …

rustic houseboat

… to Venetian palazzos.

small Venetian palace

We went from the charming bungalow under the bridge to this sleek model.

house with red door

modern sleek interior

And then to this remarkable home with an exoskeleton staircase and a large putting green on the roof. Not a bad interior staircase, either. Love the porthole windows!

outdoor spiral staircase

interior of exoskeleton staircase house

Nice view from the upper deck!

view of rooftops

view from upper deck

Not all the homes are jaw-droppers. Some humble ones still float next to the mini-mansions. These are probably more like the one Eric lived in the 70s. But everyone enjoys life on the lake and having a boat or two in their front yard.

humble floating homes

We were asked not to take photos in several of the homes. I can appreciate that … I think the owners were very brave to let the public come traipsing through their personal spaces. No rooms were off-limits. If you gave us a storage unit, a professional housekeeper, and a year, we might be able to get our house in shape to put it on public display.

We returned to the west side of the lake by late afternoon, just in time to see one last house. (The tour comprised 12 homes; we had time to see eight.) Our last visit was to another oldie, moored near the shore and facing a peaceful lagoon that years ago was filled with small rental sailboats, but now falls in the shadow of the mighty Aurora Bridge.

the old boathouse sign over dock

houseboat from 1900

peaceful lagoon

It’s been almost two weeks since we did the tour, but these floating homes are still floating in my daydreams … somewhere under the bridge.

Aurora Bridge


Six-pack slabs

You know how to estimate the duration of a project, right? Take your best guess and triple it! (Some would say quadruple it.) All too quickly, Eric came to the end of his week off, during which he thought he’d get most of the new side porch constructed. Are you surprised to learn that it’s NOT happening quite that way? Eric told me a tale of when he dropped by his parents’ house years ago and found his dad laboriously hauling concrete blocks in the yard, lamenting that he just couldn’t carry as much as he used to. Eric is now the same age his dad was then, and he’s singing the same lament. The demolition that he thought would take one day took all of Labor Day weekend. Prepping the site (regrading, tamping the soil, washing the siding) and running around town rounding up lumber took another couple of days. And, we took one day off to drive up to Whidbey Island. You can’t just work every day and not have any fun!

porch with moldy siding

So much for the disclaimer … what did we actually accomplish that week? It gives me the creeps to think about it! With the shrubs out of the way, it was demo time. Eric thought the porch was so rickety that he could knock it down with a swift kick … but it wasn’t as simple as that. It was rotten, all right … he couldn’t just grab it and yank. Chunks kept coming off in his hands. Not much structural integrity left!

rotten support post

Did I help? Well … I was sort of the safety inspector, reminding Eric to put the spider-deflecting rubber bands around his pant legs and wear his safety glasses. I handed him the can of Raid.

Once the siding was off, we could peek inside. OMG, the spiders!!

huge spider web

We could see hobo spider funnel webs in the cracked concrete planter and on the ground, and plenty of large spiders just hangin’ out. Eric said not all of them were hobos, but I didn’t get close enough to confirm that. I have researched hobo spiders on the internet, but I will spare you from seeing a real close-up here. You can look them up yourself if you’re itchin’ to know!

Notice the funnel-shaped web in the crack. Keep body parts away from funnel webs!

hobo spider and web

We declared war. I warned Eric that his karma was sure to take a hit for killing a bunch of spiders, but he felt revenge was justified after suffering through the hobo bite the previous week. We discovered something better—and safer—than Raid. Next time you really want to kill bugs but not your kids or pets, try Hot Shot. It’s made of lemon grass oil and it kills pests dead (wait—isn’t that the Raid slogan?), while leaving your garden smelling lemony-fresh. How can you beat that?

Enough with the spiders—how do you feel about ants? We found lots of ant tunnels chewed through the wood, along with whatever comes out the other end of the ant. Can you see the queen ant? She’s the big mama in the upper left (about 3/4 of an inch long in real life), with the white spot at her head. What is that white spot? Food? An egg sack?

queen ant

And what Pacific Northwest outdoor project would be complete without slugs and sow bugs?

slugs and sow bugs

Have you had enough? I sure have! Cats, though … a few bugs and spiders don’t faze them. Dash and Ditto Morse came by to inspect what remained of the porch they sometimes hid under.

Tabby cat Dash Morse

cats Dash and Ditto under the porch

With a few more whacks of the mattock and a little help from the chain saw, the old porch gradually disappeared.

porch with corner posts gone

Eric with sledge hammer

 no more porch

After another thorough spraying with Hot Shot (we had a very lemony yard by then), Eric began smashing the concrete planter. It came willingly enough, but he had to carry about 1500 pounds of busted up concrete blocks to the curb. Then he had to lift them into the trailer, and out of the trailer at the recycler’s.

concrete blocks stacked by curb

Normally I’d help with this … but there might have been spiders on those bricks. Seriously.

The dirt had been in that planter for so many years it could stand on its own.

planter dirt still in place

As he dug out the last few bricks, Eric discovered a row of concrete slabs beneath where the bricks had been. He painstakingly dug them up, too. Six of them will be reused as footings for the new porch. We don’t know why they were in the ground. They appear to be sections of an old, narrow sidewalk that may have been put in after the original porch was removed. Or an old sidewalk might have been broken up to serve as footings for the porch … we’ll never know. The slabs ain’t talkin’.

six concrete slabs

Peggy Sue appreciated the custom cat box that Eric created just for her.

Tabby cat in a hole

Materials for new construction began showing up. I can’t wait to see the new porch take shape. I hope to be more helpful now that the creepy-crawlies are gone. I don’t want to wear Eric out … there’s too much that needs doin’ around this old house!

construction materials on the lawn 19132013new