Monthly Archives: November 2014

The big dig

It is with great reluctance that I present the spectacle of our dining room. Yes, this is a dining room. There’s a table under there somewhere. The last time I saw it was about a year ago, during the holidays. I wanted Eric and I to eat Thanksgiving dinner at that table, like civilized people. Plus, I have company coming the weekend after T-day, so the table MUST be found. Everyone understands living with chaos while we’re remodeling, and they say supportive things about how hard it must be … but at some point that excuse wears thin, and folks just think we’re slobs. Admit it … that’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?

dining room with boxes and furniture everyhwere

November, 2014


Dining room with boxes and boxer

November, 2014

Before our centennial party in August, 2013, we hid all the junk in our spare room.


August, 2013

But when we launched the spare room makeover, all that stuff plus the room’s furniture migrated back to the dining room. If you compare today’s photos with one below from March, you can see subtle differences in strata and elevation. This mess is a living, breathing, thing. It has its own ecosystem, like a floating island in the Pacific.

Boxes and furniture stored in dining room

March, 2014

We finished the spare room (I will write a reveal post soon), and the furniture went back in, but the rest of the flotsam has simply become part of the landscape. It’s amazing what I can look past. So for weeks now, I’ve been eyeing it and thinking strategic thoughts.

First I hung up all the coats that were protecting the chairs. They keep creeping back out of the closet, but I’m hoping they learn with repetition. No no! Bad coats! Hang up! Stay!!

Eric wrestled the metal filing cabinet (fetched from our storage unit and full of his mom’s papers) downstairs, and my old blue foot locker from college (full of … gosh, I don’t remember) to the attic. I sorted two boxes of cleaning supplies. Because we installed a dishwasher, we have only half the room under the kitchen sink that we used to. And it’s full. I put all the reasonably useful cleaning supplies in a crate in the base of Mother Hubbard.

Extra cleaning supplies in a crate

The lesser-used stuff went downstairs, perhaps never to be seen again. (If you have clogged plumbing, I have 160 ounces of BioClean friendly bacteria who would love to meet you.)

Sometimes digging through boxes can make the drudgery worthwhile. I was thrilled to unpack my long-lost collection of vintage vases and find a favorite photo of my mom that went missing a few years ago.

multicolored vintage vases

But other times, reorganizing can be dangerous. After carrying a couple of glass lamps up to the attic’s hope-to-use-this-in-our-next-house graveyard, Eric asked if I’d heard him fall down the stairs! I was oblivious. He could have laid in a heap at the bottom for hours. His slipper slipped on the top step and he bump-de-bumped down the stairs on his hip, elbow, and shoulder—but he held on to those lamps! (Eric’s recovering nicely, and the lamps were unharmed.)

At last, the table appeared, to my immense relief. As I cooked, Eric cleaned. Thanksgiving dinner proceeded as planned. (If you look closely, you can see some crates still stacked at the right side of the photo. We still have work to do, but half of the boxes have been dispatched, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.) This small feast is just for Eric and me, as all of our relatives live thousands of miles away.

Thanksgiving dinner table

Today I decided my hastily concocted centerpiece looked too skimpy, so, with help from Peggy and Checkers, I fluffed it out with more dried cuttings. Of course, now it’s so tall, I can’t see anyone seated on the other side! I fully expect a cat to pull it over in the middle of the night.

two cats and flower arrangment

dried arrangement

What I’m most thankful for

If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that none of our projects would happen without Eric’s amazing versatility and expertise. He’s the secret sauce that makes it all work. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be married to someone who shares my renovation passion and brings all my picky ideas to life. Eric’s birthday is near, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving Day, and because he loves pumpkin pie, I bake a birthday pie instead of a cake. Several years ago he gave me a set of leaf-shaped cookie cutters, so the pie has come to have a traditional leafy crust.

Pumpkin birthday pie

I’m also so thankful for you, my blog friends. Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’re sharing a fabulous and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend with the people you’re most thankful for!






Rain falling on cedar

Seems like ages ago when Eric took Labor Day week off to build the side porch. With the false optimism that accompanies every new project, he expected that he could demolish the old porch and build the new one, right up through framing, decking, railings, and corner posts … leaving the siding for a couple of late-summer weekends.

Well … you know how that goes. Demolition, spider control, and site prep took that entire first week. By the end of September, the frame was up. Then we had the wettest October on record and progress stalled. We even left the country to avoid doing any porch work. Just when the weather showed signs of cooperating, Eric was sent to St. Louis to work for a week. Let’s see … that puts us about seven weeks behind schedule. Not as bad as Seattle’s Alaskan Way tunnel project, but, as I look out onto our soggy November streetscape, more discouraging because it’s our house.

rainy windowpane

Rainy windowpane (Eric’s photo)

We became even more discouraged when we set out to buy porch flooring material. A couple of years ago we discovered Azek porch boards at the home show.  These 3-inch composite tongue-and-groove boards look identical to our original front porch floor.

gray Azek porch board

We couldn’t wait to use them at our house, and finally, the time had come. That is, until we priced them. Each 16-foot board cost $67.36. We needed 60 boards … so that would be over $4000.00 just for the porch floor (not including fasteners). We couldn’t see spending that much. Is this house worth $4K in porch flooring? My heart said “yes,” but my head said, “No way!!” It simply didn’t pencil out.

Plan B: Trex porch boards, which were slightly, but not much, cheaper. These companies are pretty damned proud of their porch boards.

Plan C: Use what would have been used in 1913—cedar decking. I like the idea of using period-correct materials (I also liked the idea of the Azek boards because they were so convincing and they would never rot). However, if they’re properly treated with an oil-base stain, cedar boards should last for decades … long after we move out and into an old-folks’ home. We searched for classic 3-inch tongue-and-groove cedar porch boards … but we came up empty-handed.

Okay … Plan D: Buy ubiquitous 5/4 cedar decking, at $9.98 per 16-foot board, or $600.00 total. This decking has radius corners, a look we definitely didn’t want, but Eric was game for trimming these boards down and milling his own tongue-and-groove porch boards! As luck would have it, his table saw motor burned out. Hey, that’s not a bad thing! That’s a tool-buying opportunity (TBO)! The new saw was only $230. (Remember how much we’re saving by not using Azek.) Let the milling begin!

Eric at table saw

Another optimistic estimate—milling should take about 8 hours. Each board needed seven cuts to achieve the tongue-and-groove profile.

seven cuts for T&G

tongue and groove board

Eric spent at least 16 hours patiently milling the boards (and making mounds of sawdust) over the course of two weekends. He reminded me again how much money we were saving over the Azek. The boards then patiently waited in the rain for his return from St. Louis.

stack of tongue and groove boards

Now, to attach those boards and make an actual porch out of them! Eric needed a dry day and a rental angle flooring stapler. We had a hard time finding either. His brief window of dry weather was running out, and the rental staplers at Home Depot didn’t shoot long enough staples for his boards. This was not a tragedy—this was another TBO! He came home with his own angle flooring stapler … so he was able to wait out the bad weather. Add $170 to the flooring total, bringing it to $1000, which is a whole lot better than $4000.

angle flooring stapler

Once Eric began stapling the boards, the operation went pretty fast. He even let me use the stapler for a bit. It was fun—like playing whack-a-mole. However, even whack-a-mole gets old when you have to bang in five staples on each of 120 boards. In one weekend, “suddenly” we had a porch floor, and it looks great! Duke approves, too.

Duke on porch

porch in rain

front view of porch in rain

The next step is sanding … and building the railings. But November is storm season in the Pacific Northwest. Will we get a break in the weather? Will we have a finished porch by summer? Will another TBO come Eric’s way? Stay tuned …




Adios, Panama! (part 4)

Being on a tour can be exhausting. Other than having to get up at 4:00 a.m. one day, I can’t say we were run very hard, but the heat did take its toll. A couple of relaxing days at a classy resort on the Gulf of Panama sounded like the perfect way to wind down before returning home. I’d looked up the  Wyndham Grand Playa Blanca Resort, and although it looked beautiful, some of the reviews weren’t encouraging, citing problems with maintenance and an uncaring staff. Now, some people will complain if they’re hanged with new rope, but when Carlos, our guide, told us that Caravan Tours had broken their contract with Wyndham and would start using a new resort in November, we wondered what was up.

We arrived to find we didn’t just have hotel rooms … we had condos. Sleek, modern, starkly white condos! Kitchens! Living rooms! Big balconies! Spa-like bathrooms! And an amazing, gorgeous pool area! Wow!! This would NOT be a problem!!

condo interior

resort pool

Or maybe it would. Why wouldn’t the lights turn on? Eric went back to the front desk. Seems the entire area was experiencing a power outage. And with no power, we quickly discovered we had no water. Hours passed. People were getting a little … pissy. Just before dinner, the power came back on. But the air-conditioning in our living area was dead, and the condo was rapidly heating up. Another call to the front desk … the AC was promptly fixed. Thank heavens.

The main building and restaurants had a generator,  so they didn’t miss a beat. Dinner was excellent. But when we went back up to the room, we still had no water. What good is a gorgeous resort if you can’t flush the toilet? A power surge had burned out the resort’s water pump. Just before we retired for the night, Carlos called to say the water was back on. You could almost hear everyone beat feet to their bathrooms. We fell asleep, glad to put the problems behind us.

Alas … come morning, no water again. This time, no one was amused. But the drinks at the swim-up bar were free, so we topped off our breakfast with a series of pina coladas. And, as I eventually discovered, the bathroom in the middle of the courtyard somehow flushed.

I had never before gone on the kind of vacation where you lie around a pool and vegetate. Eric and I are always running from place to place, trying to explore everything we can. We enjoy our vacations tremendously, but we do pack them pretty tight. As I lolled in a cabana, listening to the piped-in smooth Brazilian jazz or hypnotic Middle Eastern music … soapified by pool water and stupefied by several pina coladas … I began to understand why people vacation in tropical destinations. It’s so bloody hot, you can’t do anything but lie around and force yourself to relax. Yeah … now I get it! (Our cabana was the one on the right.)

swim-up bar

We did not drink and ride like these people.

beach riders

The lush landscaping and foliage around the resort contributed greatly to the relaxing vibe. Lots of palms, flowers, and birds flitting about. (We had hoped to see more exotic flowers, but it was rainy season, so fewer were in bloom.) Nevertheless, it was lovely. These photos are Eric’s.

tropical foiliage

When old palm fronds peel away from the trunk, they leave a gauzy woven material that the native people used to use for clothing fabric. So this is what grasscloth wallpaper is supposed to replicate!

woven-looking palm fiber

So we all made the best of it. Free booze and serene surroundings can go a long way toward soothing cranky tourists. Eventually, the water came back on. A cool shower sure feels refreshing after a hot day at the pool. Good thing, because I could not coax the water past luke-warm. In fact, it would be five days before I enjoyed my next HOT shower. (Our traveling friends had been to Costa Rica, and they said the infrastructure there is more reliable than in Panama, where tourism is a fairly new effort.)

beach cabanas and palms

Friday morning, we were on the bus again, headed back to the city. We made a rest stop at a guava plantation, where the trees sported plastic bags to keep birds from destroying the fruit.

guava trees

They also had large open-air aviaries full of colorful birds. Eric talked these two parrots into posing for him.

two green parrots

On the hill above the plantation I spied this little yellow cottage surrounded by thick jungle. Many of the houses out in the countryside were brightly painted—even in DayGlo colors. Unfortunately, the bus sped by too quickly for me to get photos.

yellow house on jungle hillside

Our final stop was the Kuna Indian marketplace.

Kuna marketplace

I was looking forward to purchasing a mola (a type of cutwork, reverse applique, and embroidery art, with the tiniest of stitches) ever since admiring one belonging to my college roommate so many years ago. The choices seemed endless, but I selected two. A tote bag with—you guessed it—los gatos. And a bird-of-paradise design. Eric picked out the blue one with birds. We’ll frame these, and I may stuff the tote bag and turn it into a pillow.

mola with los gatos

blue parrots mola

bird of paradise mola

Kuna Indian woman with mola

And then, we were back in the city …

rusty rooftops in Panama City

That evening, our farewell dinner featured a performance by a well known troupe of Panamanian folkloric dancers … whose name we cannot recall. We were pretty wiped out by then, and we weren’t looking forward to getting up at 4:00 a.m. to get to the airport.

Panamanian folkloric dancers

Panamanian dancer in costume

Home again …

Now that we’re back in the cool, rainy Northwest, we’ve had time to reflect on all we saw and experienced. It really was a fabulous trip, and we have awesome memories to cherish. Although I struggled with the heat and humidity, I survived better than I’d anticipated. And the insect-repellant clothing must have worked, because we didn’t get a single skeeter bite!

Will we return to Panama? I doubt it, but we highly recommend that you go. I’m just not made for the tropics. Eric thinks this exempts him from taking me to Hawaii (wrong). However, on our flight home through Atlanta, we flew over the Florida Keys, and their turquoise water looked mighty attractive. Never say never, right? I’ve been scouting out Hawaiian hotels with big, fancy pools and graceful palms  … and free pina coladas.

palm fronds