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The Dark Obstacle Course I Call Home

Living through a remodel has been interesting to say the least. It all started with a huge hole in the floor and mortar dust everywhere. Back when we were excited about this remodel and progress was quick. But it’s only gone downhill from there. Now we’re living in shambles and progress has slowed to a halt. If we can ever bribe our electrician back into returning to the “jobsite” I’ll let you know. Let me describe the state of our house right now.

We’re parking outside because both the garage and the shed are full of stuff. In one stall of our garage is the green drywall, cement board, and plywood. In the other is the pile of old stuff we wanted to give to ReStore but they wouldn’t take. In front of the storage shelves there is the main bathroom tub and toilet, lighting for both bathrooms, the massive tile saw I bought off Craig’s List, and other random tools. There is no clear flat path to the vehicles outside so maneuvering and stepping over things is required. Bringing in groceries is especially fun.


Similarly our screened in porch is where we’re storing a wide array of 2×4’s and massive pile of regular drywall. Probably not the best spot seeing as we never got around to covering the drywall with a tarp and it’s rained a number of times since we moved it there but nothing has gotten wet yet. **crosses fingers**

Inside the kitchen island is covered in full size floor plans and elevations I drew in CAD. The outlets in the island are littered with extension cords to power the many areas we don’t have power. They create a nice tripping hazard in the busiest room of the house.


Underneath the overhang of the island is our electrical storage area. It looked like this for 0.2 seconds before we realized we need to buy twice as much stuff.


The dining room looks like an episode of “Hoarders.” It started out looking organized (below) but it’s since spiraled out of control.


The living room only has half of a floor right now so the couch and chair are not directly in front of the TV. Sitting this close to the TV just can’t be good.

The room has no electricity so one of those kitchen island extension cords powers our TV and the floor lamp in the corner. If you want any light you have to climb over this maze of stuff to reach it. In an attempt to organize things I put all of our screws, nails, caulks, and foams on the built-in bookshelf.


The other half of the living room, master bedroom, and two former bathrooms have no floor, electricity, or insulation. The massive hole in the attic where the chimney was is dumping cold air into the space like it’s a walk in freezer. We tried to cover up the space by laying batt over it but we need to get that drywalled stat!


We tried to keep the study and guest bedroom nice by leaving the carpet in there for now. The idea was we could close the door and forget that our house is a mess but for all our good intentions it hasn’t really worked out that way. The attic access hatch is in the study closet so that room is also cold, full of tools, and littered with small pieces of debris people bring in on their shoes walking back and forth. We also ended up storing the boxes of our bathroom stuff in here because it makes things easier to find if they are kept out of that black hole that is our dining room. In the guest bedroom where we’re sleeping right now we put the boxspring and mattress on the floor because our four post bed frame would take up too much space. Both of our nightstands and dressers are also crammed in here.

It looks nice in these pictures because this was our first day of moving in here. Right now the freshly washed pile of laundry is on the floor because I haven’t taken the time to fold it yet and there is no good place to put the clothes anyway. Living out of a stack of boxes in our closet sucks. You can never get the same number of clothes back into the box as there was orginally because things got shuffled around. Then you’re left with a pile of boxless clothes and the only answer is to wear those first so they can spend their days in the laundry basket instead of on the floor or the top of the dresser. Plus with the cold weather I had to dig out some warmer clothes and now I have two big bins of winter clothes blocking Flannel Man’s dresser. I need to take control of this situation soon!


Then there is the basement…you know the only place we have a working bathroom…which has no electricity and tools scattered all over the floor. Down there we’re also storing all of the tile, grout, sink, faucet, showerhead & valve, towel bars, shower curtain rod, and mirror. The new recessed lights are in and wired up but the power for this space is feed from above (aka. our master bedroom) so our electrician jerry-rigged up a temporary solution. He wired the basement power to an end of an extension cord so that we can plug it into one of the extension cords from our kitchen. So to turn on the basement lights you have to balance your way across the open floor joists until you to the temporary piece of plywood laying loosely on top of the of floor joist next to the wires. Make sure you don’t step on the ends of the plywood or you’ll be falling through the floor! Then you turn around and tightrope back to solid flooring, go down a flight of stairs and find your way through the maze of tools and storage in the basement to the bathroom. Needless to say we rarely use the overhead lights because it’s such an ordeal for something as simple as turning on the lights! Instead we put a desk lamp on the floor with an extension cord to the unfinished side of the basement where we still have power. It works OK. Just enough light to keep you from stubbing your toes but as soon as you turn the corner to the bathroom it’s still pitch black. Luckily, the basement bathroom is on it’s own breaker so we always have lights in there. Taking a shower in the dark would have been horrible!


To make things even more interesting we have booby traps hanging from the ceiling for you to smash you’re head on. The remodel style recessed lights need to be able to pull out in case you ever need to access the wiring. The electrical inspector needs to see them hanging from the ceiling and we were having a hard time getting the flimsy feet to hold them in place without really pounding them in. We were afraid if we did that we wouldn’t easily be able to get them back out for the inspector so we had to leave them hanging from the already low ceiling. It’s hard to take a picture with no lighting but they are directly in front of the door when you walk into the basement and in the hall to the bathroom (bathroom door on the left).


You have to plan ahead when you think you might have to go to the bathroom. Because the “holding it” dance is pretty hard to do when you’re running down a flight of stairs and feeling around in the dark for a desk lamp. We were so spoiled before with bathrooms on the main floor and light switches!

Then you get to the bathroom. Ah yes the baby blue bathroom. I know the color doesn’t sound as offensive when you consider we used to have an avocado and harvest gold bathroom. But at least those bathrooms worked when we bought the house. The only thing working in the basement bath when we bought it was the faucet.


Both the toilet and the shower were broken and they had been for some time. Not wanting to waste money on replacing fixtures that we’d tear out in a few years when we gut the bathroom we attempted to fix them for the time being. A whole toilet replacement kit and a shower valve piece later and everything was up and running. The only problem: they weren’t running very well. When you flush the toilet you have to hold the handle down for a good 7 seconds before the bowl is empty. Very annoying. The shower valve well that’s a barrel of fun each morning trying to solve the where-is-the-right-temperature-water puzzle each morning. I feel like Goldilocks. You see when you turn on the shower it’s always either too hot or too cold. So you adjust the dial but the water temperature doesn’t change adjust again still the same temperature. Repeat 5 more times, get frustrated, and crank the dial all the way to the end where the water is scalding/freezing. Then repeat the process only in the other direction. Eventually find the ¼” of space on the dial where the water is actually mixed. Rejoice and finally take your shower. The best part is this ¼” of mixing area isn’t always in the same spot. Here’s a very simple diagram showing you what I mean:


So there you have it the truth about living through a remodel and it’s not glamorous. I think I’ve had more stubbed toed, bruised shins, and hit heads since we started this remodel than I’ve had in my life before this remodel. It could be worse though we could have no shower and be showering at a gym or be living in a 400 sf garage.


The Walk-In Gun Safe Is Finished!

I know you have all been sitting on the edge of your seats for this reveal so here it is.

To recap here is how we built the walls and installed the door to the safe.

After finishing the walls and allowing for a few days to dry Flannel Man (FM) started fitting out the interior by painting all of the walls with DryLoc to help keep to room dry. For the ceiling he screwed 3 layers of fire rated cement board to the floor joists above. Initially he wanted to make the ceiling out of a solid sheet of steel but supporting it would have been a big issue. With only two cinder block walls to support it additional brackets would need to be attached to the interior walls and that would have meant less rifles could fit in there. The fire rated cement board was just cheaper, easier, and had a better fire rating.

Next he attached some treated ledger boards to the walls for each shelf and barrel rack. They were attached to the walls by drilling a pilot hole and using blue concrete screws. The shelves were made from scrap wood we had from some poorly built shelving units the previous owner had left us. The shelves were all sagging and warped but the end pieces we were able to save and reuse. Unfortunately, they had some paint on them because the previous owners were also very sloppy with paint and didn’t believe in taping things off or covering them. FM was able to sand most of the paint off. There were a few boards that had a lot of paint on one side and those he didn’t bother trying to sand off he just used them for the bottom shelf with the painted side down. No one will ever be looking the underside of a shelf 14″ from the floor! Here we’re determining the best layout for the different length boards we had:

Since the shelves and barrel racks aren’t adjustable we had to take an inventory on what rifles we had and what we might have in the future. Our highpower target rifles are very long, heavy (we put lead in the stocks to balance out the weight of the barrel), and wide whereas our service rifles are shorter and slimmer. We ended up putting the barrel racks at 3 different heights to accommodate everything. For the spacing between the barrel cutouts we have wider spacing on the back wall at 4.5″ on center and 4″ on center for the rest of the walls. Using that spacing I calculated that we could fit only 37 rifles in the room. Hearing that FM just about lost it since we already have 23! Over time you need to build new rifles to keep up with the competition, we’ll probably inherent some, and FM has a small collection of old military guns so we need room for expansion. So we decided to add shelving on the 4th wall next the door and create an extra deep shelf with a barrel rack on one wall that would allow us to add a second row of rifles in the future. If/when that happens we’ll have to build a small platform for the butts of the rifle to sit on so they aren’t touching the concrete. That brought us up to a grand total of 51 rifles!

For pistols and scopes we have a 12” tall shelf that runs around the whole room. FM plans to make some pistol racks and if he spaced them 3” apart we could fit over 60 pistols in there too but that will never happen. We only dapple in competitive pistol shooting so we don’t have many of them.

When the layout was finally figured out FM cut all the boards to their final size and notched out the barrel racks.

Next FM stained and polyurethaned all of the pieces. Why? Because when you have a walk-in gun safe everyone wants to see it so it needs to look nice! Trust me I know these things. We picked out a rich warm color that was dark enough to hide the green tone of the pressure treated wood. FM originally didn’t want to stain the pressure treated pieces because they were already on the wall but I quickly pointed out that they are most of what you see on the barrel racks. Once he stained them he agreed that I was right but he did have to touch up the white paint from the stain drips. To keep the barrels from getting scratched I picked up some blue felt and we glued them in each cutout with wood glue.

Now some people would stop there but FM had visions of accidentally hitting a rifle and having a domino effect so he rigged up a flipper for each barrel cutout. To make them he used some thin, rounded trim, a wooden peg, and a shoulder bolt. Shoulder bolts have threading on the end, a smooth diameter section, and then the shouldered head. They were a special order item to get the right size. Instead of trying to cut the notch and rounded end on 51 flippers by hand FM used what he knows best and brought them to work where he cut them out on a CNC machine. It resulted in a lot of splintered edges but they are all constantly the same size.

To finish them off FM sanded them every night as he watched TV then added a coat of polyurethane.

Onto humidity control. We had originally planned to use two dehumidifier rods that simply plug into an outlet but they didn’t work at all! At the first signs of rust we broke down and bought a small dehumidifier and a temperature/humidity sensor so we could tell if it was working. We didn’t want to have to worry about emptying the bucket so we drilled a small ¾” hole in the cinder block wall and ran a line to the nearest drain. Ideally, we would have made the bottom shelf on that side an inch taller so the dehumidifier would tuck under the shelving but we didn’t plan for that. It probably works better not being up against a wall anyway.


And here’s the finished room:

To the left of the door.

The back wall with our top competition rifles.

To the right of the door. Lots of room to expand!

To get the most out of every inch FM made angled pieces for the corners. With all the extra space they work great for rifles with scopes on them.

Notice the nice rounded detail on the corners and the extended shelf on the right with more barrel racks for future expansion.

The pistols just sitting on the shelf for now and the dehumidifier.

On this shelf is a completion rifle who’s stock is being re-painted.

So what do you think? Are you jealous? ; )

2009 Accomplishments & 2010 Goals

Wow, I can’t believe 2009 is almost over.  It was a very busy year for us.  We accomplished far more this year than we did last year.  If you remember our goals for this year were:

  • Install seamless gutters with Gutter Glove  Done
  • Dig in underground drains for the downspouts  Done
  • Paint and prime the entire house, this includes the ceilings because we have water stains in almost every room  Halfway there
  • Do some basic landscaping, define flower beds and start planting  Done
  • Make a master landscaping plan for the future, from my last calculations we have nearly 20 flower beds/planting areas around the property  I have some basic plans
  • Create a yard for our dog Sophie?, clear out brush and install temporary fencing, we have to wait for spring to see if this is even possible there or if the ground is too marshy  Done
  • Cut the second garage door back in  Done
  • Install two new garage doors and openers  Done
  • Figure out how to fix the draining issues in the garage  Not done and a big problem right now
  • Install a new propane tank  Change of plans
  • Remove the old oil tank  Done
  • Install a new top of the line furnace and condensing unit  We went geothermal instead but done
  • Change the ductwork in the house to be multi-zone  Not possible with a single heat pump
  • Install and program new thermostats  Done
  • Start building the walk-in gun safe  To do in early 2010
  • Interview architects we may want to work with  May be bypassing this step…

On the whole I think we did a good job!  We stuck to our plan for the most part but did decide to go with a geothermal heat pump instead of a traditional split system.  Either way the HVAC system was replaced.  Plus I think that is a big upgrade.  Compared to 2008 we didn’t deviate much from the plan.

Now onto next year.  Our goals for 2010 are:

  • Replace the water softener
  • Replace kitchen faucet
  • Seed lawn where the geothermal system was installed and the new dog yard
  • Landscaping, focus on front & fence flower beds
  • Replace garage window & re-drywall the wall
  • Install shelving in the garage
  • Build the walk-in gun safe
  • Paint the living room, dining room, and kitchen
  • Get the basement bathroom working and replace the shower surround
  • Fix the garage floor drainage issues
  • Refinish the dining room table & chairs, make new table leaves
  • Reupholster chairs
  • Determine final house design for the major renovations in 2011, draw house in CAD & sketchup
  • Save up for big 2011 remodel (new bathrooms here we come!)

What are your 2010 plans?

Peace, Love, & Joy

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holidays!

Now all we have to do is make it to all 5 Christmases! Our area was just hit by a big storm that snowed 4″, then rained, then freezing rained (and still is), and will eventually snow 3-5″ more. Lets hope our 4-wheel drive truck can get us everywhere. We have two Christmases today, two tomorrow, and one on Sunday. Oh and we’re hosting the one on Sunday!! Eek!

We’re off to Canada

For the next 9 days Flannel Man and I will be on a small island in the middle of a lake in Canada. We’ll have no electricity, the water isn’t drinkable, and the nearest town is an hour away. Sounds fun right? On the bright side we’ll have a cabin to sleep in, it will be relaxing and isolated, and there will be a lot of pictures taken. The colors were just amazing the last time I was there. The greens are greener and the blues are bluer; everything is so saturated with color. Here’s some pictures from the one and only time I’ve been up there back in 2005 way before I had my DSLR.




We’re Not The Only Ones Nesting

When we moved in we found three birds nests on the exterior of our house, one on our shed/detached garage, and one down by the garden. There was this cardinal’s nest under our patio next to the garage:


Every time we walked anywhere near the area she would fly through the lattice surrounding the underside of our porch yelling at us as she went. She seemed very annoyed when we moved in coming in and out of the house with boxes. This shot was very hard to get.

Then there was the robin’s nest on our fabric awning over the dining room window. I am so excited that we have so many robins on our property. I’ve liked them ever since I was a young girl since we share the same name. : )


In this picture you can really see the female robin’s white chin and streaks around her head. That’s how you can easily tell the difference from a male and a female robin. Male robins only have a white ring around their eyes. Additionally, females have slightly lighter breasts and heads.

She was building her nest when we first moved in and I would sit below the window and watch her fly back and forth with twigs and mud while the father watched from a nearby tree (or I’m assuming he was the father). This explained the large mug splatters all over our window from mouthfuls of mud that didn’t quite make it to the nest. I had fun watching her rapidly fly back and forth. It looked like she was going to fly right into you at a fast speed but she would pull up at the last second and land on the awning. I tried to get some pictures but of course none of them turned out.



Then there was the mystery nest on the metal awnings over the living room windows. The awnings roll out from large crank shafts in the living room. The first day we moved in we were rolling them out because there were lots of bugs in them. Well the one I happened to be rolling out had a birds nest on top of it that we didn’t know was there. The nest fell two stories to the patio below and broke the eggs inside it! I felt awful! That in addition to all the other problems we had to deal with made our first couple days really stink. The robin was at least smart enough to build her nest on the awnings that can only be extended from the outside.


Then there was the nest down by the garden. It was build between two tall plants. Do you know what kind of bird makes a nest like this? We were never able to see the mother.


Finally, there was the nest built on the motion detector lights on our shed/detached garage. I think this is the an Eastern phoebe. Does anyone know for sure?


I used to park my car right below her nest and she wasn’t scared off by my car or me opening the car door but as soon as I stepped out of the car she would fly off.


I was hoping to get more pictures of the baby birds but they seemed to have hatched and left the nest really fast. The robin’s nest was two stories off the ground and I was going to try to borrow someones ladder to get a picture but by the time I got around to that they had already hatched and left the nest.


At least I was able to get a couple shots of the Eastern phoebe’s nest. In the matter of a couple days the birds went from this:


To this:


This shot was from the day before they left the nest. As I was putting this together I realized that these baby birds don’t look anything like the mother! Look at the difference in their profiles and they are much larger than the mother barely able to fit in the nest. I remember thinking that was strange at the time but I didn’t think much of it.


After doing a little research I found out they were actually cowbird babies. Cowbirds are brood parasites that lay their eggs in other birds nests hoping that that bird will raise them as their own. The cowbird mothers remove at least one egg of host’s by piercing the egg with it’s beak and either knocking it out of the nest or flying off with the egg. We didn’t see any egg shells below the nest so the mother must have flown off with it. I’ve also found that cowbirds typically only lay one egg in a nest so because we have two baby cowbirds they were probably from two different mothers. The cowbird babies hatch earlier and grow faster and larger than the host’s babies so they have a better chance of surviving. Cowbird hatchlings also tend to get fed more because they have a bright pink mouth which indicates they need to be feed more. In the picture above you can clearly see this. I remember watching the “mother” phoebe flying around frantically trying to feed them from our study window too. Check out this really interesting website about cowbirds.

Brown-headed cowbirds are the only parasitic birds that live in Wisconsin and many popular birds in our area actually reject their eggs. Robins can recognize the difference in the eggs and will knock the cowbird egg out of their nest. (I always knew robins were smart!) Cardinals will either knock the egg out of the nest or reject the nest altogether.

The fact that there are such things as parasitic birds really irks me. We were planning on removing the nest and now I’m afraid we might find dead phoebe babies in it. Ugh, this was supposed to be a happy post.

Has anyone had to deal with parasitic birds before? What would you have done if you had found out they were in nearby nests? Would you have removed the eggs/killed the hatchlings or just let nature run it’s course? I’m curious to see what you guys have to say.



Hey Hun, we have more than moths in our kitchen

Don’t tell Flannel Man I told you this but if there’s any creepy, crawly thing he’s afraid of it’s spiders. I’m usually the one who has to kill them.

Well when I went into the kitchen tonight I saw this big guy:


He was bigger than a quarter and just hanging out above the refrigerator. Maybe he eats the pantry moths we’ve been dealing with and is coming out looking for food since we’ve finally killed all the moths. Hey, I can dream can’t I? Don’t worry hun, I took care of him while you were at work.



This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
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