The worst project to date…

Welcome to the most labor intensive and physically demanding project I’ve ever tackled.

We’ve been working in our backyard for the last couple months and it seems like the project that will never end. For years, I have envisioned a pergola/ramada to provide shade by the pool. I went back and forth as to what material we should use to build it – and we eventually settled on steel (We have family connected to a steel structure company). Because this is not a material I’m familiar with, I drug my feet on finalizing and ordering. But like most unknown situations, I jumped.

The day before the steel arrived, the company let me know I would need to have a forklift on site. Hurdle #1. In my naive mind, I envisioned carrying them off the truck. I seriously underestimated the size and weight of this structure. And after all of the pieces were sitting on my driveway and forklift drove away I was wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. This was already turning into a much larger project than I imagined.

Luckily, my parents were coming into town for Briggs’ baptism so I knew my dad could help me problem solve and create a plan to get this built and he did not disappoint.

It took my dad and I almost an entire day getting the templates on the concrete footings level. More difficult than it should have been. And then the four of us were able to work together to get each of the pillars in place and bolted.

The original plan was to rent a telehandler to lift the beams and get them in place so we could bolt them but there were several holes in that plan. A friend suggested we hire the crane service they recently used and it seemed like the most feasible plan. I became more excited when I booked the crane and confirmed they could lift our entire roof/beam support assembled.

We spent a nice cool evening assembling it on our driveway. Because pictures don’t do it justice, this this was heavy. 8,000 pounds according to the crane – we could barely move them to get them in place on our driveway!

And the crane worked like a charm. We moved it from our driveway, to our backyard. And then reset the crane and moved it from the backyard to its final resting place on the poles. I had a panic moment before the crane showed up. This is put together using bolted construction. If everything was not perfect – we were going to have some major issues. Every pillar had to be in just the right place, at just the right height. I was holding my breath as we started bolting it together. And by some miracle, it came together flawlessly. We were so proud of our work! Little did we know, the hardest part of this project had yet presented itself!

After Briggs’ baptism, my parents went home for a week and then turned around and came back for Hallie’s state tournament. I extended my dad’s ticket for a few days longer than my mom so he could help me add the wood to the ceiling. This is obviously the project of underestimating because neither one us anticipated how hard it would be to screw the 2×6 tongue and groove into the steel.

This is my hopeful face – before we had tried screwing a single board down!

It was at this point, 7 boards in and several hours later, I feared we would not be able to get this done with the additional days I had with my dad. We had to drill two holes per beam, per board. We tried everything. We borrowed more powerful drills. We sharpened bits. We had special screws and drilled pilot holes.

I wasn’t physically strong enough to be of much help drilling or screwing. It was a beast. Bless my husband and my dad who didn’t give up. Work for two hours. Take a break. Work another hour. Take a break. Work into the evening. Take a break. Hunter got home from school and he took a turn.

We even hired Hallie’s friend and he came over for hours and helped drill and screw on boards – he was a lifesaver because we were running short on time and both my dad and Steve were spent. It was just the boost we needed at the end of a long week to wrap this project up.

We still need to get a roof on it – but it’s beautiful. I really love it and functionally it provides a lot of shade.

But I have to give my dad the majority of the credit because he was the workhorse on this project. His hands ached. It was hot and the sun was relentless. And he didn’t stop. I would’ve given up. I would have formulated a new plan. I probably would have removed the wood all together and just put a roof on it. (It was recommended we use wood as a heat barrier since we’re attaching a metal roof – without the wood it would have been a nice solar oven sitting underneath the pergola).

But he kept waking up early and heading back out to work. I’m sure he’s never been so excited to hop on a plane and head back home.

I never intended him to work that hard but I’m sure grateful for his help!

10 year anniversary…

10 years ago today we moved into this house – a house that Steve could not see my vision on and yet he trusted me. (We were getting slightly desperate as we’d put offers on so many houses before this)

In ways I see how far we’ve come and then there’s other aspects that I’m wondering how in the world we made it 10 years without fixing or addressing. The nice thing about living in a long-term house is you know you have time and we really have taken our time. We have had some major projects over the years and never failing, we would burn out afterwards. Renovations are not for the faint of heart and the older we get and the older our kids get, the harder remodeling has been. Just ask my kids about their bathroom that has been under construction since it flooded earlier this year! 🙂 We’re taking baby steps.

This is where we started – a short sale property in the 2011 low point in real estate.

We quickly removed all the gingerbread which made a big difference, but we still had 7 orange trees in our front yard.

This is the most recent photo I have of the outside and even it’s a little outdated because it was two years ago and our trees have grown significantly. But this is where we’re at.

When we first walked in, I immediately knew what I wanted with this space in opening the wall to the kitchen – perhaps create a half wall with a counter top. But we couldn’t tackle anything major right away and it was actually good for us to live in it for a while before making any major changes. There were things I would have done right away that I would have later regretted. Years after living in the space I realized I didn’t want a half wall in that space – I wanted the wall gone all together to give us more living space. It’s funny to see how my ideas have changed over the years.

We replaced the mauve carpet within a year and a half of moving and then we just hung tight for several years.

Almost seven years after we moved in, we started our largest remodel to date and we took a section of our house down to the studs and then decided to move walls while we were at it. 🙂 It doesn’t even feel like the house from 10 years ago.

Here’s move-in day. A great shot of the orange oak staircase and mauve carpet.

This is what it looked like the day before we started our kitchen remodel


The original owners loved tan and gold. Years from now someone will look at my pictures and say wow she really liked gray!

Eventually I’ll make it through the whole house with before and after photos – today it’s just our main living area and kitchen, the heart of our home. One of my favorite things about remodels is seeing just how much a space has changed and this house has some serious stories to tell.

It was a house for the first three years and it’s been a home to us ever since. Here’s to another 10!

The end table…

I usually don’t start my projects by saying, “Wow, I would really love to build an end table!” No, instead, I usually buy three or four end tables and realize nothing quite fits the space like I was hoping. Then I put it off for another 6 months convincing myself that I’ll find something the right size. In the end, I break down and build it myself to the exact specifications that I was convinced I would find somewhere else.

I often build out of necessity. Things are too expensive, items are made poorly from cheap materials, the lead time is too long, it’s not the right color and or not the right size. So I build. I waited for almost two years to build this table and I shouldn’t have put it off for so long.

I purchased 4/2 white oak, so it’s nice and thick and heavy. I glued pieces together for the width I wanted my tabletop to be and traced a large circle. I originally thought I was going to cut this with a jig saw, but I thought better of it and used a router with a circular jig. This proved to be problematic as the wood was so thick and I had to make multiple passes around the circle. The bit kept having issues and getting stuck and then falling out of the router all together, gouging the wood in the process. I think I needed to take smaller passes each time I went around the circle.

It wasn’t a pretty process, but I eventually had a decent circle!

I spent a lot of time on the computer figuring out the angles I needed for my legs so my table would be a certain height (one of the major reasons for building my own table). I wasn’t overly confident I had figured it out when I started cutting but I had spent far too long drawing it out, I just needed to move forward and see if it worked. By some miracle, all the measurements and angles were accurate. Essentially I built an X and then built two 1/2 X’s to join to the X.

Stain is always tricky for me – I love some of the finishes you see in commercial pieces and I find it hard to replicate those. I loved the grain of the white oak, and I wanted to accentuate it, so I used Verathane White wash on a freshly sanded surface. Once it was dry, I sanded all the surfaces again and wiped clean. This left the wood ready for stain (a mix of weathered oak and classic gray), with white embedded in the grain.

I attached the 1/2 X’s to the solid X. This is one of those steps that I wasn’t sure how to do and so I just jumped in and quickly realized I hadn’t thought it all the way through. I ended up using glue and a screw through the 1/2 X and into the large X. I then attached the tabletop with screws (through the legs into the top) and I just about did a happy dance when I realized the table was solid and wasn’t rocking! 🙂

I used wipe on poly to finish it off. I love Rustoleum wipe on poly in satin. Home depot used to sell it, but now I can only find it at Lowes. Unlike brush poly, wipe on is forgivable. It’s doesn’t leave strokes and it dries even. It has a short re-coat time, but you do have to put a lot more coats on. Every couple coats you’re supposed to sand in-between coats. And I typically do my final coats using a wet sand paper. Its as if you’re using the wet sand paper as your rag to apply. It leaves a smooth flawless finish.

And there she sits. She is heavy, solid oak…and beautiful.

Dash of crazy…

I’ve been working on the bathroom and laundry room (the project that never ends) and it often becomes the topic of conversation with people I know personally, as they’re asking for updates and what I’m working on next. I was recently talking with someone and they said the phrase that I’ve heard SO. MANY. TIMES.

“You’re so talented, I just wish I could do that.”

I chuckle because talent often gets confused with hard work and drive. It’s not as if I was a wood working prodigy that was destined for greatness.

In fact, I was just going through a box that my mom had given me and inside was a little wall hanging I made when I was 14 years and had given to my grandma for Christmas. It hung on her kitchen wall for 20 years until her passing.

I present one of my first wood projects.

My grandma obviously loved my mad skills and kept this on display long after it’s expiration date. She was never able to witness any of my projects first hand but if she had, I’m sure she would have seen an improvement from my early gift giving years.

Not to mention my fantastic bubble-end handwriting! I nailed it. It does not go unnoticed that my 14-year-old handwriting and my daughter’s 14-year-old handwriting are vastly different!

Hard work and determination got me from a fantastic wall hanging to laundry and bathroom cabinets. I tell most people, anyone can do this if they really want to. They just need a dash of crazy to get them started.

Luckily this picture is older and I’m a little further along. At this rate, I’ll be done by fall.

A house in shambles…

I just sent my dad back on a plane to go home after a long week of helping me out with the laundry room and bathroom that were flooded back at the beginning of January.

Project week was a smashing success and I’m pretty sure I wore my dad out! We had some long days and late nights and we both just kept going. I’m wondering if any neighbors noticed a saw in the garage that was running at midnight last night!

The only problem with project week (aside from utter exhaustion) is the projects are never contained in the spaces we’re working on. No – they bleed to every inch of the house. It was not unusual this week so see something like this in the kitchen:

Cabinet boxes, cabinet doors, drawer boxes, paint, screws, tools, leftover breakfast – you name a tool in my garage and chances are at one point it was in the kitchen this week. Not to mention the thick layer of dust covering everything in the house. When I’m working on a major project, you can guarantee the rest of the house is in shambles – I don’t know how to do it any other way!

I maximize the time when my dad is here helping and I figure and I can clean and put the house back together after he’s gone. So now you know what I’m doing for the rest of the week!

Small projects…

I saw quote this week that I couldn’t relate with more right now. “A big project is just a lot of little projects.”

I needed to hear that this week.

We waited for almost 6 weeks for insurance to help us out on our bathroom/laundry flood and we’re now moving into the rebuilding phase. The problem is, once everything was ripped out I had a hard time buying into the idea of putting our 30 year-old cabinets back in the space. We were getting new floors. New drywall and paint. New shower. I couldn’t put a bandaid on the room and put the old cabinets back in when we were eventually going to replace them anyway.

Anyone remodeling right now knows the costs are high and the timelines are extensive. So I came up with what I thought was a reasonable solution at the time: I would build all the cabinet boxes myself. It seemed like a good idea and now that I’m actually knee deep in the project I’m second guessing that idea!! 🙂

I have 17 cabinet boxes I need to build. (Some of them are heavy enough I can’t even carry them by myself.) The project quickly became overwhelming. So I’m breaking it down to a lot of little projects. Drill the pocket holes on 5 boxes. Attach edge banding on three boxes. Assemble one box. The project that has taken over the garage is a lot to handle. But I’m slowly tackling little tasks – I suppose it seems less overwhelming when it’s viewed as a million small projects!