Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping it Cool

We haven't had a ton of heat out here in the Northwest so far this summer (today is forecasted at a cool 72 degrees) but we know a lot of our friends and family around the country have been trying to ward off heatstroke on a daily basis lately.  That's why we wanted to share a post from This Old House on ways of staying cool while still conserving energy.  We have central air in our house (a rare commodity for old Portland homes) but we've yet to use it, even on the few hot days we've had.  We're big fans of the "Texas Cool" technique (tip #4) as well as running fans rather than the AC.

Click Here to check out the full post from TOH and keep it cool!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weekend Washing and More

This was another busy weekend outside of the house, but we did manage to get out and do a little more work on the front of the house.  The hard stuff is done, but the whole thing was still looking pretty dirty.  We recently bought a high pressure hose nozzle, so we put it to use for a little pressure washing.  

The porch was dirty, but look how disgusting the front of the house was!

Gross.  Now that the house is a little bit cleaner, we can move forward with patching up some of that paint!  We also did a little garden maintenance this weekend including some (more!) raspberry picking, some weeding, and trimming back this tree that was shading our lilies:

Here's what it looks like after its haircut:

It looks so puny now, but those lilies have a lot more light.  Other weekend activities included a visit from our four year old next door neighbor, a trip to see Harry Potter with some good friends and faithful blog readers (hi Ryan) and a visit with this baby:

It was a good weekend!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Tiny Problem With Some Very Small Ants

Yep.  We have ants.  Not tons of them, and not the big house-eating kind, just a few tiny little ants.  Still pretty gross.  They are sugar ants and true to their name they found our sugar bowl.

Some friends and family suggested ant traps and ant sprays to ward off the pests, but since our problem was still small we wanted to see if there was a simpler, cheaper, and more environmentally and pet friendly way to deal with the ants.  With a little research we found suggestions such as pouring boiling water on the colony if you can find it or tempting the ants into eating borax, cornstarch, or cornmeal which will kill the ants.  Our problem still didn't seem bad enough to resort to killing entire colonies, so we kept looking.

Finally we found some natural ant deterrents.  We had a sneaking suspicion that ants might not like vinegar and it turns out we were right.  We've been cleaning our kitchen counters and floors with a vinegar/water mix from the beginning and we've never seen a single ant in our kitchen (knock on wood).  We also discovered that ants don't like peppers or cinnamon.  You wouldn't like it either if there was a pile of black pepper twice your size in front of you.  Death by sneezing can't be any fun.

It didn't turn out that we needed to resort to pepper or cinnamon, because once we removed the sugar bowl from the picture, the ants lost interest pretty quickly.

Just to be sure, we cleaned the whole area, as well as the windowsills nearby (where we were pretty sure they were coming in) with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution.  In the future we'll be keeping our sugar, as well as any other sweets, in sealed containers that the ants can't make their way into.

For more information on natural remedies for sugar ant problems as well as instructions for a natural borax ant trap check out this article on ehow.

There are also several good tips in this discussion forum ("we have pets including chickens and small children"). 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bees, Blueberries and Garlic

Today I ventured out between some lingering raindrops to find a little raspberry plant that I could uproot and bring to a friend at work.  I was fairly sure that there were some pots in the old shed in the back yard that I could give to her to get her new plant started.

Sure enough there was a perfect little pot inside, but fortunately before I ventured in to retrieve it I just happened to notice what was hanging directly above it.

Eek!  I'm not sure what we're going to have to do about that.  Bees are wonderful for our garden, but they kind of make this shed unusable for as long as they decide to stay.  Fortunately, there was a long pole right inside the door of the shed and I was able to reach the pot and drag it out.  It was the perfect size for this little raspberry plant that had ventured away from the rest of our bushes.

While I was outside, I decided to check on the blueberry bush that lives at the back of our yard.  It looks like the berries are just about ready to be picked!  I tasted a few but didn't pick any because we are still working on all those raspberries from the weekend.  Blueberries will be up next!

I also harvested some of the garlic that is taking over our yard.  The flowers are really interesting, but they spread quickly when left unattended and they are everywhere!  As you can imagine, they also make our yard quite fragrant.  Garlic takes two years to mature, but this stuff must have been around for a while because look how much I found in just a few minutes!

The garden is a lot of work, but it is amazing how much we are getting out of it already.  I am looking forward to future years when we can really focus on keeping it beautiful and bountiful!  - Caroline

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Over the Weekend

Despite some rainy weather and lots of work and school work that had to be taken care of this weekend we managed to get a few things done around here over the last few days.

We removed all of the last little bits of the enclosure from our front porch and started scraping the paint in the areas where it is peeling.  We will pressure wash the whole thing then paint the exposed areas to protect them until we can do the whole house.

Orchid got a little taste of the outdoors (literally at some moments) on her leash.  We don't plan to let our cats outdoors on their own even though we have such a nice neighborhood and yard.  It's just safer for them to stay indoors.

We did a little yard work, including cutting back the big rhododendron in front of our house.  More photos on that later.

We got out and harvested our raspberries.  Until now we've just been picking at them, but we wanted to take advantage while we still have them, so we pretty much cleaned the bushes off.  What a crop!

Finally, we enjoyed some Sunday morning rain and a breakfast of fresh eggs from our next door neighbors chickens!  Orchid kept her exploration indoors.

Top projects for the week ahead are:  Weeding the garden, pressure washing the porch, painting the bare spots on the porch, looking into getting recycled porch paint (more on that if we are successful!), and continuing to work on the kitchen so that we can start using those cabinets.  We'll see how it goes!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Recycle Just About Anything

We've started accumulating quite a bit of debris around here from our various cleaning and deconstruction projects.  Currently it is cluttering up our back yard, driveway and garage just waiting to be disposed of.

We'd been planning on renting a dumpster to take care of the mess until today when we started doing some research into how to dispose of the giant sliding door that was overtaking our driveway.

We were doing research on facilities that reuse or recycle building materials and that were willing to pick up large items and were beginning to realize that no one was going to want an old aluminum screen door for their rebuilding project (most places that accept things like doors or windows only accept vinyl).  One facility suggested that we contact a local rebuilding center that might at least take the door and recycle it for us.  Just minutes later, a gentleman rang our doorbell and asked if we would like him to recycle the metal from the door for us.  He is probably going to make a buck or two off us, but we were just happy to get rid of the thing without throwing it in a dumpster!  He offered to take the glass, as well as the glass we had stacked in our yard from the porch deconstruction for a fee, but we declined.  There must be a way that we can do these sort of things ourselves without a timely stranger driving by and offering to dismantle our large debris and hauling it away for us.  With a little more research we began to discovered that we can recycle well... pretty much everything.  So much for that dumpster.  So we wanted to share some tips and steps to recycling everything based on our research and experience:

1.  Deconstruction vs. Demolition:  Our last post was incorrectly named.  What we did to our porch over the weekend was not demolition, it was deconstruction (for the most part).  Deconstruction is when a structure is carefully dismantled in order to maximize the materials that can be reused or recycled.

2.  Get creative about reuse:  Construction materials can be costly if you have to go out and buy them for a future project.  Think about what you can reuse or re-purpose and ask friends and family for suggestions.  For example, Matt's cousin suggested that we or somebody else might want to use wood and glass to construct a cold box for winter growing in our garden as in this post from the door garden.

There are also all sorts of resources online for updating and re-purposing old furniture.  Check out blogs such as centsationalgirl.com for loads of inspiration.

3.  If you can't use it, see if someone else can:  Ask friends, family and neighbors if they have a need for building materials, furniture and other goods you're looking to discard.  One of our neighbors laid claim to our plexiglass, scrap wood and cinder blocks just days into our deconstruction projects.  You can also post items for sale or for free on websites like Craigslist.org and Freecycle.org.

4.  Look into building material donation sites:  Habitat for humanity takes donations of new and gently used building materials, appliances, tools, office supplies and more for their building projects to be sold in their not-for-profit store.  Donations need to be in saleable condition and free of nails, dirt, mold, rot or lead paint.  Go to www.habitat.org/getinv/materials_donations.aspx to find a Habitat ReStore near you and check for individual requirements for donated goods and materials.

5. Check your local recycling rules:  You may be able to recycle things right on your sidewalk that you never would have expected.  For example, Portland recycling will take any scrap metal as long as it fits in your recycling bin.

6. When all else fails, do some research:  We were amazed at this A to Z list of recyclable goods compiled by a local recycler (click to view larger):

It is really eye-opening to see all the things that can be recycled if you can find the right facility.  It is possible that you will have to pay a small fee to bring your goods to a recycling facility, but in many cases they will take small loads brought in by individuals (as opposed to corporate recycling) for free and some will even pay for certain materials.  You may have to do a little research, but there could be many facilities in your area who will take some or all of your recyclable materials.  When doing your research be sure to watch for referrals; many recycling centers really care about what they are doing and if there are items that they can not take they may refer you to someone who can.  If you are doing a remodel or demolition project you can also research deconstruction and recycling services in your area.  These types of services will actually come to your site and complete your project in a way that maximizes what can be recycled and reused and take it all away with them.

For you Portlanders reading, here are a few of the services we came across in the metro area:






Happy Recycling!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Weekend Demolition!

This weekend we got going on a project we couldn't wait to start.  Remember what the front of our house used to look like?

The entry was covered in green outdoor carpet and the entire front porch was enclosed in glass.  The result was not only unattractive but hot!  The west-facing porch heated up like an oven in the afternoon making it completely unusable during warm months and inevitably raising the temperature inside the house.

On Saturday evening we jumped into the project and ripped out the outdoor carpet on the front steps.  We were excited to discover concrete steps that are structurally in great shape, even if they don't look very pretty.  They are covered in glue from the carpet and painted a lovely shade of yellow to match the house color.  In time we'll have to clean them up and replace the top step which is wood and is looking a little rotted, but overall we were pleased with what we found.

On Sunday morning we dove into the rest of the porch demolition with great success!  These doors and windows were well secured, but we managed to get them all out with just a drill, a hammer, a couple of ladders and a small crowbar borrowed from our neighbor and pure muscle power.

How do you like Matt's summer haircut?

Fortunately we were able to enlist the help of a neighbor for a few moments to remove the amazingly heavy sliding doors.

Our next door neighbor also came by to help steady the ladder and lend a few strategic pointers and an extra set of hands for the treacherous removal of the windows on the driveway side of the porch.

We found some interesting surprises like the porch details painted onto the glass and a disgusting amount of bugs, spiderwebs and who knows what else behind the boards and glass that we removed.

The project took us most of the day, but we were very excited that we managed to get the whole thing opened up and we are thrilled with how it changes the look and feel of the house!  What do you think?

The next steps will be to take down the last few lingering additions to the original porch, clean the whole thing up and patch up the paint.  It looks like they most recently repainted the house after they enclosed the porch, so there are areas that are a different shade where we removed the window and door support pieces.  The floor of the porch is in good shape but we're not a fan of the green color that it is painted so we plan to repaint the whole thing a nice neutral color for the time being to get us through until we repaint the whole outside of the house.  We can't wait to show you the finished product!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cats in the Home

Apartment Therapy
Although we don't have a dog in our lives at the moment we really do love all pets and want to include cat lovers and dog lovers alike in this post.  That being said, cat owners will understand:  sometime being a crazy cat person is just unavoidable.  As admitted crazy cat people, we wanted to share a little about how our cats are adjusting to the new house.  Cat lovers never seem to fear including their cats in photos of their homes, so we thought we'd share a few of our favorite shots of cats in while we're on the subject.

Design Sponge
Our first kitty is Orchid.  Orchid is our black short hair who we got from the Oregon Humane Society just a few months after we moved to Portland.  She was just over a year old when we got her and she was so tiny and adorable!

Our second cat is Mia, our white and gray longhair.  We adopted her from a friend who sadly had to find new homes for her cats due to health problems from allergies.  We were glad to take her and keep her close to her original owner.  Mia was seven when she moved in with us and over the last two years she has become a part of the family.

Orchid and Mia have become very good friends and we were glad that we were able to move them together.  Orchid showed some signs of sadness for a few day after the move, but she was eating, drinking, using the litter box and responding normally to us so we knew that she would be okay.  Here are some good tips for moving pets:

Introduce pets to their new environment slowly.  We chose one room that we didn't need to be using right away and made it the temporary "cat room."  We put their litter box, food, beds and toys all in this room and confined them to this small area right away.  In this room they had a safe space to become accustomed to the smell of their new home and had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with where their litter box will be for a while.  Did you know that you should never put a cat's food too close to their litter box?  Since we're keeping both in this room for now we were sure to put them at opposite ends of the room.

Surround pets with familiar objects.  In addition to all of "their things," we also put one of the soft chairs that the cats frequently sleep on in the room.  Sure enough, we often come in to find one of the cats curled up on this familiar spot. 

Show pets the good things about their new home.  As our cats have ventured further from their room in their first week here they have enjoyed discovering and lounging in all the windows in the house. 

Let them explore (safely).  As you know, our kitchen is under construction, so for the time being we've had limited rules about cabinets and counter-tops.  We just make sure all the tools are safely unplugged and screws and nails are stashed away.  We've yet to allow them into the basement (except for a sneaky dash down the steps by Mia last night) until we have a chance to get rid of all the dangerous materials left down there by the previous owners.  We still keep them safely shut away from unpacked boxes and bags at night and when we're not home, but the rest of the time they're having a lot of fun checking out every corner of their new home.

Let them be a part of the home.  Our kitties are indoor cats for the most part, they are flea-treated as a precaution and for their occasional supervised stints outdoors and we bathe them regularly so we know they aren't carrying around a lot of excess dirt, dander or pesky friends.  Because of this, they are allowed just about everywhere in our house.  If you allow it, cats can become part of the decor.

Funky Junk Interiors
Apartment Therapy
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