Adultifying our home, one tax return at a time

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When we Fickbonnes were but unmarried twenty-somethings living in sin in our first rental house together, we bought a couch. A $250 brown micro-fiber couch from American Furniture Warehouse. You know: the kind of furniture broke twenty-somethings can afford and is meant to be replaced within two years. This couch:

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Apologies to the boys (all three of them), but this was the only picture of that crappy couch I could find. Some trivia for dedicated Casa Fickbonne readers (ie. Andrea): that dude on the right is the Honorable Right Revered Chadwick W. Spanglerton III, who officiated our wedding! He has never forgiven me for making him get ordained as a boring old minister instead of a Jedi Knight. I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Anyway, back to the couch situation.

Right on schedule, the old couch started to break apart. It got shmoopier and shmoopier, the seams ripping and the seat sagging. We even held onto it once one of the back support struts broke. We stuffed the seat with extra pillows. We held onto that thing for eight whole years. We Fickbonnes are nothing if not cheap.

Partly this was because I’m indecisive and couldn’t seem to pick the RIGHT couch for the RIGHT price in order to replace this dog-fur-encrusted monstrosity. I had my heart set on a gray linen chesterfield for a while—which would’ve looked great in our living room, but would have suffered the dog’s attentions poorly. Plus, we wanted to make sure we could afford it with “extra money” (read: part of a tax return rather than dipping into other savings).

But this year, dear readers… this year was the year.

Behold! The new living room couch of Casa Fickbonne!

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Try to contain your excitement. We got it from Article on sale for a super reasonable price considering it’s real leather and hardwood. Being leather, it won’t collect dog fur like our last couch. And any scratches from eager dog paws can be easily oiled out of the leather. Though we’re still keeping a protective blanket on it because said dog cannot be trusted. The blanket is machine washable cotton (I narrowly avoided buying a nice wool blanket before coming to my senses) and gets removed from the couch when guests are visiting.

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It fits the room SO much better than the previous couchbomination. The lower back opens up the space between dining room and living room, and it overall feels less obtrusive. Plus it fit through the doorway super easy (not that I’m moving it ever because moving sucks so I INTEND TO DIE IN THIS HOUSE).

I haven’t decided if I’m going to make new throw pillows for it or if I like how my little envelope pillows look. Advice in the comments, please.

Also please note the lovely new blue rug beneath the new couch. This is what you buy when you realize you accidentally got a couch the same color as your floor. Oops! Considering it was marked down from $800 to $149 on Overstock.com when we bought it, I figured it was worth it to correct our decorating faux pas.

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Come on over and have a seat!

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IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!

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Spring has sprung and that means it’s time garden like I’ve never gardened before. This past week, I officially planted the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden and Emporium for the summer.

Even though I work from home most days now, I find myself with limited time. So I started the garden gradually, over about three days. That also meant going to the nursery to pick up supplies three days in a row, not that I mind. It was much better going in the middle of the afternoon of a weekday than on the Saturday of the safe planting week, aka PANDEMONIUM AMONG THE GERANIUMS.

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This year, I refreshed my five 4’ x 8’ raised garden beds with the compost I’ve been making all winter, mixed in the Paulino Gardens sheep dung, peat moss, and compost formula, and covered it all with topsoil. Then I planted my seeds and transplanted my baby plants. Here’s this summer’s lineup:

Raised bed 1: ALL TOMATOES ALL THE TIME. I’ve got a Sweet One Hundred, a San Marzano, an Early Girl, a Big Beef, and a Juliet. The San Marzano and Sweet One Hundred did great last year, so let’s hope the others step up their game.

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Raised bed 2: Herbs and other low-lifes. (Get it? It’s the bed with the lowest hanging sun shade, so I want to plant short things to fit under it.) My oregano from last year survived the winter and sprang back to life! In addition, I’ve planted rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, and soon, thyme (the nursery was all out when I went so I have to go back). Keeping the herbs company are the lettuce and spinach and the return of the Lobascio Family Italian Garlic (thanks Harriet).

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Raised bed 3: Peppers and kale and squash oh my! This year I cheated and bought a giant mature green bell pepper plant from Paulino Gardens. DON’T JUDGE ME. I hardly get to enjoy my bell peppers when I grow them from plantlings because they take so long, and this year I’m determined to eat the hell out of them. I also got a little cherry bell pepper plant, which will produce nice little round red sweet peppers. And of course, the Russian Roulette of any home garden: a jalapeño plant. Will it be unbearably spicy? Will it be disappointingly mild? NO ONE KNOWS. THAT’S WHY IT’S FUN. They’re sharing a bed with the kale and the first of two squash plants.

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Raised bed 4: Cucumbers and squash, together at last. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I can only assume that cucumbers and zucchini are harboring major veggie crushes on each other. I’m playing matchmaker and planting them in the same bed this year. Plus, my cucumbers never have enough room and I know the zucchini plant is hardy enough to survive cucumber’s strangling vines. Oh yeah, also green beans. (I have no qualms about making you an afterthought, green beans. You are the vegetable of last resort.)

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Raised bed 5: Tubular tubers! This is where I’ve got my radishes, turnips, beets, and carrots growing. If you’ll recall, the dog acquired a taste for carrots last year. This year I have no plan for protecting them from him, but I’m open to ideas. Please submit them to mydogisacarrotthievingliar@casafickbonne.com.

“But wait, Mrs. Fickbonne!” you are now most assuredly saying. “Something is missing! What about the corn?”

Ah yes. Corn. My gardening white whale. If you’ll recall from previous summers, I am engaged in a multi-year science experiment to get corn right. And each year I get a little bit closer to perfection. Or at least… edible plant life. The bar is low, you guys. The bar is low.

This year I had a brilliant epiphany (if I do say so myself). Our front yard is an embarrassment to nature. It’s a slope of weeds crying out for a retaining wall, and every time it needs to be weed-whacked I curse the gods of local city ordinances.

Why not do something productive with the front yard?

So I turned it into a corn patch.

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Or rather, I turned the only semi-level section of the front yard into a corn patch. This involved digging out the first six inches of dirt or so and removing them to the backyard for use elsewhere. Then I tilled down another six inches or so until everything was nice and loose. Then I added a metric butt-ton of soil and compost from Paulino Gardens and topped the whole thing off with hay. Corn is a very water-hungry plant, so the hay will help the soil retain moisture during the hottest months.

Corn is also a very communal plant. It needs to cross-pollinate like whoa in order to produce ears. Part of my decision to move it to the front yard stemmed from my suspicion that in a single 4’ x 8’ bed, it wasn’t cross-pollinating enough. So my area in the front is much larger, with room to plant nine rows of eight plants each. There’s room to extend the corn patch next year if it does well this year. But first it has to prove itself.

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I’m super excited for the corn patch. Not only does it make an ugly thing (my front yard) beautiful, but it will shield our porch from a view of the nearby intersection. I planted Silver Queen corn, which is supposed to be one of the most delicious yet hardy varieties. It will grow tall and strong, and give us a much nicer view from the porch.

But that’s not all! Once the corn stalks sprout and get strong enough to handle a little disruption, I’m going to run a homemade soaker hose through their patch. Stay tuned for a how-to guide on the soaker hose.

So that’s the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden and Emporium, summer 2018! In a month or so, I expect to be eating lettuce and spinach by the fistful. If you’re nice, I might even share some with you.

A year later, the hail insurance chapter of our lives closes

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It’s now time to unveil the most stunning of the repairs we made since Hailmageddon 2017, nearly a year ago. I’m speaking, of course, of the house paint.

After the hail damage, our house was in bad shape. Windows smashed, roof pocked, gutters mangled, paint chipped and flaking. And my garden! My poor innocent garden! Nothing was spared. The silver lining was, of course, our home insurance policy. This was the key that opened up a whole new world of home improvement to us. We got to move lightyears ahead of our plans for remodeling. And while it wasn’t free of headaches and tribulations, I think we came out ahead after the whole insurance situation.

I was of course most excited to paint the house. The pale mint green it was when we moved in… well, I just wasn’t feeling it. We needed something bolder, more colorful.

We chose a couple of swatches, which I’ll share for you for the sake of comparison and your unwanted opinions. (Hunt Club is the bottom left.)

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Then we hired a friend’s painting company and set them loose! Boulder Brush did a phenomenal job, and all the painters were super friendly, polite, and kept me in the loop through every step of the process. I’d hire Vahe, Genaro, and the crew for another project without hesitation. I’ve already recommended them to other friends, but consider this my ringing endorsement for all the Interwebz to see! The results are magical.

THIS CALLS FOR A BEFORE AND AFTER.

Before:

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The Casa Fickbonne, as we first saw it.

After:

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As my nephew would say: “Tada!!!”

With the help of our insurance settlement after the hail storm, we replaced the roof (it was only seven years old, but still nice to reset that clock), the gutters (which looked fine to me but for a few dents, but now I’m super glad they were replaced because they look SO much better), a buncha windows, and the house paint.

For the paint we went with Sherwin Williams color Hunt Club for the main part of the house and SW Creamy for the trim. Just look at it! Isn’t it beauteous?

Every other house in our neighborhood that got painted after the storm was painted this lovely navy blue color, which we like a lot… but it’s against our nature to do what all the cool kids are doing. Our house motto is practically “Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not my mom!” So dark green it was.

The real miracle is how the garage looks like a whole new building.

Before:

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YOU GUYS. WE HAVE A FUNCTIONAL GARAGE.

After:

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You can’t quite tell from the “before” picture, but the trim on the garage was originally painted by someone who never learned how to color within the lines as a child. Quite tragic. Now it’s in a lot better shape—good enough that I can justify replacing that covered window and maybe adding some window boxes.

I get so happy looking at the back of the house now. Where once were chipped paint and smashed windows…

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… now, we have glorious tempered glass and a fresh coat of high quality paint.

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It actually looks like responsible homeowners live here now. Which hey! I suppose we are!

Tune in next time for the annual spring planting of the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden.

They say the windows are the windows to the soul

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At long last! THEY’RE HERE!!!

Dedicated Casa Fickbonne readers (‘sup Andrea) will remember that this spring our house was BRUTALLY ATTACKED by fist-sized globes of ice hurtling from the atmosphere. That’s right: the hail did about $15,000 worth of damage to our house, and since then we’ve been working with insurance and an exteriors contractor to get it all fixed.

The most pressing issue was, of course, the windows.

Yeah. Not cool.

So we spent almost two months with our windows boarded up while the contractors replaced the roof and gutters. We had to wait a little while for them to order the windows because–of course!–our house is a century old and it’s not like anything in the place is a standard size. So we got custom windows!

Last week our team of brilliant and friendly contractors came in and replaced the broken windows. Because insurance was paying for the broken windows, we decided to spend some of our own money to replace some of the old but unbroken windows too. We got a little bit of a discount because we were giving the contractor so much business on our hail-damaged house.

So now we have new windows in the bathroom and both bedrooms! FEAST YOUR EYES!

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Beauteous, right? My crappy photography doesn’t do them justice. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such perfect windows in my life. Check it:

These babies are DOUBLE HUNG. They slide up and down and all around!

They have SCREENS. Yes, that’s right! At last we can open our windows without turning our house into Mothapalooza 2017!

They even LOCK! Yes really! Gone are the days when we’d leave the house and just hope no one would slide a window open!

They AREN’T EVEN WOOD. Nothing against wood as a building material, but it leaves something wanting where weather-proofing is concerned.

They’re even DOUBLE-PANED. Think of all the energy savings from these well-insulated bad boys.

They MAINTAIN THE PERIOD AESTHETIC OF OUR 1921 CRAFTSMAN BUNGALOW. Our original windows have wooden grids in them to hold the panes in place. The new windows have the same grid patterns as the old, so they won’t look too out of place on our old home.

The one in the bathroom is even TEMPERED GLASS. Yeah! I didn’t have to do my own half-assed frosting job. See?

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Have I mentioned I love my new windows? They’re Simonton, by the way.

The plan is to replace all the windows in the house eventually, and we’ve gotten a good start thanks to the insurance. If I have my druthers, we’ll replace the kitchen windows within the next six months. Especially since one of those jerks recently smashed my thumb so bad I’m probably going to lose the nail.

Much thanks to Energy Star Exteriors for all their hard work on our house. Charlie, Darren, Ken, and the whole team were just about the nicest, most reassuring people to work with. The owner of the company, Kirk, even came out to my house when I thought there was a problem, and made sure to work with me personally to make sure I was completely satisfied with the work. And as you all know, I appreciate when companies treat me like the queen I am!

The roof and gutters are 10x better than when we moved in, we have effective ventilation throughout the house, and our windows are perfect.

The last piece of Hailmageddon recovery: painting the house. Stay tuned!

Dog tested, dog approved

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In the further adventures of Mrs. Fickbonne Learns About Carpentry, I made a thing for my pupper!

Strider is getting on in years, and his hips and back are starting to hurt. Poor little guy. Apparently, leaning all the way down to the floor to eat and drink is hard on an old dog’s back.

It’s hard to get him veterinary care regularly because of his behavioral issues, so I’m all about the preventative measures. (Don’t worry, our vet makes house calls and he’s wonderful.)

So I decided to build a stand for his bowls. An elevated canine feeding station, if you will.

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Cute, right? Here’s how I did it!

Materials:

  • A recycled wooden pallet (there are thousands on Craigslist)
  • Assorted screws and nails
  • Jigsaw (special thanks to Brock for loaning me his!)
  • Drill with boring spade, hole saw, or dremel attachment (you just need something to make a big hole)
  • Saw of your choice (I used a handheld circular saw but in hindsight a reciprocating saw might have been better)
  •  Pencil
  • Dog bowls with rims (I just used the bowls we got for Strider at Petco years ago)
  • Orbital sander
  1. First, build your basic platform. Remove boards from one side of the pallet and nail or screw them in between the boards at the other end of the pallet. If you look at the picture above, I chose the side that had sort of natural “feet” on the bottom of it. You’ll also noticed I used kind of grubby nails and screws from the Garage of Wonders. I wanted that DIY, industrial look… which wasn’t that hard given my carpentry skills.
  2. Next, flip the bowls upside down and use them to trace circles on the platform where you want them to go. Make sure you have enough room between them and on the sides for the pallet boards to hold together.
  3. Cut off the excess pallet with your circular or reciprocating saw. How much? Dunno! Eyeball it, fool. I certainly did.
  4. Put your hole-making attachment on the drill. I used a boring spade, which comes standard with most drill bit sets, and it worked fine. Drill a hole in the middle of each circle.
  5. Make sure to have your dog hold down the electrical cord while you’re working with power tools. For safety, of course. Exhibit A:

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  6. Jigsaw time! Use your starter hole to… start the bigger hole you’ll be cutting with the jigsaw. DO NOT CUT ALONG THE LINE. Leave yourself about a quarter inch of space between the line you traced and the cut. Don’t worry if the holes are a little rough at first.
  7. Oh no, a piece of the middle board fell off because it was no longer attached to anything and also PHYSICS! Good thing you have a whole pallet of scrap wood to work with. Flip your platform over and use a bit of scrap wood to reattach the middle piece to the boards around it with some short screws. Good job. You’re doing great.
  8. Once your holes are cut, see if the bowls fit! They should fit fairly snugly, with their rims resting on the boards. If they don’t, use your jigsaw and sander to widen the holes gradually until the bowls fit. Don’t go overboard or you’ll have to start all over. And don’t worry if the holes are perfect, because the bowls will cover the edges of the holes.
  9. Once the holes are the right size, take your orbital sander and sand down the edges and surfaces of the boards. Don’t want your pup getting a splinter, do you? Don’t sand too much, as that will get rid of that old-timey pallet board aesthetic you’re going for.

Make sense? Really? Wow, because I had no idea what I was doing. Anyway, here’s how it turned out!

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Strider was VERY resentful of me messing with his food bowls. They’re raised above the floor only a little bit right now. Soon, I’ll add bigger feet to them so they’re a more comfortable height for my old doggo. But in the meantime, I’ll let him just get used to the difference.

Still waiting for him to say thank you. What an ungrateful wretch.

Sweet summer relief

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Friends, Romans, countrymen… it is with great satisfaction that I announce the best money we have ever spent. For we are now the proud inhabitants of a house containing an attic fan.

Yes that’s right! After two summers of sweltering in this plaster-and-lathe oven, we finally bit the bullet and bought ourselves a whole-house fan cooling system. Behold:

(That giant fan vent is in the ceiling of our back hallway, in case that wasn’t obvious.)

It is neither a swamp cooler (more expensive) nor an air conditioning system (waaaaaay more expensive). It’s a giant fan that sits in our attic, connected to the outside through three round vents in our roof. It works by sucking cold air in from the outside through the house’s open windows and pushing hot air out through the attic. As soon as the sun sets, we open all the windows, turn this baby on, and let it run through the night. In the morning we turn the fan off, close the windows, and the house stays nice and cool throughout the day. Rinse and repeat daily.

Living in a desert as we do, this is an extremely efficient way to cool the house. Even on abysmally hot, 100 degree days during the summer, the temperatures drop dramatically at night in this climate. So if we can capture that cool, desert night air, we’re just using our natural habitat to our advantage. And it’s more energy efficient than a giant air conditioner! So I call this an environmental win.

As I write this, I’m sitting very comfortably indoors in jeans even though it’s almost 80 degrees outside. Wild, right? Like I said: best money we ever spent. The fan itself is much quieter than I expected, certainly more quiet than our window AC unit.

Thanks to the team at Colorado Home Cooling for making our summer bearable! They even gave us a discount for paying in cash. CHA-CHING.

Making ugly stuff pretty again

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I’ve found that one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve our home is by fixing up ugly stuff to make it pretty again. See, for example, the free bar cart that was also free to rehabilitate with a little extra paint and stain I had on hand leftover from other projects.

So that’s what all this is about. When we moved into our house, it contained a few random pieces of furniture, including two dilapidated patio tables under the awning in the back yard. We’d like to eventually replace the two tables with one big, homemade farmhouse style table out there. But for now, we just pushed the two tables together and cover them with a table cloth when we have company.

Because one of them looked like this:

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If you can’t tell from the picture, the surface of the table is completely wrecked. The stain is faded and the finish is peeling and nasty. It has been outside and uncared-for for far too long, and as a result it has let itself go. So I set about refinishing it.

First I sanded the everloving bejeezus out of it. Normally when refinishing furniture, an orbital sander will do, but in this case I whipped out the ole’ belt sander. Some of the stains just went too deep into the stripped wood (because SOMEONE spilled WINE on it once and I have no idea who that was it definitely wasn’t me).

After sanding it to within an inch of its life, the surface looked like this:

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Ah, much better. Or, at least, just a blank slate. Next I chose some stain from our vast collection in the Garage of Miracles (some of which was there before we moved in). I believe I used Minwax Special Walnut. Then, because I didn’t have quite the varnish I wanted, I performed the traditional Mid-Project Home Depot Run. They were also out of the varnish I wanted, but they had it in aerosol form. I have never used aerosol varnish before, so I decided to try it.

BIG MISTAKE. It… definitely did not work as advertised. What I ended up with was a rough, uneven surface that was still tacky 48 hours later and filled with all the airborne crap that got caught up in the spray.

… so I started over. I sanded it down again (this time with the orbital sander) until all that was left was a light layer of stain.

I applied a second layer of stain, and then two layers of Varathane Spar Urethane, which you’ll remember from my charming window boxes and house number board. It’s probably what I should’ve just used in the first place. Oh well.

Voila! A beauteous, rehabbed, “”””shabby chic”””” patio table. It is now in respectable shape for company, and when we eventually build that farmhouse table we can sell it to recoup some building costs. And if I hadn’t wasted $8 on the aerosol spray varnish, it would have cost me nothing but time.

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