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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Hailmageddon, 2017

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I’ve always wanted to take advantage of my homeowner’s insurance! And two weeks ago I got to do just that. What a time to be alive!

While we were at work, the skies turned black and the wind picked up. Mr. Fickbonne called me to make sure the sun shades were up on the garden, because it looked like it was going to hail and we didn’t want our delicate plants to get pummeled. As if mere sun shades would be enough to protect anything from what was coming. How naïve we were! How innocent!

Instead of a normal hail storm, we got baseball-sized rocks of ice hurtling from the skies. Not only did they rip the sun shades from their hoops and completely demolish the garden, but they damaged the house and Ben’s car.

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Every car in the parking lot at Ben’s office lost its windshield. After the insurance people were done with us, we learned that Ben’s Jeep was totaled. The poor thing looked like it had pock marks over every body panel. It lost the tail lights, the mirrors, the windshield. Sections of the tail gate were completely smashed through! All of which turned out to be good news: we’ve been saving up to get rid of that stupid lemon of a vehicle for awhile now, and the insurance claim just sped up the process.

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Fortunately, I was at my office in Boulder, where it only rained. So my car was safe. I think I would’ve cried if my little Volkswagen was hurt. It’s too good of a car for me. I don’t deserve you, Greta!

The house is another matter. The hail came straight out of the west, so we lost both windows on that side of the house, the siding and trim were dented and stripped of paint, and the roof needs to be replaced. Oh yeah, and our poor tumbledown shack of a garage suffered a similar fate. Behold, the aftermath:

Then of course there’s the garden…

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And what used to be our maple trees…

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And insult to injury, even my watering can got smashed…

18341935_10100821305988141_1148633185482758351_nAll of which is to say: we’ll be dealing with the insurance company and contracts for awhile. I’m trying to look on the bright side. After all, now we get a brand new roof and we don’t have to pay for it! And while the insurance negotiations are not done yet, I’m hoping it also means a new paint job for the house, which was part of our ten-year plan anyway. And don’t get me started on that bathroom window. We’ve wanted to smash that thing since we moved in. We even got new sheets out of the deal, as the bedroom window shattered into glass dust all over the bed.

In the calm after the storm, our neighbors have really pulled together. Some of them fared much worse than we did, and it warms the cockles of my heart—whatever the hell those are—to have everyone meeting in the street to check on each other.

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We’re lucky enough to have a garage full of boards, plastic sheeting, and tools and the know-how to use them. But after boarding up our own windows we went next door to our neighbor’s house and did the same for him. And the moral of this Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood story is that when disaster strikes, it’s really nice to be able to depend on the people around you.

Stay tuned throughout the summer for updates on the repairs! At least I’ll get plenty of blog posts out of this mess…

The War on Tomatoes

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Friends, the state of Colorado is trying to murder my tomato plants. And it has almost succeeded.

I’ve been bursting at the seams to garden this spring. April was a gorgeous month: sunny, hot, all the spring flowers blooming. I bought pepper and tomato plants and lovingly nurtured them in our hothouse (read: a table by the south-facing egress window downstairs). I collected my seeds. I composted and tilled the garden soil.

Our “safe planting date” (HAH!) for this climate zone is May 15th. But a week before that I looked at the forecast, saw blue skies far into the future, and decided to jump the gun. I transplanted all my little plantlings and lovingly folded my seeds into the ground. It looked beautiful.

It lasted barely 24 hours.

Because then the hail came. And not just any hail! Baseball-sized ice rocks, hurtling out of the sky like they were launched from the trebuchets of cloud-dwelling giants. Every window on the West side of the house was smashed. The roof was ruined. Ben’s car was totaled. The trim and siding took a major beating. Our beloved maples and fruit trees were practically stripped.

And the garden was demolished. The hail tore the sun shades right off their PVC pipe frames. When it was all over, you couldn’t even tell where the pepper plants used to be. The only shade to stay up was over the tomatoes, but it was full of holes and we still lost two of the five plants. Most of my seeds likely washed away.

A view of the carnage:

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Ok, fine, lesson learn. I mocked the gods with my hubris and paid the price. So a week later I planted again. Ah, beautiful! Here’s a before and after:

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And that lasted five days before the forecast spelled my doom once more. Snow and freezing rain, headed right for us.

Determined not to lose my leafy beauties again, I launched into action! I watered the beds thoroughly, to act as insulation against the cold (counterintuitive, but that’s how it works). I pulled the large-bulbed string lights down from around the patio and laid them around the perimeter of each bed to generate a little heat. Then I covered each garden bed with the plastic sheeting we’ve used in the past for emergency makeshift greenhouse purposes. I weighed down the edges with bricks and hoped for the best.

Then, I plugged the lights in:

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(See my Facebook for the actual video. I’m too cheap to upgrade my WordPress account to host videos.)

When I woke up this morning we had freezing rain. Within twenty minutes it was wet, heavy, cold snow. Miserable. But my plants are safely tucked into the heated greenhouses I MacGuyvered for them. And with any luck the snow will be over by Saturday and I can once more open them up to the sun!

The weather has tried to take my garden twice now. I’ll be damned if I let it win!

Winterizing the window boxes

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Well, my beautiful summer window boxes are somewhat less beautiful now that winter has arrived and all the flowers have died. They actually look kind of sad, all wilted and dusty.

Hmm. What to do?

TO THE ARTS AND CRAFTS SUPPLIES STORE!

One hour later…

Ah yes. That’s much better:

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It’s amazing how a few branches and pinecones can really class up the joint.

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I left most of the soil in the boxes, since I needed something to stick the branches in securely. If I had to do it again though, I think I’d add some evergreen boughs as well. It’s all looking rather, well… brown.

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So maybe I’ll add some greenery in there later. The supplies didn’t cost very much, and nothing is glued down, so it won’t be too hard. But all in all, I’m calling this a pretty easy fix to having dead window boxes all winter long. Plus, I got some good compost out of the flowers.

Adulting: I’m doing it.