Monday, March 17, 2014

Busy Busy Bees

*blows off dust* cough cough hack cough

Well, it has been... a while. To say the least. Does that mean we've been idle? Not in the least! We have been quite busy. Firstly we had a second baby. This is by no means new news (hehe, newnews) but I don't know if we ever really addressed that on the blog here. Her name is Alice and she's a cutie. 

She's looking a bit older than this now, but this goes right along with the uber belated announcement.

Right after that Meredith's phone broke. Since we don't have Internet at the house that meant no posting for her. She's on a "temporary" phone but we're getting that fixed soon so she'll be back. 

Alongside that, of course, were the holidays. A time of joy and cheer... packed with the need to get far too much done in far too little time. We made quite a few things so we stayed quite preoccupied. 

Since then things have picked up at work so I've had less time to share as well but we're going to try and get back on the wagon here and get this show on the road. 

There have also been quite a few happenings at our little house that I will attempt to summarize here. If it's something more involved and worth sharing there will probably be a follow up post to explain in more detail later on. Pictures will be sporadic.

In one of those "this has been listed on Craigslist for so long there's no reason to bother asking, oh wait it is still available" moments we managed to score a sweet pedestal table for $50. We'll have to sand and paint it (which is too bad because the colors are actually kind of cool) but that's not too bad.

We also hung some shelves in our kitchen to provide some more storage space in there as well as a nice way to display things. We bought some 10" lumber that we had cut at the store. Then I used my router to give them this fancy shmancy edge. 

The shelf brackets were only $4 a pop but they're rated to hold 100lbs per pair. I wanted to make extra sure so we have three brackets on the longer shelves. I think it makes them look more substantial anyway. We thought about having four on each but this was where the studs were and we figured having one extra on a stud was probably better than having two extra not on a stud.

Probably the biggest change to our house is the fact that we have wiped the slate clean on our front yard. No really though. That slate walk? I wiped it out. With a pick axe. Every time it rains hard all the water from the road pools in our front yard so we're going to bring in some dirt to raise the level of the yard. First we started by cutting down three more trees that we could handle ourselves with help from some friends and family. This had to be done very carefully since the phone lines were running through one and right next to the others. This should allow more sunshine and help grass to eventually grow. We pulled up what we had done with the mulch beds and raked everything level. Then, over the course of a couple weekends I gradually pick-axed our walk into oblivion. It was already in shabby shape and it would be sunk down into the ground once we added dirt. Next we're having a guy come in and remove several alarming pine trees to rid us of piles of pine needles and the fear of being crushed at every storm. Aaaafter that we can have the dirt brought in.

Grayson having fun in the mud during deconstruction.

We also decided to take this opportunity to redefine the borders of the yard and the driveways and give some space back to the yard on both sides. At this point the plan us to have dirt trucked in, spread it out and tamp it down, and then spread winter grass seed and hay.We'll see how it all works out. This is all an experiment for us anyway. After the yard is in better shape well put a sidewalk in. We're leaning towards brick to match the foundation. 

So yeah, lots of crazy things have been happening at our poco casa azul. And there's more to come so stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We're Yelling Timber

We've been talking about getting trees cut down since we moved in. And as many times as we've thought about taking them down this song has popped into our heads. Why would we want to cut down such wonderful sources of shade you ask? Good question. We have several good answers.

Número Uno:
We like our house in one piece, with a complete roof, and for the trees to stay outside where they belong. 100 foot tall trees (official tree guy estimate) that tower over the house and hang their giant limbs across the length of the roof tend to like to rain on that kind of parade. I don't ever want to be the guy on the news in the morning pointing out the new "skylight" in his attic or how one of his trees really helped "open up the space" in his house.  Of course if any of them fell they could fall away from the house, the problem being that some of them were close enough to the house that even if they fell the opposite direction the root system would have pulled up our foundation with it.

Número Dos:
Pine needles. This seems like a minor problem compared to the potential destruction above, but while it's no where as serious it's also not potential, it's definite. The amount of pine needles these things drop is daunting. The neighbors on one side dealt with the problem by taking the needles around trees and into flower beds. The other neighbors decided it makes a fine ground cover and let it lie. Neither of these options were going to work for us. In addition I've already had to clean out the valleys in our roof 3-4 times and we've only lived here 9 months. That's no bueno. 

Número Tres:
We want a yard. Neither of us require a perfectly manicured lawn (thank goodness) but good drainage and a healthy ground cover are a must. The constant shade and onslaught of pine needles have made it a hostile environment for grass. Because there isn't good ground coverage holding the dirt there the yard has had some erosion. The erosion means big puddles accumulating in the yard and potential moisture problems as the erosion worsens. That's definitely a no-no. 

The Plan:
We came up with a plan to deal with this issue and are partially through implementing it. The steps are simple but not terribly easy.
Step 1: Cut trees down.
Step 2: Bring in more top soil and reseed.
Step 3: Add some drainage at the street edge of the yard.

Step one complete.

But let me rewind a little.

This is Meredith doing the "*sigh* My hero" pose next to the first tree I cut down. It was a dogwood and before you give me the "Oh no not a dogwood!" look, let me just say that it was hideous. No blooms, gnarly, growing into power lines, weirdly placed in the yard kind of hideous. This was officially the first time I ever used a chainsaw and let's just say, I'm hooked.

After this one Meredith's dad and brother came over and helped me take out a gum tree and I had another friend come over and help me take out two holly trees. The yard already looked so much better at this point. Brighter, less overgrown, less pointy leaves and gumballs to step on. Definitely a good choice. But these were all cosmetic and didn't take care of the dangerous ones. For those we needed a pro. We ended up getting three estimates. The first one was Shady Tree Service who we found out about through this post over on Young House Love. When we met William we really liked him and I was immediately rooting for him to win. We got an estimate for a few trees which we believed would make the biggest difference and then got an estimate for all of the pines. Then we got an estimate from another company I won't even bother naming. He guessed at how much taking out just the few we selected would be and then told us he would mail us the quote for those as well as a quote for the whole thing... we never got that quote. The third was Ismael's Tree Service. I was a little put off at the beginning because he marked the trees we talked about with a can of spray paint! I was like, what? I haven't even given him the job yet! But I held my tongue since I figured the trees would be coming down regardless. Besides, he came highly recommended by Meredith's Grandma so I knew he must be alright. When I asked for a quote the number he gave me was shockingly low. When I asked him how he could go so low his response was that he owned all of his own equipment.

As much as I had been rooting for William, Ismael's quote was the same amount of money for twice the amount of trees cut down and he did turn out to be a nice guy. So yeah. We had to go with him.

The images below are not for the faint-hearted tree hugger.

We no longer have a tree in the middle of our driveway. Hooray!

Or two trees in this driveway! (or this driveway at all but that's for another post)

There is no longer a tree within arm's reach of our back porch!

Or two trees up against this fence!

Or in the midst of the fence for that matter. This is not damage caused by Ismael's crew, it's where the previous owner built the fence into the tree. *face palm* I'll be fixing that soon. *adds to list*

Grayson found the whole process thoroughly engrossing.


This tractor has not left this mulch pile since. 

And the "After" shot. Unfortunately it's not very impressive since we haven't brought in that top soil and reseeded the lawn, but you can see that there are no longer any trees bearing down on our little blue house anymore. Also you can see that we didn't just cut everything down. We still left our cedars which we like very much.

So, that was our experience in getting trees cut down. A few thoughts/notes about the process and our results:

Everyone we checked with was licensed and insured. This is definitely important because not only does this cover you if they drop a tree through your house it also covers you if someone cuts their finger off while on your property. If they're not insured you can actually be held liable for that. It's a good idea to also get copies of their license and insurance, That advice comes from a coworker who used to be a framer.

As things progressed we formed the opinion that Ismael was probably cheaper because not only did he own his own equipment but he really seemed to require less equipment in general. Mostly he employed "monkeys" (guys who climb trees) rather than using bucket trucks and other things which add a lot of overhead. In addition to that while all of the estimates included cutting down and removing the trees and grinding the stumps, Williams included removing all of the stump grindings while Ismael's did not. So essentially we got the "economy" deal. Looking back I kind of regret not giving William the chance to counter offer an estimate simply because I did really like him (and because I feel an illogical guilt for not going with the first guy who showed up). If I start to feel too bad about it I just look at my yard, smile, and enjoy it's near treeless state.