Blog Be Rollin’ Again

Brooke here.  North Carolina took a long time to shake off the dickishness of winter–as of two weeks ago, we were still losing power to ice storms on a fairly regular basis–but it’s finally spring! So, time to dust off the home blog and start posting again.

…where were we? Let me reread some of these older entries…

Ah yes, we were complaining about how this place is a wreck and is  emotionally and financially ruining us. Let’s just put a pin in those complaints and save them for the next post, shall we?

Right. Positive things. Almost two years ago, I scrounged through the trash heaps at a stone yard and ended up buying several tons of granite. This granite was reclaimed from a project down in Georgia; someone mentioned a church but I forget the whole story. (I’ve been reading a lot of Harry Dresden lately so let’s just pretend these stones are sanctified and can keep vampires away.) We’re planning to use this granite in a few retaining walls throughout the property. Since neither Brown nor myself has ever built a real stone wall before, I decided to build a small one to test the difficulty level. I picked a site at the front of the house which was basically nothing but a leftover mulch pile.

Landscape with rotting mulch and 2003 Honda Civic.
Landscape with rotting mulch and 2003 Honda Civic.

First things first: I spent a full day yanking the thicket creeper and the climbing dogbane that had snuck into the mulch pile. Those buggers were tough, but hey. Ivy. It was so cute how the the dogbane thought it was an invasive species! Then I shoveled old mulch until I hit dirt. When I found the live stump of a holly bush, I tapped out so Brown could dig in. The stump was an iceberg, tiny at the top and massive beneath. Getting that thing out of the ground took him two hours of aggressive swear-shoveling.

I was on a Gatorade run when he finally got it out. I like to think he threw the stump on the driveway and dropped the mattock like a mike.
I was on a Gatorade run when he finally got it out, but I imagine he threw the stump on the driveway and dropped the mattock like a mike.

Once the stump was out, I leveled the ground and we plotted out the line of the stone wall. Then we started placing stones.

Back view of stone wall, lined with heavy-duty landscape fabric to prevent soil erosion due to runoff.
Back view of stone wall, lined with heavy-duty landscape fabric to prevent soil erosion due to runoff.

Since I love the look of these mixed-stone drystack walls, I’ve been scrounging scraps from different stone yards to mix into the granite. I was aiming for a 5:1 ratio of brown stones to granite, to make the granite stand out.

Stone wall, mostly finished.
Stone wall, mostly finished, with bright green house.

There are tons of interesting details in these stones. Tool marks, cut surfaces, rough surfaces, even a round hole or two. It turns out I’m fairly bad-ass with a hammer and chisel, as I was able to cut stones to fit. I used heavy-duty masonry epoxy to bind the smaller stones to the larger ones, and by the end of yesterday, we had a This:

New wall, with new dirt. Ready for planting... and... and... Oh God our house is SO GREEN.
New wall, with new dirt. Ready for planting… and… and… Oh God our house is SO GREEN.

I threw some fresh mulch over the new dirt to keep the weed seeds off, and called it done. Next? Flowers. Actual gardening. Guys, you have no idea how happy this makes me, to finally have a part of the property that can be turned into a flowerbed.

I am glad that we built a test wall, though. Turns out that it takes a lot more stone to complete a wall than anticipated. And I banged the absolute crap out of my finger, so Brown’s probably right about wearing “shoes” with “toes” on projects like this. Go figure.


Brief Sunday Morning Conversation

Brooke here. Things have been ugh. Have a conversation.

Brown: There’s a toy fair today. I want to go.

Me: Okay. On the way home, I want to stop by an open house in the rich part of town.

Brown: (growls)

Me: What? You get to do something you want to do, I get to do something I want to do.

Brown: No, that part’s fine, but when we get home from the toy fair, we aren’t going to look at the toys we already own and say, “Those were a terrible purchase.”

Yes, They Do Windows. Both Sides, Actually…

Brooke here.

We’re Angie’s List members. It’s an… interesting service. It’s rather like paying money to subscribe to an opinionated phone book. I have found that most of the reviews are a few steps above Amazon’s, and pretty much on par with Goodreads: yes, some folks have various axes to grind and they want to do this in public, but the majority of reviews reflect the experience the reader/user had with that product/service/book at that time. Overall, it’s worth the subscription fee, especially with the condition of our home and the various life support systems it requires.

Sometime back in May, I got one of the Angie’s List daily deals for gutter cleaning.  A local company was offering a heck of a bargain, so I booked the deal.  The company’s owner came out, inspected the house, and we set up an appointment.  Then the gutters fell off, so getting them cleaned was not a priority.  I called the owner back, and he said that while he could not offer refunds for prepaid Angie’s List services, he would give us a steep discount on getting the entire house pressure washed.  Done and done.

Last Wednesday, two very nice Hired Dudes showed up with a big truck and some crazy-powerful spray equipment in the back. Brown and I had removed the storm windows and screens the night before, and these were neatly stacked out of the way so the Hired Dudes could have access to the main windows.  I assumed there might be some leakage when the windows were pressure-washed, especially in the window seat where there are noticeable gaps between the window and the sill, so I planned to have some towels ready when they got to that side of the house.

They got to work, and I got to work.  I’m happily typing away at the computer with the sound of running water in the background. It’s quite pleasant, really, and I can’t figure out why Zu keeps banging my elbow with his nose.

ME: “I’m working, dog.”

ZU: nosebang

ME: “I’m working.  Lie down.”

ZU: nosebangnosebangnosebang

ME: “ZU!”


Now, Zu’s not a “Timmy’s in the well!” sort of dog, but he is by his nature an excellent guard dog and is very attuned to changes in the house.  Such as, how the sound of running water is technically not background noise when it is pouring down the interior walls.

The next thirty minutes was marked by the most Flight-of-the-Bumblebees-frenetic housecleaning I’ve ever done in my life.  I’m waving frantically to the Hired Dudes a story below, and they can’t see me because (a) they’re a story below and (b) the windows are covered in a thick soapy paste.  And I can’t run out to talk to them, because me and my handful of towels and buckets are what’s standing between massive interior flooding and the odd electrical fire.  I’m scooping, rinsing, throwing suds, and swearing at anything dumb enough to coexist with me in this dimension.  By the time I finally got their attention, there were two windows left.  The Hired Dude asked me if I wanted them to stop, and we both looked towards those last two windows…

HD: “Ride it out?”

ME (sighing): “Yep.”

By the time they were finished, the house was thoroughly washed, inside and out.  I had cleaned and rinsed all walls, windows, and floors within the space of an hour.  And the mold and fluff that had accumulated on the exterior was blasted into oblivion…

Before.  It was slimy, too.
Before. It was slimy, too.
After. Slime-free!
After. Slime-free!


Overall, I’m pleased with the whole house-pressure-washing thing.  It’s something I would have never considered without the discount, and I don’t think it needs to be done again anytime soon (read: years!), but it’s definitely made a difference in the exterior.  However, we now know there is some serious leakage around the windows, and we have needed to get out the caulk and the paint to fix up the bits that didn’t survive the pressurized water.

(Oh, and the window seat?  Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that area leaking at all. Not so much that those windows didn’t leak, mind, but the water ran straight back outside once it came in. So… win? I guess. And more caulk.  Much, much more caulk.)

Keep Your Distance

Brooke here. No pictures this time, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Yesterday morning, Brown calls me into the living room and points out what he thinks is a raccoon on the other side of our backyard fence. From twenty feet and a window away, it looks like a possum to me; it’s on its back and doing a little wiggle-dance in the mud. My first thought is that it’s doing the possum version of a bird taking a dirt bath.

We watch it from various windows–I finally accept it is a raccoon–and we gradually realize it’s dying. The raccoon is moving its forelegs but not its back legs: I think it’s been hit by a car and has dragged itself somewhere to die; Brown thinks it fell off of the roof and broke its back. And now we’re in the awkward situation where we realize one of us should do something with the business end of the shovel, but we are not business-end-of-shovel people.

Plus, dying wild animal. Keep your distance.

Brown ended up calling Animal Control, who asked Brown to describe what he saw and then sent someone out immediately. Like, Jimmy John’s freaky-fast. And that’s when I started to worry, because even though the raccoon was barely moving its back legs, it was still able to move them intermittently. Hello, warning sign of paralytic-stage rabies!

Zu is fully up-to-date on his vaccinations, and thanks to a crazy rainstorm, he hadn’t been loose in the yard that morning (see: woman in her pajamas, standing on the front porch, yelling at the dog on the other end of the retractable leash to hurry up and do his business, no it doesn’t matter where, because we are all about to drown, that’s why!). But I’ve called Animal Control for roaming dogs before, and it usually takes them at least thirty minutes to show. So they were taking this seriously, and now we were, too.

The Animal Control guy shows up, Brown takes him to see the raccoon, and the guy stops dead in his tracks.

Brown: “What do you think? Does it have rabies?”

Animal Control Officer: “I’m not allowed to comment, but is your dog up on its shots?”

And then the raccoon was taken away. I would be very surprised if it is still on this mortal coil of ours. Or if its head is still attached to its body.

Total guess on our part whether the animal had rabies or not. Unless Animal Control contacts us for a follow-up and property inspection, we might never know what was wrong with the raccoon. We also assume the officer is not allowed to comment until the tests come back, because he’s just fueling speculation and panic until then.


I know this blog paints a nice picture of a quaint do-it-yourselfer shack in the middle of the woods, but we’re smack in the middle of suburbia. We live within walking distance of a Target. There’s a major highway a few miles away, and an international airport some distance after that. We ain’t in the boonies out here, guys.

Read up. Be aware. And keep your distance.

(p.s.: And get your animals up-to-date on their shots. I personally know two good dogs that were put down because it was local “policy” to do so when there was even a chance they had come into contact with a carrier. It seems like a Dick Move of a policy but it’s really not, and it’s completely avoidable if you take care of your pets.)

Butterfly Weed

Brooke here.

There is no more ivy on the house.

(This is actually not entirely true; there’s a small patch of ivy just off of the front stairs that I keep carefully trimmed.  It is there as a warning to the rest of the ivy, saying, Once, I was many. Now, I am one. Stay away and save yourselves, bitches.)

There is also a front yard and about a quarter of a back yard because there are only so many hours in the day and we aren’t paid to pull ivy and the back yard isn’t going to shame us in front of the neighbors so it can darned well sit there and wait while it thinks about what it did.  And, along the edges of the house or sneaking into the thinner sections of the mulch beds, is the start of some actual landscaping.

I love plants but haven’t been able to start a garden because of the ivy. The previous owners left some sort of bare earth patch in the back yard that might have been a vegetable garden, I don’t know, but it was located directly under a crop of oak trees and the pH of the soil was brutally acidic. So, lime, lime, lime, more lime, and ivy removal instead of gardening.  Last fall, we finally dug a hole for the first plant we chose to grow, a flowering plum tree.

With the exception of the privacy shrubs (more on those in a later post; they are pretty neat), all perennials used in the landscaping have been/will be chosen because they are highly attractive to pollinators.  Three cheers for bees and all that.  Early this summer, I bought a few butterfly weed plants and planned to put them in one of the new beds. Then the trees started coming down and recreational gardening was sidelined. The only thing I’ve done with the butterfly weed has been to transplant them to larger pots.  They did not seem to mind, and have been gleefully tossing seeds.


I’ve been collecting these seeds. Not entirely sure what to do with them, except this. I’ll probably put them in some dry peat in the freezer for a few weeks, then start them in flats when it’s closer to spring.

The fun part is when you knock off the fluff by closing the lid and shake the container while you DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING. Except the dog is. And judging.
The fun part is when you knock off the fluff by closing the lid and shaking the container while you DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING. Except the dog is. And he’s judging you.

And I hear from reliable sources that this fluff is delicious and should be dropped on the floor immediately.

Listen, I'm not saying I'd eat it. I'm just saying it should be eaten, so if you're not up for it...
Listen, I’m not saying I’d eat it, I’m just saying it should be eaten. So if you’re not hungry…


Wood rot!

Brooke here.

When the gutters are removed, the wood rot comes out to play...
When the gutters are gone, the wood rot comes out to play…

What a delightfully eventful summer that was! I don’t know about you guys, but it seemed as though our friends and family drifted from crisis to crisis, like polar bears trying to find a place to bash a seal over the head in an ever-shrinking ice field…

And now summer is over, and it’s time to beat life back into the blog. Whee!

One of the larger projects was replacing the gutters. There was record rainfall this summer, and entire sections of the gutters decided NopeNopeNope! and fell straight off the house.  For fairly obvious reasons, really: when they fell off, we finally saw the wood rot problem.

Twice. We had this house inspected twice

We Hired some Dudes and they came out and fixed the rotting sections under the gutters, but there were other areas of wood rot that their scope of work didn’t cover. The worst of these was under the downspouts, where there was no paint and, in some places, no wood left.

Rotted section before the patch job.
Rotted section before the patch job.

I tackled the repair for these rotted sections.  Now, we’ve got vertical board-and-batten siding.  A major benefit of this siding method is that under normal conditions when a board is damaged, you remove the batten, pop out the damaged board, replace it with a new one, stick the batten strips back in place, and move on with your lives. However: (1) We haven’t done any replacements to the exterior wood yet and we have no idea if “normal conditions” apply (based on prior experience, we think not); and (2) There’s a freaking power cord in the center of that one board.  Whee, indeed.

So, patch job.  A big one, true, but a patch job is a patch job, and if you don’t rush it, it can be as solid as replacing the board. In the first stage, I used three different layers of Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. This was my first time using this product and I love it. It’s a two-part epoxy compound and is crazy-runny when compared to other wood fillers, so I decided to fur out the interior of the hole with wood strips, patch that first layer, let it dry, and then build up and out from that. At the end of this first stage, I drilled screws into the dried epoxy to provide greater stability for the next two layers of epoxy.

Wood repair (1) with Minwax High Performance Wood Filler
Wood repair with Minwax High Performance Wood Filler


Stuff of nightmares.
Pro tip: This is probably not how the pros do it.

In the next stage, I switched to DAP Plastic Wood, a highly-rated plastic wood filler to firm out the bond and start adding wood texture. Again, this was the first time I had used this product. I was not as impressed with this product as the Minwax, mainly because I opened the 4oz can and found half of it to be air.

Haven't done anything with this can beside stir it. I spent a long time wandering around, shouting, "Where's my two ounces!" And then our elderly neighbor called the cops.
Haven’t done anything with this can beside stir it. I spent a long time wandering around, shouting, “Where’s my two ounces!” And then our elderly neighbor called the cops.

Despite the lack of… well, the lack of product… the DAP worked well.  It bonded to the Minwax with a little prodding, and the two of them sanded beautifully.

My wood filler brings all the old men with vintage Ford trucks to the yard...
My wood filler brings all the old men with vintage Ford trucks to the yard…

There was one real challenge to this project, and it came right at the end. The siding is made from rough-cut boards, so if the patched area is to match the wood, it needs to have a rough-cut finish. I used a large-grit sanding tool to flatten out the epoxies, then added some more filler to do an arty-type rough-cut wood texture on it.  But when the paint finally went on, it still looked too smooth to me.


It’s fine for now, and the house doesn’t have that whole Golden Corral for Termites feel to it anymore, but it’s still not quite right.  I’ll go back and try the arty stuff again when I find a decent piece of rough-cut scrap wood to use as a pattern edge for the putty knife.