You Gotta Grow Up Some Time

And, in a way, this weekend I feel like I passed a milestone in adulthood: I mowed the grass.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. One of my chores as a high-schooler was mowing our yard, and I did it most weekends. But I used a mower where I was the engine, the kind of mower where it’s just wheels and a blade, and you know not to put anything in the blades because they will chop whatever it is to bits. The thing about this type of mower is that if you let the grass get really long, you end up doing a ton of work pushing it through that tall, thick growth. So you’re pretty motivated to keep it under control.

I understood that mower and felt comfortable (albeit exhausted and sweaty) with how it works.

When we bought this house, we had that same kind of mower. But Ian was the guy responsible for mowing, and he didn’t like this push mower. It’s too much work, we had too much grass, and too much time elapsed between mowings so every time was a nightmare.

Long story short, we purchased a mower with an engine. It’s electric, and plugs in, so we got around the whole gasoline engine issue. And it doesn’t drive itself; you still have to provide all the pushing. But the blades are powered, which makes a big difference for the amount of work. With this purchase, Ian took on the basic mowing responsibilities.

I was happy with this, because lawn mowers with engines always made me nervous. Not only are they loud and stinky (although with ours the only stink comes from the person doing the mowing–ha!), but something about the powered blades made me very uneasy. So I let Ian do it, and we were good.

But with my taking on this new job, our days–especially weekends–have filled up, leaving not much time for incidentals like the yard. With the 45″ of rain we’ve gotten so far, plus the occasional burst of sunshine, our grass has grown like gangbusters. It really needed mowing, but Ian’s schedule was full up.

So, today, I ventured into adult-land and used a lawn mower with a motor. Dum da dum!!

My First Lawn Mowing!

It was basically like vacuuming, only nicer weather and heavier machine. I guess this means I don’t have any excuse for not mowing again in the future, because I felt like it turned out decently well.

Home Improvement, Fireplace Edition: Grand Finale

Today, four months to the day after starting our fireplace project, we had the final inspection. It was a different inspector, not Mr. Personality, and – amazingly – he was quite nice!

I opened the door and offered him fresh homemade cookies; he did the inspection, saw the gas shutoff and exterior vent, asked about whether we had a carbon monoxide monitor, signed off on the permit, and I sent him out the door with another cookie.

Done!

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Oh, and when the inspector came in, he saw the fireplace and immediately said, “Wow, nice tile work,” a tribute to Builder Pat if I ever heard one, since the inspector has probably seen thousands of fireplaces.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 10

Here we are, at the two-month anniversary of the start of our fireplace project, three days into spring, and we are basically done with our little project. Pat has spent a couple days finishing up details, and one set of bookshelf doors had to go back to be refinished, but it’s essentially complete!

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Thanks to Rachel for the drift wood and the lovely decorative bowl.

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Sunday morning, reading the comics.

I won’t mention the fact that we have to have Mr. Personality the Bothell building inspector come examine our final product.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 8

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! We had a happy day – the tile got finished on our fireplace! Also finished are the final repairs to the wall, adding texture and paint.

Here’s where we were on Monday:

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And here’s where Pat left it last night:

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Finished tile!

It’s hard to capture the colors accurately, but you can see the pattern. Those shelves off to the left will go next to the fireplace on either side, and the two boards (you can see them better in the first picture) will become the mantle. So close! But I suspect we’ll still hit a two-month anniversary for the project on March 23.

Oh, gosh, I should mention the mantle. All along we’ve been ambivalent about what to do – never wanted anything elaborate, but what would be right? Finally, last Wednesday, Pat and I went to a place called Crosscut Hardwoods and looked at wood. A lot of wood.

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After looking at every piece of wood in the place, we found a couple boards of walnut that would be perfect. They have an organic light and dark grain that echoes the light and dark tile pattern. I can’t really describe what we’re going to do – it’s a kind of naturally split skirt with a thick beam on top – but when we came up with that idea, it felt just exactly right.

Then, when we finally got home (through absurdly slow traffic, taking perhaps not the must efficient route), who should be there but the delivery guys from Bothell Furniture, dropping off our bookshelves.
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They are really nice, and will look great when installed.

In unrelated news, last week Colleen and Jordan came to visit for a few days and Benji had a very fun time getting to know his aunt and uncle a little bit.

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Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 7

Tile work has started! Actually, Pat started cutting time last week, an exercise in the most complicated puzzle imaginable, where you have to make the pieces to fit this precise space and shape.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but he started by laying out all the tile and figuring out how to match the patterns on each tile. Then made this curved pattern with a flexible piece of wood, traced the correct curve onto each tile, and eventually started cutting, very carefully and precisely. Each tile was then laid out again to make sure the curves matched each other.

These are some of the pieces cut and staged, waiting over the weekend.

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On Monday progress leaped forward dramatically. Earlier in the day:
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Later in the day:

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By the end of the day:

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The color of the material doesn’t really come through very well, but here are a couple shots of the curves. I’m really impressed by how perfectly matched the curves are. Also, I love limestone, with its little fossils still visible.

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We are all pleased with how the tile work is turning out. Pat is happy with the design and with the tiles themselves, which he says are excellent to work with. We are happy with everything, but especially the way the design stands out but doesn’t massively dominate the room, thanks to the more neutral colors. Also, hopefully this will help it not look too dated 20 years from now.

Interesting tidbit: The limestone tiles are 5/8″ thick, twice as thick as Pat expected, and this caused us some concern as to whether the extremely tight clearance bookshelves we ordered would fit into the space – it’d be a real bummer to have them be 1/8″ too wide. But some phone calls to the shelf makers established that our shelves will fit even with the thicker tile. Also, the extra-thick limestone means more work making the face flush with the thinner porcelain tile. You can see the thickness difference on the edge around the face of the fireplace:

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But Pat is equal to anything unusual; in fact, I suspect that the trickier the job, the more he likes it.

Anyway, still to do: Texture and paint the repaired wall; finish tile work; finalize a design and make mantle; receive and install bookshelves, and, finally, track down carpet. The end is near! … Although I still deem it fairly likely that we’ll celebrate a two-month project anniversary.

Then, last of all, we get to schedule a final visit from the charismatic and delightful City of Bothell building inspector, who gets to sign off on the final product. Honestly it is hard to imagine what we’d do it he found something we should change – by then it’s done. But hopefully he’ll just take a look and leave promptly.

Home Improvement: Fireplace Edition, Part 5

The subtitle for this post should be “What you’d call good news, bad news.”

Good news: Our rough-in inspection passed! Ian was here for the inspector, who took about two minutes to review his notes, look at the work we’d done, and sign off on the changes. Huge sigh of relief! Maybe I’ll sleep tonight (last night was all wakeful shades of inspection-related misery).

Bad news: Last night, I looked into a box that was in the construction area of the house. It had been sitting there for quite a while and I’d forgotten what was in it, and some insulation ended up on top of it. An unassuming box.

Unfortunately, this box was actually about as unassuming as a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to our timeline, because it contained all the important parts for installing the heating duct that I had completely and totally forgotten about when the heating duct guys were here. Most notably, it contains an air-tight collar that fits securely into the top of the fireplace. It also contains the blower, which should be installed behind the vent (that’s the thing that sucks air from the fireplace into our bedroom, without which all the ducting would be useless), along with a passel of electrical controls that hook up to the fireplace and allow us to control the air flow and heat from our bedroom. All those things need to be installed for the heating ducts to actually work.

The other thing is, there are specific guidelines about the duct work that the installers didn’t know about, and I don’t know how much of their work will be able to stand versus how much will have to come out and be redone. And, best of all, I get to be 100% responsible for the screw-up, since I’m the only one who knew about the box and its contents. On the bright side, the permit did not cover HVAC and electrical, thank goodness, so even if we have to redo everything, we at least don’t need another inspection.

I’ve said it all along, to try to reassure myself: Don’t worry, this isn’t life or death, anything that goes wrong will just be more time and money to fix. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what’s happening. If we don’t have to redo all the venting, a nontrivial amount of it will need to be redone, and of course, we pay for the first duct work and then again for the second work to fix the first stuff, since it was my error.

Just when I start thinking I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out I was seeing fluorescing fungus, and there’s just more tunnel after all.