The cost per square foot of an ugly laundry room


So, projects take a long time to marinate around here. For example, I tore apart the basement bathroom 2 years ago, and only this spring did we admit we couldn’t put it back together again and hire a contractor.
Our laundry room has been terrible since we moved in- the previous owners put in drywall, and great cabinets, but then they just stopped- no tape, no mud, no paint. They had a solar water heater system, which I assume worked for them, but I don’t think the renters who lived here before us used it, and we haven’t hooked it up again. The panels are slowly decomposing on the roof, and the water tank has been taking up about 4 square feet of floor space in the laundry room, and even bumps out into the stairs. There is also another dead hot water heater that has been taking up space as well.
That is where the title of the post comes from. One of my colleagues this spring was house hunting in Fort Collins, and she was quoting home prices in terms of square feet, “Houses in old town are going for 300 per square foot, for an 800 square foot place. With a detached garage, can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it, because you made me do math first. Just tell me how much they want for the house! I can’t even remember the rest of the conversation, because I was still trying to carry the 1.
But it made me think- we have some stupid stuff laying around the house, old paint cans in the basement, two water heaters, a pink toilet (non-operational) in the garage. Two stereo speakers (probably also non operational) up in the loft over the work bench in the garage. How much is that space worth?

According to Zillow, our house is worth about $101 per square foot.

Those water heaters are taking up more than 400 dollars of space in my house.

I want them gone.
I was doing some reading recently on the concept of Wabi Sabi- which is kind of like shabby chic, except Japanese, so it is much cooler. The idea is that the things you surround yourself with should be imperfect and worn, and furthermore, don’t surround yourself with too many things- they could be curated, not cluttered.
As always, as a white girl interpreting a Japanese concept, I am sure there is a lot more to it than that, but one of the things that stuck out is the lack of clutter.  A house should have 10% of its space as storage. You should be able to put things away.
So, even though I spent maybe 5 minutes a day in the laundry room, I am making it nicer, getting rid of crap, adding shelving so that it can store more of the things I need and want.

I taped and mudded the joints on the drywall, then painted with some leftover paint. I knew the unprimed drywall would soak up a lot, so it would need multiple coats.  I was able to kill two birds with one stone, for the first coat I got rid of some “indian white” paint that has been taking up space in the laundry room for at least 12 years, and I was able to brighten up the room considerably.  Now a corner niche is pale green, and two walls are “aegean mist” left over from Kate’s room. It has made me so happy.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

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Lamb’s ear- you can grow that!


I had some lamb’s ear in a flower arrangement that I brought to school, and the P.E. teacher was admiring it, feeling the soft, fuzzy leaves.  I told her it was really easy to grow, and that i could give her a division if she wanted.  She was agreeable, then she got  suspicious look in her eye- “does it spread? I mean, in a couple years, am I going to be like, gah! lamb’s ear!” Well, not really. Maybe kind of. It does spread, but not in a bad way. It is a member of the mint family, but I haven’t had to contain it the way I have the other mints that have taken over my yard.

Lamb’s ear is formally known as Stachys Byzantina, and is originally from the middle east- it does great with very little water- the fuzzy leaves on it evolved to reflect light and collect dew. I can see it flailing in places with heavy rain and humidity, but in my yard it is perfect in my xeric bed, where I don’t water but once or twice a year. It grows about knee high, blooming just after the iris has finished.

The thing that prevents it from being seriously weedy is that it doesn’t spread from seed- it flops over, and where the stem touches the ground it can strike roots, but it doesn’t spew seeds.  

The fuzzy leaves make it great for children’s gardens- I first planted it when my kids were little, and Will loved to pet them.  It has tall purple flowers that pollinators love also, since it is a mint relative. I love to look over at it from my chair on the patio, shining in the evening light. I promise I never look at it and say, “Gah! Lamb’s ear!”  You can grow that!

Jello molds- not just for jello


There are tons of copper jell-o molds at the thrift stores I frequent. I never ever make jell-o, and if I did, I wouldn’t do it in a fancy mold shaped like a lobster, or a star, or a crown. I love these molds though. I covet them. The cost around a dollar each- I guess the age of making jello shaped like a fish is over, and people don’t even want them hanging on their walls anymore. Now they can be mine…all mine!!!!

Mostly jello molds, but there's a kitty cat cake pan in there, too.

Mostly jello molds, but there’s a kitty cat cake pan in there, too.

Several years ago, in pre-blog life, I used some as molds for concrete stepping stones. They weren’t super-successful. For example, my favorite shape was a curved fish, but in popping it out of the mold, it broke. I also probably pulled the stones out earlier than I should have- the longer concrete cures, the harder it is, so popping them out early meant they were fragile.
We had a half bucket of concrete mix left, though, so last week while the boy was at STEM summer school, Kate and I got messy.

Sun's out, guns out- look at those muscles!

Sun’s out, guns out- look at those muscles!

I had read on the internet (gardenweb has great information about concrete garden ornaments of all kinds) that adding latex paint as part of the liquid to concrete can extend the working time, and strengthen the finished product. I poured in some of the “Amethyst Frost” paint left from the last time we painted Kate’s room into the mix. It totally doesn’t change the color- the concrete is still grey.

Kate was much more persnickety about greasing her molds with petroleum jelly, so the ones she worked on came out much better than mine. We also got some marble gems at the dollar store, and she was in charge of placement. I would have gone crazy and carpeted the stones with marbles, but she was very reserved.

With the curved fish and a sea horse mold, I attempted to reinforce the concrete with mesh from an onion bag.  The delicate parts broke anyway, so I glued them with 9001 high strength adhesive. Once they are in place, there won’t be a lot of stress on them, so they should be okay.

I waited several days to pop them out of the molds, kept them covered with plastic, and misted them with water every time I remembered to, all on advice from the garden web forum people.

Cat+ craft project, quick, somebody pin me!

Cat+ craft project, quick, somebody pin me!

All in all, I am very pleased with the results- we have some good-looking stepping stone/border edging pieces. You should recognize that you cannot use the molds for food again- the vaseline helps the concrete to release, but there are still bits of gravel stuck to the inside. The molds are about a dollar each at thrift stores (rest assured, Mom, that I didn’t use the copper mold you gave me, with the flower design- it is still hanging on the wall in the kitchen). I have an idea for what I’m going to use the copper molds for now…watch this space.

Garden in a Box- you can grow that


I live in a semi-desert. You wouldn’t know it from all the green lawns and sprinklers and weeping willows around, but it is pretty dry here. We rely on snowmelt from the mountains being stored in reservoirs, and as more people move here, we want to conserve the water we get.

My city water department, in conjunction with Boulder’s Center for ReSource Conservation (yeah, I don’t know what the deal is with the capitol s… it’s annoying) is selling gardens in a box. They have for several years. The Center has hired designers to put together some preplanned gardens with drought tolerant plants. People who live all over the front range of Colorado can participate, and several city utilities give rebates. Depending on where you live, your local utility may offer something similar. Google it.
I have pooh-poohed the idea of a pre-planned garden in the past- I felt like I could design my own gardens, thank you very much. Plug in some iris, srpinkle on some larkspur- BAM! its a garden!
This year I had a lot of space to fill, though. We got rid of our swing set, and so we have about 400 square feet of weedy grass to convert. I plan to put in a couple of fruit trees, but I want flowers around them. Grass also typically takes much more water to look good than the xeric flowers and shrubs that I like.
The preplanned garden was a great choice for us because of the water use thing, (which is why the water department wants to sell them-once they are established, the plants

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone,  Remind me to use my real camera...

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone, Remind me to use my real camera…

are happy with natural rainfall) and also because it is a boatload of plants for not very much money. Remember, I’m frugal.
How much? That’s a very crass question…oh, wait, I brought it up. Well, with a rebate from the city, it was $110 for 29 plants in 4 inch pots, which covers 100 square feet.
My typical way of planting new gardens is to get my mother in law to give me divisions from her garden, and divide stuff that I already have, which is essentially free. However, the garden I chose has plants that are new to me, and my wonderful mother-in-law. Maybe someday I’ll be able to divide these, and give back to her. Someday.
If I were getting these plants at a nursery, it would cost more, and I would be unlikely to choose these particular plants. I’m a person who reads about compost for fun, I read seed catalogs and garden books and even listen to the garden guy on the radio. I think about plants a lot, but I hadn’t heard of most of these before.
The garden in a box is expanding my horizons, and saving me on my water bill, and it could do the same for you. You could grow that…

Putting the “we” into “weekend projects”


 

“So, if you were going to take out the swing set, would you dig out the legs first, or unscrew all the bolts first?” I ask.

DH thinks a minute and replies, “Oh, I’d undo the bolts, and then you could use leverage to get the bases out.”

“Oh.” I said. “What are you doing this weekend?”

He looks a little panicked. “It’s Easter?”

“No. Easter is next week.” It was inescapable- and he knew it- we didn’t do it right after the conversation, or on Easter weekend either, but before my walk this past Saturday, I looked him in the eye and said, “I really, really really want that thing gone, and I know I can’t do it by myself.”

So,  when I came home from my walk on Saturday to find DH in the back yard undoing the bolts on the swing set, I knew my begging had made an impression. I went to find my own set of pliers and get the kids off the couch.Image

The swing set has been there since before we moved in, and is a magnet for wasps, but not a magnet for our kids anymore I had assumed it was set in concrete, because of the way it didn’t tip over when the big kids attempted to swing high enough to go over the bar (busted on Mythbusters, by the way). What we discovered on Saturday was extremely gratifying, though, no concrete, just stakes.

I set Will up with a shovel.  He complained.  “But I thought you liked digging holes…”

“When I was 5!”

Oh, yeah. I remember, we bought him his own little trowel, and he used to dig holes in the middle of the grass, looking for worms. Then we would step in them in the dark, and hurt ourselves and curse.  Good times.

So we dig around each of the posts, and find the loops on top of the stakes. At first we just try to unscrew them from the soil with brute force, then we break out our simple machine ingenuity. I get some short pieces of rebar to put through the loops to add leverage to untwist them. “Lefty loosey…” I keep muttering.

“Mom, I know it’s lefty loosey!”

Yeah, I know. I was just reminding myself. I get mixed up.

After less than an hour, with all of us helping, and really very minimal flopping on the ground in teen angst, we have the whole thing dismantled, and piled on the ground.

I’m sure in another 6 months, we can get it loaded into the pick-up and recycled.  Watch this space for planting schemes. The schemes include fruit.

Image

He has a ratchet, and he knows how to use it.

 

Enough planning! I think…


We have an old swing set in the south west corner of the yard, which has mostly become a terrifying haven for yellow jackets. Kate used to use it as an obstacle course, after the swings fell off. She would clamber up the slide, and swing across the top bar, then climb down next to the fence. As the kids have gotten older, wasps have moved in- try swinging hand over hand across the top bar while wasps fly out- it might be more challenge than you are up for.
Pure laziness has prevented me from doing anything about it- Not really, because I have certainly done other projects, like taking out our juniper bushes,  and radically pruning our old apple tree, and tearing out the basement bathroom. But it will be a pretty big project. As I said, it is set into the ground, and digging out the concrete, then moving the chunks of concrete doesn’t sound like much fun. Although, I haven’t actually dug down to see- I am guessing it is concrete, but maybe they are just stakes? We can hope, right?
So my process so far has been to think about it, and ask questions,. Like, is it worth more as a swing set, or as scrap metal? Is there anyone who would haul this thing away for free? Can we just come to a détente with the wasps? I sit in my Adirondack chair and gaze at the swing set and make plans.
My plan for several years was to take out the swings and replace it with some other kind of structure- a tea house, or a pergola, not quite a gazebo, but some kind of trellis and shade structure, with flagstone paving, and lawn chairs, and at one point I even wanted a sky chair, which is like a hammocky swinging chair. At first I wanted a couple of sky chairs, then I visualized teenagers swinging as hard as they could and then crashing into each other.   So then I just wanted one, so that I could be out there all by myself, swinging alone, with no one crashing into anyone.
As time passed, though, I have wanted less structure, and more plants. I wanted plants that could feed me.
That southwest corner of the yard is roughly 20 by 20 feet (a shade over 6 by 6 meters) with mostly just weedy grass. The neighbor has a willow that shades it on the south side, and I have a small burr oak that borders it on the East. There is a rose bush against the West fence, which adds to the adventures in lawnmowing- you have to get around the slide, the rocking horse thingy, avoid getting tangled up in the thorns, then set the swing in motion and mow underneath it. With the swings there, it is 400 square feet of pain in the neck. Without them, it could be an orchard, with peaches and maybe a blueberry bush.
So, my first small step, is to get rid of this big honking metal contraption. The neighbor kid who mows the lawn  If we get it done on a cool weekend, maybe we can avoid getting stung by the wasps.
For the 12 years we have lived here, we haven’t used fertilizer or herbicide on the grass under here- oops, I just remembered, we did use it on the thistles once- some spray stuff…but otherwise we have left the grass clippings to mulch the soil, and left it alone. You know, thistles are a national symbol of Scotland, so maybe my problem isn’t too many thistles, maybe the problem is not enough Scotsmen…not enough scotsmen

My plan is to mow it very short after the swings come out, then mulch the hell out of it with wood chips.
I have been reading about tilling to convert areas to garden. I am conflicted. I know that tilling shoots a lot of oxygen into the soil, which gives soil bacteria a huge surge in growth, and releases a lot of plant nutrients. However, the trees I am going to plant will be tiny- they will not need the nutrition released by all that bacteria, and it will burn off into the atmosphere, or wash off in the rain. Also, rototillers are loud. I don’t like loud stuff.
I have also read a lot about using big sheets of cardboard or newspaper to sheet mulch. I have used cardboard in the past to smother weeds, but I have read more recently about how sheets of weed barrier have an adverse effect on soil chemistry, preventing oxygen from getting to organisms. I will have to research more about it. I know that wood chips alone will not prevent grass from growing up through them, and the work of converting a big area to garden would be lessened if I didn’t have to hand weed around everything. I’ll have to think about it more.
No. Enough thinking. Let’s do something.

A Tower of Flowers- you can grow that


My Pinterest feed is full of these pictures of graduated flower pots stacked up, sometimes crookedly, sometimes straight. At first, I was appalled by the amount of soil that must have to go into them, then I realized that they must have fillers. Sure enough, an upside down pot inside each larger pot both takes up space and supports the pot above it.
DH got me some adorable fish pots a few years ago, the largest about 12 inches in diameter, the smallest about 6. I figured they’d be perfect for pansies and petunias on the front porch.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

I've seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

I’ve seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I'd put in marigolds and dahlias.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I’d put in marigolds and dahlias.

I’m a day late on You Can Grow That day- started by garden writer C.L. Fornari- where the challenge every month is to write about what is growable.

 

Perfect vs. good enough


“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is something I tell my students all the time. I usually tell it to kids who are struggling with getting started writing, frozen by the blank page. They think that they should be perfect, not realizing that writing takes practice, and the way to get better is to just start, and work on the

Alice was super-interested in the quilt-sandwich making process.

Alice was super-interested in the quilt-sandwich making process.

piece of writing until it is good enough.

Or until they run out of time, whichever comes first.
Is there some sort of quote about “the teacher teaches what she most needs to learn”? Because perfection and procrastination and the art of the “good enough” are perpetual problems for me.
Case in point, the Hattie Hill Quilt Top.

Way back last summer, I was talking with my mom about quilting, and mentioned how I really hate the “sitting at the sewing machine, putting together a puzzle” part of quilting, but really enjoy the “sitting by the window, hand-quilting” part.  She said that her friends who quilted were the opposite, and from what I have seen online, that may be true of many quilters. They put together the puzzle, then ship it off to be machine quilted.

My mom also mentioned a top made by my Great grandmother, Hattie Hill Hutchcraft Neal. After she had died, my grandmother had helped clean out her house, this would be in 1942. She found a completed quilt top, that had been pieced but not quilted. She thought to herself, “it’s a shame to let that work go to waste, maybe I’ll quilt it someday.”

More than 30 years later, my mom finds the top. It is during the quilting revival, when people were taking up quilting for the bicentennial, and watching Little House on the Prairie, and wearing long ruffled denim skirts.  My mom thought to herself, “it’s a shame to let that work go to waste, maybe I’ll quilt it someday.”

So my mom offered it to me, seeing as how I had kind of taken up quilting, and based on the track record of both my mom and my grandmother, I have 30 years before I hand it off to Kate and let her worry about it.

IMG_0549

However, I am instead slowly working on it.  I found some vintagey-looking fabric in a dark blue floral.  I have a big hoop, and am slowly outlining the dresden plate appliques, then echoing their shapes with wavy lines. My stitches are not tiny and even and perfect, the way the stitches are on the other Hattie Hill quilt I have, but they are good enough.

Hens and Chicks- you can grow that!


IMG_0556My wonderful mother in law introduced me to Hens and Chicks-official name is semper vivem, which means live forever, and they do live forever. It is a succulent plant, with fleshy leaves that grow in a low rosette. The only thing that will kill these things is too much water- I love them for their ground covering ability. I can plug them into mulch and they will spread- each little rosette will grow offsets all around it. That is how it got its common name, someone saw the big plant as a mother hen, with baby chicks underneath. You can break off every offset baby plant, stick the stem into the ground, and it will take root and grow. I have covered a lot of ground with hens and chicks.
I struggle with hanging baskets. I love the way they look, but I never remember to water them. Enter the Hens and Chicks! A week ago, I pried up a clump of them, and plopped them into a coir lined basket I had planted last year (with something that died, because I had forgotten to water it…) The offsets will dangle over the side, and the big green rosettes are just at eye level on my patio.
If you do not have an obliging mother-in-law, (and, believe me, I am not in any way suggesting that you choose a spouse based on the gardening abilities and generosity of his or her mom, but, think about it, how else should you decide? Kindness? Attractiveness? Sense of humor? Bah!) then by all means buy some sempervivems at your local garden center and let them spread. They don’t take much foot traffic, but they look great on the edges of things, near paths, or in the corner of a bed, by a gate, where the sprinkler doesn’t reach.
Hens and Chicks! You can grow that! Viva sempervivem!

Quality time with q-tips and a bottle of alcohol


See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

My son noticed a resurgence of scale insects on one of the citrus trees that spend the winter in his room.
Back in early February I had noticed a lot of leaves on the floor, and sticky leaves, so I showed Will the insects on the veins and stems, and showed him how to scrape them off. He checked them out with a magnifying glass, which I never had before. I just thought of them as a pest, where he saw them as “specimens”. We thoroughly inspected both citrus trees, (one is lemon, one is lime, but I wasn’t sure which was which- the tags got lost) and only one was infested- the other is closer to the window, so maybe the additional sun helps?
I figured the bugs would come back- not enough sun, not enough humidity, scraping them off with my thumbnail wouldn’t take care of them permanently. Sure enough, Will noticed more dead leaves on his floor, got out the flashlight and started scraping. I got out the big guns.
I heaved the plant up to the kitchen sink- thanks to Kate for the help; she’s strong enough to help me carry these massive plants now. Both trees are as old as she is, in 14 inch diameter pots. I rubbed down the stems and leaves with rubbing alcohol, then sprayed the whole thing down with the sink sprayer. Yeah, it made exactly the mess you would think it would.
We harvested the 4 fruits- I couldn’t remember if this particular citrus was lemon or lime. “Well, I think they’re limes, because, you know, of the way they look…” Kate says. I think about it for a minute. “Oh, you mean no nipples!” At this point, my husband turned around and left the room. When I removed the leaf litter from the soil, I found the tag that confirmed she was right: Dwarf Persian Lime.IMG_0539
Ordinarily, I am big on leaf litter, whether it is in potted plants, or in the ground- it helps retain moisture and releases nutrients as it breaks down. In this case, though, the reason there was so much litter on the top of the potting soil was because bugs were sucking out sap. If there were eggs, or more bugs living in the dead leaves, I don’t want them creeping up the tree again, so I tossed it, and added some coir I had sitting around to the top of the pot.
Bugs being bugs, I predict the scale will come back. However, as soon as it is warm at night, the citrus goes outside, and there are predators around, and rain. I haven’t had a problem with scale when the lemon and lime trees are outside. C’mon, Spring!

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