Monthly Archives: June 2012

Door Drama: Part Two

Alright…here’s where our little door project gets fun (aka A BIG HEADACHE).

Once the security door was gone, we saw that the furring wood underneath the previous door frame was in not-so-hot condition. We decided it would be best to replace that wood so that we would have a solid new entry way.

The problem was that the “furring wood” was actually 1×4 planks that were under aluminum casing. Feeling a bit wary of what we were getting ourselves into, we removed the aluminum casing. Here’s what we found…

…a bazillion hornet’s nests. Awesome. Jonathan sprayed and swept the heck out of that mess. Actually, we were glad to know about it…and totally creeped out.

With the aluminum casing gone, we saw this mess.

Now, we were almost more confused about what our next step should be. The old molding was nice (once) but rotting in places. Can you say demolition time?

Things were getting more complicated with each step. We had no idea how to rebuild this thing. We thought we could save ourselves some new lumber by using the 1x4s on the outsides, but one side was pretty warped at the top (preventing any new wood from precluding). Our solution was to remove, scrape, and de-nail the planks. Then, we flipped them up-side-down and nailed them back in.

Next up was buying our new wood. But, first, we had to figure out what dimensions we needed for our frame. Queue the diagram:

We had the home improvement store cut our wood (at no extra cost, fyi) since we only had a small hand saw . Now we were ready to rebuild. After a long day of hammering, holding, and baby-distracting, we were done with the initial framing. Here’s how she looked:

All that was missing were the 1×6 planks to finish off the sides (we thought we’d wait until the storm door was up for those. Not sure why, really).

We were feeling pretty proud of all our hard work. Time to install the storm door (which we had also never done)! But, I found a YouTube video, so it should be a piece of cake, right?

Jonathan, along with his brother and dad, devoted an entire evening to that glass door. First set back: the framing we did was in the way slightly, and needed to come back down. Seriously?!

By the end of the evening, the door was in place. Phew. One small problem: the concrete on the floor was cracked and, therefore, crooked. The door wouldn’t seal and hardly closed (I guess that negates the energy efficiency claims of the door).

Let me just say, I was feeling slightly tired of this project. But, what other choice did we have other than to move forward and complete the thing?

So we called on my oh-so-handy dad, who borrowed a concrete grinder from a guy at work. Pretty cool piece of equipment, I must say. But M-E-S-S-Y. I can’t describe the magnitude of dust that was on our front step. And in our living room. Let’s just say I mopped the living room 4 times that afternoon and still felt dust on the floor. Yeah.

But, she worked like a charm. A charm that cost us hours in cleaning 🙂

Okay, back to framing. Deja vu. Hard work…again. Blocking was our real issue. We had nothing to nail the planks into. Michael, Jonathan’s brother who is frequently mentioned in our house project blog posts, came with his nail gun. And, glory! It looks better than the first time we framed it (and took half the time)! If there’s one thing we’ve learned in all of this, it’s that using the right tools makes all the difference.

That’s where we are now. Sigh. But, I’m really happy with how the whole thing has turned out. It will look just beautiful painted white. I know all the neighbors will be as happy as we are about this mess being completed. Note the lush, green grass our lawn has this summer. What heat?

Next up, we caulk, prime, and paint. Oh, and the storm door is still having some dang issues. A gap is keeping the door from latching. 😦

Then, it’s on to tearing down awning, making some wood shutters, and building a large, roofed front porch.

Eventually, of course. We’re tired.

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Door Drama: Part One

It turns out one of our house projects really became a slightly more complicated ordeal than expected. (Who am I kidding? It really happens with them all!)

So, I present to you, part one of the front door project.

We loved a lot of things about our little ranch house when we moved in, but the front door situation was not one of those things.

It’s hard to tell, because I never took an up-close picture before we tore into it (something I’m learning to do now), so I’ll point out what you may or may not be able to see in this picture: a lovely front door painted a dark, hunter green with matching security door. It could’ve been much worse. It could always be worse. But we weren’t feeling the dark entry with iron bars. A bit prison-like.

I wanted our entry to be open and airy, our house feeling like it extended into our yard . I envisioned sunlight streaming through while Liam and I were playing in the living room.

The plan was simple. Paint the front door something fun and cheerful. Ditch the security door and replace it with a glass storm door. Like I said, simple. Yeah? Well, not for these inexperienced, home-owning, do-it-yourself-ers. I’ve learned that when it comes to house projects (and home ownership in general), expect the unexpected.

Stage one was painting the door. Easiest part. I knew what I wanted. I had an ultimate vision for the exterior of our house…and that included a turquoise door. I got a lot of raised eyebrows, but Jonathan and I were on the same page. We had a vision.

So one Saturday morning a few months back, I decided it was time. I set to work priming our dreary dark door while Jonathan had baby duty (his turn definitely came!) Except for the few drops of oil-based primer that I spilled on our beautiful hardwood floors, I was a happy camper.

Next came the paint. I was slightly less happy at this point. It wasn’t quite the vibrant turquoise I had in mind, but I wasn’t about to paint over my hard work (that day at least)! We decided to wait until we made more progress on the house to decide how we felt. We’re still debating, truthfully. We like it okay.

Things were looking happier at our house! Next item on the agenda was removing the security door. We needed to sell that one so we would have the money to buy the new storm door (told you we’re on a tight budget). We knew it was heavy, but we didn’t know it was heaavvvyyy. Likely original to the house, the plus side was that it added value to the door.

We ended up selling that beast to someone on craigslist for $100. Truthfully, they got a good deal. I just needed that thing gone. No time to wait for the right person who really knew what they were getting.

With the security door frame gone, the complications of our straight forward planning began. But I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

At this point, I grew tired of the mismatched shutters and door. So, one day I borrowed the ladder from the neighbors and took those babies down while Liam napped. I tend to be a little impulsive like that with projects (not much else, though).

Here’s where we stood as of late February. S-L-O-W-L-Y improving!

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The Art of Frugality: The Budget

As promised, I’m back with more thoughts on money-saving ways. 🙂

More than anything my parents did or did not give me growing up, I’m thankful for the way they taught me to manage my money. We had allowance (for doing chores), a savings account (that they would match up to a certain amount when we made a contribution), and a clothing allowance beginning in high school (when I learned that name brand clothing-at full price-was overrated!) I think having that modeled to me as a child has made living that way as an adult so natural.

When I became a nurse, I started to realize that knowledge about using money wisely was one of the major things that set my finances apart from some of the low-income families I helped at work. We didn’t have much money either. But in this case, certainly, knowledge IS power. I would also add self-discipline and contentedness to that list.

Jonathan and I married young. He was 21 and I, 22. We were still in college and barely made ends meet the first year (Heck, we’re still on a tight budget now!) Through scholarship, jobs, and parents/grandparents who generously gave gifts, I was able to whittle away at tuition and living expenses and graduate college completely debt free.

We still don’t have any debt apart from our mortgage. That’s something that is important to us (and I have to admit it feels pretty good, even when it’s hard). Here’s a list of a few things I think help us to accomplish that on a tight budget:

Communication helps to build good habits. I realize a lot of people don’t like to talk about money. It’s touchy. It’s private. But when you know you’re accountable to someone you love (your spouse, for example), it makes you think twice at the register. From my experience, getting married is a great time to start a budget. From the beginning. Before you develop other habits. That way you can both be involved in practicing new ways to manage your money. Some of you may think this is overboard, but Jonathan and I entered every receipt into a budget spreadsheet for the first 2 years we were married. I’ll admit it is a real time commitment, but, for us, it was extremely helpful in setting our habits early in our marriage. And after 2 years, we really didn’t need to do it anymore. We had a really good handle on where our money went and what our spending tendencies were. Now, we can use something like mint.com with a lot of confidence.

Pay attention. This really is one of the biggest things to me. I’m amazed how many people say things like “I know I’m spending a lot, but I’ve got to eat, right?” Or they have no idea what something they always buy costs (milk, for example). When it comes to groceries, I’m not a coupon-er. For me, it’s too much time spent on things I don’t usually want. I do like free coupons (ones that come in the mail or print out with my receipts). But, the most important thing to me is realizing what I normally pay or what I could typically get it for when it goes on sale. Oatmeal may be on my list, but maybe it could wait another week if the price is up (some things can’t wait, of course).

Also, I’ve found that certain stores sell a few things I get really regularly (like frozen fruit or string cheese) for half the price of my usual grocery store. I’m not talking about spending all day going all around town. But a few strategic things that are really discounted really add up in savings.

Having “spending money”, no matter how tight the budget. Spending money is what we call it. The point is, set aside a little (in our case it’s really a little) money that you can spend on whatever you want without being questioned. If I want to spend it all on gum and coffee that month, that’s my prerogative. If I want to save it up for something I’ve had my eye on, I can. I think it helps to alleviate the need for impulse buys.

Make up your mind. Whatever your financial goals are, make up your mind that that’s how it’s gonna be. If you don’t want to take out a loan to refinish your bathroom, don’t. If you don’t want to spend $500 on groceries a month, figure out how to do it another way. Deciding ahead of time is huge in helping you to meet your goals.

I’m no expert. I’m certainly not a financial guru. I do believe in putting myself around people who are wise with money if I want to be wise with money. These are just my humble opinions from my experience.

Take it for what it’s worth 🙂

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The Inside Passage Cruise

We’re back!

After a wonderful week in Alaska, followed by a busy week of settling back into normal life and overcoming land sickness (have you ever heard of such a thing?!), I’m going to attempt to describe some of our beautiful trip!

Note: all pictures were taken by the lovely Mariah Uttz. We didn’t even unpack our camera the entire trip (typical), so we’re eternally grateful to her for capturing these memories!

Two weeks ago today, the entire McLaughlin family (minus my sister, Mariah’s, husband whose work duties kept him home) gathered in Seattle, Washington from all over the country for a pretty remarkable trip.

View of the Seattle skyline from our boat, the ms Amsterdam

My parents wanted to take all of their children and grandchildren on an Alaskan cruise for years, and this proved to be the year it could actually happen. We’re so grateful for such incredible memories with people we love that we’ll keep for a lifetime.

We set sail (or whatever it’s called) from Seattle on Friday and arrived at Tracy Arm on Sunday. That had to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Tracy Arm Fjords are encompassed by an inlet unreachable during much of the year because of snow, fog, and icebergs.

Snow, waterfalls, and low clouds were our view mountain after mountain at Tracy Arm.

I really can’t describe the beauty, magnitude, and reverence in that place. We received lessons in fjords, icebergs, glaciers, and Alaskan wildlife over the loud speaker while took in the beauty. There were also moments of silence to respect the wildlife when we could hear the “white thunder” of glaciers cracking and breaking. Incredible!

This is a great shot to give scale to what we were experiencing from the bow of the ship.

The boat scarcely looked as if it would fit through the winding passageways until at last, we came to an opening where we saw the majestic Sawyer Glacier. From here, we eeked around a small island and retraced our steps back out.

The glacier offset by the icebergs in the water.

On this small island is an orange tent where someone was camping. I can’t imagine waking up to such views!

As we crossed this island, we noticed the tent without a boat or plane in sight. Not sure how they got there, but I’m sure it was an experience of a lifetime for them!

I spent a lot of time that day thinking about such beautiful, hidden places in this vast expanse of an earth that God created. I couldn’t help but think, Why? Seen by so few, it must please him to create for himself. Certainly, it glorifies him when we see beauty and turn to give him praise, but places like this must bring him glory just by him seeing and feeling satisfied with what he has made.

a family shot

The next day, we docked at Juneau, Alaska’s capital. It’s a tiny town, and largely touristy. It actually reminded me somewhat of Gatlinburg, TN in that way. We spent the morning, taking a bus down to hike around Mendenhall Glacier: another exquisite site to behold.

The whole gang at Mendenhall

Jonathan, and Liam on his back, were part of the group that hiked down to the waterfall near the glacier while I stayed back at the visitor center to help watch kids in strollers.

Jonathan, Liam, and Brian overlooking icebergs in the lake at Mendenhall

With all these pictures to choose from, I guess we need to send a Christmas card this year!

When we went back into town, some of us rode a tramway with amazing views of the city of Juneau.

Basically overlooking the whole of Juneau, Alaska

On Tuesday of that week, we docked at Sitka. A beautiful little port town that reminded me a lot of parts of New England. Sitka didn’t have a port where we could dock, so we took smaller boats over.

Our boat anchored with boat taxis that took us to Sitka

We took a bus tour and hiked around  at Totem park. Sitka happens to be the first city in Alaska that the United States owned, bought from Russia in the late 1800s.

There were some extended times on the ship, where there was plenty to do including eating, more eating, cooking classes, mixology classes, dance classes, swimming, a piano bar, karaoke, a workout room, evening shows, and much more.

Mariah, myself, and Jonathan enjoying high tea on the boat one afternoon.

Everyone at one of our two formal nights

We unfortunately encountered some rough waters Tuesday night as we headed to our next stop: Ketchikan. This town is much dingier than Sitka, but had tons of character! It was built on boardwalks with houses practically built layer upon layer above. This is a picture of Creek Street, which was originally part of the town’s red light district.

Looking across historic Creek Street

Finally, on Thursday evening, we made port in Victoria, British Columbia. My parents graciously watched all the little ones on the boat so that all the “kids” could go out into town together. We took a limo tour that included the tallest totem pole, the Govenor’s gardens, and a lovely castle (where the X-Men movies were filmed).

Totem Pole stretching 189 feet high

Look familiar? Not to me. I’ve never seen X-Men.

The gang in front of our ship in Victoria (sans Eric, who was taking the picture)

Things I learned about Alaska:

This is not a cruise for those prone to sea-sickness. This includes me 😦 I had never been a cruise before, but from what I’m told the waters are a bit choppier and we had longer periods in the open sea between destinations.

The towns feel timeless. Alaska is so different from so many other places, partly because of its remoteness and difficulty importing or expanding. The towns are all small, and each day we docked, you really couldn’t tell which decade you were even in. You can lose your sense of time in a place like this.

Bald eagles abound. It was incredible how many bald eagles we saw. Like, it was no big deal. I learned that half of the population of bald eagles reside in the inside passage of Alaska.

The towns are still flourishing with Native American influence. It’s no surprise, I’m sure, that all of these places began as Native American tribes that were pushed out by the Russians (and Americans, depending). But the areas are still rich with the heritage. The towns were listed in English and along with an indigenous language, and many of the people are of Native American decent.

Alaskans don’t bother with exterior decorating. Because the land is so harsh for much of the year, you will rarely see a manicured lawn with landscaping. And all of the houses are built out of wood (which is less durable, but cheaper to import).

The thing I loved the most about our time in the inside passage is that it felt so different from everywhere else in the world I’ve been. The scenery, the wildlife, the towns were all so uniquely Alaskan.

It. was. awesome.

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