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Yard stuff

It’s summer in Alaska, which means we’re all way overscheduled and trying to get more done, both at work and at home, than we possibly can.

We finally decided on a plan of action for the yard. Or, at least, that we should have a plan of action? We’re in the process of taking apart the shed (which is adorable, so it’s heartbreaking—but it’s also full of terrible mold that we’re both allergic to), to be replaced by a pre-fab shed from Lowes or Home Depot. We’re also taking down the chain-link fence, or maybe just part of the chain-link fence (so we can move the gate), and we’ll either build our own fence out of wood and chicken wire, or we’ll hire a professional to move the gate for us, or something. So, here’s our yard from this weekend (it isn’t wildly different now):

Like I said, we know we need a plan. And that’s half the battle. Or something.

Once we’re done with the Tour de Cure on Sunday, we’re taking off work for the first full week of June and starting our container garden, destroying the shed, putting up the new shed, and hauling things out of our yard. We’re getting rid of yard waste from our attempts (so far) to get the plant life under control, the dead canvas carport that didn’t survive winter winds and snows, the shed, the stuff from inside the shed (except for some cool doodads, which we’ll photograph soon), and so on. If we’re very fast, we’ll also have time to paint at least one of the rooms in the basement. Or maybe finish painting the kitchen, finally! It’s not the most vacationy of vacations, but it’ll be nice to have some of this stuff done!

Car stuff (and free stuff :))

We’ve also solved the car problem. A coworker of mine is moving out of state (which is a bummer; I like her), and she’s selling us her Honda CR-V for a bit below KBB value. It’s like a 10 year old car, with 100-some thousand miles on it—and not a pickup truck—but it has AWD, comes with both regular and studded tires, and is available for a good price, from someone I know took good care of it. I feel good about the purchase.

We won’t actually buy the car until the end of June or beginning of July—she kind of wants it for driving around Anchorage, before she leaves—but we’re pleased to have the decision made, anyway.

Another coworker gave Dale a telescope, which he’s pleased as punch to have. He’s trying to find or put together a sun filter for it, for the upcoming Transit of Venus. A third coworker gave us some delicious salmon and halibut from last year (all vacuum packed and flash frozen, so it’s in great shape).

So, in several respects, it’s been a pretty good season, so far. :)

Coral injured herself (minor)

I seem to have done something stupid to my foot. It’s almost as if I stomped really hard on something and then immediately forgot what would have to have been blinding pain, given the awful achy bruised feeling in the front of my heel. I’ve bruised the bottom of my foot before, but never so painfully—and I remembered what I had stepped on, to do it, in the past!

Someone on the internet is trying to convince me I have plantar fascitis. I hope they’re wrong, because that would make my plan to bike 15 miles on Sunday, in the Tour de Cure, a really stupid idea.

Also, you’re supposed to ice plantar fascitis, which I admit I haven’t tried. But heat makes my foot feel much, much better. So I find myself hopefully pessimistic about the accuracy of that internet diagnosis. :) I’ve got an appointment with a doctor next week, for other stuff, so if it’s acting up, I’ll talk to her about it.

That last one wasn’t big enough news for how rarely we blog, but it’s what’s on my mind.

Wildlife

The “wildlife” in the house is all doing fine. The birds are a little whiny and moody, probably from getting too many hours of light, but they’re happy enough. There have been several bird-baths, now that there’s less danger of drafts. And Ella Chinchilla is fuzzy and up to trouble, as you’d expect. She can fit under the door and out into the room full of books… and cords… and grown-up furniture, so Dale’s rigged up a solution involving a blanket and something heavy, to keep her where it’s safe (both for her AND for our stuff). It seems to work OK.

The outdoor wildlife is getting into the swing of summer. Baby moose are being born (none in our yard, but we see Facebook and Twitter photos of baby moose in friends’ yards now and then!). One of the bike/walking trails in town has warnings attached to it, because there are multiple angry moose mothers around; they’re very dangerous, this time of year. (No, the Tour won’t go through that area. At least not the 25k route.)

We also saw our first flotilla of ducklings over the weekend! They were itty-bitty, but there were 10 of them. More will no doubt be on the way, along with goslings and … baby swans? What are they called? We’re not actually sure where the pair of swans ended up, so we may not see their babies.

We no longer live a short walk from the beavers, so we haven’t been keeping an eye on them. I imagine they’re doing fine, though. :)

Aaand… that might be it for news. :)

Dale and I are looking into getting a second vehicle*. We’re tearing down an old moldy shed and an outdoor set of stairs, this summer, and we’re doing work on the house, and we’re still in Furniture Acquisition Mode, so one thought is a [small!] pickup truck with 4-wheel drive. On the other hand, gas is $4.50 a gallon and probably not going down soon, so the other thought is “something fuel efficient.” (There’s not anything fuel efficient with 4WD/AWD, so that’s a down side. Recall that Alaska doesn’t believe in plowing down to pavement in winter. And, although the biggest hills are avoidable, it turns out we need 4WD to pull into our driveway from our unplowed alley.)

I’ve always loved little pickup trucks—you know, like Nissan and Toyota used to make—and we’d actually use its hauling capabilities, at least until our house is closer to done**. So I guess I’m leaning that way, a bit. I don’t know if you can buy pickup trucks that tiny, new. I also know that, if you want 4WD, your pickup truck options are a bit limited.

This is where, if you have advice for us, we’d love to hear it. New/Used, specific dealers to try/avoid, whatever. So… thoughts?

*We work in opposite directions from where we live. Normally, it’s not a big deal: one of us drops the other off (which wastes gas and time, but not a whole bunch of either). But he had an 8am meeting and an 8:30am-but-far-away meeting, last week, with more of them coming up soon, and there was no way he was going to get me to work in time to make those meetings; I also work Wednesday nights, which means I go in after lunch on Wednesdays. Which is fine, as long as he can leave work part-way through the day (we eat lunch together); sometimes he has 1pm meetings, which means I’m at work earlier than I want to be and he’s rushed to get back. Also, his work is going to move onto Base, before too long, which is going to limit his ability to leave part-way through the day. I can bus, but it only runs once per hour, and I’m unwilling to take the bus (which is full of sick people all winter) when I’m fighting bronchitis, which feels constant, lately. In the summer, I can bike, but I don’t have the skills, the gear, or the constitution to do that in winter.

**Projects: tearing down the shed (that moldy stuff is NOT going in the back of the Subaru, or any enclosed vehicle), buying or building a new shed in a different part of the yard, tearing down the back stairs, tearing down the front stairs, bringing replacement materials for the stairs home, replacing the gutters, bringing materials home to build a duck house and duck fence, tearing out and replacing the white picket fence, framing and putting up “pink board” in the basement (for insulation), putting up drywall in the basement, bringing home furniture, and various gardening/tree-planting/tree-removing shenanigans.

It might come as a surprise to some readers of this blog that Dale and I are planning to start raising ducks. (It will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent more than an hour with me, lately, I think. I’m very excited about it!) But that is totally the plan. Two ducks, both girls, to live in a fenced-in part of our yard, along with our garden. They’ll keep each other company—unlike chickens, ducks can be happy in pairs—and lay eggs and keep bugs out of the garden. When they stop laying eggs, we’ll get a third duck, to lay eggs, and the first two will keep her warm and happy with duck-company.

A delightful plan, right? But the only duck farm we know of, up here, is hatching ducks in late May or early June, and I have to be at the American Library Association conference for almost a week, in late June. Call me crazy, if you want, but I really don’t want to miss a full week of my ducks’ development! They’re only babies for such a short time, and it’s really important that they bond to and trust Dale and me. (It’s important more because I want them to be nice pets than for any other reason. You can raise ducks who don’t trust you. It’s just not as fun.)

So, as hard as it will be for someone as impatient (and excited) as I am, we’re going to put off our duck plan for a year. (Yes, I’m technically supposed to go to ALA Annual again in 2013, but it’s the very end of my position on the NMRT board—my position actually ends half-way through conference, because of its late timing in 2013—and my predecessor in this position didn’t go for her last conference, which makes me think it’s probably OK.) That will give us time to build a really great duck-house, to make sure the place we want to put the garden-and-ducks will work, and to get some other projects done, this summer.

I guess it’s good that I’ve started so many marigold seeds; without ducks to protect my plants from bugs, I’m going to need them!

Other projects

Other projects for this summer: 1) Make the arctic entry into less of a “breezeway,” as our friends have started calling it, and more of an acceptable piece of the house. (Insulate under the floor, fill in the spaces letting air in, and replace the door.) 2) Plant an apple tree. And possibly a cherry tree. 3) Take everything out of the [incredibly moldy] shed, spray down the inside with a bleach solution, see if the sunlight will kill the mold on everything from the shed, and either refill it or drag off all the stuff. 4) Replace our back stairs & ramp with something less death-trappy. 5) Turn our front stairs around to face forward, instead of sideways. 6) Move the front gate, and set up a nice walkway through the yard. Plan for, but probably don’t yet implement, a patio for yard parties. 7) Dig out the flower beds and plant pretty things. 8) Run electricity to the front of the house, for grilling parties. 9) Replace the gutters. 10) Paint the two basement “bedrooms” and the places we missed in the kitchen.

That numbering system is meaningless. It’s just the order in which I remembered projects. Some of them have to be done sooner; some can be done later. Though I’ll be pretty disappointed if we don’t get through it all before next winter. Out of all of it, the front gate and front stairs are probably the ones I could most stand to put off, followed by the shed.

In current-project news, the contractor is coming back soon to replace the bathroom fan vent. It started dripping, again. This time, the dripping is down the outside, and I find myself really concerned about the insulation in our attic, some of which was put in by said contractor. If he doesn’t take responsibility for any of that being messed up, it probably isn’t the end of the world, since we also have a fairly serious roof leak (at least, we hope it’s a roof leak and not a hot spot), which is dripping slowly down one of our newly-painted walls and into the basement stairwell, of all places; we’ll have to get that repaired and then have a bunch of insulation pulled out and put back in, anyway. Extra insulation was one of the things on our energy rebate list, so that’s not so bad.

I’m very nearly finished with unpacking! We have several boxes of books and games, downstairs, but we have a place for them! I think I’ve gone through all of our “random stuff” boxes. Our basement shelves are almost ready to be taken down, and then we will sand and paint the drywall down there (Dale’s sanding, I’m painting, I think) and get the place a little more ready to serve as a fun hangout. We’re going to buy an inductive burner for making beer in the basement kitchen, which will be excellent! It’s still chilly down there, but we’ve found that our portable heater makes it a lot more acceptable. Rugs of some variety would also help. (If we were willing to go all crazy-retro, rugs on the walls would help A LOT. But we’re probably not. Insulating those walls, for real, was also on our energy rating list, but it’s a big undertaking. In the short term, we will content ourselves with hanging up fabric. It *might* not even look cheesy. … But it probably will. :))

And, finally, I have little seedlings coming up, and they will be more than ready when the snow melts and the garden—actually, a set of half-barrels—can safely take them. I didn’t buy Alaska-specific seeds, which my gardening book tells me (belatedly) I should have done, so that’s too bad. Here’s hoping Lowes was responsible in what they stocked, right?

Anyway, the house and life have been keeping us busy, but things are good. I’m a little bummed on the duck decision, but I think it’s the right one. I would be far more sad to miss a week of duckling antics, right?

During our first week of home ownership, I pulled apart and cleaned and lemon oiled all of our kitchen cabinets (except for 4 that I can’t get to right now, more on that momentarily); dusted/polished the wood paneling in the living room, dining room, entry ways, and stairwell; and super-cleaned the freezer in the basement. All of this stuff clearly hadn’t been done for a LONG time, though there were 1.25 bottles of Old English lemon oil, some weird ocean-scented Pine Sol (which I replaced with lemon), Pledge, and various other cleaners in the cabinet under the sink. Several of the walls were VERY thirsty and probably want another dose of Pledge–though I used a whole can. The freezer works, happily! I haven’t bothered with the refrigerator, because it’s very scary; we’ll replace it with a new one before we move in.

Dale’s been focusing on the basement, sweeping and washing walls and cleaning up the thick layer of dust(!) that’s built up. He’s found several neat things, both down there and beneath the kitchen sink. We’ll do a post just about cool stuff we’ve found, with photos, in the future.

He has also used “implements of destruction,” as we like to call our garden tools, taking down a sumac, a baby cottonwood tree, and a bunch of dead branches in the Drunk Bird Tree (a mountain ash, in our front yard, which is starting to grow this year’s batch of drunk bird food). That poor tree had a lot of dead wood weighing it down; we’re hoping that, having been pruned, it will come back happier and healthier next year. We’re disassembling the branches, for use in our fire pit–one big branch has been dead for long enough that we don’t even have to wait to burn it! (So there will be fire pit happening at our housewarming party. ;)) The others will have to wait a year or two for burning. I’m sorry I didn’t get photos of Dale up in the tree–I was busy spotting him, handing up tools, and tearing apart fallen branches.

I also trimmed back the rose bushes that made passage between the front and back yards unpleasant. I was probably a little conservative with my pruning, not taking anything that wasn’t 1) directly in the path or 2) dead, despite the bulk of the bushes being held up by old pieces of string. Once I harvest rose hips, I’ll do a more thorough trimming of all of the rose bushes on the property. There are MANY. Also, many lilacs. I like both and plan to keep them; they just don’t need to be quite as gargantuan.

OH! And we put in a mailbox!

We also bought a totally sweet two-seater table, for our kitchen, from Craigslist. It’s made of wood, has two wood chairs with it, requires no glue and no immediate refinishing, and only cost us $30. We got it yesterday, and it even fit in our car. Total win. Also a win: having a place to sit when we’re at the new place! We’ve been sitting on the carpet or the stairs outside to eat, all week. We are both delighted with our table.

To back up a bit: when I came in on Friday–having taken the day off to do some house-related errands and more cabinet oiling–I found that our carpets had been removed and were sitting in the dining room. Blocking the last four cabinets, actually. I’m hoping they’re gone now, but who knows? Good news: we have some pretty great wood floors in the two upstairs bedrooms. Not-so-good news: we have two different kinds of tile in the living room and reading nook (which are really the same room, separated by a big sort of arch/doorway thing). And boy do they not match. Have a look! We were going to stay in the house Saturday night, but there are staples sticking out of the floors, which is probably not so good for the air mattress. Plus, it smells kind of rubbery, from the carpet being ripped up. So maybe next Saturday.

Overall, I’m beginning to see that maybe this 203(k) thing is not for everyone, after all. Aside from the stress of the extra paperwork and “all the work has to be done in 6 months” deadline, it’s sort of weird, when people ask “So are you moving in now?” to say “No, we’re getting a bunch of work done by a contractor.” It’s super hard for me, an impatient monkey, not to be able to start nesting right away. I have wanted to own a house forever, and I am so excited, but it’s like it’s not even really ours yet. I mean, I’ve always had my new kitchen up and running within a week of starting a new lease, in the past (no matter how long it took me to do the rest of my unpacking), and all I’ve got in the new kitchen right now is beverages, plastic cups, and paper plates. And my kickass table. (First world problem, right? I’m impatient, but not totally lacking in perspective.) I want to start getting stuff out of our old place and into the new, in part because our landlords would love to start showing the old apartment, but there aren’t any rooms that aren’t going to be torn apart, painted, or in some other way messed with. Well, there was the dining room, but now we’re going to see if there’s money available to redo the flooring in there. Once the pile of carpets is gone, I mean. Even the main room of the basement: I really want to paint the walls a nice almost-white, to make the place more friendly for brewing parties. (I use the term “parties” loosely, but it’s FUN to have friends come over when you brew. It’s probably MORE fun if they don’t find the environment oppressive, though.) So I’d rather not fill it up with stuff, thereby making the walls harder to get to.

But, bummer of not moving in yet aside, things are coming together well. We’re getting good ideas about what we want to do with the house and yard. We’re doing maintenance that the house has been needing for a while. We’re really getting to know the house well. All great things. And while we can’t, you know, live there yet, we are still pretty freaking excited about the place!