Where’d You Go?

24 04 2013

You may have assumed I was finished with this blog, since it has been over a year and half since I last posted.  Well, I am back… for now at least.  Things have changed quite a bit during my blogging absence.  My available time to spend writing about things we’ve done around here, let alone actually making changes to the house, has pretty much disappeared.  This is mainly due to one significant modification to our lives, as you may see in the photo below.Image

Yes, there are two cribs in that room.  We went from a couple with time to work on the house to a couple with almost no time to do anything.  Thanks to the addition of our now 14-month-old twin boys, we have a completely new lifestyle.  However, they have definitely been worth all the lack of free time.

Now that they are quite mobile and seem to have taken over the place, we are starting to feel the need for a few projects this year.  I hope to share the updates with you all, as this will always be a work in progress.  A lot of it depends on finding the time and money to do these things.  Stay tuned…


Splish Splash

25 10 2011

Sometimes things on to-do lists take longer to get around to than others.  This project was one of those things.  Although we knew we wanted to do it at some point, and actually had already selected the materials, it wasn’t until an unexpected free weekend fell into our laps that we were finally able to get around to it.  What is this project, you might be asking?  It’s the long overdue, tiled backsplash in the Kitchen.

During the construction of our house, we had to make some budget cuts.  Tiling the backsplash in the Kitchen was an easy choice.  We figured it would save us at least a thousand dollars between the materials and the labor to have a professional install it.  And really, how hard can it be to do ourselves, right?  It also didn’t seem like something that was all that important to have.  I mean, who really needs a tiled backsplash?  We didn’t have one in the last house we lived in, and it didn’t make that much of a difference.   Well, over the almost 2 years we’ve lived here, we realized there was a point to it.  This was mainly due to the fact that we had several unerasable grease spots on the wall behind the range and various water spots and the like around the sink.  As the quantity of these flaws increased, we knew we needed to address the issue at some point.  But when?

Well, one weekend in September, we were supposed to go visit my in-laws.  Unfortunately, several of them had come down with some sort of stomach bug throughout the week preceding that weekend, and we felt it was best not to expose ourselves to it.  We didn’t make this decision until late Friday afternoon, so there was no time to make any other plans.  With nothing else to do, and 2.5 days of free time on our hands, we decided this was perfect timing to tackle this project.

Want to see how it went?

Here’s a photo of what it looked like before we started.  Actually, we had already removed all of the stuff off of the counters and took the face plates off the outlets and wall switches, but you get the idea.

Our first step was  to prime the wall to prevent the chance of the green paint showing through the tiles.  Oh… I should probably mention that we chose glass mosaic tile for the back splash, which you’ll see later on.

After protecting the countertops with paper, we installed the tile.  I am not going to go into much detail for each step on this, as it might bring up some bad memories.  Long story short… this was not an enjoyable project.  It was much more difficult than I ever expected.  Here’s a photo of how it looked after the tile was installed, but before we put in the grout.

The hardest thing about installing our tile, was the fact that we went with a subway tile pattern (which is essentially the same as a running bond brick pattern).  This was used in order to tie into what we already have in our bathrooms, as well as coordinate with the stone on the chimney.  This tile pattern led to many difficult cuts, which we had no experience with.  There’s nothing quite like learning as you go.

Thankfully, it all turned out pretty well.  If you look at it closely, you will find some flaws due to our lack of experience, but if you step back and look at the whole thing, it really does look good.  We think the tile we chose is the best match for what we have now, as well as for any potential change to the countertops in the future.  Not only does it protect the wall from grease and water damage, it’s easier to clean and it just looks nicer!

Here’s the official “after” shot of what it looks like now, with the grout and caulking done, and all of our kitchen stuff back on in place.

The photo below shows a close-up shot of the tile behind the range.  You can see the pattern much better in this one.  (Note:  This picture was taken before we caulked along the edges).

Not bad for a couple of amateurs, huh?

Ch-Check It Out

5 08 2011

I intended on posting this information awhile ago, but it has been quite a busy time around here.  I guess it’s better late than never!

Well, in case you haven’t already heard, the Labbe House Project was featured in a recent magazine article!  It was the 2011 Edition of Being Green in Cincinnati Magazine.  This is a local magazine that focuses mainly on sharing ways for people to live “green” lives within Cincinnati.  We were very surprised and flattered to be featured in an 8-page article, explaining many of the features, budget woes, and excitement of building the Labbe House.  I was very pleased with how the author put the story together.  You should check it out!

Even though the magazine came out in back in June, I imagine there are still copies available around town.  At the time of release, copies were available at many locations, including Joseph Beth Booksellers-hyde park, Cincinnati Art Musuem-mt. adams, Park +Vine-downtown, Greener Stock-hyde park, Building Value-northside, Greenarama, the Greening the Heartland Conference-duke energy convention center, BioWheels-madeira, Hilde’s Gallery-bellevue, Kentucky Haus-newport, Bowman’s Framing-ft. thomas, Brazee Street Studios-oakley and many more.  Hopefully, you can find one if you are interested in reading more about the Labbe House, as well as many other interesting green projects and people throughout the Cincinnati area.  If you can’t find one, you could try contacting the Publisher, Jason Sandhage, at (513)706-8575 to see how you can get your hands on one.  It’s totally worth the time if you are someone who is interested in local green projects and businesses.


Change is Hard

12 06 2011

We did it.  We can finally think about things other than landscaping for awhile.  It has been a very difficult job to get it all done, but it sure feels nice to have accomplished our goal.  That doesn’t mean that it was easy or that we even got very much help with it.  Actually, I was quite surprised to find out how challenging it was to get some people out here to do some of this for us… even if you offer to pay them!  Even our previously favorite landscape company could not be pinned down to help us out.  Maybe everyone was just too busy after all of the rain finally stopped.  Who knows.  All I know is, we are going to enjoy our summer not doing landscaping.

I left off last time just after we had rented the bed edger.  Man, that seems like an eternity ago.  Since then, we cleaned out all of the weeds and grass from the planter bed areas.  Some of this was done manually by yours truly (mostly using a mattock and then tilling up the ground to get smooth edges).  We also rented sod cutters for the larger areas.  One was a kick-type sod cutter, which has some wooden handles, a metal roller wheel and a blade… the power came from Cliff.  Despite trying, I was just not strong enough to make that thing work.  For the area in the southeast corner of the lot, where there was a lot of existing grass, we rented a gas-powered sod cutter.  I started out trying to use that myself, but that thing shook me to the core, and I had a very hard time controlling it.  Thankfully, on that day, Cliff took a half day off work and came home to help me.  We did get it all done and still managed to eat dinner before 9:00pm.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to show that process.

During the same week, we purchased just about all of our new plants (other than the trees previously installed).  Originally, we were going to be conservative and just get things to fill in here and there.  However, once we realized that would mean more work later this year, we went all out and got a lot more of them.  Between all of the new plants, and the transplanting of several old ones, I counted that I dug a total of 61 holes in 2 days.  This all happened to take place during super hot days.  You can imagine what happened.  Let’s just say… I got at least one comment from a gentleman at a fast food place asking me why I didn’t use sunscreen and how I was going to sleep that night.

Speaking of not being able to sleep at night… look at what I found while working out there.  I wished I had a quarter or something to give you some scale, but I can say that stone is about 4-5″ tall.  Yeah… not cool.  Surprisingly, I didn’t kill it despite the fear of seeing something like that with fangs.

Around that time, we learned that we were going to be photographed for a magazine article (I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post).  Since we were so close to having all of the stuff up around the house done, we frantically called around trying to find someone to install mulch in those beds for us.  I did find someone that was recommended by a local mulch supply company, who was willing to work at short notice.  The same day he and his two other helpers came, we were already scheduled to do volunteer work somewhere else.  Well, as you already know from reading previous posts in my blog, I have some control issues, especially when it comes to this house.  So, you can imagine it was not easy for me to let someone do all that work without being here to make sure it was the way I wanted.  Graciously, my mom agreed to come sit and keep an eye on things while we were gone.  She called me and said they were very hard workers, but noticed near the end of the job that they were loading up a couple of cubic yards of mulch onto their trailer.  We came home around this time, and asked them about it.  The guy said he thought since we had extra, that he’d just give that to his nephew.  Really?  Don’t you think a simple phone call to ask if that was okay first makes sense?  Anyway, he put the almost stolen mulch back, we gave him his money and off they went.

The next day was the photo shoot, and wouldn’t you know it… it rained!  Therefore, the photographer didn’t really take many exterior photos at all.  Oh well.  We didn’t do the landscaping for just that purpose, so it’s okay.

During the week to follow, Cliff was away on business and the weather wasn’t too cooperative.  But, knowing vacation was just 5 days away, I had to keep going.  I literally spent 2 days using a gas-powered trimmer and cut all of the weeds and remaining grass in the planter areas down to the ground.  I must point out that it was raining while I was doing this.  Although I was wearing jeans, a rain jacket, safety goggles and gloves, I still don’t think I’ve ever been that dirty.  Mud was flying everywhere!  I found it in my ears, up my nose, on my lips… it even managed to penetrate my jeans and shoes.  Fun stuff.  On the third day, I sprayed those entire areas (about 3,000 sf) with roundup.  I really wanted those beds to be mulched before we left, but we didn’t want to hire the same guy and just ran out of time.  We were off on a well-deserved vacation.  We were blessed with a relaxing week in the Outer Banks with picture perfect weather.

Upon our return, we began our search for new helpers to finish the job.  All that was left was to install mulch and gravel in the larger planter beds.  We knew it would be difficult work, and if Cliff and I did it, he would end up needing back surgery.  Thankfully, we found a guy through our church’s bulletin board who was willing to do it.  He and a friend of his came, and over three days, got it all done!  They were very, very hard workers and did a good job.  I’m not sure they’ll ever agree to doing gravel work again though… especially in 90 degree weather.

So, are you ready to see how it turned out???  Here are some pictures.  A lot of the areas are in the shade at this time of day, so you can’t see them all that well, but you should be able to see the difference.

The areas shown in the next few photos were originally going to only have gravel in them, but since we had so much extra mulch we came up with a new plan.  Some day, we’ll add more plants to the mulched portions, but that is a low priority for us.  Maybe this fall.  Maybe in 2012.  Who knows.

As you can possibly see in the photos, our grass needs a little help.  We are in the process of hiring someone to help us by treating it every once in awhile.  Once the weeds are under control, and the bare spots are filled in, we will be on our way to less work.  We want this all to be relatively low-maintenance in the long term.  It just takes so much work initially.  Now it’s time to kick back and watch it grow!

Here Comes the Sun Again

3 05 2011

After a month of seemingly non-stop rain, we finally got a break last weekend.  Saturday turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day, which meant we were outside working on our landscaping.  We have a goal of getting the majority of it done within the next 3 weeks.  After that we’ll take a break for a few months and possibly jump back into more work in the late summer and early fall.

Since the grass was the focus of last fall, the rest of our landscaping was moved to the back burner.  I’ve become much better at guessing how long things will really take to accomplish, so I’m a little less aggressive these days.  As my husband likes to remind me, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch.  Yard by yard, life is hard.”  Well, this yard has been hard to deal with, but we are better at choosing our battles.  No longer is perfection as important.  I should also point out that I am getting better at hiring people to help with some of the heavier and more tedious stuff.  One Sunday, a couple of weeks ago, we ventured out to a local nursery to “look” at some trees and plants I was thinking about.  Well, long story short, we ended up buying them on that day.  We ended up buying five trees and four bushes.  The trees consist of two Norway Spruces, two Edith Bogue Magnolias, and one Skyline Honeylocust.  We opted to pay the nursery some extra money to deliver the trees and install them.  Boy, and I glad we did that.  We also had them relocate our existing River Birch tree, as it was previously planted too close to our house.  It’s a young tree, so it made sense to move it now while it was still on the small side.

One area that we wanted to add trees was along the road where an old driveway used to run through what is now our backyard.  Despite having asked three different contractors to entirely remove the remnants of the driveway, it never really went away.  I’m not sure if they weren’t really trying, or if it was just too difficult.  The last guys, who installed our lawn, at least managed to regrade the area to allow for better drainage.  They put the hydroseed over that area, but the grass never really grew there.  I think that there is just too much gravel and huge pieces of old asphalt.  Here’s what it looked like a couple of weeks ago.

In an attempt to not have to fight that area for the rest of our lives, we decided to just give up and make it a large planter.  Not only will the planter hide the endless driveway pieces, the new trees within that area will also give us a border to our yard and eventually be large enough to give us more privacy.  Since we are on a corner lot, our backyard is along one of the roads.  We think this pseudo boundary will help us feel a little safer, especially if we have kids one day running around out there.  Anyway, the trees were installed about 10 days ago, and even though they are small right now, we are happy with how they look.  There is a photo that shows how they look below.

Last Saturday, we knew we had to take advantage of the good weather while we had it.  So, we got up early and headed out to rent a bed edger.  This is a machine about the size of a lawn mower that you pull backwards along where you want to create a clean edge to planter beds.  Having done a lot of the edging by hand last year (which eventually filled themselves back in due to the lack of grass and mulch during the summer), we know this machine made it so much easier!  I highly recommend renting one if you have the desire to have the edges look crisp and professional.  It worked very well, even in our rocky soil.  The only thing I would have done differently, if we had more time, would be to have waited for a few more dry days before using it.  Due to the heavy damp soil, the blades would get clogged up with mud.  It wasn’t terrible though… just annoying to clean that out every 50 feet or so.

Below is a view of the area where the old driveway used to be.  You can actually see it behind the birch tree.  It is also evident in front of the birch tree as well… where the soil looks lighter.  As you may have figured out, this is the new location of our existing River Birch tree and the new Norway Spruces.  The next step here is to remove all of the old grass and add a few plants.  After that, we’ll be installing gravel as the mulch, which will wrap the corner where the large maple trees are.  You can sort of see the dark line behind those maple trees, which we created along the property line using the edger.  Our neighbors told us that think they might widen their driveway up to that line.  In order to make mowing the lawn easier and to keep some planter areas for future privacy screening, we will just have a planter run the whole length of the property.  We are not sure when they’ll be widening their driveway, so in the meantime we are going to put in a small timber curb to help us contain the gravel.  I’ll show that when after we get it installed.  The weeds and grass need to be removed first.

Here’s the other corner of our backyard.  Just like the other side, the next step is to remove all of the weeds and grass from the planter area.  We will add some new plants then have it covered in gravel.  This area is where all the water collects when it rains, so gravel is a necessity, as mulch would just wash away.

Here is a shot showing the new planter edges around the patio and deck.  This enlarged area will allow us to install stairs coming down from the deck in the future without having to add new planter again.  Until that happens, it will most likely remain empty with gravel, or maybe just have a few plants.  I would love to build the steps later this season, but we’ll see how it goes.

This image shows the planter areas along the ugly side of the house.  I can’t stand the flaw in the foundation wall and the excessive black waterproofing.  I’m hoping to screen it all with plants someday, but it’s not as high of a priority.  Most of the plants in this area came from my parents with little warning of their arrival.  With no time to decide where they should go, we just put them on this side since it’s the least visible.  I expect to move these around sometime soon.  Something needs to be done as it just looks bad.

Here’s a view of the front corner of the house.  We put one of the magnolias in place of where the birch used to be.  It’s small, but will eventually get taller without getting too wide.  I’m going to work on the plants along the front of the garage soon.

Here’s a close up shot of how the edges look.  You can see that the machine cuts a vertical edge along the grass side, with a sloped side into the planter.  This will allow the mulch or gravel to stay within the planter without needing a metal or plastic edger.  The goal is to be able to mow this edge without needing a trimmer.  I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Right now, I’m waiting on our preferred landscape people to stop by to give us a quote to do some of the work for us.  I’m hoping they will give us a price to remove all the grass, weeds and rocks from the planters.  After that, I will relocate some of our plants and put in some new ones.  I am sure there will be some minor weed pulling to do, and I need to put down some Preen to prevent new weeds from coming.  I will probably install some of the weed block fabric in the areas that we get the most water, to help keep the gravel in place.  Then after all of that, I’d love to get the landscapers back out here to install all of the gravel and/or mulch in the planter beds.  I’m just not sure how much they’ll charge for it.  With my husband’s bad back and my limited strength, it would be hard to do all of this ourselves within the time frame I’d like to have it done.  I’d love it if this was all done by May 20th.  But with all of the rain we’ve had over the past several weeks, I won’t hold my breath.

Here You Come Again

8 03 2011

Wow.  I can’t believe my last post was around Thanksgiving 2010!  I guess that means not much has happened to our house over the winter, which makes sense.  It feels like we have been non-stop busy for a few months, but none of it was related to the house.  I’m itching to start a project, but we haven’t had time and the weather has not been cooperative.

Anyway, this is just a quick post to say we are once again opening our doors for a tour.  This one is being hosted by the Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy.  It will be on Thursday, March 17th from 5:30-6:30.  Unlike some of the other tours, you do need to RSVP to this one.  If you want to come, click on the link above and scroll down to the link to RSVP.  If you click on the Labbe House link, it will take you to the same awkward video from a tour we had last year.  If you can look past my talking in the video, it does show a bit of the house.

I am not sure how many people will want to come to this tour since it’s not only on St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also the first day of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament (A.K.A. the day many people are majorly distracted from work).  I think a lot of people would rather hang out in a bar drinking green beer watching the games than tour a house… myself included. 🙂  Undoubtedly, we’ll find out eventually who will come here.  I may even have a TV turned on in the background (muted, of course) for those of us who love March Madness.

Other than that, I’m going to try to keep up with this blog a little better this year.  Now that things are settling down, we hope to tackle some new projects soon.  On the 2011 list, we plan to at least tile our backsplash in the kitchen, improve our landscaping, and hopefully, build stairs from our deck down to the back yard.  Of course, I’ll share any of these updates as they happen.



And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind

23 11 2010

I thought it was about time that I did another post on the blog.  Actually, it would have been better if I remembered to update the blog two days ago.  That’s because it was the 1 year anniversary of us moving into the house!  Wow!  It flew by.  It’s exciting, but also a little scary, as that means we’re responsible for anything that breaks now (within reason, of course).  We are still happy as ever to be able to live here.  We’re also happy that all of our hard work on the landscaping is on hiatus for the winter season.

As you know, and as I’ve complained at length, we did not have much of a yard this year.  We spent a good deal of time digging up rocks and establishing planter edges over the past several months.  Once we had enough of that, we had someone come out at the beginning of October to help us replant the lawn.  I thought I’d share some photos of before, during and after that process.

The photo below shows what the front and side yard looked like before anything was done by the professionals.  As you can see, we had a little stubble of green, and that was just weeds… no real grass.  Needless to say, it was an embarrassing look for a brand new house.

This next photo was taken after the professionals had used a bobcat to rockhound the yard.  We did our best to remove a lot of the larger rocks prior to this, but their machine was supposed to pick up the more moderately sized ones that were very large in number.  It also scraped off the majority of the weeds.  They also covered the entire lawn area with an additional 20 cubic yards of new topsoil.

After the lawn area was prepared, the professional lawn guys (who were awesome, by the way) used Hydroseed for seeding our future lawn.  With Hydroseed, there is a blend of grass seeds, fertilizer, and lime mixed with a blueish-green cellulose material.  This stuff dissolves over time, but it helps keep the seed from easily washing away, until it starts to establish itself.  I’m not sure if you can tell (in the photo above), but we also had them relocate two of the maple trees that were planted last year.  I never really liked those trees where they were originally planted (near the driveway).  And, after having lived there through a summer, we knew we wanted more shade to protect the back yard from the western sunlight.  These will eventually become very large and should give us exactly what we are hoping for.  Eventually, we’ll get something more appropriate to put back in the place where these used to be.  I’ve got my heart set on some Skyline Honey Locust trees, but we’ll see what happens.

Here are a couple of photos that were taken about a week after the seed was applied.  We were very diligent about it watering frequently this time.  We learned that lesson the hard way by our previous attempt at a lawn.  Even though it was extremely time consuming and tedious, it seemed best water it by hand to assure full coverage without puddling.  It took almost exactly 2 hours to do the entire area by one person.  There were many days when I did that, where it seemed hopelessly like we’d never really have grass.  Our neighbors made a few joking comments from time to time, since it seemed like we were out there constantly watering dirt.

Well, on the flip side of all of that, I am happy to announce that we officially have a real lawn now!!  Check it out!  These photos have not been photoshopped in anyway.  It really looks like that now!

In the last photo above, you can see there are patches of thin areas of grass, which we plan to overseed in the spring.  These tend to be on the sloped areas of our lawn, since seed had a harder time staying in place on days of heavy rain.  We are just so pleased with the result and know we will have something good to start with next year.  You might also notice in the same photo that we were lucky enough to score some tall holly bushes from my parents who were reworking their planters.  One of my clients also gave us a few plants as well.  Anyone else have any nice plants you don’t want?  We still have a ton of empty planter area to fill, but it’s a good start.  Hopefully, these hollies will grow to hide the hideous flaw in the foundation wall.  It’s a nice feeling to go into the winter season knowing next year will not be focused so much on the lawn.  We get to maintain it rather than starting over again.  At least, that’s the hope, right?  For now, we’ll kick back and enjoy the view.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!