Thursday, August 07, 2014

Progress on the Porch

Still away with the kids.  While they still work away on the porch.  And I'm loving the progress in all the pictures being sent to me!!

When I Left

Come on!!!  Can you believe it?  Could I be more in love?  Actually, I could. 

But first let me tell you why I'm in love in the first place.  We live in the city.  The city gives us big garbage bins to use (which we must, or they don't collect).  But they are so big on lots that are so small.  They turn into eyesores against the beautiful curb appeal of the neighborhood. 

Unless you have a contractor who likes to think inside a box. 

Side - Before
Side - After

Or a bench.


You can sit on it - it's normal bench height.  Or you can open it and throw your trash away without your feet hitting the pavement.  It's dreamy.  And it will be amazing in winter.  Yes, I'm excited to throw my trash away in the middle of winter. 

This porch would do that to you, too.

Notice the slats at the back, above the bench.  They echo the fence.  It's the details.

Side & Front

And although they don't match, they work together.  Form and function in both.

Close Up

I'm loving the details.  It helps to have a carpenter who is so good at what he does.

And by good, I mean great.

Our Side

Actually, fabulous. 

Every project has it's story.  And this one is the divider.  We used to have a wobbly, jerry-rigged, 100-coats-of-paint divider.  It was hideous.  Probably slapped up 4 decades ago, and only meant to last until the next neighbor moved in. 

When we started the project, the most discussion was had over the divider.   Wood, glass, slopes, triangles, planters, shorter, taller, wider, you name it.  Then, when the porch was ripped down and the new base was up, our neighbor preferred a divider-less look.  Which was just too hard for a family with three young kids who have a cluttered porch fulls of bikes and boys who wouldn't understand that the neighbor's porch isn't our porch, too.  So, after one last long discussion, we landed on slats.  To compliment the back, above the bench.  But privacy?  Height?  Depth? 

Our carpenter asked if we trust him.  We said yes.  We were both also out of town.

His Side

The open slats are opposite on each side.  It is the same height as it was before.  There is no jerry-rigged support from above anymore.  He dug down to install support from below.  And he jogged the depth back, so the divider starts just a few inches behind the first step. 

Open, yet private, and oh so pretty.  It's true love. 

Who would have thought we could go from this...

to this.

And we're not even done.  The shingles were just applied and the eaves just installed.  Soon it's paint and finishing up the electrical.

But for now, the husband enjoys a pretty view from the garbage bins. 

Which will probably look even better in the middle of winter.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Can't Stop Won't Stop

That's the thing about renovating.  It's like getting a tattoo.  Finish one.  Think about another.  Suddenly, it's on your skin.  (Be it ink or demo dust)

For us, it was a case of necessity.  Our porch was falling down.  Not like tomorrow, but pretty soon after that. 

Who Lives Here!?!

Oh yeah.  Falling down for sure.  Even photobomber George thinks it's pretty bad.

We are lucky, as semi-detached homeowners, to not only get along with our shared neighbor, but to take on exterior home improvement projects together.  We replaced our (rare in the Annex) parking pads together in 2006.  And at that time, we decided to build a single staircase with railings, too.  Best decision ever. 

But two major renovations for us, one rotting railing for him and a sagging century-old porch structure that supported a basement dig later...? 

Thank goodness we knew a certain trusted contractor who could help us out. 

So, after I left for summer vacation with our kids, they got to work.


Oh. My. God.  We gutted two entire floors of our house and found fewer problems than the front 160 square feet that we call a porch.  Rodent -squirrel- carcasses, urine soaked drywall in the ceiling and rotting chewed up beams (thus the sag). 


And we were hoping to save the roof.  Ha! 

Let's Build A New Porch

This is why I love our contractor and his guys.  They're only interested in doing it right.  One could look at it as 'job creep', but he knows it's our forever house.  And our neighbor's side was in worse falling down shape than anyone could have predicted.  So...a totally brand new porch it is. 

With proper brick pillars that are a) able to hold the weight of the new forever porch and b) in keeping with the neighborhood.  Sold.

Then I came home to Toronto for a weekend. 


This is our side.  I can't wait to share the little life-altering upgrades we're making. 


View towards the neighbor.  Same upgrades there.  Kid-barricading divider to come.   

Then I Left

This is as far as things got while I was home.  Which was perfect timing, because I got to see the progress and make some important decisions about structure, electrical and finishing.  I'm not used to being gone while work continues...but that's why my better half is there.

And thank goodness it's just him instead of this guy.

Site Supervisor

My father would be out there every hour of every day, if he could.  But I brought him back to Wisconsin with the kids and I.  Let those guys do what they do best!!!

Stay tuned for those upgrades, the new porch "look" and pictures of the progress :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Here, Not There

Here is New Berlin, WI.  A city of 40,000.  The place, the neighborhood, the house where I grew up.  And we're spending 7 weeks in it

The difference between home in Toronto and here in New Berlin is...well, everything.  Just completely, totally different.  Country, population, landscape, density - it's all opposite.

But the biggest difference we've noticed is the wildlife.  Yes.  Wildlife.  These city kids are astounded.

For example, every single night, these are in the backyards.

Two Of Many

It's gotten to the point where the kids who used to say, "Mom! Look! Deeeeeer!!!" now just say, "Deer again."  How quickly city boys are jaded. 

But what astounds me is the long list of wildlife they've seen in 2 weeks that they've never seen in the city in their entire lives.  Such as: a muskrat, hawk, cardinal, frog, woodpecker, rabbit, owl, daddy long leg spider, a doe and her fawn, a million lightning bugs, a bird fly into a window and take an hour to recover in the grass, and...


...a grasshopper. 

All of these in nature, near the house, mostly in the backyard.  I should add a reported coyote sighting by the neighbor, but we won't go there.  Won't talk about last summer's grass snake, either.  I think you get the city vs country point ;)

I guess it's just me taking growing up here for granted, and then realizing how truly amazing it is when I see it through my children's eyes. 

To be honest, we've seen more animals than this.  But we cheated.  At the zoo.

Ten points for the person who can spot the rhino, hawk and peacock in this picture.  I know.  Me either.

Hooray for city kids having a "country" summer.  Maybe by the time we go back, they'll be excited to see squirrels, pigeons and raccoons-who-aren't-afraid-of-people again. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Happy 4th (+4)

Today is the 8th.  But I'm still reminiscing about our fun on the 4th.  So good! 

When I met my Canadian husband, I made it clear that I'm an American through and through.  So he's known from the start: 4th of July + American Thanksgiving = must do's for me.  And now with three dual kids?  He's outnumbered for life. 

Each year is the same.  Hometown festival.  Park, parade, fireworks.  Except this year, the big boys are 8 and 6...finally old enough to enjoy two big days of activities. 

What?  You thought the 4th was just the 4th?!?

The 3rd is all about wristbands and rides.

The carnival sets up what seems to be almost a week early every year.  And sells wristbands for all-you-can-ride nights leading up to the 4th.  Best $20 ever spent.

Charlie & George
George & Charlie

This shot is my fave.  It's like George is having the time of his life and even the ride operator is in on it.  Bliss.

Jumbo Corn Dog

This was not free with the wristband.  But he loves corn dogs so much.  It was worth the whopping $6.  And it actually started out double the size seen here. 

I'm not justifying.  It is the truth.  And he ate every crumb. 

Then the big boys did something new this year.  They stayed at the park (after riding 937463928374 rides) for the late night "flashlight candy hunt". 

Ready, Set...

Three adjacent baseball fields are covered with candy in the outfield.  The lights go out and the kids run with flashlights.  This year was our first time, since it doesn't take place until 9:30pm. 

The 3 year olds would be throwing tantrums by 8:00.  But these guys loved it. 

Best item found by Henry: McDonald's Happy Meal Toy (of course)

--- Go home, sleep, wake up, back to the park ---

Parade Watching

All five grandchildren made it to the parade AND STAYED THE WHOLE TIME.  This is a first.  We were thrilled.

The hands over ears were deserved.  Because Wisconsin is the home of Harley-Davidson.  And our parade kicks off with over 100 of them.

Just One of Many

But as soon as those go by, and we wait for the rest of the parade to catch up...

My Brother and My Biggest Boy

...there's a guy we know that makes an appearance.

Front Row, Left = Dad!!

He breaks order and high fives Jake every year.  Love.

After the parade, we go back to the park to drink more, eat more and roll ourselves out of there.  Until we return for these.

It isn't the 4th without fireworks.  Until next year!!!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

We Made It

First this happened...

Last Day of School

...then this...

Road Trip

...and now this...

We love summer!!!!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Return of the Garden

This was 7 weeks ago.

April 15, 2014

And this is today.

June 5, 2014

Seven weeks is nothing.  But that garden is everything!  I'm amazed how much has filled in, especially with the beating the backyard has taken over the last 3 years.  I really thought more would be lost.  Incredible. 

Almost all of the garden came back on its own.  Hooray for perennials.  Only a few spots took a big hit, due to the fence, which I had to fill in this year.

Back Right Corner

The planter used to be on our old deck.  I moved it to the back corner to give some height where I lost an evergreen bush.  It's ok.  I love the fence more than I ever liked the bush.  This corner is super shady when the leaves come out, so I chose ferns along the back and hostas in front of the planter.

More Green

I split the big green hosta and hoped they would fill out.  They obeyed.  The yellow one in front of it gives a pop of color in the shade.  And, of course, I planted in threes. 

The rest just grew in.

That corner is so deceiving!  I'm surprised every year by how shady it gets.  Spring comes and I think, maybe I really CAN plant "part sun" or even "part shade" plants there...  Then, surprise!  The elm tree in the corner leafs out and it's dark enough for my toddler to take his afternoon nap there. 

It's shady over here on the left side, too.  The plants up against the fence get no direct sun at all.  That's where I put in those blue-green hostas which love the shade.  The darker their color, the shadier they like it.

But 2 feet away from the fence, it's a sun fest, which is brand new.  Before the new fence, we had a tall lilac bush/tree on our neighbor's side that blocked the sun to the brick "edging".  Now, those part-shade lungworts at the edge are not sure what to do.  They may find a new spot, but I'm giving them a chance.  And splitting up sunnier hostas for this little corner as I wait and see...

But, in the meantime, this sunny right side has gone gangbusters.  Even the Japanese Maple that I almost killed 4 years ago.  It's a running joke with my husband.  I pruned it so badly, it almost died.  I was so so sad.  So I made a deal with him.  He gave me one chance to bring it back to life or else dig it up.  A respected professional came in.  He fertilized it and made me PROMISE never to touch it again.  I haven't.  And so far, it's obeying, too.


This might be my favorite little corner.  I transplanted a few sun loving perennials from semi-shade here, so they should grow larger soon.  Nothing is blooming (the clematis on the right will, soon) but I think I prefer it this way.  There's something about only texture that I love. 

And the firepit.  Oh that firepit.  I still don't know where I stand with it.  Right now it holds all the old 1900's brick that I can't bear to part with...and there are stacks of extra driveway pavers hidden behind it.  There's enough "growing" on around it, that changes may wait another year. 

Then I'll rip the whole garden out.

But for now...let's have a look at what 7 weeks can do for a backyard.

Well, I'm amazed.  Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst, really worked in this case. 

But I'm not ignoring that awful patch of semi-grass.  Or this...

...what you see when you step off the deck.  Oh, you know, just the old dirt footprint of our last deck.  I don't know if I am gung-ho enough to rip out and lay new stone.  But I could pinterest all day, dreaming of what I'd like to go there. 

For now, I'll just sit back and ignore the dirt enjoy the view!