June 14, 2017
- I thought I was immune to poison ivy after a childhood of dirt rolling and naturing without a single case; I was positive that I could not get it. So when I started hand excavating the front hill of my house I wasn’t even considering the possibility of it. Coupled with the fact that I DID NOT SEE ANY poison ivy, AT ALL, it didn’t even cross my mind. Cut to one week later when I’m walking around looking like Jabba the Hut caught Leprosy (not cute), I was seriously pissed off.
The landscaping at my house was disastrous when I moved in, it was totally overgrown and looked like it hadn’t been touched for 20 years, so I decided I was going to take it on as one of my solo projects (also because every landscaper I surveyed about it, looked at it, and basically never called me again). So I came to terms with the fact that I was on my own and got to business. The difficult part about the landscaping at my house was not only that it was totally overgrown, but really the sheer scale of it. Normal people are like, “oh how cute, let me get a couple shrubs and plant a hydrangea…” and I’m all like, “Ok 66 linear feet, by 12, means 6 yards of mulch and 37 SHRUBS… that’s after I excavate the 12 feet of overgrowth, and dig the 37 holes and fill with a fertilizer mix, oh and the drought, have to factor in the drought, need granite cobble stones so a pallet of those at $1.75 a piece and I need 200 of those…” So, it wasn’t the easy peasy situation that my pinterest dreams are made of. Nevertheless I persisted…
At first I just had to clear the dead overgrowth, don’t have a lot of pictures but here is a good idea of what it looked like:
So given how serious the growth was, I had to get an excavator to first clear the space:
starting with a clean slate
Once it was cleared, I figured I was GOOD TO GO, no visible vines etc. so started digging those holes. I have since learned that poison ivy doesn’t actually have to be visible for you to get it (real F**king cool). Apparently the oil of it, within the vines and leaves can spread onto other plants, onto rocks, onto gardening tools and clothing. So last summer I officially got it 4 TIMES, on my arms, face, one time DANGEROUSLY close to my lady parts, I am not kidding it was a NIGHTMARE. Poison ivy on your inner thighs is a new level of torture, you can’t even walk normally, TRUST ME… pure torture. Every time I thought “ok, I got this, I am fully covered in practically a HAZMAT suit,” gloves, long sleeves, rubber boots, whole nine… I STILL GOT IT.
I spent a large majority of the spring walking around with bandages taped all over my body to not scare away my clients. What’s worse; your real estate agent covered in opened wounds (barf) or covered in mysterious bandages?? I prefer the mystery… So after I planted all the shrubs (which looked oddly small once they were in – sort of a casualty of 66 linear feat of space) I decided I was going to weed mat the whole thing so no vines could grow up in-between all of my plantings. I weed matted at night because I was heavily medicated due to above referenced poison ivy and I couldn’t sleep, so no pictures really. Here is how that section ended up coming out;
Who knew I had a granite wall there?!
Why are these plants so tiny?!!!! They were much larger looking when I bought them.
So at that point I was finished with that project for the summer – cut to last week when I decided the top of this hill looked unfinished and started another project. I wanted the top of the hill (seen above) to look more complete, so I started edging out a new bed.
making a new bed
This seems like an easy task, but ripping up well established dirt might as well be ripping up cement. NOT EASY. Once I ripped up all of this grass I realized I had about a thousand pounds of grass with dirt attached to it to move somewhere which I hadn’t fully thought out…awesome. But what was in the grass roots?! Oh you know, just some more F**king poison ivy!!!! (face meet desk, desk -face, slam, slam, slam) Moving along…
Bed and shrubs...21 to be exact.
I got 21 more shrubs for the top, Japanese Holly, which looks similar to boxwood but grows faster. Boxwood is that super chic, great for a landscape architecture/style design plant but it grows and what I consider to be a glacial pace…I have no patience for this. If you have 20 years to watch shrubs grow, go for it, if not – pick something else. This is what weed matting looks like:
weed mat in between plants.
I bought a pallet of granite landscaping blocks to edge it all out and another 3 yards of mulch. After a lot of sweat, a jammed finger between granite blocks, and a moderate amount of blood (no tears), I finished the job.
Granite block edging
Flower and shrub bed
My Peonies in Full bloom
So in conclusion… hire a landscaper.
August 4, 2016
Ok so as a continuation of “Excavation Station” I wanted to update how it all turned out. As you may know we excavated out our backyard to get rid of an INSANE amount of an invasive species called Japanese Knotweed. Total nightmare. But we also took this opportunity to level out our back yard to make it more useable. After the excavation was complete we built a “dry stack wall” which I discussed in the previous post. Then we debated whether to seed the law ourselves or have it Hydro-seeded. Hydro-Seed is this Green pulp that comes out in a big hose and gets sprayed onto your yard, it’s a mixture of seed, wood chips/mulch. It basically makes the process easier and more uniform when finished. So because we were burt out (and I ended up picking up another remodel project along the way – more on that later) we decided to do the Hydro-seed route. The cool part is the guy that ended up doing ours also does Fenway park and is endorsed by them, so we’ve started referring to our yard as “Fenway.” Although none of us really give a Sh*t about the Red Sox, its fun to pretend.
I started to get antsy because it took a WHILE for the seeds to sprout, I was almost convinced we got a bad batch but little by little it came up. The only really unfortunate part was that it has not rained AT ALL this summer, so it’s been sort of an inner struggle to water and waste water, or to let all our hard work die. I usually end up watering in the dark of the night in order to have a mental compromise with myself.
Some photos below, not the best pics but I’ve been busy people!!
Heres the wall and the yard half Hydro-Seeded
BAM - FENWAY!
Another angle of the wall
Here I am caught red handed doing yard work in My Hunter's and work dress - Hey you gotta get it done no matter what! Steve gets mad at me for "Never wearing 'work clothes'" But honestly, what's the point of changing if I'm always working?
July 3, 2016
As you may know I am in the process of remodeling my dream house which is an old Victorian on the Ocean. It has turned out to be quite the project which is taking a long time to complete because I have a full time job, and no machine to counterfeit money in my basement. We took a break from finishing the front porch because our backyard was really steep and we wanted to level it out. A friend of mine from High School owns an excavation company out of Scituate, MA and came over and gave us a really reasonable quote to get the job done. Aside from leveling out the backyard we have had an ongoing battle with Japanese knot weed which is pretty much the devil and is an invasive plant species that took over the back yard.
This is what it looks like in summer
My dad and steve trying to clear it out after Winter
After a serious battle against this invasive plant that was taking up 1/3 of our yard, it continued to come back – no matter what we did (we didn’t do Round up Or Chemicals because I don’t want them in my yard, google about it and decide for yourself but I am ALL SET with glyphosate death serum).
Since we were planning to excavate to level out the yard we asked our excavator to go down an extra 2 feet in order to get most of the root system of this bamboo out. This plant is INSANE, literally if you leave just a tiny section of root in the ground, and entire plant will grow back, it’s actually growing through our asphalt driveway.
When our excavator came he got to work taking all of the dirt that was contaminated with Japanese Knotweed and trucking that out of our yard, and then taking the steepest section of our yard that we wanted to level out and using that dirt to fill in the hole where the dirt had been removed. Then he leveled everything out – which took a few days to get properly angled.
Taking out the hill
Before, hard to tell how steep it was
Leveled out backyard
LUCY love climbing on the mud wall
We ended up taking out about 4 feet of dirt from the steepest part of the yard in order to level it off. When you take out that much dirt naturally you have to put some sort of retaining wall in to hold the dirt from collapsing in on itself and shifting from the neighbors property. I looked at all kinds of possible retaining walls, there are so many beautiful ones to choose from, but obviously everything I really loved was WAY over budget. Fu*king budgets, always raining on my parade!!
Luckily our excavator who is great at this type of stuff, had an excess of boulders he had been collecting from other jobs. We were able to buy boulders by the truckload from him and do what is called a “dry stack wall.” Meaning, the rocks are places strategically to make a wall but there is no mortar or anything holding them together. Over time the dirt and grass seeps into the cracks and creates sort of a joint to hold the rocks back, hence the “dry stack.” The cool thing about this type of wall aside from the fact that it is more affordable that other masonry walls it that it reuses boulders that have not been altered which is a “green” alternative to quarried rock, and it provides a natural look. When you’re walking in the woods and see rock walls rom 100 years ago, those are dry stack walls, which have managed to remain pretty well enact.
Watching them build the wall was pretty cool as they had a strategic plan in place and picked each rock to fit into the correct space. I have to admit, when they first started I was like “Oh no, this is going to look like shit.” I really didn’t have a lot of faith that my “retaining wall on a budget” was going to look like the beautiful walls I had been stalking on pinterest, but luckily I was wrong and it came out awesome.
Tons of Boulders – delivered by the truckload.
Organized placing of each rock took some time. I walked around drinking wine and silently judging the placement of each and every rock.
Came home from work and it came out better than I thought! More to come on the back yard soon!
June 12, 2016
If you’re up to date with the remodel you’ll know I came home from work one day to my house looking like this;
Bye bye porch
Well my casual little porch remodel has turned out to be, well, NOT SO CASUAL. But that’s why I live with a contractor so moving along…
I’m pretty adamant that we keep with a similar style as I like to maintain architectural detail when working on older homes. I just kind of feel like so many houses look EXACTLY the same, why not maintain the unique differences that set a house apart from the rest?!
So after ripping off the whole porch and putting in temporary (VERY TEMPORARY) supports we had to jack up the house, literally JACK UP THE HOUSE, with a little thing called a …wait for it… HOUSE JACK. Legit, these things exist. So basically you put a huge 2×4 on this jack and lift up the house and then put a beam into place to hold up the house again. I’m giving the abridged version because pictures tell a better story but if you ever want a detailed explanation, I can give it to you – if you bring me a bottle of wine.
First Major beam went in at night... STRANGER DANGER
Side view before Beam 1
Staging and Framing for Beam 2, Also Steve's Ass...haaaay haayyy
Beam 3 and 4 And roof Framing Begins!
Roof Framed in Just in time for the Holidays! PEACE!!!
Well deserved Beers on top of Porch - Soon to be Second Level Porch from Master!
So At this point we are fully Framed in!! Winter came right after the second floor roof went on, we quickly put a rubber roof on top just to get it sealed up and then had to hold off until the warmer weather. The plan is to put a second floor Deck on top of the Main floor Porch so the master bedroom will have sliders that go onto the higher up porch with some killer views. At this point we are still framed in and don’t have decking down yet but coming soon!
The most important part of this project really is a two part issue that was repaired. First, the porch was separating from the house, and was eventually just going to fall off. Second, the second floor living area was cantilevered over the porch which was not properly supporting the living space, so all of the second floor flooring had buckled and warped and was obviously sagging. Once we jacked up the first floor porch and put new beams in, the second floor interior floors became more level – YAY! They aren’t exactly perfect yet, but when we put new flooring down inside we will be able to make the level now that the second floor is not sagging.
Once the main framing was done we poured a concrete slab underneath to provide us with a dry working space where we will stain the floor boards for the porch (the decking that you stand on).
So fresh and so clean! Much better than dirt to work on!
This project is on a slight hold while we took on another one, so stay tuned!!
April 27, 2016
Whelp, winter is finally over… Thank Fu*king god. Although who can really complain, it barely snowed at all and was really pretty mild. And since global warming is just some made up thing that has no scientific proof (cough, cough…Not) we can all just assume we are being rewarded for surviving last winter. With all of the non-snow weather we had I feel as if it rained way more than necessary, maybe not, but this is my blog so what I FEEL is obviously 100% factual and not up for discussion. And since it basically rained every day for 3 months there was an insane amount of mud in my yard, which in turn became an insane amount of mud on my carpet. So RIP carpet, I should have never bought you in cream.
Who else out there always buys super nice things in cream and white and really modern light grays only to realize they spill spaghetti sauce down their shirt on a daily basis and should really walk around with a post-it note on their forehead that reads “I CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.” Anyone? Anyone? Also, I forget sometimes when I’m shopping that I live with kids because I get caught up in all the shiny pretty things, (one mosaic glass bowl and I forget who I am for a while)…ohhhh glitter… and well, don’t get a cream carpet with kids anywhere within a 30 mile radius. It’s all fun and games until chocolate ice cream meets a beige couch…
So I am now on the hunt for a NEW carpet, but alas carpets are EXPENSIVE as _________. Which is totally _________ up and I hate people who make all the things I want so expensive. But I have an alternative for all the people out there that want nice carpets but can’t spend a million dollars on the perfect geometric pattern rug at some fab boutique.
ENTER RugsUSA.com !!! In what appears to be the most creative rug website name on earth, you can find some super cool rugs at prices that don’t make you want to overdose on Malbec if your kid spills an entire bag of Doritos on your white carpet, and then rolls around on top of said crushed Doritos for 45 minutes before you notice (that has never happened to me, it happened to a friend of mine… that friend is me).
The other amazing thing about this website (aside from the fact that you will NEVER forget it’s name) is that they have a SALE literally every day… Flag day? Earth Day? Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday?… 70% off… try me, check it out…today is a Wednesday in spring, they are having a sale…You’re welcome!!!!! Here are the ones I am contemplating buying:
November 24, 2015
Because I’m clearly a psychopath, I took on a new house project after finally finishing my last house. I fell madly in love this gorgeous house on Allerton Hill, in Hull, MA and HAD-TO-HAVE-IT! The only bad part was that it was way over my budget, and when I say way I mean like $100,000 more than I could afford. Thankfully, my lover suggested we just offer what we could afford, and thanks to some small miracle – they accepted the offer!! (I used this as an excuse to drink excessively in celebration for about a month – go me!).
In that I’m dating a contractor who is awesome at his job, I figured; why not take on a bigger project than the last one?? Well… here you have it.
When I submitted the offer we waived the home inspection contingency which I wouldn’t recommend unless you have done this before, but it helped me get the house – so it was worth it. I also waited 5 months to close on the property to give the seller more time to get out, also one of the reasons I was able to get this house. Sometimes when you are trying to get a deal, you have to be flexible – actually ALL THE TIME when you are trying to get a deal you need to be flexible. If you want to score, be prepared to wait it out.
Long story short, once we closed and got the keys we realized how many problems there were with my dream house… commence the drinking again!! Also, I had my mothers words reverberating through my head, “don’t buy that house, too much work, Hillary DO NOT buy that house, you will be miserable, you have to fix everything!!”
I mean, who really LISTENS to their mother anyway, am I right?
Anywhoo – I still love the house and don’t regret taking on this massive project. I went to work one day with the house looking like this:
- “DO NOT BUY THIS HOUSE” – My mom, enjoying Wine on the front porch
Then I got home from work one day and APPARENTLY, the entire porch was separating from the house so we had to rip the WHOLE thing off. So What I thought was going to just be a porch rebuild, turned out to be ripping off the front of the house and rebuilding the whole thing!!! Good times…grabs vodka bottle, locks herself in bathroom…
From the Back yard:
Although this has turned out to be a pretty large “first project” on the house, not counting that I’ve painted every room in the house. (We are also going to gut the entire first floor, move the kitchen to the middle of the house, open up all the walls, do new electrical, lighting, add a bathroom and finish the attic…just to get started) – I STILL LOVE THIS HOUSE.
I mean, this is the view from my bedroom:
View from my bedroom
This is Allerton Hill from Aerial view – Our house is three up from the giant one on the corner (The Honey Fitzgerald Mansion)
SO stay tuned for more updates as the project progresses! That is, if I don’t give up and move first!
July 8, 2015
About 2 years ago a purchased my first house in Squantum, MA. (North Quincy really). I was, and still am totally obsessed with the location. I bought a little bungalow for myself and figured I’d fix it up as I went. Apparently, fixing a house on your own isn’t easy, at all! I did have some help from friends, family, and concerned passerby (Thank you random shirtless man for making sure I didn’t fall of my ladder and die while cleaning my gutters in the pouring rain, I owe you one sir).
What was a major love/hate relationship with fixing stuff, turned out to be an amazing learning experience. In two years I feel like I have learned years’ worth of useful knowledge and am a regular fixture at Home Depot and Curry Ace Hardware (special thanks to the late night Home Depot crew who dealt with me while I was drunk and ran out of whatever material at 10pm). I now can walk into any house and have a much more in-depth understanding of what it takes to make a home exactly how you want it to be. Trust me, it’s not at all like HGTV, AT ALL, it’s a million times harder, and messier.
Below are some photos of my finished product. I got an AWESOME tenant (I love her) and have now bought and even BIGGER piece of Junk house that I can document the progress of on this blog (although, I pretty much always forget to update this thing). Before I share the “After” photos, I wanted to give a few tips to my fellow “Do it yourself-ers” who are just getting started or considering remodeling a house or condo on their own.
1. However long you think it’s going to take…Triple it.
Seriously, things take a lot longer than you’d like. For example. I decided to put a front porch on my house to make it look less like a trailer. Just a small little porch for friends. Well a porch requires permits, and inspections, and an actual contractor who is AVAILABLE to build your porch (everyone is busy right now who is in the trades so get ready to wait). Aside from buying all the materials which may or may not be in stock and need to be ordered (yes you have to SPECIAL ORDER even the most obvious things), you have to handle all these other unforeseen things. Let’s say you have a hose on your house, hoses are nice to water plants and whatnot, but if you want to build a porch on your house, well you have to move the hose, and in order to do that you need a plumber, and well plumbers are busy! See where I’m going with this?? IT TAKES TIME!! Sit back, get a cocktail and get ready to wait. Building a porch doesn’t take a week, it takes a month or more, and there you have it.
2. However much you think it will cost….Double it.
So I wanted a new front door, pretty normal right? I went to Home Depot, they have nice doors for $175.00…SCORE! Well no; are you going to install a front door yourself? …SURE!! I CAN DO ANYTHING – I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR! No, actually you can’t, I’m smart and I couldn’t either, so don’t feel bad about yourself. Call a contractor or your favorite uncle who lets you pay him in beer (this takes 3 times as long fyi and is usually crooked). And then you have to pay people, even if it’s in beer, it still costs money. New front door? $600.00, easy.
3. Get the right tools to do stuff, it makes it a billion times easier.
You want to paint? Sure! You should, you can save a lot of money painting yourself! But get the right tools, like a Roller extension (easy little thing that you put on your roller for high walls so you don’t have to climb up and down a frigging ladder all day, saves you hours and back pain). Get a small set of your standard tools, screw drivers, pliers, MEASURING TAPE, hammer, etc. and keep them handy. Tightening up a toilet, or changing out hardware on cabinets is easy peasy – IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS. (Ikea screw box and tools DO NOT COUNT).
4. Don’t be cheap.
If you buy the cheap stuff, it breaks, and also sucks. Don’t waste your time and money, just get the real thing the first time and get to work.
5. Nobody’s going to help you so don’t get all teary when they don’t.
Your cousin, Uncle, Friend from band camp, all said they would “totally come over on a Saturday and help you remodel your entire house!!!” … NO, they won’t. Literally, it seems glamorous, but after about 2 hours of painting Peach Pagoda on your bathroom walls you can pretty much guarantee yourself they never call you again.
6. Think about something for a long time before you do it, and do it in the CORRECT ORDER!
I can’t stress this enough. Before you decide to do a project, get an understanding of what it entails so you don’t have to do it all over again because you didn’t realize it corresponded with something else you were going to do. For example, you decide to re-finish your floors, but then want to take a wall down? Well what do you think goes where the wall once was? FLOORING, and if you want it to match you should probably do them all at the same time, know what I mean? And really think about the whole picture before you do something, you may end up moving stuff around and all your hard work and more importantly all your MONEY gets wasted.
7. Don’t over improve.
I mean this in the most sincere way. Some people have a moderate house and they think they are building the friggin Taj Mahal. Know your neighborhood, know who your end buyer is going to be and don’t over spend. If you are in a moderate area, don’t do a $70,000.00 kitchen and expect to make that $70,000.00 back. You don’t necessarily make back what you put into a house and you need to keep that in mind. And not everyone has the same taste as you. You may love bead board and starfish…guess what, NOT EVERYONE ELSE DOES. Keep that in mind.
The most important thing is to take your time and not waste money!
Here are some of my before/ after pictures. A lot of the updates don’t really show up in the photos but trust me, this place is like night and day!! Moving onto another project!! Stay tuned for updates!
after with porch!
Kitchen after! Took down 1/2 wall, granite, new sink, crown molding etc.
granite, new sink, lighting
These were my floors
yay new floors, also - recessed lighting!
bedroom and broken closet
This closet rocks! Took down the whole wall and rebuilt
made this a dining room
Laundry room nightmare, I wish I had a before photo! Turned out ok!
May 20, 2013
For as long as I can remember I wanted to own my own house. I’m not into drugs, but I might as well be, because I look at real estate like a crack smoking , street walker…Can’t get enough…MORE, MORE, MORE, NOW! So when the day came that I closed on my first house, I was so excited I sweat through my brand new Calvin Klein dress bought specifically for the occasion, pounded 6 cups of coffee (not an exaggeration), go lost 3 times going to the registry of deeds I had been to multiple times before, and puked in my mouth a little. Needless to say it was one of the best days of my life. Seriously, AMAZING. I had worked so hard for that day and it was finally here. I signed the papers, grabbed the keys and ran to my new house.
Having worked in real estate for a while I knew the “buy the worst house in the best neighborhood” lecture pretty well , because I gave it to my clients on a weekly basis. Taking my own advice, I negotiated the price down on the cheapest house in my DREAM neighborhood to what was a ridiculously good deal so I was pretty confident in my decision even though I knew there were things I had to fix.
It’s funny how when you’re shopping around at houses you see all the good things, but the day it becomes yours you suddenly realize all the flaws (kind of like boyfriends, really perfect, until they’re yours, every day). So when I walked up to the front of my new fab-pad, and the front door literally broke off, I thought it was probably just a lucky sign of how smart I was in purchasing this house.
It seemed odd when I walked into the front porch that everything looked more crooked than I remembered it at the walk through. Closet doors seemed off their hinges, shelves were slightly off, and what I thought were “beautiful hardwood floors” were floors that hadn’t been refinished since the year I was conceived.
I didn’t have time for “buyers remorse” and besides, this is what I do, so no regrets here. But I had to evaluate how I hadn’t noticed cracks in the ceiling and separated beams just the morning before. Was I losing my mind? Perhaps… but seriously? And then it occurred to me, the first earthquake in 100 years had just happened in Massachusetts two days prior! And suddenly it occurred to me that my 1903 salt box, bungalow had seen better days.
Let the project-ing begin! Stay tuned, but for now, enjoy (and by “enjoy” I mean “cringe at”) some “before” pictures:
My nasty bathroom... oh dear.
Kitchen, kind of yuck, but i've seen worth.
I hate laundry, this room isn't helping with that.
Pristine hardwood floors!
Don't even get me started!
Right after the 100 year earth quake. My closet totally busted...AWESOME!