Keeping Things Above Water

One of the great things about our house is the large basement that would nearly double our living space if it were all in good shape and livable. That’s why we’ve been working to get it up to par so much lately. The real impetus for change was when we won this great basement makeover from Apartment Therapy, which took our basement bar area from this:

to this:

We were thrilled with the updates; the guys from Apartment Therapy took our dreary glum basement a long way toward being a really great hangout spot for us and our friends. We still have a few things to do to really finish it off (like repair much of the ceiling and floor), but it’s nearly there.

After that, we decided to update our outdated and only partially functioning basement bathroom. We haven’t quite finished that project yet, but we’re *this* close!


Next, we took our basement workroom and cleared all the tools out to set up shop in our detached garage.

The plan is to take the old shop and convert it into a guest bedroom, making a comfortable guest quarters downstairs complete with a private bathroom. While we’re not planning a family just yet, we thought while we have the time, we’d make as many updates as possible to make way for a family we hope to have sometime soon.

With all the changes going on downstairs, we certainly wouldn’t want our hard work ruined by flood waters. Our neighborhood has been known to get a lot of rainwater, and our neighbors a couple of streets over have seen their basements under several inches of flooding. While we’ve not gotten any serious water in our basement (fortunately, our house is at the top of a small hill), we don’t want to chance it and are taking every precaution we can to keep out any dampness. Here’s what we’re doing to make sure our basement stays dry:

1. Keeping all Gutters in Repair. Last summer, we noticed that the gutter on one side of our house was partially detached from the house. Rainwater was spilling over the side of the roof and missing the gutter at that detachment. Water not directed away from the foundation has an awful way of seeping inside. Right away, we took long gutter screws and reattached the gutter to the roof.

While I was up there, I also used a gutter scoop to clean out all the leaves and gunky material keeping the gutters from draining effectively. We plan to clean them out twice a year.

2. Caulking Sidewalk Seams. Along the same side of the house as we made the gutter repairs, we have a long sidewalk abutting the foundation of the house. Between the sidewalk and the house, I used concrete/masonry caulk to fill the seam. I used a polyurethane-based caulk to allow for the seam to expand and contract in the changing weather.

3. Foam Fill Sidewalk Cracks. Along with caulking the seam along the sidewalk and house, I used a foam insulating material to fill all the cracks we couldn’t afford to repair right away. This foam sealant is completely waterproof and will hopefully keep water that might seep through the cracks and into the basement well at bay. 4. Waterproof Masonry Paint. We used this Behr Masonry and Concrete Waterproof paint to paint the brick and concrete walls in our basement. It’s designed to keep seepage out of concrete walls and has a built-in mold and mildew inhibitor.

5. Sloping Adjacent Land Away From The House. For the landscaping in front of our house, we made sure the soil was tapered to slope away from the house at least one inch for every six linear feet of land. This helps to keep rainfall aimed away from the foundation and out of our basement.

All that prep work should lead to a dry and (soon) welcoming basement.

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Midcentury Magazine Rack

We’ve made mention of our favorite thrift store in the past. It’s where we’ve picked up a lot of essentials, furniture, and random stuff over the years.

Just the other day, we spied this:

And at only three bucks, we were sold! Told ya this place was our favorite. They have some pretty unbelievable finds for much, much less than you would find at an area antique or specialty shop.

And because we only buy what’s truly functional, we found the perfect spot for it:


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An Organized Mess

Our garage had become a huge mess. We organized it last fall, but we didn’t do the best job, and everything ended up a big cluttered heap again. As you know, we’re in the process of updating our basement bathroom, and as soon as that project’s done, we’re going to convert the basement shop into a guest bedroom. Also, the big basement bar recently underwent quite a transformation. All that change in the basement means our workspace has to find a new home. Luckily, we have a pretty big (for Chicago) garage that can easily pull triple duty: parking, workshop, and storage. The space is definitely there, we just needed to create a really workable plan to make sure that all our hard work at organizing isn’t in vain.

Take a look at where we started. Here’s the basement workshop right next door to the bathroom:

It might not look like the most welcoming space to eventually set up a guest bedroom, but it’s dry and once cleaned up, painted and finished off, we think it’ll be a great haven for our guests.

I started by clearing all the junk from the garage:

All of that has to go back in PLUS all the tools from the basement. As you can see, we needed a major plan to be able to pack all that plus a car in our 400 square foot garage. So, here’s the space absent all it’s contents:

We swept the floors, scraped out all the (many) cobwebs, and wiped down all the studs. Before anything came back in, we decided it would be important to have a good plan. If we wanted things to have a place and to STAY in that place, we thought it would be smart to assign everything an order before beginning the organizing. So, we used some paper and a tape measure to draw out a basic floorplan of the garage, including all the necessary areas to work around (like windows and doors):

As you can see (maybe), there’s a window on the South and East walls, a door on the East wall, and a big garage door with a small clearance on the sides on the West side. We then took all those measurements, transferred them to graph paper and began a basic layout of the new garage, incorporating all the things we knew needed to go back in:

That’s the overview with the car included. It’s probably a little too close to the South wall, but there’s plenty of room in the middle to move it around. Then, we took each of the walls and drew an even more detailed plan on graph paper of each. Take a look at the plans:

We knew we’d have to incorporate four bicycles, a snow blower, two lawn mowers (the electric one was an unexpected acquisition from a neighbor), lots of gardening and sports equipment, storm windows which we remove in the summers, a charcoal grill, plus lots of tools and lumber. We used the graph paper to assign each element a space, incorporating a big peg board wall to wrangle all the smaller tools.

After all the detailed plans were done, and we did quite a bit of work, we came up with this:

As you can see, the peg board is only half full, which is great, because it allows for us the room to acquire new tools or re-position those we end up going to most often. I moved the workbench from the basement workshop and will hopefully soon cut a new countertop to place on top.

We were able to suspend our least used bikes from the rafters using a pulley system designed to raise and lower the bikes as needed, and place our go-to bikes on the ground, where we can easily access them for a quick trip out. Lots of shelves, too, helped to clean things up and utilize vertical space.

Some things from the plans didn’t translate as well into reality, which was both a good thing at times and a challenging thing at others. For instance, both ladders didn’t fit on the North Wall as I planned, but luckily, there was plenty of room on the opposite wall to fit one after I’d hung the other on the North wall. In some instances, I ended up with more room than I’d planned, like near the sporting equipment. I was able to include the golf clubs in the same bin as the rest of the sporting goods and free up a little floor space there.

Even the large cabinet got a little organization, and it know houses both garden tools, auto needs, and some gutter/exterior essentials.

We were also able to use the rafter space to store most of the scrap and unused lumber we had laying around:

Hopefully this newly organized garage can stay that way and make way for a new guest quarters in the basement.


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Refrigerator Pickles

We’ve had a plethora of cucumbers in the past few weeks. Jarrett doesn’t really eat cucumbers, and if I’m the only one eating them, we needed to come up with a way to make them last for a bit longer. I’ve done very little canning in the past, but I’ve made a few jams before. Once I made a jam with a wax seal, which didn’t require all the steps of the longer canning process, and I went the traditional route for one batch, too. We’re both big fans of pickles, so I decided to try my hand at pickling our crop of cukes.

A little internet researching through pickle recipes proved that pickling is quite an involved process and often involves waiting several weeks before eating the delicious results. A little discouraged (I want pickles NOW!), my friend told me about her family’s method of refrigerator pickles. The process is still a little involved, but, luckily, the pickles don’t have to go through the whole canning process (i.e. you don’t have to sterilize the jars, boil them, and make sure they get a good seal). It basically only requires preparing the brine, pouring it over cut cucumbers and refrigerating for a week. Definitely a better pay-off for me than waiting two months to enjoy.

I pulled together a few recipes, taking all the best parts from each, to come up with one I thought we’d enjoy, gathered all our cucumbers (and some green beans, too!), and in less than an afternoon, I had five jars of pickles and dilly beans (another concoction I discovered in my googling)!

And to boot, all the pickling spices, garlic and dill looked so beautiful together. One week later, we had an excellent crunchy pickle. Want to try them out? You can find some recipes here and here.


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College Mindset

Catherine’s parents are both college professors. They started back to school this week and are leading some freshman groups in orientation to start off the new school year. I couldn’t believe this, but the class of 2014 was mostly born in 1992! 1992! That doesn’t seem so long ago, and, of course, as students get younger and younger, their worldview is progressively changing.

Beloit College puts out an annual College Mindset list that records the cultural touchstones affecting the lives of students entering college this fall. You can find the whole list here, but here’s some of the ones I thought were most interesting:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

  • Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren’t afraid of immigration…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.
  • Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patty the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, was always married to Soon-Yi Previn.

  • Computers have never lacked a CD-Rom disk drive
  • Czechoslovakia has never existed.
  • Nirvana is on the classic oldies station

  • Rock Bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties

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Bathroom Updates: A New Floor

The basement bathroom, which we started a few weeks back, is still very much in progress, but we’re making plenty of progress. We’ve put in a new sink, and now we have a floor! You’ll remember, the linoleum floor we had in the bathroom was the same blue, yellow and white flecked linoleum we had on the back stairs:

The floor was in bad shape, stained and cracked at the edges. The concrete floor underneath is very uneven, so to lay tile (which is what we preferred) would require leveling out the floor. Not that big of a project, but we started this bathroom remodel in an effort to get it done quickly, inexpensively, and as easily as possible. We looked into a few different options, like commercial vinyl tiles, but finally landed on peel and stick vinyl tiles for several reasons. First, they’re incredibly cheap. We got the ones we ended up with for only 49 cents apiece. At only about 24 square feet, we could totally cover the floor for under twelve bucks! Second, because it would be such a cheap investment, we thought this would be a great temporary fix, and if we wanted to upgrade to ceramic or stone tile in the future, it would be no great loss. So, we settled on black glossy peel and stick tiles from Armstrong.

Before installing, I used floor leveling compound to repair cracked edges and cleaned the surfaces well with TSP (available at any hardware store).

To install, all we had to do was find the center of the floor by measuring the length of opposing walls, marking the center, and using a carpenter’s square to draw lines to the center. There’s plenty of good how-to’s online for installing peel and stick tiles, so this won’t be too detailed. Suffice it to say, we found the center, squared off a grid from that, and aligned the first tile against the center mark. Then, we bordered each subsequent tile on the edge of the first centered tile. It’s really important to get the first tile perfectly square – the rest of the tiles depend on this one being right!

Because this is meant to be a temporary floor fix, we decided not to remove the toilet and installed the floor around it. The center tiles go on easily, but then when the tiles get close to the walls and fixtures (like the toilet), they have to be trimmed to fit. To do this, we created patterns out of thick paper. This paper was left over from Catherine’s classroom, and we cut it down to a 12″x12″ size – the same size as the self-adhesive tiles.

Then, we used the patterns to lay them down by the toilet (or wall or whatever the obstruction was), and traced around to create a pattern by which to trim the tile to fit.

After trimming the pattern down, we made sure again that it fit,

turned it upside down on the back of the tile, traced it, cut it down using industrial scissors, and laid the tile back down in place before peeling the backing off and sticking the tile to the floor.

Once all the trimmed tiles were put into place, we caulked around the toilet, walls and shower basin to cover the gaps between the trimmed tile and the object. To create a clean line, we used painters tape to make a clean border.

Then, we smeared caulk into the space and peeled the tape up before the caulking was dry. It’s important to pull the tape up while the caulk is still wet to create a clean line.

After only a couple of hours worth of work, we had a finished floor – all for about $12!

Only a few more projects, and we’ll be all done.


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Our Big Basement Surprise

We’ve been holding out on this one for a while. But, many of you probably already caught on (and maybe that’s why you’re here in the first place). Our basement has recently undergone a HUGE change, thanks to one of our favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy and Valspar paint!

Back in May, we submitted our huge, outdated basement bar area for a room redo to Apartment Therapy, and lo and behold, we got picked! I guess the intrigue of redoing such a huge room with lots of interesting elements proved just the ticket. Well, all the work’s done, and the place has been spiffed up and photographed for a big reveal this week over at Apartment Therapy. First, take a look at our basement before the big change:

See? Told you it was bad. With a lot of paint, a lot of scrubbing and some great new finds brought in by Apartment Therapy, our room underwent a huge change. Check out the after shots:

Check out more at Apartment Therapy right here.

Amazing, right? While the striped pattern and bright orange colors are definitely not something we would have come up with on our own, it sort of works. Granted, the bright stripes behind the bar are a little much, but it’s definitely an upgrade. And the couch (incredibly comfortable) and furniture are such cool finds.

A big difference from the rest of our house, with much more subdued colors and furniture, but the basement bar is supposed to be fun. We’re excited for our first big party here soon. Who’s in?


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