Tuesday, August 14, 2012

this was supposed to be easier

Jason and I are reading the Game of Thrones series right now (when we're not up to our elbows in paint), and the Stark family motto is "Winter is Coming." If we had a motto, right now it would be "This was supposed to be easier." Or something more poetic, but along the same lines.

By now you'd think that we would expect things will go wrong, but for some reason, we keep getting thrown off when our plans go awry. Like when I realized I broke the plastic tube that connects the fridge's water supply after moving the fridge to paint the wall behind it. Or when we tried reinstalling the blinds. Or when we tried to move the couch and scratched up our nicely painted wall. Or just trying to get painters tape to stick to the wall.

Last week we brought in a contractor to remove our asbestos-free popcorn. The team spent Monday and Tuesday removing the popcorn and Wednesday was spent texturizing and priming. Thursday was supposed to be the last day and the crew spent it painting the ceiling a nice crisp white. However, toward the end of the day on Thursday, we noticed some strange stripes in the ceiling.

The contractor had never seen this before, but it appeared that the mudding compound used on the drywall was showing through the paint (or the paint was brighter on the compound than it was on the drywall). And this was after one coat of primer and two coats of paint.

(Editor's note: We really should have seen this one coming, after we had our light box in the kitchen removed and replaced with recessed lighting we learned that drywall needs more than just one coat of primer and it took us four coats of paint to get the ceiling in the kitchen to look good. Oh well.)

After the contractor called some associates and visted Sherwin Williams' paint experts and Jason did some exhaustive internet research we came to the conclusion that this was likely due to our choice in paint finishes.

We picked satin to go throughout the condo for two main reasons:
  • It's easy to clean but not too shiny
  • We wanted consistency throughout the condo. Some of our walls cross into other rooms - i.e. the kitchen and living room share a wall and it would look weird to have two different finishes on one wall. This way we can have a food fight wherever without worrying about spaghetti sauce staining the wall. 
While satin is great to clean, it shows imperfections more than other flatter finishes. The paint crew came back on Monday and finished up the job with one final coat of flat paint and it looks amazing.

Removing the popcorn was a great investment, right up there with the hardwood floors that are coming in less than a week!

Here's a before an after shot:

Monday, August 6, 2012

adios popcorn!

After a relaxing float on the river with friends this weekend, Jason cracked the whip and we got back to work:

We reorganized the closets in the hall, the master and guest bedrooms for more storage space. We cleared out the kitchen cabinets, took out the shelves and stored everything. We found mold! And removed the mold with lots of bleach. We cleaned the cabinets with TSP and finished painting the kitchen walls. We moved the refrigerator and discovered a spill from many years ago. We cleaned the spill. We took apart the dining room table, bookshelf, and computer desk and stored everything in the closets. We deglossed the cabinets and removed the shelf lining. We moved the furniture from the living room and the dining room into the guest bedroom and the closets.

What do we have now? Empty rooms so that the popcorn ceiling doesn't get on the furniture while it's being removed.

Goodbye popcorn ceiling! The work crew showed up at 7:55 a.m. today and they aren't wasting any time getting started.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

major progress is happening here!

I don't want to post any progress pictures because we're saving it for a big reveal, but we've been working hard the last couple of weeks and I want to let you in on some of the exciting things we've been up to.
Jason and I both have splotches of paint all over and home improvement-induced injuries including cramped hands from holding the screwdriver to sore backs from hunching over while painting the trim. There have been some trying moments (re-installing blinds, I HATE the blinds) and some triumphs (the outlets work! the light switches work! the tile looks good!). While we like to think we're pretty good at this project management business, we're learning that there's always room for improvement. An example of this is the ten trips to Home Depot and Lowe's we've made since Friday (yes, ten trips in six days).

We spent last weekend painting the living room, kitchen and master bedroom. We were fortunate enough to have a few friends that worked long hours (thanks Ben and Andres!) which made the work go by much faster and I didn't have to go up on the wobbly 10-foot ladder at all! Add to that the den, hall and dining room and we're getting close to finishing. All that's left is the space behind the refrigerator, the bathrooms and the guest bedroom.

After a power outage on Monday, our tile contractor got a delayed start but they made up time and finished today. The bathrooms are now usable, which means we don't have to go down to my unit every time nature calls. Here's a close-up of our tile selection - you'll have to wait till we're finished painting to see the whole room.

Speaking of nature calling, we had a not-very-fun weekend a month ago when the master bathroom toilet starting leaking. The bolt in the tank had rusted out and needed to be replaced along with the rubber washers. It proved to be a lot more difficult getting the bolt out than we anticipated and we started thinking maybe this 34-year-old toilet should be replaced. So Jason shopped around and asked became well-educated in the power of the flush and the pros and cons of a one-piece toilet. At Home Depot they measure flush power in how many golf balls can go down in one flush. I think the one we ended up with can manage 10 golf balls, not that we'll ever test it.

Did you know Amazon sells toilets? We found the same one from Home Depot for less and with free shipping.

Electrical outlets and light switches!
Jason has become a master electrician replacing out our ugly beige switches with these elegant white decorate switches.

We've invested in a new tool as well which will be delivered on Thursday: an outlet tester. I'm not sure what it does but hopefully it'll help Jason make sure he doesn't electrocute himself.

When we first starting painting in the living room we realized that the previous owners had painted the popcorn ceiling the same color as the walls. It wasn't noticeable until the beige walls became light gray and the popcorn ceiling stayed beige. Jason and I cursed the ugliness of it, but at 10 feet high, they're beyond our reach and doing anything with them was out of the scope of our renovations.

But we couldn't stop obsessing about how ugly and dirty it was. We figured out our options: 
  1. Do nothing and avoid looking at the ceiling. 
  2. Paint the cursed popcorn white and hope it doesn't get dirty again. 
  3. Bite the bullet and remove the popcorn and then paint the ceiling. 

We looked into what it cost to do the second and third options. The estimates we received for painting the popcorn ranged from $500 to $1250. The high end seemed like a lot for 450 sq ft of popcorn, but we've learned the hard way that you usually get what you pay for. The high ceilings coupled with the prep work of masking our walls and removing the ceiling fan and covering the track lighting weren't helping lower the price.

Our last option was removing the popcorn altogether and painting the ceiling. This was the preferred option because we don't like the look of popcorn ceilings, but before we could even think about that option, we needed to find out if our popcorn had asbestos fibers in it. We found a local company with a fast turn around time (Seattle Asbestos Testing) and followed the instructions on how to collect a sample. I donned a face mask and used some of my recently purchased art supplies to collect the sample (spray bottle to moisten the popcorn and a palette knife to scrape). With sample in hand (in a ziploc baggy) I drove to the lab and $50 and less than an hour later we had the result. 

Not only does this mean Jason hasn't been inhaling asbestos for the last three years but it also means that the cost of removing the popcorn is much less and won't require haz-mat suits. Jason found a few companies who would remove the popcorn, patch the ceiling and paint for not much more than the paint quotes we received. We decided to go for it and will be removing the popcorn in the living room, dining room, den, hallway and master bedroom. So, our apologies to guests because we're not paying for it to be removed in there... sorry!

What's up next? 
Our to do list is still pretty hefty and we're aiming to finish it all before August 20 - the day the hardwood floors are installed. Here's a look at what we're still working on:
  • Cabinets: we've cleaned them and filled their dents and scratches, next up is deglossing, priming and painting
  • Painting: guest bedroom, bathrooms, and the doors (ugh, the doors, all the doors)
  • Hiring a popcorn ceiling remover and getting that junk outta here
Hmmm...writing it down doesn't make it seem like that much but between working and trying to have a little bit of a life, it sounds like a busy next couple of weeks. Once the floors are installed comes the fun part:
  • Rug shopping!
  • Sock races on the hardwood!
  • Maybe creating art for Jason's bare walls - more on this to come soon!
That's it for now, but we'll keep you updated with more exciting things to come soon. Also, get your buiilding materials tested if you're planning on doing any renovations - that asbestos is not good for you, especially when you're doing renovations in and around it. From the EPA: "If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present."

Friday, July 13, 2012

releasing my inner artist

"This is an early VandenBerghe piece, circa 1995. It’s still too early to guess how much it could be worth, after all, the prolific painter is still developing as an artist."

I'm not sure why the flowers are hearts, but we'll say it's an abstract painting that symbolizes  something that was very important to 9-year-old Alissa. 
That’s what I’m imagining the art dealer will tell people at my first show, and then the art buyer will shell out thousands of dollars for one of my “originals.”

Hahaha, unlikely I know, but a girl can dream right? I know this piece of art is right where it’s supposed to be: in a box labeled “Alissa’s Creative Crap” – I kid you not, that is what the box is called – in my old bedroom in my parents’ basement. It took a lot of  heavy lifting to get “Ken’s Creative Crap” box off of mine, but as you can tell from the masterpiece above it was worth it.

Don’t think my parents don’t value my art, because they do, this painting hung in our basement for years. I'm pretty sure they've cherished my many masterpieces. Which is saying a lot, because as a chronic dabbler I've dabbled in almost every medium out there.

I've painted. I've scrap booked. I've wood worked. I've decoupaged. I've beaded. I've embroidered. I've made friendship bracelets. I've calligraphied.

Most interests lasted a few weeks before the paint brushes were forgotten and something else caught my interest. Hopefully, now you can see that the “Creative Crap” box was probably a coping mechanism my parents used to deal with my many many phases of an "artist."

It's been a few years since I unleashed the artist within – after all, I have to pay for supplies myself now and that changes things. But a month or so ago my mom and I signed up for a painting class at Palettes and Pairings. Not only do they supply you with everything you need to paint a work of art and lead you step-by-step through the process but they also supply you with wine to help coax your shy artist out. 

This was the first painting we made:
It's supposed to be the Seattle skyline with a puddle reflection at the bottom, but I can understand if that wasn't clear when you first saw the picture. We left accuracy at the door and went for something else instead. 

The class was fun, the wine was good and my mom and I enjoyed spending time together. So we signed up for another class at a different studio, CANVAS! Paint and Sip Studio. This was what we painted at that class:
Our own take on Monet's poppies.
My dad joined us for our third and most challenging class, a mountain. We experimented with a palette knife; it wasn't easy and I think I heard some cursing, but in the end, the paintings turned out great:

Guess which mountains we painted and when you think you know tell us because we can't figure it out either.
By now I was really into the swing of things with these wine and painting classes and wanted more of a challenge. So I checked around to see if there were any acrylic painting classes offered at Bellevue College, and sure enough there was. Never being one to take a hobby too far (ha!), I registered for the class and printed my supply list. 

I just signed away six Tuesday evenings from 6-10 p.m. and a good chunk of change for the class and my tub of art supplies. Hopefully this hobby sticks at least until I run out of paint. 

My class starts in about a week and a half so I'll keep you all updated on my progress and I might even get you a deal on a piece of art. I'll remember you all when I'm rich and famous, I promise. ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

home improvement: where's our al?

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say I’m a Home Improvement expert. I mean I think I’ve seen every episode and sometimes I feel just like Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor.

But actually grabbing a tool and fixing something? No, I have no idea what I’m doing.

I’m no stranger to broken appliances and fixtures, but I’ve always rented so I have a landlord to call when something goes wrong and then it’s not my problem.

Last summer that changed when I moved into Jason’s recently purchased second condo.

Jason signing the papers to buy the condo!

I’m a little more attached to Jason than I was to my previous landlords, so I’ve found myself volunteering and being enlisted to help with projects. 

Since the condo I moved into was a foreclosure we had a lot of projects to tackle. Our accomplishments included: 
  • Eliminating the cat pee stench from the condo by removing the cat-pee soaked carpet and applying many coats of a special enzyme to extract the cat pee from the concrete. 
  • Pulled out a set of cabinets above the kitchen bar 
  • Painted (and hired a painter to help) 
  • Tried unsuccessfully to fix the light fixture in the kitchen 
  • Installed appliances 
I think this is the only action shot I have of our projects last year. 
Jason's prepping our cabinet removal project.

And that’s just the highlights. We learned a lot during our projects last summer. I learned that I don’t like to paint after working all day. We learned that Jason is definitely still allergic to cats (no question there). We also learned how to install a dishwasher which involved a lot of trust between the two of us – imagine Jason with the flashlight reassuring me that he turned the breaker off for the dishwasher while I’m holding the screwdriver to tighten the screw that keeps the wire in place. Good times. Stressful, but still good.

What Jason and I lack in home improvement know-how, we make up for in project management skills. We’re both organized and we love to plan. Last year, Jason was in charge of researching appliances and carpets and I was incharge of aesthetics. Together, and with the help of a plumber, a painter, a handyman and a good friend, we got my place in great shape and I love it.

A few months back, we decided to turn our attention to Jason’s condo (the condo upstairs). It’s in much better shape than our last adventure, but it still needs an upgrade. This project began when Jason said he was thinking about getting hardwood floors to replace the stained and dingy carpet. From there our list grew to include:
  • Hardwood floor in halls, kitchen, foyer, living, dining and den 
  • New carpets in the bedrooms 
  • Tile floors in the bathrooms 
  • Replace kitchen cabinets 
  • Replace kitchen countertops 
  • Tile the kitchen backsplash 
  • Replace the kitchen sink and faucet 
  • Fresh paint everywhere 
  • Remove the cabinet above the bar 
  • Replace the florescent light tubes with recessed lighting 
  • Remove the popcorn ceiling 
Obviously, our eyes are bigger than our tool belts. After a bit of research, we realized we could probably spend $50,000 doing everything.

Look at how organized we are! This was to help us figure out how many 
square feet of countertop we would need. 

Since we don't want to spend $50,000, we pared the list down to:
  • Hardwood floor in halls, kitchen, foyer, living, dining and den 
  • Deep clean carpets in bedrooms 
  • Tile floors in bathrooms 
  • Refinish cabinets, replaces hinges, add hardware 
  • Paint countertops (looking more into our options
  • Fresh paint on all the walls 
  • Remove the cabinet above the bar 
  • Replace the florescent light tubes with recessed lighting 
  • Remove the popcorn ceiling (maybe) 
We’re trying to stay within a budget of $10,000-$13,000, which is going to be tight. We decided to keep the hardwood floors because it will have the biggest impact on the value and the look of the condo. We’re still trying to figure out what we can do ourselves and what we’ll need help with, but in the meantime we’re making progress on some projects.

Jason and some friends already removed the cabinet above the bar, which we forgot to document with pictures, but I can tell you it’s a great improvement.

The recreated "before" picture.

Since the place has tons of storage, removing the cabinet opened 
the kitchen up and brought a lot of natural light in. 

As you can see from the second picture we’re also making progress on the cabinets. All the cabinet doors are downstairs, on my condo’s deck waiting to be cleaned, deglossed, and painted.

For the rest of the projects, we’ll document our progress and share the highs and lows with you all!

As a sneak peak, here's some painting in progress...
Jason paints better when he's uninhibited by a t-shirt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

thrill-seeker and secret-keeper

These are two attributes I wouldn't generally assign to myself but a weekend not long ago proved that I might be a little more adventurous than I thought.

My boyfriend, Jason, and I planned a trip to Las Vegas for his birthday. Shortly after we booked the tickets, I started brainstorming fun ways we could celebrate. Inspiration struck about a month before we left and gave me a huge secret to keep.

Skydiving. Jumping out of an airplane attached to another person with just a piece of cloth to keep you from splatting on the ground.

Over the last year or so, we talked about skydiving and I had always said I would do it but I couldn't know about it in advance because I thought I would talk myself out of it. But how could I pass up this opportunity to surprise him, especially when we were going somewhere with ideal skydiving weather?  

I booked our skydiving adventure and I started telling everyone I could: coworkers, friends, people on the bus, my parents (which was a big mistake, but too long for this story). While I told everyone else I possibly could, I kept it a secret from Jason.

The week before our trip I had dreams about skydiving, some more funny than others – the worst was jumping out of the airplane and then realizing that I wasn't attached to my tandem partner. Jason was oblivious to the goings-on in my mind and it's probably for the best. I thought about it enough for the both of us.

Jason knew I had something planned and the stress of not knowing finally came to a peak that morning. After our taxi dropped us off at the pick-up location, Jason said he couldn’t wait any longer to find out. Mr. Patience finally had to know and when I told him, all he said was “okay,” and then he started mentally preparing himself. [Editor’s note: He really was excited; it was just a lot to take in at 7 a.m.]

Shortly after I told him, we signed our lives away to Skydive Las Vegas. We signed and initialed that neither we nor our heirs would sue if we were injured or killed. We read statistics of how many people die each year skydiving and what the odds are of being injured. We watched a video about the risk of skydiving. Heavy information to digest so early in the morning.

After the shuttle ride to the hangar and waiting three hours for our turn, they finally called our names. We suited up, said our goodbyes, and met our tandem partners. Jason was paired up with Kyle and I was with Steve. We loaded into the airplane and took off while our partners started hooking us up.

By the time we were 15,000 feet up (13,000 feet above sea level) the first pair jumped. I was surprised I wasn’t freaking out yet. Then my turn was up. I was third in line and Jason was eighth (and last). Steve pushed me to the end of our bench toward the open door and we sat down on the floor of the plane. I stuck my legs outside in the rushing wind and tucked them under the plane. Before I knew it, we were free falling.

As you can guess, I thinking, “I JUST JUMPED OUT OF AN AIRPLANE!”

It took me a second to get over the falling feeling and in no time I felt like I was flying. Steve released our parachute and we slowed down (A LOT). Steve said our lines were twisted, which is a scary thing to hear when your lines are the only thing attaching you to the parachute, but he got them untwisted and we glided over Boulder City for a few minutes. The landing was a piece of cake. My partner Steve asked how my first skydive went and all I could say was “WOOHOOO! That was awesome!!”

Jason had a great jump as well and even steered his parachute as they were gliding down.

As soon as I was unhooked from my parachute, I headed over to Jason who had just landed as well.

We survived! Jason lived to see his 26th birthday. His partner, Kyle asked him the same question, how was your first skydive? Jason’s response: “It was great, thanks!”

We had a very sane and un-adventurous rest of the trip and mostly sat out by the pool enjoying the warm weather.

[Follow-up note: Jason said I’m not allowed to plan anymore surprises; this, plus his surprise party last year, is too much stress. We’ll see about that…]

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Memory of Rosalie Zill 7/1/1931-4/14/2011


Her voice is tired and it sounds like I’m interrupting something important, but I know that she likes getting phone calls.

“Hi, Grandma!” 

“Oh, hi princess!”

She immediately perks up and I wince at that term of endearment. She’s the only person I let call me that.  

I started to write this about a week before my grandma died. It’s sad to think I’ll never hear “Hi princess!” in her warbly little voice again.

She was the last link my brother and I had to our grandparents. Losing her was hard because I got to know her better than any of my other grandparents. We talked at least once a week since I graduated from high school. Over the past seven years, I heard a lot from her. I knew she always wanted to know what it would be like to kiss Denzel Washington. I learned how different college was in her time. I got regular recaps of the Bachelor, Detroit Tigers' games, and Hallmark movies that reminded her of me. She was at the top of my list of people to call when I had exciting news. She always told me that she loved me and was proud of me.

Every spring since graduating college I visited her with my mom. This year, I visited her in the hospital after she had emergency surgery. She wasn’t doing well and it was hard seeing her there. She didn’t look like the grandma I had known for almost 25 years. A few hours before I left the hospital for the airport the doctors told my mom and me that she was dying.

As my mom and my uncle talked to the doctors in the hallway; I stayed with my grandma and fed her orange sherbet ice cream, the first food she’d eaten since before her surgery. That was the first time that week that I’d recognized the spark in her eye and realized she hadn’t lost her sense of humor; they were just buried under all the medicine and pain.

It’s hard to say goodbye, but I’m thankful I got the chance to. Another thing I learned from our many conversations is that she was excited to see my grandpa again one day. So while she never got to know what it was like kissing Denzel, I know she's more than happy with her current company.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I'm a bad blogger

I know it would appear from the outside, that blogging has become one of my many hobbies that has fallen by the wayside, but I've made a promise to myself to keep this going.

I haven't been trying many new things lately, so I'm switching gears with the blog and I plan on blogging whatever fancies me. My first post will be something I started a little while ago but forgot about. Thanks for sticking around and reading!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A taxing experience...

Yikes! As my Uncle Rob reminded me tonight it's been forever since I last wrote and I have some serious updating to do. The biggest activity I've been dabbling in lately is filing tax returns.

Let's travel back in time 12 or so years. Picture young Alissa sitting at the dining room table with a younger-ish Dad. Math books, papers, pencil and a calculator are spread out. My dad is explaining some math concept over and over and I'm still not getting it. Flashforward through several math tutors and some very basic math requirements in college and here we are today. I'm not good at math, that's why I'm in communications - I don't have to deal with it very often and when I do I have someone double-check my work.

So you can imagine that filing other people's taxes might not be an activity I would pursue. But you'd be wrong.

Back in December I worked with the United Way of King County to organize a workplace giving campaign in my office. Our United Way coordinator convinced me that I could be good at their tax campaign for low income families in the area. After about 16 hours of training and a test (which I almost had a perfect score on!) I started volunteering three hours every Saturday in Kent doing taxes for others. Nevermind that I had never even done my own taxes - that would come later.

I have to say, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I have no idea how many returns I did but some days it seemed like I saw 10-12 families. Most people got money back which was the highlight of my time, but one of the hardest things was having to tell people they owed money. And I did my own tax return for the first time ever.

I haven't been audited yet, so I think I can say it's been a successful adventure :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cooking My Way to Thanksgiving, Part Two

I survived! But more importantly, so did my Thanksgiving-food eaters.

This year's eaters included: my mom, dad, brother, brother's fiancee, brother's roommate, aunt and uncle (and of course me). It's safe to say we had a full table.

Preparation started the day before. My aunt and uncle came over to my apartment at around 9 a.m. to make our family cinnamon rolls as a surprise for my dad's birthday which happened to land on Thanksgiving this year. I got up early to get some of the cooking done ahead of time so I could talk to my relatives without neglecting my food babies.

I frosted the turkey birthday cake (it only looked like a turkey, I didn't think the family would be ready for a cake that tasted like turkey, but maybe next year...), boiled and mashed the sweet potatoes and started the pumpkin torte. That's when I encountered my first problem. I couldn't understand the recipe, it seemed like steps were missing and for all I know, it could have been written in another language. Luckily, my aunt is fluent in confusing recipes and explained it to me a language I can understand: simple-ese.

Later that day on the eve of Thanksgiving, I decided that our spread was lacking something. Sure, we had turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, green bean casserole, squash, sweet potatoes, cinnamon rolls, cranberry sauce, fudge (oh yeah, I made that too!), turkey birthday cake and pumpkin torte. As I was driving away from my parents house to the grocery store to pick up some things I forgot to buy the other three times I was at the grocery store, it dawned on me: we didn't have any pie. I'm not sure why I didn't think of it earlier, my mom subtlety mentioned it several times before because that's one of her favorite desserts.

Standing in the grocery store, I googled "easy pie recipes" on my phone. I wanted to make something with blackberries but I thought my mom would want something with apples so I compromised with a blackberry-apple pie with a latticed top. How hard could that be?

The next five or so hours were spent peeling, washing, coring, slicing, dicing, folding, kneading, mixing, spreading, baking and cooling (not necessarily in that order). There also was a lot of spilling, standing, sweating (not in the food of course), tasting and maybe a bit of swearing. Then I scrubbed, washed and dried the messiest kitchen I'd even seen in my life.

The food turned out delicious, my family was full and satisfied so in the end it was worth it. I took a bunch of pictures of the food and saved them here. I forgot to get quotes from our guests so I'll end with this one:

"This Thanksgiving food was the best I've ever tasted. It must have been cooked by highly skilled chef." ~Alissa