Damp, soggy and sloshy

You know that stale air musty house smell when you come back from vacation? After our week at the cottage last month, that’s exactly what Matt and I came home to. And then we walked down into the basement.

There we sniffed a distinct eau de damp.

Turns out that at the very start of our holiday, while we were lakeside, there was some water flowing at home.

A torrential downpour washed half the gravel down the driveway, overran the sump pump in the cold cellar and seeped through the foundation in the laundry room.

Believe it or not, we escaped with very little damage. The worst was some damp carpet in the long room and beside the laundry room. Some of the baseboards have swelled a little bit as a result, but overall it’s not too bad.

The cold cellar is about 6 inches below the rest of the basement, and the floor is concrete, so even though it appears that area was the sloshiest, the water didn’t seep into the main basement. Thank goodness.

Running the dehumidifier for a few days dried out the carpet.

The biggest bummer is that we had patched the laundry room foundation before we left on vacation… or we thought we had.

At one point, the laundry room window was a door into the basement. When we found occasional puddles on the laundry room floor, we figured that was the most likely source.

Matt dug out the foundation, I found a membrane at Home Depot, we stuck it onto the foundation and back-filled the hole. (Forgive the bad iPod photos. We temporarily misplaced the real camera).

Patching a leaky foundation

Well, either we missed the location of the leak, our patch didn’t work, or the freak volume of rain would have overwhelmed the foundation anyways. Hence the eau de damp.

Back at the farm after our vacation as we were drying out the basement, we watched on TV as more torrential rains flooded a town nearby. When the storms rolled into our area, the rain spewed over the edge of the gutters and puddled right next to our apparently porous foundation. Uh-oh.

A break in the storm found Matt and me outside in our raincoats and boots. Matt fetched the extension ladder, I held it secure, and he climbed up on the roof to empty the eaves troughs.

Cleaning out the eaves trough

Our pine trees shed like crazy, and their needles clog the downspouts. When the second wave of the rain hit, the gutters flowed like they should.

Clogged downspout

We’ve had more rain since then, and Matt has been super vigilant about making sure the water runs away from the house and that the basement stays dry.

So far so good.

The problem of the clogged eaves troughs and downspouts has been solved. Now if only we could solve the where-the-heck-is-the-water-getting-in? problem.

Who else has come home to a not so pleasant surprise after vacation? Have you ever dealt with leaky foundation issues? How often do you clean your gutters? I swear I did them a few months ago. Anyone else ever done some mid-storm water diversion?

Taking paint off melamine

The question of the day was can I strip paint off of melamine? The answer was kind of.

This is not my favourite piece of furniture. (Not the TV. I love my TV. My problem’s with the TV stand.)

TV stand

I attempted to build it when we lived at our old house. We had gotten a new TV. We needed a TV stand. I had some white melamine left over. So I sliced it up and went to work.

Cutting went fine.

Assembling not so much.

I didn’t have the right tools or fasteners and as my rocky, shaky shelf collapsed for about the fifth time, I called my Dad.

My Dad and I knocked it together in no time, but when I painted it I ran into trouble again.

My roller was disintegrating as I painted, and I ended up with all kinds of bits stuck to my shelf. It didn’t improve with time. The dark brown paint showed dust really easily, and when I tried to wipe it down, the dust just got caught in the flecks and it looked even worse. Believe it or not, this is the bottom shelf after I’d wiped it down.

Dust stuck in bumpy paint

I decided to include the TV stand as part of my bookshelf makeover this month. I’m not planning to strip the paint off of all the bookshelves, but the finish on the TV stand was just too awful. I needed a fresh start.

I went with my usual chemical stripper, and it worked pretty well. The stripper made quick work of the paint, even though it’s a heavy-duty oil-based enamel. The stripper also took off the white coating on the melamine. I’m not too worried because I’m going to be repainting, but the finish was a little bit rough. I went over it with my sander to smooth everything out. It may not look great, but I think it’s going to be okay.

Stripping paint off melamine

This week my Dad and I are tackling the rest of the shelves. We’ll be cutting down, putting back together and adding trim. Painting will come soon after. The TV stand should be looking much better the next time you see it. Maybe I’ll even like it by that point.

Have you ever tried to take paint off of melamine? Have you ever painted melamine in the first place? It’s not that hard to do… as long as your equipment is half decent. Has anyone else run into problems with disintegrating rollers? Do you have a piece of furniture that you don’t love?

Plant problems

Anyone know anything about lilacs, Japanese maples or holly? Each of mine is feeling under the weather.

The lilac is probably my biggest concern, simply because this plant has tremendous sentimental value to me. My bush grew from a shoot that sprouted off my grandmother’s lilac. It survived the move from our first house to the farm and up to now has thrived in the front flower garden. However, this summer the leaves started getting dry spots and then the tips curled under.

Blight on lilac leaves

When I unfurl the leaves, there’s a dirt-like substance inside. If there’s parasites, they’re too small for me to spot.

Blight on lilac leaves

Anyone have any guesses what might be wrong? I’d really rather not lose this plant.

The Japanese maple has his own problems as well. First, I will concede that he’s pretty crowded. I’ve been working at thinning the ferns since spring. The walnut tree is obviously another problem. I don’t have a good excuse why he’s been allowed to invade the maple’s personal space so much. Whether it’s crowding or some other issue, the tippy top branches are losing their leaves.

Japanese maple

Like on the lilac, the leaves are drying out and falling off.

Dying leaves on my Japanese maple

The Japanese maple took a beating during the ice storm. The trunk was completely wrapped in ice that was a quarter inch thick.

Ice caking the trunk of the Japanese maple

I was wondering if the tree is still traumatized from his winter ordeal. He’s just a bit weak this summer. He’ll pull through and grow more leaves next year. Won’t he? Or is that wishful thinking?

The final patient is my holly bush. Now I have to take most of the blame for this guy’s misery. He used to live in the front flower bed. However, I redrew the border of the bed, and he fell outside the line. I dug him up and moved him around the corner to the well garden. He was fairly well established in the front bed, so I cut through some pretty big roots when I transplanted him. He’s not fully recovered yet. You can see the leaves are pretty sparse and fairly yellow.

Sick holly bush

In my defense, I do have to say he wasn’t the healthiest guy before I moved him. He had very few leaves and probably produced all of a half dozen berries for the two years we’ve lived here. He seems to be plagued by ants. When I dig around the trunk, both at his original home and now in his new location, I unearth what looks like a whole colony. There’s not much bark left on his thick old trunk, and I wonder if the ants are eating him.

Trunk of the holly bush

When I pulled off a leaf, though, I found a different type of pest.

Small green caterpillar

Is this little green caterpillar the culprit? Is it the ants? Or the transplant?

I’d really appreciate any ideas anyone has. Anyone else having botanical illnesses in your own gardens this year? Let’s commiserate in the comments.

Battling the annual moth invasion

Not to gross anyone out, but we have a bit of an infestation at the farm. (Seriously, if you’re eating, you might want to come back later).

It started the first spring that we lived here. On Easter weekend, the moths arrived.

The first year, I had just brought in a big bouquet of forsythia branches, so we thought the flowers must have been the source.

We spent all spring and most of the summer battling the moths. They were dusty creatures that left behind a smudge when we squished them. Our ceiling, which was so disgusting before we painted it, was mostly marked by moths.

Gross smears on the ceiling

I emptied cupboards and closets and sprayed insect killer. We vacuumed webs. And nothing changed. The moths just kept coming.

Finally, the weather turned cold, and they stopped.

But the following spring, they were back. There was no forsythia to blame this time. It seemed that the moths were somewhere in the house. We smacked and squashed and slapped. We were both disgusted and resigned.


They didn’t seem to be the types of moths that threaten wool clothing. Instead, they seemed to congregate in the kitchen. They liked crackers and rice and cereal. They munched on our food, spun webs and occasionally we spotted their maggot-like larvae crawling around. It was totally gross. But we had no idea where they were coming from.

Then this spring, we decided we had to try something new. We found some moth traps and hung them around the kitchen.

Flour and pantry moth trap by Tanglefoot

Our goal was to kill one generation before they had a chance to reproduce. We were vigilant about killing any that we saw. To avoid putting more smudges on our freshly painted ceiling and walls, we kept our handheld vacuum handy to suck them up. The traps filled up, and we deployed fresh ones. They’re basically a sticky sheet of cardboard with little scent capsules that go inside.

Flour and pantry moth trap by Tanglefoot

The traps seem to work. Although I don’t think we accomplished our mission of killing a whole generation, there have been slightly fewer moths this year than previously. I feel like they live somewhere in the kitchen, within the walls, behind the cabinets. I don’t think the moths will truly go away until we renovate the kitchen.

And as much as I want that project to happen–for more reasons than just the moths–it’s probably at least a few years away still.

I realize that creepy crawlies are part of country living. However, the moths can move on a n y t i m e.

Anyone else ever dealt with moths? Any tips to share?

Boney the deer

Can I just say how cool it is to be able to go for a hike all on my own property? I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.

Baxter and I can practice our off-leash hiking.

We can get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

We can discover deer skulls.

Deer skull

It may seem morbid, but I find this very cool.

Deer skull

Deer skull

I even sacrificed one of my mosquito-swatting hands to carry it back to the house.

Welcome to the jungle

Things have taken an exotic turn in our little corner of Ontario. There’s a stylin’ zebra horse at the farm across the road.

Zebra horse

She’s obviously ready for a fun Friday night.

What do you have planned for your Friday night? Are you a fan of zebra print? Have you spotted any exotic wildlife in your neighbourhood?

July clouds

At the beginning of July Matt proclaimed, “July has the best clouds.”

Throughout the month, I was treated to sightings of muscle men flexing, food stuffs, animals, body parts and other cloud sculptures that he spotted.

Then, August 1, driving home, Matt said, “See, August’s clouds just aren’t as interesting.” True enough, the sky was hazy, there were no fluffy white beings to be seen.

My own most interesting clouds came near the end of July early one morning, although I’m not sure my picture does it justice.

Summer sunrise at the farm

Sometimes there’s perks to being up at dawn.

Do you look for pictures in the clouds? What sights do you usually see? Do you have a favourite cloud month?

Summer projects

I have two projects I wanted to complete this summer. First is getting rid of the stippled ceiling in the bedroom. Second is redoing my bookshelves.

Given my lack of success last month with the ceiling, I think both of these tasks are going on the August list.

You’ve already heard about the ceiling, so how about a little bit about the bookshelves?

Bookshelves and boxes of books

(Yes, this corner has looked like this since we moved in more than two years ago).

My Dad and I made these bookshelves for our first house. They’re shallow, so they don’t take up much space. They have adjustable shelves, which is handy. They’re going to work well for us here with just a few tweaks.

First on the list is cutting down one of the shelves. It’s twice as deep as the others because it held our TV back when it was a giant square box. I figure I can get two bookshelves out of this one.

Second on the list is putting another bookshelf back together. It was damaged in our move and is pretty wobbly.

Then, I plan to add some trim and paint everything white.

I’ll replace the adjustable shelving tracks with white ones and set the shelves in place.

Then it’s on to the best part: loading the shelves.

Boxes of books

My books have been packed away for more than two and a half years. I want them back.

Popcorn ceiling and barn doors

So July’s project was my biggest failure yet. Remember that dirty bumpy stippled ceiling in the guest room/soon-to-be master bedroom?

Popcorn ceiling

Yeah. It’s still there.

The week that I was planning to start operation popcorn, Kate posted about removing the stipple ceiling in the flip she and her husband are working on. She mentioned doing an asbestos test before she started. Our house is built the era where asbestos might have been used, so I thought a test sounded like a good idea.

However, finding a test kit was harder than expected. It seems home tests are an American thing. I ended up finding one online. So the extent of my progress this month is a credit card charge and my Dad’s drywall sander sitting in a corner of the guest room. :( (Please note as well the light switches behind the door. Really convenient.)

Drywall pole sander

Wanna see some actual progress? Let’s look at some other doors instead.

Hello basement barn doors.

Basement door makeover

Here’s the before picture just for reference.

Slab doors

Yes, redoing the doors was June’s project, but the painting was left until July. It must have been something about this month because, like with the stippled ceiling, the final stages of painting and hanging the doors didn’t go smoothly.

For painting, I planned to use my Dad’s sprayer… or rather I planned to have Matt use my Dad’s sprayer. Well, the air compressor conked out, so spraying was a no go. So much for all of the time we spent tarping the driveshed.

Our mechanical difficulties are totally on me. I was the one who set up the air compressor. Earlier the same day I’d killed the push mower, so I obviously had a hex working when it came to mechanical objects.

Painting became a team effort as Matt rolled and I brushed. Soooooo sloooooow.

Painting the basement doors

Installing the doors turned out to be another headache. Only five out of the nine doors that we made over fit smoothly back in place. Somehow, two doors grew so that they were too fat for their openings. The closet door that we’d accidentally put the trim on the wrong side wouldn’t close because the trim hit the doorstop (I don’t know why I didn’t realize this would be a problem). The best one was discovering another door where I’d put the Z on the backside. No idea how I missed this.  My mistake left the completely flat slab door facing out into the room–exactly the situation I was trying to correct.

Ugh. I was very frustrated.

It took a few hours of work spread over a few days to fix my mess ups, including repainting. Double ugh.

Matt was very patient, installing and removing the doors multiple times as I tested the fit.

Finally, all of the doors fit, swung smoothly and closed properly.

I installed the old hardware that I’d ORBed, and I called this one done.

ORBed doorknobs

The Z detail is subtle–the strips are only about an eighth of an inch thick–but I think it’s a really nice touch. Our barn doors are absolutely a lot more interesting than the flat slab doors. Plus they fit really well in our farm setting.

Slab doors become barn doors

Slab doors become barn doors

Issues aside, this is a pretty easy update–and much, much more affordable than buying nine new doors. It would have been even cheaper if I hadn’t bought all new hinges. All in, this makeover cost less than $200 (although I did use glue and nails that I already had):

Panels (two sheets of hardboard cut into 6-inch strips): $18.53
Hinges (Stanley Home Designs in Egyptian bronze-I couldn’t find the exact version online, but this one is close although a little more expense): $96.39
Paint (Benjamin Moore Cloud White in the pearl finish): $59.67
Spray paint (Rustoleum Oil Rubbed Bronze): $11.28
Total: $185.87 (just over $20 per door)

Our master bedroom makeover may not have started, but our basement makeover came a lot closer to finally being finished.

Let’s just not discuss that the basement was summer 2012’s project.