The Secret Project…

I have been skulking around here for a day or three – working on a secret project.

Dr. Suess...

It all started when a neighbor brought a cat named Mo over for a visit. I was sitting on the floor of our entryway trying to get Mo to come over to me. He refused to come anywhere near me.

It was then that I noticed underneath the vanity.


Sorry about the blurry view, but you obviously get the picture – ugly and unfinished.

Generally, nobody is going to be sitting on the floor of our entryway – and likely wouldn’t care about the view anyway. However, the problem was that I was sitting on the floor in the entryway – and I saw it – and I care! I tried to unsee it. It lurked in my brain. I knew it was ugly under there. I couldn’t just unsee it.

I decided it needed to be finished – so I could sleep at night. I opted to not tell anyone I was doing this project because it did seem a bit crazy – even still now, in retrospect. Tad was also (and still has been) left in the dark about this project. Last night, he arrived home from work and asked what I did during the day. I quickly rattled off the list – dropped off the security door screens for repair, stopped at Ace Hardware for secret project materials, off to the kitchen store for a made in the USA cakelet beehive pan (more on that later), over to Olive and Finch for some lunch, and back home to finish up the secret project. Tad looked around for a few minutes to see if he could find the secret project. He could not.


Anyway, back to the project itself.

I figured a few hours, some left over materials, and it would be good to go. I was wrong. This covert operation turned into a mission.

I had some extra tile so I thought I would just slap some of that up on the back wall and call it done. Nope. It didn’t seem quite finished enough.

I decided it needed some Schluter trim along the bottom to match the rest of the room. Ok. It matched the rest of the room. It looked good, but then the top of the tile looked messy.

I looked around the materials scrap pile and found a small piece of wood trim for the top edge of the tile – even though I am, literally, the only person on the planet that knew about this project and the messy top edge of the tile.


It looked okay, but still not complete. I installed some cherry wood base along both sides.

By this time, I am all in.  So, a small cherry wood block detail was added to each corner.

Then, I decided the block needed a little hardware detail – in the form of some fancy finish screws. This is how I ended up at Ace Hardware for secret project materials yesterday.

As I explained my project to the Ace Hardware guy, I wondered if I may have gone one detail too far. He tried to steer me to the cheap (aka ugly) screws – because it was an under the vanity project – and I think he thought I was having a break with reality. I was like “Dude. I know I sound like I have lost my mind, but details matter to me. Please show me your best finish screws.” He shrugged his shoulders, directed me to the fancy finish screws, and said “I would use the chrome ones if I were you.”

Thanks Ace Dude. Chrome was definitely the way to go.



So, to wrap up The Secret Project…

The blurry before view from the entryway.


Now, the after view from the entryway. Subtle, secret, but definitely worth it.


And – just to followup on Mo, the cat, from across the street. We checked in on him while his family was out of town. This is what was going on at his house…


That is a turkey.


Maybe, even weirder than a stealth project under a vanity?

Containing the Chaos…

The chaos I am referring to is my edible garden…

Before cover crop

When creating our small edible garden, I got a little ahead of myself. I had some dirt delivered before I had the actual raised bed built. As a result, I just piled up the dirt and start planting. Plus, I had seen a pile of dirt as a raised bed on a garden tour. It was charming. It seemed like an acceptable way to grow a few veggies.


I tried to convince myself that the pile of dirt looked and felt “farmy” – rather than messy.

Crop cover

I don’t love messy, but I was willing to let it go since it was producing arugula, radishes, cucumbers, and the occasional carrot.

Budding cucumber

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was messy and I didn’t like it. I had even tried a Spiral Style Garden in an effort to at least make it seem less messy and more interesting.

Spiral Garden attempt

It didn’t work out as I had hoped. It was still just a pile of un-contained dirt even though it was shaped like a spiral. It was difficult to organize, water, and mulch on a slope. In fact, I have scratched through the whole spiral garden thing on my To Do List – as a “not doable deal.” Anyway, I also decided that I could plant more in a flat raised bed.

In summary, I decided that structure, neatness, and organization was in order.

I had some practice with organizing my South Side Garden a year or two ago. In comparison, it seemed like pulling together the North Side Garden would be significantly easier.  I just needed to contain and plant. How difficult could that be, you say. Well, I think I probably made it a lot more complicated than it needed to be. Typical.

I wanted something different – something special. I got caught up wanting something that wasn’t feasible. I couldn’t let it go.  I wanted it to work out. In my mind I could make it work out.  I was delusional.  I have no idea why I got so hung up on what I considered the perfect method of containment.  In retrospect, the amount of time I spent in the middle of the night thinking about this was crazy – and maybe, a little obsessive. I wanted stone blocks. I wanted this in my yard.


Totally cool, right? We had seen this at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The stone blocks were a natural feature that beautifully bordered the Art Glass Chihuly exhibit. I wanted this look in my yard. I had my heart set on stone blocks. I measured my space and shopped around. I was convinced stone blocks would be both lovely and functional.


Then, reality hit.  I would have a beautiful border around a really long and skinny garden. The blocks would take up nearly 2/3 of the space because they were so wide. My garden is only  33 inches wide, which would leave only 9-13 inches of planting space. I mulled it over. It was doable, but weird. The purpose of containing the garden was to optimize my planting space. The stone blocks would minimize my planting space. I had to let the stone block idea go for my edible garden. I had to file it away for another place and time. Finally, I moved on.

I thought about other ideas – concrete, rocks, wood. Concrete and rocks created the same problem as the stone blocks – too much containment material and not enough grow space. I wasn’t excited about wood. It isn’t all that interesting visually. It doesn’t last long. Everybody does it. The advantage of wood is that it does optimize the small space. Being that 2016 is supposed to be the year of just getting stuff done, a decision needed to be made and the project needed to be implemented. No more thinking about this in the middle of the night. Wood won out.

I did some quick internet research on raised beds made from wood (like less than 5 minutes worth of research) and decided that redwood was the wood of choice for me. I wrangled Tad into helping. Off we went to the lumber yard. We quickly found the redwood section, picked through the pile looking for the straightest and non warped pieces, paid, loaded up the car, drove home, unloaded the car, cut the wood, screwed it together, and installed it around the dirt pile.  It would have been a lot easier to do this before we piled up a bunch of dirt in the area – but, you know, we tend to not do things the easy way around here.

Image 4-26-16 at 8.21 PM

It was going smoothly until Tad stepped on one side and it bowed out a bit. So, in an effort to get it back to square/straight we cut some stakes that were installed on the outside of the raised bed. Tad got this idea from Roger on this “This Old House”. Apparently, Tad had also done some research on raised beds when he heard that he was going to be involved in this project. Tad was prepared. Tad was ready for every possible scenario. Thank you Tad (and Roger). The stake idea was very helpful.


I also used this opportunity to create a separate area for a blueberry experiment at one end of the raised bed. We just used a piece of wood as a divider.



The chaos has now been contained and another project has been completed in 2016.

I didn’t think anyone else would really notice. I was wrong.

I wouldn’t really call it controversial, but the cleaned up, raised bed project has elicited a few interesting comments. None of which have been about wood vs. stone block for containment  – and proof that I, obviously, worry about the wrong stuff…

“What is it?” My answer: “It is a raised garden bed – contained by a wooden border.”

“What is it for?”  My answer : “I am going to grow stuff in it.”


“Really? My answer: “Yes, really.”

“Why?” My answer: “Hmm, good question!  I don’t know!  It just seems like a good idea to help get me outside in the summer.”

“That seems weird.”  Me: No response – just silence as we stand there looking at the raised bed.


“Did you get that as a pre-packaged kit?” My answer: “No, we just went to Lowe’s, bought some wood, cut it and screwed it together.”


“Wow, that seems ambitious.” My response: “You think so?  I don’t know, it only took about 2 hours total time to get it done.  It doesn’t seem all that ambitious, but thanks.”

“Hmm, you people are interesting with all your projects.” My response: “Well, we like to keep the neighbors on their toes – wondering what is going on next over here.”

“I like the stepping stone thing. You guys seem to like stepping stones.”  My response: “Yep, we do like stepping stones. Stepping stones seem kind of fun. These have fossil imprints on them.”

“That doesn’t seem very environmentally friendly – taking fossils out of their natural habitat and all.”  My response: “I know. I didn’t really notice it until I got them home. I will try to take good care of them though.”


“Is that a rose bush in there?” My answer: “No, it’s a blueberry bush.”

“What’s with the divider?” My answer: “So, I can plant a blueberry bush there?”

“You don’t want your blueberry bush mixing with your other stuff?” My answer: “No, not really.”

“It doesn’t really look like a blueberry bush. Are you sure it is a blueberry bush?” My answer : “Well, no, I am not 100% sure it is a blueberry bush, but the people at the nursery said it was, so…”

“Do you believe everything you are told?” My answer: “No, but – you know – it’s just a blueberry bush…”

“I am not sure a blueberry bush is the best idea – you know it needs a lot of water and acidic soil, right?” My answer: “That’s what I’ve heard, but – you know – I don’t really believe everything I’m told.”


“I like strawberries. Are you going to grow strawberries?” My answer: “That’s a good idea – I don’t know – maybe. I like strawberries too.  I already grow them in my South Side Garden. I could expand the Strawberry Field to the North Side Garden as well. Yes. Yes, I am going to grow a few strawberries in the raised bed. Thanks for the suggestion.”


“What else do you have growing in there?” My answer: “I just planted some arugula.”

“Why would you try to grow arugula?”  My answer: “Why wouldn’t I try to grow arugula? It apparently grows in the wild so that seems like a good thing for me – low maintanence – I like low maintanence.”

“You know you can probably buy arugula at the store, right?”  My answer: “Yep – I know I can buy arugula at the store – and I have often bought it at the store when I’m not growing it.”

“Do you really like arugula?”  My answer: “Yes, I love arugula. I had an arugula salad last night for dinner.”


“Are you a farmer?” My answer: “Well, no. I’m just a neighbor trying to get some arugula, radishes, and a few carrots to grow in my yard.”

“Radishes?” My answer: “Yep. Come by in a few weeks and I’ll give you some arugula and a radish or two.”

“I will be curious to see if you can really pull off that blueberry bush thing.” My response: “Me too. I probably won’t be handing out any blueberries though. I will keep them all to myself because I really like blueberries.”


Good talk people. Good talk.

Channeling the professionals and hydraulic cement…

As you know, we love the magazine This Old House – and the TV shows This Old House and Ask This Old House.  We love the professionalism, experience, problem solving, and knowledge shared by the guys.

Scan 21

We happened upon some tickets to our Denver Home Show two weekends ago. We saw that Kevin O’Connor was going to be a speaker so we were motivated to go check it out.  It was fun.  We got a sneak preview of one of their current projects for This Old House TV show.

Tad got to ask the first question – “Does Tom Silva ever make a mistake? It appears that he knows everything!”

We also got to talk personally with Kevin after the presentation.  It was fun.  He seems the same as on TV.  Great personality and very engaging.


So, what does Kevin O’Connor and This Old House have to do with hydraulic cement – since the title of this post does include the words hydraulic cement? Well – we recently saw an episode of This Old House that was about using hydraulic cement on a basement foundation.  It was interesting and educational because we’ve got hydraulic cement use on our To Do List.  So, there you have it – Kevin O’Connor who is the host of This Old House where we saw hydraulic cement being used on a foundation and we’ve got a foundation that recently benefitted from some hydraulic cement…

This story starts with a corner basement leak when it rains really hard or when we have a big snow storm that melts in a day.

The first thing we did to help remedy the situation was on the outside.  We simply had the landscaping sloped away from the house. This helped significantly, but it didn’t completely resolve the problem.  Upon closer inspection of the source of the leak – from the inside – we noticed that it was actually where the sewer line leaves the house through the foundation.  It looked like the hole where the sewer line leaves the house wasn’t properly sealed.  It just had some spray foam insulation around it.  What the heck?


Tad kept saying we just needed to use some hydraulic cement around the pipe.  I didn’t know what he was talking about – and wasn’t particularly convinced at first. Then, there was the This Old House episode where they sealed a leaky foundation with hydraulic cement.  It looked pretty easy to use.  So, I figured maybe Tad was right on this one.  We put the plan in motion this last weekend. Hydraulic cement to the rescue…


Tad started by removing all the old spray foam insulation from the hole  – all the way back to damp dirt.


The next step was to mix up the hydraulic cement and squish it tightly into the space. My role was to squish the stuff into the space since my hands are a bit smaller than Tad’s, and I could wedge them all the way to the back. Tad was in charge of mixing small amounts of the hydraulic cement. The instructions say to mix up only what you can use within 2-3 minutes because it hardens that fast.  It also says to mix to the consistency of putty. I am here to tell you that these instructions are in fact accurate – and should be followed. This stuff hardens within 3 minutes and is impossible to apply if it isn’t exactly the consistency of putty. We probably mixed up 10 or 12 batches so we had the opportunity to discuss what the meaning of “putty” consistency really is. I would show you pictures, but Tad was in charge of the photos and they were all too blurry to use. So, I am going to describe what putty is – and isn’t. Putty is putty. It is dry-ish. It is not sticky. If it sticks to your gloves, it isn’t dry enough. It is not the consistency of drywall paste. The best/closest comparison we arrived at was Play Dough (aka Play Doh). The correct consistency for hydraulic cement is the consistency of Play Dough – everybody knows what Play Dough is, right?

An hour later, an almost entire bucket of hydraulic cement, 10 or 12 small batches of the stuff, and an extensive conversation about the consistency of putty – we hope to have a dry basement – and another quick weekend project is complete.


There is one final measure I would like to pursue to ensure that our water problems are fixed for good.  I would like to completely divert the courtyard drainage away from that corner of the house.


I am wondering if more hydraulic cement is in our future? Maybe, if we write to Ask This Old House, they will come out and help us with that project?  Hmm…