Medieval Times: Part I

 Posted by on April 18, 2014
Apr 182014

You know why I named this post Medieval Times? Because they joust, and that reminds me of joist and that’s what this post is about. I tend to think I’m rather creative with my titles (remember the Coldplay one?), but maybe I’m just laughing to myself and you’re thinking the same thing Katie is 99% of the time–”you’re so weird.” Yes.

Anyways, one of the first projects, and potentially most important for Katie’s piece of mind, was to replace/sister the existing floor joist in our kitchen that was “holding up” the floor underneath our fridge. Why? Well, the floor was about two inches off level in the back of our house, which we credited to an approximately 4″ by 4″ notch cut into the existing joist:

Notched Floor Joist

Why also? Because Katie has a general fear of floors collapsing that I think is entirely irrational, but I love her so I do what she says.

But anyway, as you can see the notch in the joist was pretty substantial, and the rest of what existed to hold the joist up was sort of like a bad mashup song–just throw a few things together that don’t work and hope for the best. Welp, the best here was that the floor was sagging, and it just so happened that the refrigerator was right on top of it. Super safe. So those “sister joists” (which consisted of seemingly random scraps of various sized boards that weren’t really supporting anything, and were shoddily screwed in with some basic drywall screws) had to go:

Prying off old boards

Removing all those erroneous boards also gave us a chance to get a better look at the joist. It turned out that there was actually an existing, semi-functional 2×10 sister joist attached to the 2×10 “original” joist with the notch in it – although I write original in quotes because this joist is clearly not original to this hundred year old townhome, in which all other viewable floor joists are huge, 4×10 guys. But anyway…unfortunately, the 2×10 sister didn’t do much in terms of stabilizing the floor, since it didn’t actually cover the notch that was the real culprit of our sag. What it DID do was cover about a 4 foot span of the joist where various wires ran through:

Wires through joist

So really, that “sister” joist was really more of an ugly stepsister. Woof.

Since we are not in the business of haphazardly removing potentially live wires, we knew we had a few options here. Either remove the existing sister only from the portion of the original joist that had no wires in it, or completely remove and replace everything with the help of an electrician/plumber, since the joist was also precariously perched over our relatively new water heater. We had a few general contractors come out to give us estimates – all of which ranged in the $1-3k ballpark. Since we could come up with lots of better ways to spend a few G’s, we decided that the first option was the way to go.

So one Saturday we enlisted the help of a few trusty recruits for the project: Katie’s dad and brother. We figured if we attempted this as a two person mission, we’d both kill each other–so we should have at least have some witnesses around.

First things first: in order to attack this project, we really needed to see what was going on. We could already tell after removing the random smaller boards nailed/screwed into the existing joist  that things weren’t as simple as they might seem – so we decided to also remove the floor. Our best option here was to come at everything from the top, so we could see exactly what we were working with – so we whipped out our circular saw, set it to a hair deeper than the 3/4 inch floorboard depth, and let er rip. Which created a huge hole in our floor, but left us much more room for activities (if the activities you like are replacing joists) and the opportunity to see what was actually going on:

Cutting the floor

With the floor out of the way, we could continue with the circular saw to cut into it and remove the 2×10 sister joist that wasn’t being very sisterly. We cut a few times in order to remove as much as the sister as possible without running into any wires, etc:

Cutting sister joist 2

Cutting Sister Joist

This was a total turning point in the project because with the sister removed, we could actually see the original 2×10 joist that was anchored into the brick foundation. What we discovered was pretty disappointing: the “original” joist was not actually a single 2×10 as it should have been, but instead was made of TWO 2x10s – which explained the need for a super janky 4×4 post in the middle of our basement to support the ends of each where they met in the middle of the house. We don’t actually have any original photos of that discovery – we must have been so distraught that we forgot to take them. But here are a few before and sneak peak afters so you can see what we mean (the after includes a new, metal post that we installed):

Janky post

New Post under half joists

To remove the existing post and replace it with the more reliable metal one, we actually had to purchase two adjustable posts, which were cheap (around $40) and easy to find at our local Home Depot. First, one went under the notched side of the existing joist as a temporary support (we just adjusted it so it fit loosely upright):

First Post Up

Then, we removed the old janky post and replaced it with the second new metal one – this was an all-hands on deck situation so there aren’t any action photos, but yu can see from the “after” above that we put it directly where the old post was, right underneath the meeting point of the two existing 2×10′s.

Next we had to wrangle a new 2×10 sister joist into place, which took a few steps. (Sidenote: I just want to make a note here because maybe this will happen to you, but I’ve written the word “joist” so many times that its starting to look like a made up word.) First, we had to prep our new sister joist for the wall, and the wall for the sister joist. We removed a good amount of brick and some old concrete from the foundation wall, so the new sister could fit into the foundation right next to the existing 2×10 and be completely supported there. The problem was that the hole we made was just slightly too small and the board just a little too fat. Rather than remove another entire brick to enlarge the hole, we just used our plane to shave off some of the joist wood, kind of like we did when we replaced our front door.

Planing the Joist

When we’d removed the few milimeters it took to finally fit the new sister joist into the wall, we could gradually work the rest of the sister joist into place; then the two 2×10′s got secured together using some massive lag bolts, which scoffed in the face of the teeny little screws that had held the old ugly stepsister joist in place:

Wedging the sister in place

Adding Lag bolts

Finally, we cemented the sister joist into its final resting place in the brick foundation using some structural-grade repair cement. The stuff needed a few days to dry, so we packed up our stuff and called it a successful (if exhausting) day.

Now you may notice that I called this post Part I. You may also notice that I called the post “temporary”, and that at this point in the story, we still had a huge gaping whole in our kitchen floor. I assure you, all of these these things eventually got remedied with the rental of a hammer drill – but that’s a story for another post, isn’t it?

Painted Ceiling Fans

 Posted by on March 17, 2014
Mar 172014

We decided early on that we wanted to upgrade the ceiling fans in this house. In fact, switching out a heavy, old, grime-encrusted fan was one of the very first things we did when we moved in. We ended up finding a much more visually appealing light fixture for a steal, and decided to see what life without a ceiling fan was like. I happen to think that all but the most expensive, custom-order fans are gross looking, so in my book anything that wasn’t a fan was an upgrade – just look at the before and afters:

Living Room Before 2


New Lamp

After a hot and humid Baltimore summer, though, I quickly reneged on my anti-fan views. We ended up running our air conditioner much more than I would have liked, and then on top of that we resorted to a few strategically placed table-top fans at night or when we were working in one particular room. And since white plastic fans are not a good look, I figured I should just cave and accept that even the ugliest of ceiling fans are way more effective and unobtrusive.

Still, I wanted to try SOMETHING to make whatever ceiling fans we installed more aesthetically pleasing. And what do you imagine that something might be? Why, spray painting, of course – what else?

I Googled a little and after finding that several folks have done this successfully already, I was sold. So I picked up the most basic fan that Home Depot sells (for about $30), a few cans of clean metal primer and paint, and got to work. It was as easy as priming and painting each piece (I didn’t assemble anything first, since I figured I’d get the most coverage that way), waiting for everything to dry (I actually waited about a week, since I wanted everything to be 100% set so I wouldn’t scratch anything when I installed it), and then following the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. Then, voila:

Painted Ceiling Fan

Spray Painted Ceiling Fan

Lyndhurst Duchess Blue and Beige Ceiling Fan

It’s still a ceiling fan, of course, but I do think it beats the generic, plain white version – or even worse, a wood-and-brass model circa 1982. So for $40, I’m calling this one a win! Now we just have to choose colors for the other two fans we plan on putting in each bedroom upstairs. We went with a more neutral color downstairs, but for the other rooms I’m thinking something a little bolder is in order. Any suggestions?

Happy Monday, everyone!

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year…

 Posted by on February 18, 2014
Feb 182014

Yes, it’s that time of year again – tax time. As of February 15, you should have all the documents you need to file your federal tax returns – oh JOY!

Ok, taxes suck. Especially if you’re like many of us, and make sure to adjust your federal and state withholding properly to ensure you DON’T get a huge refund. Wait – what?? Yes, that’s right – it’t actually BETTER to not get a tax refund every year, because that refund is actually YOUR OWN DAMN MONEY – letting the government hold onto it for the year is like giving out an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam. But that’s some financial drivel for another post…

Now, we just want to share with you a fantastic program that applies if you ARE getting a tax refund – huge or otherwise. has teamed up with Turbo Tax to offer a 10% bonus on federal tax refunds that are paid as amazon gift cards. Yes, you read that right – 10%!!

So say, for example, you’re supposed to get a $500 tax refund. If you purchase Turbo Tax from Amazon (at a discounted price, no less), and choose to get that refund as an gift card – which you can use to purchase any of the thousands of products on the site – you will actually receive a gift card in the amount of $550! Yup, you little mathematicians out there – that’s a 10% bonus. And this bonus applies to up to $2,000 in refunds per card, $10,000 per person. If my math is correct, that’s up to $1,000 of free money, just for converting your refund to an Amazon giftcard!

For more details click the image below, or the graphic in our left sidebar:

Happy taxing, everyone!!

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The Right Shade of Gray

 Posted by on January 7, 2014
Jan 072014

In between decorating and celebrating the holidays, I decided to take the jump and paint our bedroom. You might remember that we were torn between a few different shades of dark-ish gray – and we’re very thankful for your thoughts and opinions. In the end,  I went with my gut – which just happened to coincide with the general consensus: Behr’s Gray Area.

So in between end-of-semester grading, a website blowup, and general holiday madness, I picked up a gallon of paint (on sale, at least!) and got to work. It took a few days, but here’s what I ended up with:

Dark Gray Walls with Light Blue Accent Behr Gray Area

Sidenote: when I say “I”, I really mean it – painting is on Chris’ “Top 5″ list – the list of top chores/activities he HATES doing. The only problem with this is that his top 5 actually includes painting, cleaning the bathroom, putting away folded clothes, dusting…and then about thirty more things that rotate depending on what task needs to actually get done at the moment.



I should say, though, that his new year’s resolution was to be more helpful around the house…and so far he’s been amazing. As of day 7, at least…

But anyway, it only took me a few days of intermittent painting to get two coats of Premium Plus (the kind with built-in primer) in eggshell up on the walls. So it wasn’t too bad, even all by my lonesome.

This was my first experience with Home Depot’s brand, Behr, since Lowe’s is a bit easier to get to near us and we’ve always used their Valspar Signature brand.  But I have to say, compared to Valspar’s built-in primer version, the Behr Premium Plus Ultra covers like a boss – I was expecting to need a few more coats for such a dramatic light-to-dark transition, but I actually could have probably gotten away with just one and a few spot touch-ups – but I’d bought a gallon so I figured I’d use it all. The only downside is that the Behr is definitely more noxious (it’s labelled low-VOC like the Valspar, but stinks way more!) – but frankly, I can deal with a little stank if it means less work for me!

I love how the dark gray turned out in the whole room – I definitely feel good about the choice – and somehow the darker color makes the room feel bigger, contrary to popular advice. I think it might have to do with the fact that the ceiling is a different color (we went with two shades lighter on the same color swatch, in a flat finish), which seems to really emphasize the high ceilings in here. I’m also happy with my decision to paint the trim the same color as the walls, in a semi-gloss:

Behr Gray Area Walls and Trim

In the midst of painting I went on an epic Target shopping trip. There’s a brand new and HUGE store that recently opened in Baltimore, and for some reason a few weeks after their grand opening (which was stocked with lots of Autumn merchandise), pretty much the entire home goods section of the store went on clearance – presumably to prep for the holidays. Obviously I was all over that, and picked up about ten wall frames, a new bedspread, and even some lamps/shades – all for less than $80 or so. My favorite find was the organic cotton bedspread – I love the light blue against the dark walls, and in my head the fact that it’s organic makes up for all the brain cells I lost painting…

I’m still in the process of hanging the frames and tricking out a new Ikea dresser, but progress is progress, right?

So what do you guys think? Did I make the right decision? Did you jump on the crazy train and do any big projects over the holidays??

Happy New Year!

 Posted by on January 7, 2014
Jan 072014

You might have noticed that we got a VERY disappointing  Christmas gift: some major website issues. Merry Christmas to us!!

Yep, after a WordPress update gone amok, we were left with a totally messed up site and problems with like a thousand php files. I tried my best to fix them myself – and eventually just decided that exporting all our posts and switching to a new web host (with a fresh WP install) was the easiest, cheapest solution. We’re still slowly updating most of the media files on the site, but everything else is still intact. So hopefully you all can bear with us as we make some final fixes.

In the meantime, since we were 100% out of commission for the last two weeks of December – which is prime Holiday-decor-blogging season – here are a few photos of our happily (if only partially) decorated house…

Even though the house is in shambles – there are holes in the floor, half-painted walls, etc. – I still wanted to get into the holiday spirit. So a super-skinny pencil tree (scored on Black Friday for $40) went up in our front window, and some ribbon-tied faux wreaths got hung (using this method) on all the front windows:

Pencil Christmas Tree


Christmas Wreaths

Inside, the fireplace mantle got a simple feather wreath and some holiday-themed nick-knacks:

Christmas Mantle

We hung our stockings on the stair rails (after wrapping the rails with some lighted faux garland) – hanging them from the mantle would just block the heat from the fireplace, and I have some early memories of stockings being hung from my grandparents’ stair rails, so this seemed like the ideal spot. I added some painted wood letters inspired by this lovely lady’s mantel, instead of embroidering/painting the stockings themselves – I like the option of changing my mind about labeling them:


Stockings 2

And we finished up the decor with some simple Christmas tree stuff on our living room console table (the green one is just a glittery cardboard thing, while the white ones are oversized candles):

Trees 2


The whole shebang cost us less than $25, since I’d purchased everything but the stockings over the past few years at after-holiday mega-clearance sales – it’s a great strategy if you know you’ll be moving into a new place down the line, since most decor is discounted at up to 90% off! And the stockings themselves were a pretty good bargain, at 30% off at Target…no, it’s not 90%, but I figured with the money I’d saved on everything else we could afford to splurge.

Besides stressing over our complete website failure – which surprisingly lasted only a day or so (after that, we pretty much went with the M.O. “fuck it, it’s Christmas – we’ll worry about this later”), we spent the holidays enjoying time with family and friends here in Baltimore and up north in Massachusetts, where Chris is from and most of our friends from college still live. It was the perfect way for us to enjoy the season, and we’re glad we were able to spend it with everyone we love the most!

How was your holiday season? We hope it was joyful and as stress-free as possible!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Posted by on November 28, 2013
Nov 282013

We’re thankful for lots of things, and you guys are just a few of them. Hope you’re all happily stuffing your faces and counting your blessings!