In Limbo

An alternate title could be Over Our Heads.  Yesterday, we were playing in the trees.  Cutting one down.  Specifically the biggest tree on our property, the locust seen below.

In a way, we’re sad to see if go.  We’re fans of trees, having planted 18 at our first house.  Before you start hating me for cutting down a mature tree, listen to the reasons.  One, the tree is too close to the house; about 10 feet.  Two, this tree is big, and hasn’t reached full size.  And three, the tree’s roots are too high up, so excavating would have killed the tree.  Because the tree is so close to the house and we can’t get a lift up there, it was a bit tricky to cut down.  Having a lift would mean starting from the top, cutting small pieces off at a time.  Ben has cut down about 20 large trees at the apartment complex he works for without any problems.  This smaller (compared to the large cottonwood trees at his work) should be easy enough.

The boys and I watched from the house as Ben notched out the first limb, tied a rope to it, and cut through while Handy Sammy pulled to make sure it landed safely.

Easy and worked like a charm.  But that was the first branch.  The one furthest away from the house.  See that large center branch?  It is a beast.  The guys assumed it would be easy because the first one went so well.  Following the same process, they started working on the biggest branch.  And then it got complicated.  The branch was heavy and naturally wanted to fall toward the house, despite the notch Ben cut.  In fact, it started pinching the chain saw.  Luckily, Ben’s tree cutting experience warned him this could get ugly.  So he stopped cutting and left the chain saw in place, effectively preventing the branch from falling on the house.

Any time Ben’s working on something like this, I’m a nervous, anxious mess.  First and foremost, I’m concerned for his safety.  This time I worried about the house, too.  Not knowing exactly what was going on, I asked if I could help.  Ben yelled at told me to get more rope.  That’s when I knew this was serious and wasn’t going as planned.  Kind of how you know a three a.m. call isn’t going to be good news.  And I thought we were in over our heads.

I found tow straps in the truck.  Sam and I looped the straps around our bodies, pulling on the limb with all our weight.  Ben tied the saw to another branch (so it wouldn’t fall to the ground or on him) and pushed the branch while praying for it to fall the right way.  After several extremely tense (both physically and mentally) minutes, we got the branch down, safely in the yard.  Whew, what a moment of relief.  I may have gotten misty eyed knowing everything was okay.  Of course I have no pictures of this, but you can see that branch on the ground in the picture below.

The last two limbs went just as smoothly as the first.  And then time for clean up.  Ben cut the limbs in manageable, fire-place sized pieces.  Can I add he looked mighty fine while doing so?  Because he did, safety glasses and all.

Smaller branches are in the yard waste bin, ready for pick up.

Between cutting the tree, Ben was loading more dirt for Craigslisters to haul away.  Two birds, one stone.  We’ve still got the stump to deal with.  The plan is to dig out a little more around the base using the bobcat, then pull on it to hopefully get the majority of the roots.

So that’s our (not so) little tree cutting adventure.  Definitely stressful, but we’re glad to be done.

How was your weekend?  What did you do?  Have you cut down a tree?  Did it go smoothly?  Or with a little bump in the road?

You Didn’t Have to Cut Me Off

Sorry, Gotye, but we wanted to.  Had to.  Did.  Cut concrete, that is.  For the basement windows to pass egress in the basement bedrooms at our first house, Ben hired a concrete cutting company.  When we decided to cut this concrete, we knew who to call.  A $300-400 bid wasn’t bad at all, so we made our appointment and got started a week later.  The process was interesting, and not only to the boys.  First, a metal guide gets bolted to the concrete.

Then the giant saw gets set in the track, hooked up to hoses, and starts cutting.

Following the guide, the saw moves on its own.  The guy, Pete, adjusted it along the way and changed directions until it cut completely through.

Once the bottom was cut, he switched the guides and cut the sides.  A nice shove and the concrete fell to the ground.

Over the weekend Ben and Sammy framed out the opening for a sliding door and double hung window.

Having installed a door and several windows made this easier and they had the new window and door in before the evening.

It’s a little more finished looking than last time, right?

And certainly different than what we started with.

Now the sliding doors are at the same height.

No more climbing up three steps to get to the wet bar, then down three more to get to the patio.  The back yard is looking worse than ever, but that means we’re one step closer to rebuilding.  Just a little more excavating, cutting down a tree, and waiting for spring to get started on our plans.  Speaking of plans, I figured it was time to share the ideas we’ve been tossing around.

(not to scale, just to give a picture)

Oye, that’s a lot to take in.  Let me explain.  Because our house is built on rock, there’s no way we could drill a well to water grass.  We’re far too cheap to pay for city water for green grass.  And Montana is too dry (especially this year) to keep grass green.  So, a large concrete patio should minimize dirt/dust in the house while giving us a space to relax.    Centered on the family room sliding door will be a pergola.  I’m thinking something simple and more modern than traditional.  Perhaps we’ll have an outdoor dining table under or we could go more toward an outdoor living room.  We’ll see where we land.  The rock stairs to no where will stay.

Some of the sandstone boulders we dug out will be used as a natural retaining wall.  But we carved out a larger area for a waterfall feature and a gas fire pit.

I’m thinking something rectangular like this bordering on the patio with moveable bench seating for maximum enjoyment.

A small stream will meander down the hillside to a waterfall with hidden storage pond below.  Hidden meaning we’ll use holding tanks to recirculate and keep an open pond from looking gross/filled with rocks deposited by little boys.

In the surrounding areas, we’ll add crushed limestone to further cut down on the dirt.  Drought resistant plants are on our list to add life and greenery.  Because the back yard connects to the driveway, a wooden walking path, or boardwalk, will connect the patio to a set of stairs down to the driveway.

Of course this is all subject to change as we gather inspiration, search out materials, and take measurements.

Yep, we’re officially crazy, but it should be totally awesome when we’re done.  My pergola dreams will be fulfilled.  What do you think?  What’s your dream for an outdoor space?  Are you already planning your spring landscape duties?

X Marks the Spot

For a while, I’ve really wanted to make something interesting using striped fabric.  Specifically, using stripe fabric cut at an angle.  While I can’t make my vision come to life right now (hint: it involves a bedroom; don’t be dirty), I can make a version.  Actually, I got my butt in gear after seeing this pillow, shared in our latest Etsy fav round-up.

I started with a green and white fabric I bought at Ikea and a piece of plain card stock from my stash.  To minimize damage if I screwed up, I decided to make a 14 inch square pillow cover.  Then I cut my card stock into an 8 inch square, which gives me a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

To make the cool x design, I measured a green stripe and marked the center with a little tick mark at the top and bottom.

Then I placed my square template on the fabric, lining the corners up with the tick marks and traced the edges.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Maximize your fabric by placing the squares right next to the other, slightly staggered in height.

Cut out the squares and place together to form an x.

Now pin the top two together, and the bottom two together like this, right sides together, keeping the stripes lined up.

Sew along the edges, then pin those pieces together, keeping the stripes together.  I decided to use a gray faux silk backing with an exposed zipper bottom, but you can choose your backing and closure type.  Envelope closures are super easy.

Originally, I planned to sew a second for the slipper chairs in the family room, but the green didn’t mesh well with the chair color.  Now it lives on our bed.

The splash of color in our otherwise unchanged and boring room makes me smile.

And I like the faux silk shiny backing.  You know I can’t resist shiny anything.  I did mess up though.  For some unknown reason I put the zipper along the whole bottom.  I should have cut it down and centered it, leaving fabric in the corners for crisp edges.

Oh well, I guess that’s bound to happen when I’m sewing while watching White Collar.  Can’t. take. eyes. off. Matt. Bomer.  Seriously, he’s not even hot, he’s gorgeous. So I guess because I made this pillow while watching him, I’ve got a little piece of him in bed.  Bahahaha.

What do you think of this design?  It would work with any stripe size or color, too.  Do zippers trip you up, too?  Maybe you’re just a fan of White Collar?  Or Matt Bomer?  I am!  I am!  Haven’t seen Magic Mike, but anything with Matt is a sure hit with me.


Yesterday afternoon, Ben picked up another load of foam insulation.  Just as he came home with it, I went out to the post office.  In the twenty-ish minutes I was gone, Ben did something.

Can you tell?

He cut down (most of) the apple tree.  We had talked about this for a few weeks, not certain when it would happen, but eventually it would.  While we both love trees, heck, Ben planted 17 fruit trees at our last house, this one wasn’t working for us.  First off, it was too close to the house.  Structurally speaking, the roots could damage the foundation.  It also blocked a lot of our view and darkened the kitchen and breakfast nook.  Now we can actually see our back yard from the kitchen.

But the main reason Ben cut it down yesterday afternoon is this:

Hauling bulky insulation to the pool room.  With the first load, Ben and Handy Sammy walked up the stairs, maneuvering around the big rock.  Now that the tree was out-of-the-way, they could easily set the insulation on the landing, and haul it in from there.

Once through the door, the boys loaded it in the pool.

Inside the house, it’s wonderful not having the tree.  From the outside, it looks so bare.

When Ben is ready, he’ll pull the rest of the stump out and we can get to work on the landscaping.

Until then, he’s got several tons of shingles to install.

After we get our hardscaping done, we’ll figure out what plants and trees we want to add for shade and greenery.  We’ve already talked about fruit trees and a pergola for shade.  Despite being a ways off, I’m getting excited.

What are your favorite shade trees?  Do you have landscaping ideas for us?

Stone Cold

Here’s the much requested stone counter cutting post.  Let’s dive in.  Well, not literally because smashing your head into the counter doesn’t sound like fun.

To cut your own stone counter top, you’ll need:

  • A skill saw with diamond blade
  • A right angle grinder with diamond blade and stone polishing pads
  • Clamps
  • A straight edge
  • A hose with running water
  • A GFI protected outlet
  • Saw horses or another system to hold the stone up
  • Protective gear for eyes, ears, mouth, and nose

Now you know the ingredients, let’s get to the instructions.  If you need to cut length off your stone, first mark where you want to cut.  Then, measure the guard of your skill saw.  Clamp a straight edge factoring in the width of your guard.

While wearing protective gear, slowly and carefully cut along your guide.

Now you’re ready to start polishing.  Ben asked the local granite companies for their used polishing pads, so ours were free.  To get a new set, check the link above or search ‘granite polishing pads’ to find a better deal.  Here’s what the pads look like:

For a polished finish, the pads work best wet.  Ben clamps a slow running hose to the counter top to let the water trickle over the edge.  Remember, electricity and water are not friends!  Plug your grinder in a GFI protected outlet and keep your plugs out of the water.  Use extreme caution.  Then sand the edges just like you would with a normal sander on wood.  Keep it moving to avoid gouges and slightly round the edge for a factory-finished look.

Polishing didn’t take nearly as long as cutting the sink hole did.  Ben only uses drop in sinks so he doesn’t have to have a nice looking cut, just a place for the sink to go in.  Use the sink template to mark the cut lines.

Take the polishing pad off the grinder and replace it with a diamond blade.

Plunge cut the sink hole slowly and carefully.  You won’t be able to cut through with one pass.  Slow and steady on this.  Clean the dust and water off and you’ve made yourself a stone counter top.

The polished eased edge looks just as good as the granite company, too.

What do you think?  Are you willing to try this at home?  What is your favorite type of counter top?  Granite?  Marble?  Concrete?

Disclaimer:  If you are not comfortable using this equipment, don’t try this.  Use caution and always wear safety gear.  This is an overview tutorial and we cannot be held responsible for injuries.