I’ll try to let the pictures do most of the talking here. These are roughly in chronological order.
So writing is supposed to be therapeutic, right? I’m hoping so because damn, I’m super stressed out over this basement renovation. I have learned one very big lesson – go with your gut. You remember how I wrote a few posts back that I had a bad start with our contractor and I was considering firing him? I should have done it then and saved me and Canadian Bacon a lot of stress, because I wound up having to fire him on Friday after he showed up three hours late, drunk and raging.
This whole experience has been interesting. Like I said before, the dude we hired was one of my mom’s dear friend’s son, who was jobless and looking for work. I can now attest to why he’s jobless. Throughout this entire ordeal, he never once showed up when he said he would. If we arranged to start working at 8am, he’d show up at 8:30 or 9. If he said he needed to “just run to the store for a few minutes,” he’d be gone two hours. Every day he laid out what he was going to accomplish, and every day he failed to do so. CB and I realized that he would never work between Thursday-Sunday – without fail, every Thursday he would just not show up, and would refuse to answer his cellphone. I wouldn’t hear from him again until Sunday when he would promise to show up on Monday, and give some half-assed excuse or blatantly lie. He only worked 7 days total for us, and the day before he would disappear he would ask for money. A couple of times I thought I smelled liquor on him, but was unsure.
On the 8th day, he was supposed to show up to consult with the plumber because he’d told us he wanted to go ahead and do the bathroom building also. He failed to show up at 10am when he said he would; told Meemaw at 11 that he’d be there soon, told me at noon that he was on his way, and after the plumber got there at 12:30 said he had just finished vacuuming and was now coming. Wtf? The plumbers left shortly before he arrived to go pick up parts, and before they came back he started raging at me and CB about how we failed to help him do anything, we were lazy, we didn’t explain the scope of the project, we were cheating him, he’d already done thousands of dollars of work and we were underpaying him, etc etc. I fired him and told him to gather his things and leave. He kept repeating that he had been drinking, and he knew he was being an asshole, but he couldn’t work with us anymore because we were cheating him, etc etc. In the middle of his tirade, the plumbers showed back up, and he started talking to them like nothing had changed. He kept repeating the same thing to the plumbers, annoying them while they were trying to work, and finally CB escorted him off the property.
Guys, I am so, so angry about all of this. Once he started txting me harassing me for more money, Mom stepped into mediate and handle things as she had been there when we hired him and was less personally involved. He gave us some bullshit about how we never defined the scope of the project clearly (which she knows is a lie, because she was there with me when we laid everything out and hired him!) and tried to get his mother involved, making up lies about stuff my mom supposedly told her. This was a huge freaking mess. Mom met him to give the rest of the sum we’d promised him for the job – we were going to give him far more once it was completed, because we felt he undervalued his work – but since it wasn’t completed we just settled on the original price.
What really enrages me is that when he had her alone, he told her all this stuff about how me and CB were lazy and never raised a finger to help. We have busted our asses down there. Not only did we clean it out and continue to make constant dump runs throughout the week to get rid of building debris, CB single-handedly did every bit of electrical work – and there was a TON. The whole thing had to be re-wired. I went behind him and hung insulation. At one point I was going behind KC and screwing in the studs as he set them. We sanded and mudded, after I bugged him to show me how to properly do it. We held sheets of drywall for him. I spray-foamed the windows and doors to insulate them. Not to mention he used my drill/driver set to do all of this because the solitary ancient drill he brought with him wouldn’t drill into the masonry. I am super angry because throughout all of this, CB and I constantly offered to help and ask what we needed to do. He would tell us we couldn’t help or “nothing” unless I specifically asked how to do something and then had him check my work to verify I was doing it properly, and when I did that he would act like I was slowing him down and pissing him off.
And you know what the straw that broke the camel’s back was? The day we fired him, he’d promised the night before that we would be able to start priming and painting down there, because I want to do that before we lay the floors. I quickly realized that the mudding and sanding wasn’t done, and I got to work sanding while waiting for him. When he showed up he tried to leave immediately, and CB asked him when the walls would be ready for that because he had been saying they would be ready since three days prior, and my cousin KB and my bffe Llek were ready to help us paint that afternoon. He got really pissed and took the sander from me, then started sanding the walls and yelling about how we never do anything.
So what do we have left to do? This list is for my own reference as well as yours, because CB and I are going to try to single-handedly finish the work in the main area. And by single-handedly, I mean Llek’s husband Robert is definitely going to come help us install the floors because we’ve never done that, but the rest of it is going to be on me and CB. We don’t want to bring in another contractor when there’s just basically finishing work to do, and we think we now know how to finish things on our own.
- Finish hanging the drywall ceiling in the back half. KC hung the bedroom, we need to hang the study area and at the foot of the stairs.
- Complete the HVAC bulkhead. The one in the bedroom is done; me and CB need to do the one in the study area. My awesome bonus grandparents have let us borrow their beast of a compound miter saw so that we can cut the lumber to do this.
- Drywall said bulkhead.
- Sand all the walls down once more. They’ve been mudded and sanded once and I mudded them again yesterday before we decided to take a break.
- Mud the ceiling joints and the ceiling and the study area bulkhead 2x and sand them all 2x.
- Trim out the windows. I think I have figured out how to do this. This is the part I am the iffiest on.
- PRIME AND PAINT, FINALLY. Supposedly I was going to be able to start doing this on the 27th, lol!
- Lay the laminate flooring.
- Hang bathroom door and bifold closet doors, install door hardware.
- Cut and install baseboards.
- Build bookshelves and our gaming desk.
- Install closet hardware (double rods and shoe rack).
- Move in!
We have decided that even though we think we can probably do the stuff in the bathroom, we want to just get a separate contractor to come in and frame/drywall that for us, maybe even lay the tile. I was planning on doing the tiling myself but man, I am just so tired at this point. CB and I work 10 hr days over there, and then a couple of times a week I have to stay the night, and I don’t sleep well upstairs. I’m so ready for this to be done. We were hoping we’d be moved in by today so I wouldn’t have to pay another month of storage fees, but I guess shit happens. We are still planning on moving in as soon as the main living area is done, and hopefully the bathroom won’t take much longer. Oh, and one other thing I keep forgetting – the drop ceiling in the living room / gaming room space – I contacted a company about coming in and giving us an estimate. CB and I aren’t sure if we want to tackle that part ourselves. We’ll see how reasonable the price for an install in only 15x25ish ft of space is.
And I know, you’ve been waiting around for pictures. I have a ton to share – the basement looks almost finished – but I need to edit them before posting them. It’s taken me so long to write anything because I’ve just been so drained and then so angry, I had to rest and compose myself first. Me and CB are about to head out to pick up Meemaw to go have Easter dinner at a restaurant for the first time ever in the history of my family (she doesn’t want to cook when Sugarbandit is in rehab, and I don’t blame her), but maybe I’ll be able to get another post scheduled before raid tonight! Until then, you can check out my pinterest board for paint color choices, fixtures, and other basement decor decisions.
My friend Eli from Murray posted a saying on facebook the other day and I saw it right after firing KC, and it really resonated with me when I was in despair. It was “Life never gets easier. You just get stronger.” I am going to try to focus on that as we move into what I hope to be the last stages of The Great Basement Renovation.
Dude, I totally have a bedroom. And a master closet that’s alllllllll miiiiiine because let’s face it, Canadian Bacon doesn’t have a bazillion clothes and shoes like I do, and he’s more than happy to give me that space. I’m so excited about it!
But let’s back up. Despite our slow start, the previous few days have been smooth sailing. We met up on Tuesday bright and early and got right back to work. KC showed me how to hang insulation while CB got to wiring the bedroom. Meemaw had a doctor’s appointment at 9:45 that morning, so after I hung about half of the wall we had to take off and leave the boys working. We kept our errands pretty short that day, and Lowes fortunately delivered the rest of our materials pretty early in the morning. I did spend a large amount of time dealing with that, however.
In my last post, I forgot to mention that on Sunday afternoon I was looking through my MyLowes account on my Lowes app (which is AWESOME btw!) when I realized that the wrong bifold closet doors had been ordered for delivery. I really dislike the look of builder basic six-panel doors, so I made sure to order two-panel rounded-top carriage-style doors for the bedroom and the bathroom instead, and was thrilled when I found bifolds that matched. The statement on my MyLowes account said six-panel, so CB and I took time out on Sunday to go to Lowes to 1) add more stuff to our order, because we realized we estimated a little low on studs and drywall, and 2) to correct the bifold order. The sales associate who did the door exchange said the two-panel doors were special order and I’d have to pick them up in a week. Whatever, totally worth it to have matching doors in a style I love!
Well, Tuesday morning rolled around, and I was out running errands with Meemaw when Lowes made the delivery. CB called and said they’d made a mistake with the doors – they’d sent two left-handed doors instead of right-handed. What he didn’t realize was that they’d also made a mistake with the bifold doors. They went ahead and delivered the six-panel style instead. CB and KC and I debated using the left-handed doors instead of the right-handed and honestly, it didn’t really bother me. I thought the left-handed ones were fine, but we decided to go ahead and go to Lowes to see about getting the order corrected. It took awhile for the sales associate to figure out what exactly had gone wrong, but she sorted through our various invoices and promised to call me once she’d settled things with a driver. Lowes was going to pick up the wrong doors and deliver the correct ones, that day. I have to take time out here to say that even though they messed up, they really impressed me with their customer service and how quick they were to make things right!
When we got back home, KC had already installed one of the doors, so I called back to Lowes to tell them not to worry about exchanging the left-hand for right-hand but that I definitely still needed the bifolds corrected. Later that afternoon they came by to make the exchange… and you’ll never guess what they did… they brought the same damn six-panel bifolds! Well, one of them at any rate. The other was the correct two-panel. I told the delivery guy the door was wrong and he tried to argue with me, so I pointed out the style difference and he was like “DOH!” So they had to leave one door with us and take the other back to exchange yet again! We were getting close to stopping, so I just instructed them where to drop the door under the deck, sure enough they delivered it safe and sound sometime after we’d gone home (and it was the correct one this time, woot).
Other than hanging insulation that day, I also learned more about framing. KC showed me how to level a stud and how to drive it into the top and bottom plates, so I got to help build part of our bedroom wall. While we framed, CB went through and dealt with the electrical. He had to run parallels from the existing outlets to put new outlets on our bedroom walls, and he also ran a light into my closet and hung the primary overhead light for the bedroom. We decided to go ahead and install our flush mount LED fixtures because they’re fairly easy to remove and we need light while we work. When it comes time to hang the ceiling, we’ll just pop them off, stick the ceiling up, and pop them back in.
CB really did a phenomenal job on lighting. Other than doing some minor electrical work at Mom’s, like switching outlets, I’d never really gotten to see him in his element. While I know logically that he has an electrical degree and has done this stuff in Canada, there’s a difference between knowing and seeing the skills put into practice. He’s put all new blue junction boxes in the ceiling, and on Tuesday he also set up our bedroom ceiling light on a dimmer and got the wall outlets working. Everything is perfect!
Wednesday was more of the same, except Meemaw and I left the house by 10 and didn’t get back until 4, dealing with doctor’s visits, seeing Sugarbandit out at rehab, and picking more things up at Lowes. The boys busted their asses while we were gone and pretty much finished up all the framing and electrical. I got to demo the moulding around the windows and hang another wall of insulation, but that was pretty much it. We were all exhausted and although we’d planned to keep working until 8, we called it quits at about 6:30. I didn’t remember to take anymore pictures, but I will do so tomorrow. We’re taking today (Thursday) off because our contractor had a previous engagement out-of-town, but we’ll be back in there tomorrow bright and early to finish off the electrical, insulation, and hopefully start hanging drywall!
After that the burden of work will quickly fall on me, as I’m going to have to prime and paint everything before we tackle flooring. CB has stated explicitly that he will not be picking up a paintbrush. He detests painting and since he’s done far more work than me at this point, I can’t really complain. I still have to pick out paint colors! I know I want to do a charcoal for the bedroom because I love that color currently in my bedroom at Mom’s house, especially with my furniture and bedding, but I’m going to have to wait to see how dark the room is before I decide. There won’t be any natural light so I worry about it being a bit too dark – we’ll see. And I’m pretty set on doing a silvery gray for the main living area, because I think that will go best with my living room furniture and decor. I’m not really sure yet but I will let you know when I am!
Also, I have locked in a plumber! We will begin work on the bathroom next Wednesday. We will be living there before the end of the month!
Expect more pictures after we work tomorrow!
Guys, this has been an expensive week. Meemaw hit up her bank and withdrew the cd she’s funding the renovation with, and we promptly started spending it. The largest single expense so far? Definitely our laminate flooring. We bought 600 sq ft of a beautiful 10mm handscraped marcona hickory for a whopping $1200. Over the past few days, we’ve spent that much again on 2x4s, drywall, screws, doors, knobs, vapor barrier, insulation, and other various things. Ouch! I’m still pretty confident we can get this whole thing done for under 10k, though – that’s my goal!
We’ve had a parade of plumbers in and out, and I have two more lined up to give me an estimate tomorrow. So far it’s varied from 3k to 8k. I’ll let you guess which one of those we’re definitely not going with! Oh, and dryloking the walls? Yeah, I did not do that myself. I got started, made it up half of a small corner before my wrist started killing me from trying to spread shit that’s the consistency of peanut butter, and said screw it. Meemaw took one whiff of the noxious fumes and promptly called a painter, who did it in a fraction of the time it would have taken me for a very reasonable price. Win!
There were a couple of rocky days with our contractor. We were supposed to meet him Friday at 7am to purchase materials (Sugarbandit’s military discount is better than a contractor discount, so we’re buying the mats directly). Canadian Bacon and I were running a few minutes late, so I txted him to tell him we’d be there by 7:10. No response. When we pulled into Lowes parking lot, I didn’t see his car. I waited until about 7:20 before I called – and I woke his ass up. Grr. He said he’d be there shortly, so CB and I waited around in the truck for a little while longer before getting bored and going in to window shop. We wound up waiting for a whole freaking hour before he showed up!
The really aggravating thing, though, was what happened next. After we purchased the materials, he said he had to run home to grab some more tools, and he’d be at Meemaw’s in about 20 minutes. Thirty minutes passed, and then another thirty before I sent him a “Are you lost??” txt. He called me and said he was sitting at home watching his sister’s kids and since we had relatively little to do that day, he’d just come over “sometime after lunch” and work then. That infuriated me. It was past 11, so CB and I went home to wait him out. He never called. I txted, I called, and he ignored my communications.
Finally the next morning, super pissed and ready to fire him, I shot him another txt – “Do you have a good reason for blowing me off yesterday?” He immediately responded groveling, and promised to meet me and CB today promptly at 10am. He upheld that promise so we’re going to continue working with him at this point.
Today we started framing the back wall of the basement. When we ordered our materials on Friday, we decided to get a small amount to “get started” and have them deliver the rest, because although we have the truck, it can only hold so much. Unfortunately their first available delivery was Monday morning, so we had a limited amount of 2x4s to begin working with. We wound up having the perfect amount to frame out the entire back wall and the closet in our bedroom.
CB and I learned a lot about framing today and are fairly confident we can do it on our own now. Tomorrow we are going to start working on the left exterior wall together while the contractor frames the bedroom. We will probably do all the work in the bathroom ourselves. I’m expecting that the plumber is going to have to bust up the concrete and excavate, run new lines, and backfill, and then we’ll have to do the walls and have them come back in when that’s finished to place the fixtures. We want to do that on our own rather than have the contractor come back out.
When we weren’t observing the contractor frame, we were doing our own tasks. First off, we went ahead and emptied out the old washroom/future bathroom completely. The old bar in there, which you can see in this post, was backless and completely full of cobwebs. I wound up killing three more adult black widows. We really need to get an exterminator soon…
But I digress. CB went to work plotting out the electrical and taking down some extraneous fixtures. There was this wad of electrical cords dangling really low from the ceiling in there and he decided to check, against all likelihood, to see if they were hot. It’s a damn good thing he checked because those bastards were live and would have blasted him to kingdom come if he’d made contact. I am furious at whoever it is Meemaw had do work in her washroom last. CB capped the wires off and they were instantly 100x safer than they were before, for less than a minute of work. Someone was just plain sloppy and since the wires were so low-hanging I’m surprised no one has gotten hurt.
The guys who moved her washer and dryer up to the sunroom this past summer really made a mess of things too (they might’ve been the live-wire culprits). They drilled through the exterior wall and ran a pvc pipe up it to work as the washer drain, and every plumber who’s come in thus far has pointed that out as a glaring violation of code. Moreover, they rigged the power cord to go from the back of the old plug through the drywall in our future living room and out the top of the window. WTF?! So there are obviously some things that we’ve got to fix. CB is still trying to figure out how he’s going to work that one because I do NOT want a bigass metal cord going across my living room wall and out my window as it is currently.
While CB plotted electrical, I did what I did best – destroy shit with my crowbar. All the lower drywall in the washroom had black mold all over it, so I went through and busted the pieces out. I also went ahead and removed the door from our living room into the washroom, and then the door from the washroom to the garage. We are going to just wall that side up so the door was unnecessary. It’s still there in this picture, but it’s officially gone in real life.
We still have a ton of shit on our plate, but I’m glad it’s finally starting to take shape. A week ago, Sugarbandit started to develop a rattling in his lungs. He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day so we just planned to get it checked out then, but around 2am that night he slid and fell trying to get out of bed. EMS had to take him to the ER, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. It really sapped his strength, and he has to stay in rehab for awhile and go through physical therapy before he can safely come home again. The same thing happened almost exactly two years ago also, right after CB and I got married and moved to Canada.
It’s hard on Meemaw, and because of her anxiety she needs someone to stay with her constantly. Right now we’re all taking turns chauffeuring her around and staying with her at night, but it will be so much easier when our apartment is done. CB and I are hoping VERY optimistically that if we can get a plumber in later this week that we can go ahead and move in as soon as the main area is finished and just use Meemaw’s bathroom upstairs for a few days. It’d be inconvenient but still better than the rotating shift we’re all taking on now. We’ll have to see what kind of progress we make tomorrow, and what kind of estimates the plumbers give us.
And on that note, I need to go to bed. I spent most of the day over there today, then came home and logged on in time to raid (I have several Memoirs of a GM posts I need to finish writing and schedule also… they’re long overdue), and I have to be up at 7am to go over to Meemaw’s to relieve Sheryl and to make a few dump runs and to wait for the Lowes delivery so we can get back to work. I just wanted to throw this post up while it was still fresh on my mind, but I’ve taken a half hour longer on it than I should have, and it’s time to bail. Gnight everyone! More tomorrow!
Yesterday, I showed you guys pix of the empty basement. Today, let’s talk about who is going to fill that basement up with gorgeous rooms, flooring, and a suspended ceiling.
Thus far, we have had 4 contractors come in and look at the emptied basement. I didn’t meet with the first guy – Meemaw coordinated all that – and he glanced around for a hot minute and gave us an estimate of 3k for the entire thing, bathroom and all. Dude must’ve been smoking crack because I’m estimating 700 sq ft of flooring alone at 1.5k, low-end.
The second contractor spent a great deal more time in there, took measurements, sketched out my idea, then took over a week with the estimate and laid a 17k price tag at my feet – not including electrical or flooring. Dude must’ve also been smoking some crack because we’re not dropping that much moolah, especially since over half of his estimate was in labor costs alone.
It looks like we’re probably going to be going with a combo of contractors #3 and #4. The third guy we had in is my mom’s friend’s son KC, who recently completed a basement renovation over at his sister’s house. He’s not a professional with the 20 years experience of guy #2, but he provided us with samples of his work and they were very nicely done. The perk with KC, other than the low prices, is the fact that he is going to teach Canadian Bacon and I the ends and outs of framing, drywalling, laying a floor, and hanging a suspended ceiling. This will truly be a DIY effort led by someone with experience. CB and I really wanted to be involved in the building and this way we will be able to.
The only catch is, #3 has no plumbing expertise and so we are going to hire out the whole bathroom area to another contractor. That will be professionally done, at a much higher price I am sure, but you don’t screw around with plumbing. That brings us to contractor #4, who has done several jobs for Meemaw before. This guy and his son built Sugarbandit’s ramp two summers ago, and about ten years ago they renovated the upstairs full bath, redid the plumbing, and laid new subflooring. It makes sense to me to have the same guys who did the upstairs bathroom plumbing do the new downstairs bathroom plumbing also. Number 4 will be here today to go over plumbing plans and give us an estimate.
We are planning on starting the living area very soon – perhaps next week! KC said he thinks it will only take us 3-5 days to finish everything in there. Then it will be up to #4 to get the bathroom done and we will have a completed apartment.
Meemaw says she can’t wait for us to be living there with her. I know it’s comforting to her and SB to have me and CB hanging out downstairs, even with all the banging around we’ve been doing as we demo things. One day last week, Sugarbandit’s sugar dropped and he slid to the floor and fortunately we were there to help them deal with that. I’m sure they also enjoy us running around on their errands, doing their shopping, and delivering meals!
Meemaw has to have surgery later this month to correct a blockage in her carotid artery, and I’m hoping we’re there by then to be useful when she recuperates, so the whole family doesn’t have to do the usual dance of who-is-staying-with-who-when. Let’s hope we get a fast turnaround on the bathroom!
or, The Employees at the Dump Know Us by Name
or maybe, We Have Stocked Goodwill for the Next Five Years
or even, My Boogers are Black – Extended Edition
As we progress further into The Great Basement Renovation, all of the above are true. Canadian Bacon and I have put in some serious hours down there since our last post. I don’t know why I haven’t made a new post concerning these adventures – oh wait, yes I do. It’s because every spare moment of my life has been sunk into this basement. That’s not really over-exaggerating, guys. I’m over at Meemaw’s at 9 and not home until 7, then it’s straight to dinner and raiding and then sleep and repeat. This past month, my life has been wholly consumed by the following:
- Work in the basement, including clean out, demo and prep like dryloking the walls, meeting with contractors, shopping Lowes/Home Depot, and selling shit on Craigslist.
- Take Meemaw and Sugarbandit to their doctor’s appointments, out to eat, and shopping. Includes misc errand running like property tax paying.
- Apply to grad schools.
- Run Unpossible, which means finishing out the last tier of raiding in the US Top 300/server 3rd, and starting off this new tier solidly.
I started to write a whole section here about meeting with contractors, but it got too verbose and I determined it deserves its own post. So stay tuned for that one. I know you guys are really here to look at before-and-after pictures anyway, so let’s see what I’ve got for you.
Those pictures are pretty terrifying, huh? Well, I know I spoiled the surprise for everyone with the “It’s Empty!” title, but… it is. Canadian Bacon and I busted our asses and, over the course of about a week, managed to empty the place out. It’s been mostly empty for a week now as we’ve been parading people in and out to buy items Meemaw can stand to part with. We’ve made over $400 by craigslisting things – some of her old ceramics, some of her non-heirloom antiques, and all of the fish tanks.
Speaking of fish tanks, there were nine at the final count, and one still had fish in them. Meemaw said she “never really liked” the fish that were in there – someone had given her a few convict cichlids, and over the course of a summer they multiplied into something like five tanks. They’ve died off slowly since then, and we condensed them down into one tank. Then, as it got to the point where we needed to pull the tanks out to hose em off and sell em, I managed to find a pet store in town that accepts unwanted fish to adopt out. Booyah! The convicts are gone :)
We still have a few odds and ends that we’re selling on craigslist, like an upright freezer, the old kitchen bar you’ll see in these upcoming pictures, Sugarbandit’s desk, Meemaw’s ceramics bench, and the random stools we’re using for seating in the meantime. Fortunately everything that’s still there is useful at the moment, be it for stashing renovation supplies or for resting our tired butts.
We have a lot of things to do before we’re ready to start building. We’ve already gotten a couple of gallons of oil-based Drylok and a respirator to use while we paint the cinderblock to waterproof it (the fumes are supposedly very dangerous). I bleached/scrubbed the mildew yesterday, and after I’m done with this post we’re planning on going over there to get started with the Dryloking. We’ve already demo’d out the pegboard over the ceramics bench and the shelves under the stairs. We’ve removed all the socket and switch faceplates. We need to extract the ceramics bench and do something with it. I’m going to use that cement caulk on the cracks in the floor. I’ve got to sand down the stairs. Speaking of sanding, that area on the stairs where the cats sharpened their claws for years? The sander needs to visit that too, then I need to skim coat it in prep for paint. And that handrail is so nasty after 40 years of traffic, I’m going to take a magic eraser to it, too.
Soon enough Canadian Bacon’ll be putting in new outlets and rigging up our lights (we’ve already picked out our recessed LED can lighting!!), and I’m hoping that next week we can start framing and drywalling this main space!!
Thursday and Friday were nice enough that Canadian Bacon and I chose to wake up early and use them to work on the garage. After our adventures in the washroom last Sunday, we brainstormed and came up with a plan of action that we will be following in prep for the renovation. We decided to focus on the garage first, even though it’s not slated to be turned into living space, just because it was so damned trashed and we figured that if we cleaned it up and organized it for more storage, we’d have an easier time emptying out the basement proper.
The garage is shaped like a giant L flipped backwards and upside down. The door that a car could fit into is at the top of the L, and the part that curves back is just storage. Keep in mind I have never, ever, in my almost 30 years of living, seen a car parked in this thing. But still, this is where one could theoretically fit if it weren’t so full of crap.
Before becoming limited in mobility, the garage was predominately Sugarbandit’s domain. It has two very tough and rugged workbenches and some nice shelving he built in the storage area at the bottom of the L. I never remember him really working down there – I always think of him working at his bench in the washroom – but I know that he did at some point.
When I was growing up, we stored lawn care implements and gardening tools in the garage. Within the past few years, Sugarbandit had a tool shed added to the back yard directly across from the garage entrance, so Canadian Bacon and I started by moving all the yard stuff over there. Unfortunately, we forgot to take true “Before” pictures, so unfortunately the area had already been straightened some when I snapped these:
Even though Meemaw and SB had a very nice new garage door with automatic opener installed about two years ago, Meemaw has persisted in her habit of refusing to ever shut the door. Up until this winter when I persuaded her to start leaving the dogs upstairs in the new sunroom at night, she’d leave the old washroom door cracked for them to get into and stay warm. Unfortunately this gave them unattended access to all the items stored down there. This wasn’t so bad with Chewy, but Cookie has turned out to be a bit of a terror. She chews and destroys everything. Unless stuff was put up, she messed with it. We even found evidence she was chewing on the HVAC unit!
Canadian Bacon and I wound up throwing away five truckloads of shit, a lot of which she’d torn up. Today we bought a shop broom from Wally World and, paired with a flat-nosed shovel, we had the proper tools to sweep and load everything into trash cans and the back of the truck.
On the first day, we managed 3 loads of trash and saw an equal amount of spiders. Not too shabby. We started parking the antiques Meemaw wants to sell on top of a workbench. This is how the place looked at the end of day one in the garage -
Oh, and lest I forget – as Canadian Bacon and I were toting out one of the five Christmas trees Meemaw had stashed down there, I tripped over a board and fell on my ass. My left asscheek and my left wrist still hurt. But if only that were my only accident of the day… oh no, my friends, that wasn’t it. On our second trip to the dump, some guy threw his damn couch on me. Yeah, that’s right. He was tossing his couch out of his truck and it landed on me as I was leaning up against the side of our truck, reaching for something in the back. Fortunately it ALSO hit my ass and just bounced me into the vehicle, kind of stunning me. I was so flabbergasted – and winded – that I just grunted at him when he asked if I were okay and fled the scene of the crime. No, I cannot even make this shit up!
So on day three of TGBR, day two of cleaning the garage, Canadian Bacon and I got an understandably later start. That still didn’t stop us from completely pwning the place. However… this was the day of the spiders. My skin is crawling as I’m typing this. If you scroll up and look at the before pictures, you’ll see two shelves along the wall. We were planning on keeping those because they’re nice storage. We moved the first one and found what was a black widow graveyard. There were at least 10 dessicated corpses hanging there, just fluttering a little in the wind. That skeeved us out… but not as much as what happened when we moved the other, smaller shelf beside it. We unearthed the damn nursery. There were tons of egg sacs packed everywhere and at least twenty mf-ing living black widows scurrying everywhere.
Holy shit, you could hear us all over the neighborhood screaming. I grabbed the baseball bat and started swinging while Canadian Bacon pointed out targets. It was a freaking bloodbath. I have never seen that many damn widows before. I am not the least bit arachnophobic – my old roommate and guy bff Bry is, and my bffe Llek has a huge fear of spiders too, and even CB severely dislikes them – so I’ve always been the designated spider-killer in all those relationships. This, however, was frankly terrifying. Black widows are the scariest spiders I’ve ever seen. It’s like nature put them together for the sole purpose of making people shit themselves in fear.
Needless to say, those shelves are long gone. Canadian Bacon threw them into the truck and more widows continued to crawl over them. Meemaw stood up in the sunroom hollering at us about the spiders while I went berserk bashing shit in the back of the truck. Sweet baby gamer Jesus, I never want to deal with that ever again.
After that trauma and due to some incoming nasty weather, we’re taking Saturday off. We plan to venture into the basement proper on Sunday to get started weeding through the goods and separating the treasure from the trash! I’m hoping that by the end of next week we’ll be able to get a few contractors in for estimates. Woo! Looking at those pictures, I can’t believe the amount of work we did in just two days. AND on top of that, we killed Heroic: Grand Empress Shek’zeer on WoW. My week is complete.
Okay, so that post title’s a lie. This isn’t really caramel – it’s dulce de leche, which I sometimes call “Mexican caramel.” I don’t even think it’s Mexican, but the name is Spanish and it’s cooked in various places down in South America, and let’s face it, I’m Southern – so everything down there is Mexican. Proper caramel is made with sugar and butter; dulce de leche is made with milk and sugar. In this recipe, we make things super easy by only using one ingredient – sweetened condensed milk.
I first made dulce de leche years ago, in college, when I first tried the Haagan Das icecream of the same flavor. Making it is as simple as boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk. Or is it? I never liked that cooking strategy, for several reasons:
- I never know how long is long enough – I can’t see the contents of the can to tell when it’s caramelized.
- Heating the can causes the toxins in it to seep into the finished product.
- It can fucking explode. Yes. The can is under pressure and can BLOW UP IN YOUR FACE.
So here’s the super easy way to cook it that negates all of those issues.
Easy Overnight Crockpot Caramel
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 canning jar with lid
crockpot filled with water
Open the can of sweetened condensed milk and pour its contents into your canning jar. Seal the lid tightly. Set it gently into a water-filled crockpot. Turn it on “low” and go to bed. Wake up in the morning to delicious dulce de leche that you can eat straight out of the jar with a spoon. If for some reason the milk has not caramelized by the time you wake up, crank the heat up to high and check back every hour.
Feel free to make more than one jar at a time. My crockpot can fit 3.
Today Canadian Bacon and I kicked off The Great Basement Renovation by tackling the washroom. Until this past summer, it contained Meemaw’s laundry equipment and sundries on one side, and Sugarbandit’s most frequently used workbench and tools on the other. From the rather dubious mix of dryer lint and diy dirt sprung a disastrous area that was roughly comparable to hell. In about three hours, we made a huge dent in there. Since it was pouring down rain outside we couldn’t take stuff to the dump, but we do have roughly 7 bags and several boxes full of trash that are ready to go when the weather turns.
Duration – 3hrs
Trashed – 7 bags and then some
Spiders – 6, only 1 murdered with a handy baseball bat
Widows – 0 thus far, fortunately
Observations – 3/4ths of the stuff was for aquariums. I never realized Meemaw had this big of a fishtank problem. Sugarbandit has a lot of really cool tools and I’m excited at the prospect of having a workshop at hand in the garage.
There’s such a thick layer of grime on everything – any tips for cleaning it up? The only thing I can think of is to individually wipe each item down with a Clorox wipe, and I know that would take forever. Suggestions are appreciated!
So Canadian Bacon and I have a lot of work cut out for us in the near future. My Meemaw has decided that she wants us to move in with her and Sugarbandit to help do stuff around the house and for her own peace of mind. In order for us all to be more comfortable, for Meemaw to keep her house set up the way she has it, and for our cats to not have to mix and interact (we will have a total of 7 in the house at that point), she has decided that she wants to renovate and refinish the basement. Sugarbandit told me last night that he is “the great procrastinator” and he always meant to finish the basement off. There is still the chance we won’t do it if it winds up costing too much, but before we get a contractor in to give us a really good estimate, we’ve got to clean the thing out.
It’s no secret that my Meemaw is a hoarder. She’s not one of those super gross ones with trash everywhere, starring on a reality show; her house is clean, but just really cluttered. This past summer, they had their deck converted into a sunroom/washroom so she could do laundry without having to go up and down stairs; she’d stuffed it with furniture within a month. I’m the world’s biggest klutz and I always knock stuff over just walking through the house. Her basement has become a catchall for the junk she’s acquired throughout her life. There are things down there that have been there since I was born; she’s added a lot more as I’ve grown. At one point when I was a kid we cleaned out the basement in prep of renovation, and just never went through with it. It quickly filled back up to the point that the old “paths” I remember navigating are completely closed, and the stairs are blocked off. You have to access the basement from outside.
I think there’s something like 1200 sq ft of space downstairs. Originally it was a two car garage, but Sugarbandit ripped out one of the doors and turned it into a double window. It’s so seamless that Canadian Bacon didn’t even know it wasn’t original to the house. Last night I asked Sugarbandit where he found the perfectly-matched brick, and he told me he went around to like 9 brickyards in Nashville until he was able to find the same colors used in the house. This was shortly after they bought the house, which had only been built 6 years prior. Also, sometime before I was born, Sugarbandit partitioned the basement in half and sandwiched a washroom / workspace between the garage and the basement. The garage curves around in an L shape and has a large storage section tucked away in the back where Meemaw keeps her holiday decorations; the rest is cluttered with workbenches, various tools and lawn implements, and other random things.
Only about 600-700 sq ft are what we actually call “the basement,” counting the washroom but leaving out the L-shaped garage. Our tentative plans include framing out a bedroom, adding a couple of closets, and converting the washroom into a bathroom + storage closet. That’ll bump the house up to 4bdr 2.5bath and hopefully increase its value. It would give us the aforementioned bedroom and full bath as well as plenty of storage, and a “great room” for a sitting area / office space. I actually think it’s slightly more space than Canadian Bacon and I had in our basement apartment in Thunder Bay, just minus the kitchen. Since part of the reason we’re moving in is to cook for Meemaw and Sugarbandit, having our own kitchenette downstairs seems silly; we’ll take all of our meals upstairs together. That should also significantly lower the price. All in all, I’m thinking the bathroom is going to be the biggest expense, especially since we’ll either have to excavate and rough-in plumbing or buy a upflush pump and plan around it.
But I’m getting ahead of it. First things first – we have to clean the area. We’re thinking of giving many of the stuffed animals and dolls to a charity, dividing up some of the antiques to family members who’ve always wanted them (for example, Aunt Karen’s going to take Aunt Bertie’s cedar chest home with her), repurposing some of the ones that are dear to Meemaw (she and I discussed using Gran-Gran’s jelly cabinet as a kind of fancy linen cabinet in the bathroom), and selling a large portion of the non-sentimental items on Craigslist or in a yard sale to help fund the renovation.
Oh, and the kicker? The part that makes this all super exciting and challenging? The basement is infested with spiders, amongst them black widows. Meemaw’s already promised she’ll have a spider-killing-certified exterminator in to purge the place prior to construction, but in its overstuffed state trying to spray now would be useless. So we’re doing this hazmat-style, with our socks pulled up over our pants legs, and with heavy work gloves.
I hope to update here routinely with progress reports, as this is going to be one helluva transformation. Feast your eyes on the official Before pictures below.
Stay tuned for more excitement in my next post, Adventures in the Washroom!