Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Concrete is Really Heavy.

How do I know this? Because I had to shovel it into about 50 buckets and lift them into this window well to fill in our basement hole.

Let's backtrack. We originally had scheduled the concrete truck to deliver on a Saturday, when we would have had five total people to help us move it. But we found out the Friday before that they didn’t have enough deliveries to work on Saturday, so it had to be postponed until the following Monday at 7:30 a.m. Thankfully, my parents were still able to come and help us out, or else there was no way we could have done it. My dad already had a lot of helpful tools (edger, groover, wood float, finish trowel, square shovel, wheelbarrow), so the only thing we had to buy was a magnesium float. Woot!

Since traipsing through the house and down the stairs with buckets of concrete was not exactly desirable, the only other reasonable alternative was taking it down through the aforementioned window well. So we loaded wheelbarrows from the truck, and my mom and I shoveled it into buckets to hand to Luke.

We got concrete with fiberglass mesh in it (which acts as a reinforcer), since that was what was originally used in our basement. It kinda looks like it has a bunch of tiny hairs in it.

Luke got the crappy end of the deal, since he was the one on the ladder who was taking them down through the window. And it’s not that I’m not confident in his brute strength or anything, but I found myself secretly praying that he wouldn’t fall backwards every time I handed him another bucket.

Oh, did I mention that we only had one hour to unload all our concrete before they started charging us $1 per extra minute? No pressure to get it done quickly or anything…..

Meanwhile, my dad was working on smoothing and finishing the concrete until it was flush with the existing slab. I couldn’t see what was going on down there, so I had Luke snap a couple of pictures. Looks like Dad knows what he’s doing!

Once we had finally shoveled our last bucket, our work was not yet done. We still had an 18-foot-long sidewalk to pour. Although Dad had some experience with finishing a sidewalk years ago, we all gave ourselves some good ol’-fashioned YouTube education in advance.

The sidewalk pouring went much quicker since we were able to dump the full wheelbarrows directly into our formwork instead of hassling with buckets. We started doing this while Dad was still working away in the basement.

After we had pretty much filled the formwork, we realized that was probably not the smartest decision, since Dad would now have to step in the concrete to screed it, instead of screeding and filling at the same time. But we managed to make it work. Good thing he had some heavy-duty Muck Boots on. After screeding with a 2x4, he used the wood and magnesium floats and finally the finish trowel. (Sidenote: I had no idea it was spelled "screed" until I looked it up. What a weird word.)

It was already looking good, but it really began looking like an honest-to-goodness sidewalk once they started the edging and grooving to make the control joints (which allow for expansion and contraction due to temperature changes). Luke and Dad had a pretty good system going, but since the sidewalk was so wide, it was quite a reach to get over to the other side. Rather than fashioning some sort of harness to hold onto Luke, it was easiest for me to just grab onto his shirt to keep him from falling in the wet concrete. Oh, the things one must do when DIY-ing….


By noon-ish, the sidewalk was just about finished. Not bad for a morning’s work! We did try putting Dudley’s paw prints in it, but I thought they looked kind of sloppy, so we smoothed them back out. Then Luke tried writing "2011" in it, and that didn’t look so good either. Maybe it had already started to harden too much. Anyway, we ended up leaving our sidewalk impression-free. A few hours after pouring it, it was already hard enough that I couldn’t even make a dent in it with my finger.

Once we cleaned up all our tools, we took Mom and Dad out for cheeseburgers at Five Guys Burgers and Fries (their request), and they headed home. Later that day, Luke and I put a plastic “tent” over the sidewalk since there was rain in the forecast. Providing some extra sun protection also helped the concrete from drying out too fast, which apparently can cause premature cracking.

As excited as I was about our basement hole finally being filled, I just wanted to keep looking at our sidewalk. Who knew watching concrete dry could be so exciting? However, it’s probably not as exciting for you, so I will refrain from posting all the photos of drying concrete... after this one, I mean.

Oh, in case you’re interested, we unloaded the truck in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. (In fact, we probably didn’t use all the concrete we ordered.) But the delivery guy said they wouldn’t worry about charging us for the 15 extra minutes. He was really nice!

Concrete Cost Breakdown for Sidewalk & Basement Floor:
Formwork: About $20
Fibermesh Concrete: $132.75 for 1.5 cubic yards
Delivery Charge: $100 plus $8.75 fuel surcharge
Magnesium Float: $15
Labor: paid in cheeseburgers and fries

We’re probably going to take a little break before starting any major construction in the basement, but it’s just exciting to know that our bathroom now has a floor again! Just to clarify: Hole in the wall = good. Hole in the floor = bad.

Anyway, I’m off to go check out our sidewalk again. Thanks again, Mom and Dad!

P.S. Pouring your own sidewalk? Here’s a pretty good tutorial, since mine wasn’t actually very explanatory. If we can do it, you can do it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fun with Formwork

Well, my friends, I’m extremely excited to tell you that as I sit here, still dirty from the day’s work, our concrete projects are done. But before I reveal our completed sidewalk, I thought I’d share a very important -- albeit not that interesting -- part of the process. The formwork itself was not too difficult to build; prepping the area was probably the worst part, actually. For those of you who didn’t read my last post, here’s what the side of our house looked like before:

Ugh. Can you say, trashy?

So we moved all the extra bricks out of the way, got rid of a bunch of concrete chunks, and graded the dirt. Naturally, it was extremely windy the day we did this. We already had some straight 2x4’s that we were able to use, but had to go buy a 1x6, stakes, and stringline.

We screwed the 1x6 into the fence (it will remain there permanently unless we ever need to pry it out for some reason) and worked off of that to set the 2x4’s. The sidewalk needed to slope from our brick sidewalk down to the grass in the backyard. Somewhere in the middle of this whole process, I made the remark that the formwork looked pretty high in comparison to the grass, but for some reason, we kept on going.

After staking all the boards down (and hoping we didn’t hit our sprinkler line in the process), we realized that yes, it was ridiculously high and we would have a big step down to the lawn. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something that could just be ignored, so we (Luke) went back and moved the 1x6, unscrewed all the stakes from the 2x4’s, dug out more dirt, and pounded everything back into the ground. My mood at this point in time was not particularly pleasant, so I didn’t even take any pictures.

With that said, here is the completed, correct-height formwork:

It already looks way better back here, don’t you think? Luke convinced me that a 3½-foot wide sidewalk would be a lot nicer than a 3-foot sidewalk, although it would mean more concrete. The whole thing is about 18 feet long, and there are 8"-wide strips at each end. Which means we’ll have a nice little landscaping bed here… I’m thinking a possible vegetable garden is in our future??

But wait...what about the hole in the basement, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to hang tight until my next post, when ALL is revealed (including a crapload of pictures)!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bring on the Concrete!

Although I've been slacking on writing about REAL projects lately, that doesn't mean we haven't been busy working! I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know what’s happening with our basement hole. (No? Really?) Well, as of this weekend, it will be a hole no more! If all goes as planned, of course…

Here’s a quick refresher of the situation, as well as some new updates on what’s been happening. (I apologize if I'm not very detailed about the process -- it's been a lot of off-and-on work over the past couple months!)

The bathroom drain lines for the shower, sink, and toilet have finally been re-worked from their original – and might I add, nonsensical -- layout to fit our new floor plan configuration. In a nutshell, this involved cutting apart the existing lines with the sawzall, redirecting them to where we wanted, and gluing the new lines together. We were able to save some dough by salvaging some of the old pipe, but we did have to buy a few new fittings too.



In case you can't tell what's going on here, the vent stack/sink drain has moved to the back wall, the shower drain moved a few inches inward, and the toilet stub-up moved a couple feet back toward to the cleanout.

Luke, of course, did most of the figuring and measuring during all this, and I pretty much assisted by handing things to him and holding the pipes when they needed to be cut.

The shower drain took some extra figuring as far as how high up to set it to be flush with the new concrete floor, yet taking into consideration an ever-so-slight slope and the fact that there will be thinset and tile on top of it. We used a paper clip chain as a lightweight plumb bob to determine where the drain should be located (horizontally).

Once all the underground drainwork was complete, there was still more prep work to be done. With a ginormous 13" drill bit, Luke spent several exhausting hours drilling holes in the sides of the existing slab in order to reinforce the new floor with rebar (approximately every two feet). We then filled the entire hole with a couple inches of fine sand.

The rebar was attached into the concrete with Sika Anchoring Adhesive. We had some diffiiculties with the bottle and the caulking gun, so hopefully we got enough adhesive into the holes. It seems pretty sturdy...

NOW…. It’s finally ready for a new floor, which we will be pouring this weekend with the help of my dad who’s coming to visit. It’s going to cost about $270 for 1.5 cubic yards, and by DIY-ing, we should end up saving a few hundred dollars.

And hey, while we have a concrete truck accessible to us, why not pour a new sidewalk too?

Here’s a look behind our gate on the side of our house, which has become a dumping ground for extra bricks, concrete chunks from the basement, dirt, and a few potted daylilies that won’t seem to die I haven’t managed to kill. Overall, a pretty craptastic area, but up until now it hasn’t been our top priority since no one ever really sees it.

So last weekend we cleaned it up a bit and built some formwork with some 2x4’s, a 2x6, and stakes. When it’s finished, we’ll have a nice concrete sidewalk connecting our fabulous brick sidewalk with the back yard. Not only will it look a bazillion times better, but it will also be more convenient for pushing the mower, wheelbarrow, etc.

Having never worked with concrete before (except for our fence posts), I have no idea what to expect this weekend and am a little – okay, a lot – nervous. But as long as Luke and my dad know what’s going on, I’ll be more than happy to do whatever they tell me to do. It should be very interesting, to say the least.

Wish us luck! Oh, and any last-minute pointers on pouring sidewalks and/or a finished concrete floor??

Monday, April 11, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Fish Tacos

I like fish and I like tacos; however, I have never branched out and tried fish tacos. For some reason, that just seemed weird to me. Luke has raved about the ones he's tried at restaurants though, so when I saw this super-easy recipe in my Better Homes & Gardens magazine, I had to give it a shot.

Fish Tacos with Lime Sauce
1 lb. fresh tilapia or catfish fillets (I used frozen tilapia fillets from Sam's Club)
3 limes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. chili powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
8 small (6- to 7-inch) flour tortillas
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 small carrots, peeled & shredded (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, thinly sliced

1. Rinse fish and pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
2. For Lime Sauce, juice two of the limes into a bowl (cut remaining lime into wedges for serving). Stir mayonnaise and chili powder into juice. Remove 1/3 cup sauce and toss fish in it.
3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil over medium heat. In shallow dish combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Working with about a third of the fish at a time, toss in flour mixture and add to hot oil. Cook 2 to 4 minutes or until fish flakes, turning to brown evenly and adding additional oil as needed. Drain on paper towels
4. Wrap tortillas in paper towels; heat in microwave 30 seconds. Top tortillas with fish, cabbage, carrots, and jalapeno. Drizzle with Lime Sauce. Pass lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.

(Check out the BHG recipe for a prettier picture, complete with lime wedges.)

I was pleasantly surprised with how these tacos turned out! The tilapia isn't very "fishy" tasting, and the breading was light. The cabbage and carrots add a nice crunchy texture as well as lots of color. The simple, creamy lime sauce is a good balance of citrus-y and spicy. And if you like your food hotter, you can just add more jalapenos. Frying the fish was the most time-consuming part, so next time we might try grilling it instead. When I made this over the weekend, it was already a balmy 80 degrees inside our house, so heating up the kitchen didn't help matters.

All in all, this is a tasty -- and economical -- summer meal that I would recommend if you want to try something a little different!

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Getting a little fruity

It's been a busy few weeks (months?) here at our house... Luke has been studying for his architecture exams to get licensed (he passed the first one in January, but there are 6 more), I've been working on making 200 wedding invitations for Luke's cousin and his fiancee (which need to be done by mid-April), we started P90X last week (which is an hour-plus time commitment each night after work), and we finally got around to installing the landscaping drip line for our sprinkler system (but I didn't get any good pictures of the drip line, so I didn't bother blogging about it).

Oh yeah, and we also have an entire basement to finish, starting with the bathroom. Which still has a ginormous hole in the floor. We also have plans to add a sidewalk to the west side of our house in the backyard (not a brick sidewalk this time; a regular concrete one). An update on all that good stuff later.

However, in spite of the aforementioned goings-on, my post today is about... fruit. Yes, fruit. And a money-saving tip for all you penny pinchers like me out there. The fruit pictured below (3 lbs. strawberries, 6 lbs. grapes, 1 bag of gala apples, and 8 bananas) cost us only $11 total.  I don't know about you, but that seems like a pretty good deal to me! All that fruit would easily cost at least twice that much at a "regular" grocery store. So where did we get it?

We've recently "rediscovered" ALDI grocery stores and gotten some majorly good deals there --- mostly on fresh fruit lately. One of their recent weekly sales also included pineapples for only 99 cents. 99 cents, people!! (And the quality of the fruit is good too, in case you were wondering.) We dehydrated a couple of the pineapples last time, which tasted great but they don't last long that way... I could eat an entire dehydrated pineapple in one sitting. But we've also been using some fruit in the protein shakes we've been making after our P90X workouts. Yummy!

If there's an ALDI near you and you haven't visited lately (or ever), I would recommend checking it out! Just be prepared for a few things you might not be used to: you have to "rent" the carts for a quarter, there's usually a limit to how many sale items you can buy, and you bag your own groceries. But overall, it's totally worth the trip for the savings you get on certain foods.

I'd also like to mention that it's that time of year for the farmer's market to start up again!  Woot!  Another great place to score some delicious locally-grown and homemade foods at a good price.

And for those of you that thought today's post was uber-boring, well, I don't blame you. I'll try to catch you all up to speed on the nitty gritty house-related projects soon!


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