Encyclopedic readers will recall that back in April 2012 I announced that My wife and I were on a quest to explore the labyrinth of soft-surface trails within the Minnesota River Valley. The valley has always intrigued me because it’s a mile-wide swath of undeveloped space full of wetlands, the river, lakes, and power plants. Pretty much every branch of the government at all levels that has anything to do with parks, trails, or wildlife has their fingers in this valley in one form or another. You can read about our other attempts to explore the valley here.
Here’s where we walked:
View Larger Map
I learned from the internet that the specific trail we walked is called the Bluff Trail. We started at the Old Cedar Avenue trailhead and walked west for about 1.5 miles and back for a 3 mile round trip.
OK, now for some pics. It was a grey (yes I spell it with an “e” because it looks greyer) day, and I loved the views out across Long Meadow Lake of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and the Black Dog Power Plant.
Old Cedar Avenue Bridge
Black Dog Power Plant
The trail was pretty cool. It’s marked NO BIKING ON TRAIL, but clearly people are biking on it. I was wondering if we would encounter any bikes down there, and if so, if it was ok for people to walk down there as well or if the mountain bikers were a bit territorial about the space. We encountered one bike. He did not show much interest in slowing down as he passed me and my children on the narrow trail corridor, but he also did not punch me in the gut or anything like that.
NO BIKES ALLOWED
Anyway, here’s a bunch of pictures of me and my kids and the trail.
Cool boardwalk out into the lake.
Some dumb trail.
Co-Captain and Chief Lieutenant Scribe.
I love crunching through leaves on the ground.
Me and my co-pilot.
This is a weird bridge or boardwalk thing.
This boardwalk thing is awesome.
Well, we only made it out into the valley once in 2013. Maybe we’ll try again next year.
Hey guys check out this thing I made. It’s a table:
This is a farmhouse table I built with my own two hands.
It is a “Farmhouse Table” as named by Ana White. Ana first posted the plan set for her Farmhouse Table back in 2009. It caught my eye back then as something I could easily do myself (especially with the help of her cut sheet), but I never got around to it and then forgot about it. Then Ana posted the updated version of the plan in 2012, which brought it back to the front of my mind. Well… that, and the fact that every single house blogger I follow via RSS is also building their own farmhouse table.
Seriously, everyone is doing it. Go ahead and check. Google “Farmhouse Table” and see what comes up. I’ll wait.
See what I’m saying? I had to jump on the bandwagon. This table is more or less Ana White’s design, but with a few minor changes.
Wood is made from trees.
Right now some of you are thinking “Damn, Reuben! You built yourself a fine ass table. I bet it was way cheaper than buying one and yours will probably last way longer, too.” You are wrong. You do not know how many poor decisions I can make throughout the course of a project like this.
The table is entirely cedar, which means at least two things:
- Cedar is not cheap.
- Cedar is soft.
Cedar is a great, but for something like this, we probably could have gotten more or less the same look and feel using pine and paid a lot less for the lumber. This table is definitely sturdy. If there is an earthquake, I’m huddling all of my family under this table. But cedar is soft. It’s gonna take my toddler about 6 months to completely bash the top of the table. Once she figures out that slamming the end of her fork on the table top will leave “fun little holes”, this thing is doomed.
This table is shiny.
Other than that, I’m pretty happy with it and proud of my handiwork. There are a few flaws that seasoned woodworkers will notice immediately, but most people won’t notice. It’s comically oversized for our house and our chairs, but that is typical of things I build.
Farmhouse Table legs.
Well, that’s what I’ve been up to recently. How about you?
Last weekend, some of you may have seen that I posted the following photo on Twitter:
This is what 12 cubic yards of top soil looks like.
This is 12 cubic yards of top soil, dumped on my front yard, waiting to be spread across the yard to fill in all the low spots and to make sure that water would drain away from the foundation rather than towards it. KP had a blast nibbling away at it.
KP discovers 12 cubic yards of top soil, eats it.
My wife and I worked all Friday afternoon and evening, and most of the day Saturday, but we finished it up.
Here’s what the yard looks like now:
Backyard. This dirt is like 8″-12″ deep.
Drainage towards garage valley gutter.
Old tree stump hump.
Draining away from foundation.
Backfilling around walkway.
Our lot is so flat, that most of the positive drainage away from the foundation is subtle at best, but we just don’t have any other options. It will have to do.
Here’s a nice before and after that demonstrates our progress pretty well. Back in 2012, I posted about doing some work on the flower beds in front of the house. I posted the following picture – notice how much of the stone pavers are showing. At least 6″ – Maybe 8″.
Then a couple weeks ago I posted some photos of the new concrete walkways, and pointed out how high the new walkway was poured compared to the ground and the pavers. Notice that the pavers are just totally eclipsed by the walkway, and the front edge of the concrete is completely visible.
New sidewalk. Notice how high it is compared to the ground.
Now here’s a similar angle after spreading all the new top soil around. Notice we removed the pavers (and stacked them up next to the house since they weren’t doing much anymore now anyway. Also notice that we’ve completely backfilled around the walkway.
Again, the drainage is subtle, but it’s all we can do without either raising the house up, or lowering the street elevation, neither of which is going to happen.
Oh yea, I also pulled a muscle and can barely move my arm now, lol.
Anyone following me on twitter saw the following two tweets from me last Friday:
Fever finally broke. Going camping in the rain with two kids under 3. Hiking eagle Mountain tomorrow. Life is pretty good.
And when i say “camping in the rain” I probably mean a hotel room in Duluth.
Well, here’s the whole extended story. Grab some popcorn.
Friday was one hell of a day. I was sick half the day and spent all afternoon trying to figure out if I was going to leave work early or not. But I thought about it too long and just spent the whole afternoon watching my cube spin in circles.
Mel and I had been planning on waking up early Saturday morning and heading out for the North Shore for a camping trip, since our son CH is over 3 months old and hasn’t been yet, but I was feeling lousy and didn’t think it was gonna happen. I fell asleep around 8:00 PM and slept through till around 9:00 AM the next morning. I woke up feeling great, though, so we loaded up the car anyway and started driving north, despite the fact that it was raining.
We felt a little dumb going camping in the rain, but we knew if we didn’t go for it this weekend it wasn’t going to happen at all this year.
Well, I thought I was over the fever, but it returned with a vengeance right around Duluth. Compound that with the fact that it was still raining, and camping was looking pretty unattractive. Left with a few hours to kill, we hit up the Great Lakes Aquarium, which probably would have been better had it not been spinning around in circles. I’m pretty sure that for at least a few minutes, my daughter KP was running around on some indoor slide while I was slumped over a fake log.
But then, the fever actually did break, and the rain stopped. Next thing I know, I’m doing this:
Me and CH checking out stars and stuff. CH loves stars.
And my wife was all like:
Dinner was a delicious cold-cut pulled off a deli sandwich.
And the tent was like:
Dumb picture of an old tent.
I was worried that sleeping was going to be a miserable time with a restless toddler kicking me in the gut over and over again, but nope. Smooth sailing. The kids were great and we were all just snuggled right in all night.
Mel, KP, Pink Penguin, Tiger, CH.
Mel and KP snuggled into bed.
CH waking up in a foggy tent.
In the morning, we drove over to Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota, and hiked to the top. KP sat in her new “Special Backpack”.
Eagle Mountain Pathway.
Some dumb bridge we crossed.
Eagle Mountain from across the lake.
The trail was pretty much just a bunch of rocks.
Eagle Mountain Peak!
Eagle Mountain Overlook!
Click to make bigger.
Eagle Mountain is pretty underwhelming compared to some of the other great mountains out there to hike. At 2,301 feet above sea level, it almost qualifies as a foothill in most states. That being said, the hike was physically taxing, especially when lugging a two year old around on your back. I’ll admit, I pulled a few muscles and could barely walk the next day. I’m blaming the fever.
On the way home, we stopped off for a bit of sight seeing along the north shore.
Some Trail Somewhere.
OK. Well that’s the only thing I’ve done worth writing about in the past 6 months. How about you?
A lot of new things happening around the exterior of the house these days. None of it by me. I am too lazy to get off my ass, so I hired a couple of guys to do some masonry and concrete work. Take a look at the photo below. At least two new things are visible here – new service walkways out to the sidewalk and around the side of the house, and the top quarter of our chimney has been replaced.
New things. New walkways. New top half of chimney.
First, the chimney – it was just sort of falling apart and needed repaired. This felt like throwing money down the drain since we never use the fireplace (and have no intentions of ever starting)… but I guess it needed to be done. The chimney still vents our water heater and furnace. I’m not blown away by the brick match, but the mason insisted that the greenish hues in our current brick just isn’t matchable anymore. Oh well.
While he was here, I twisted his arm into doing a quick stucco repair. This is the sort of job you’ll never be able to get a professional to do unless they’re also replacing half your chimney.
We ended up replacing all of the service walks on the property. The old ones were fine, but had sunk significantly since installed and resulted in drainage issues. When we replaced them, we made sure to pour them nice and high next to the foundation so that we had a chance to slope the ground away from the house. Here’s an example. Back in 2012, I posted about doing some work on the flower beds in front of the house. I posted the following picture – notice how much of the stone pavers are showing. At least 6″ – Maybe 8″.
Now here’s a similar angle – that whole wall of pavers we constructed has been eclipsed by the new walkway. We’ll have to come back through with some top soil and cover some of the edges of these new walkways.
New sidewalk. Notice how high it is compared to the ground.
Another thing the mason did while he was here was to patch the foundation parging in a couple places (it’s the discolored part of the foundation visible in this photo):
New sidewalk around house.
All that is great, but the exciting part is in the back yard. Remember after we built the new garage but never bothered to build a sidewalk to our back door? For the past year, this is what our back yard has looked like – small and crumbling porch and stairs, the first step was super-tall, and the walkway was old pavers rather than concrete (and my daughter KP always made sure there was a pile of saw dust on each and every paver…).
But now, HELLO NEW PORCH AND PATIO
New sidewalk from garage to back door.
New steps, porch, patio.
Finally, I had the concrete guys construct a small valley gutter around the garage to help with drainage issues. The general rule of thumb about drainage is that it should always drain away from buildings rather than towards buildings. But that’s not really possible in our case, especially since the ass who designed our garage (that was me, by the way) probably should have poured the garage slab about six inches higher than it was. Oh well. Too late now. Also, there’s a tree in the middle of our yard that doesn’t really let us play with grades at all. Short version is, we’re draining the back yard towards the garage, so I wanted a bit of a gutter to help divert water around the structure. I dunno if it will work or not. We’ll find out when it rains. Here are some pics.
Valley Gutter – Curb to divert water around garage.
Valley gutter around garage.
Valley gutter around garage.
The next step is to order a truckload of top soil and fill in the spaces around the new concrete and regrade the yard a bit. I’ll keep you posted.
Insert something here about how I never post anymore.
Welcome back to ReubensCube. Here today with another DIY project that most people could have finished in a weekend but it took me a month because that’s just the kind of person I am. I’m talking about painting the basement. Here’s a refresher of what our basement looked like the day we bought the house.
Basement when we moved in.
My favorite part of the room was the little counter on the left there with the hole in the wall. I guess previous owners used to throw parties down here or something and that was the dry bar? I dunno. But 70′s faux wood paneling, drop ceiling, brown electrical outlets, harsh florescent lights.
Where to start with a space like this? Long term, this whole space just needs to be gutted and reconstructed from scratch, but we didn’t have time or budget for something like that right now, so we just needed a bandaid fix to last us a few years. My wife and I agreed that neither of us were up for the task of removing the paneling and drywalling – too many unknowns and too big of a project to do it right.
But we did put a lot of thought into the ceiling. We both hate the harsh lights and the drop ceiling and wanted to remove it, but what to replace it with? Like I said, neither of us were up for drywalling the space right now. We spent a lot of time looking for design ideas. I was really drawn to the open joist look and thought pretty hard about giving it a shot in this space. I love the look of fully finished floors and walls with completely raw and rough ceilings.
But, ultimately, even that was more effort than we wanted to put into it right now, so we agreed the whole space would just get a coat of paint, including the drop ceiling. We ended up buying a handheld spray gun to do the painting – that experience probably deserves a post of it’s own (that I’ll never write).
Here’s a before shot of the room:
Basement – Before
And here’s an after shot of the room:
Basement – After
Pretty big change, huh? The walls are a light grey color, the ceiling is white. In the photo above, you can also see that we collected our three mismatched bookshelves along the back wall, and used some 4″ lag screws and 2×4′s to anchor the things into the wall to keep them from toppling. The shelves have always been a bit wobbly and unsteady, and we have been worried for some time about one of the kids trying to climb the shelves and winding up in an awful situation. Not a very attractive solution, but it gets the job done.
We also finally got around to hanging a bunch of bike and Minneapolis themed posters.
More Bike Themed Wall Art.
Bike & Minneapolis Themed Wall Art.
We also swapped out the brown electrical outlets for white, but we’ll have to live with the awful florescent lights for the time being.
Long term, we’d like to buy a second TV an hang it on the wall. I didn’t take a picture of it, but we removed the old counter/bar, and (poorly) patched the hole in the wall – that space would work nicely now for mounting a TV. This is shaping up to be some sort of family room or play room or something, so you know, kids gotta watch Curious George somewhere…
Anyway, thanks for reading.
My daughter KP recently celebrated her 2nd birthday, and Mel and I decided to make her a play kitchen. We thought about buying one and spent a few minutes perusing various options online. We both agreed that it would be easier and quicker to just buy one online and financially it would be about a wash. We are both regular readers of Ana White’s great DIY blog, and recalled seeing her plan set for a play kitchen from 2009. It looked like something we could tackle, though we even agreed that whatever we came up with probably wouldn’t end up being as durable or well-rounded as something manufactured. So despite there being perfectly acceptable options available for purchase online, we felt like making it ourselves anyway. Gluttons for punishment or something like that, right?
We used Ana White’s base plan set, though we added a set of doors to the front of the sink rather than using a curtain. Here’s what we came up with:
DIY Play Kitchen
DIY Play Kitchen
We wanted it to be bright and colorful, so we decided to go with the bright red and white colors. We used standard aerosol spray paints. Part of the reason this wasn’t a totally cost effective project is because we ended up buying a real faucet, which ran us about $30 at the big box store. We looked around for play faucets to use, but turns out they all come attached to full play kitchens. We thought about buying a full play kitchen to cannibalize things like a play faucet and a play sink, but that would be dumb. So KP gets a real faucet and a meat-loaf pan.
By the way, this is the nicest faucet in our house. Our actual sinks still have leaky, drippy ancient faucets we’ve been meaning to replace but haven’t had the time.
The stove burners are painted. We painted the whole top of the stove black, then applied some adhesive vinyl rings, painted it red, then peeled off the vinyl to reveal the black beneath. I think it turned out pretty well.
Mel stocked the thing with a bunch of toy plates, pots, and silverware, and KP’s aunt bought her some wooden food stuffs (not shown).
Mel also sewed KP a totally adorable apron, but KP has no idea what it is or what she’s supposed to do with it since she’s probably never seen anyone anywhere wearing an apron (she certainly has never seen either of us wearing one).
A full spread
Well stocked DIY Play Kitchen.
Putting stuff in the DIY Play Oven
Anyway, time got away from us, so we haven’t had a chance to build the companion fridge that goes with the set, though it’s still on our list of things to do. So far, KP has played with it a few times and really has a good time with it. I hope she gets some good use out of it.
A couple Saturdays ago Mel and I woke up a little bit before KP. We were laying in bed talking about our wide-open schedule for the day and neither of us were looking forward to wrestling KP inside the house all day. The weather outside was lousy, so we decided to take a little road trip out to Mystery Cave State Park in southern MN.
The drive took a couple hours, but KP is pretty good in the car, so no big deal. We got an early start because we wanted to be able to drive to the park, tour the cave, eat lunch, and then be able to start our drive home during KP’s usual naptime. So off we went.
KP’s favorite part was the bridge outside the cave. There’s a little creek nearby and she liked the ducks. Go figure, drive 2.5 hours and she wants to look at ducks, which we could have seen at home.
KP’s favorite part was the bridge outside the cave.
The cave was pretty cool, and definitely worth the drive. Once we entered the cave, I dunno. It was a cave. We did cave-type things, told cave-stories, ate cave-snacks, sang cave-songs, and did cave-dances. Here are some photos:
Some dark room in a cave.
Mystery Cave State Park is pretty kid friendly.
Some dark hallway thing in a cave.
I took about 300 photos of stuff like this that are pretty cool but that I will never look at again.
I liked the places where there was a catwalk over standing water.
I was a little worried about how KP would do inside the cave. The tour is about an hour, and she was pretty good, though she definitely got a bit fussy towards the end. However, I’m glad we went, I’d go again, and I would recommend this cave tour to anyone.
Ever been to Mystery Cave State Park? What did you think?
We put some finishing touches on the garage project this past weekend. I bet you thought we were done with the project already, huh? No, we’re still working on some finishing touches.
Last time I posted some photos of the garage it looked like this:
Finished front of garage.
Now it looks like this:
Garage: Barn Lights
Hint: It’s the lights.
All the house bloggers out there are going nuts about barn lights, and we’re no different, I guess. We think it’s a pretty cool look. Ignore the white around the light on the right – I’ll get around to touching up the paint sometime in 2017. With the lights in place, we had our final inspection by the city a couple days ago, so I’m gonna call it. This project is Dunzo.
Huzzah! New question in the inbox! This one comes from someone identifying themselves as “Elder Smith”.
Will you share some of your mission stories with us? We are trying to collect and publish a collection of great LDS mission stories.
Ok, now wait a minute. Does this question sound familiar to anyone? It should, because just over a year ago, my internet friend Joey asked a very similar question. Joey asked if I had any great mission stories to tell. I felt like kind of an ass, because my answer was more or less, “No. Mission stories are dumb and I don’t want to talk about it.” I felt bad, because I get that people who aren’t Mormons probably think Missionaries come home with a zillion great stories, and I felt like I was giving Joey the brush-off.
But it’s true. Missionaries have great experience – meaningful and important experiences – but they make terrible stories. And you know you are in for a particularly terrible story when it starts with “This one time on my mission…”
Just to set the stage, I’ll quote myself from my post a year ago:
After a while, you get a little bit jaded. Now, if I’m sitting in Sunday School and some dude raises his hand and says, “Well this one time on my mission…”, I just roll my eyes.
“Oh great,” I say, nudging the guy next to me. “It’s Mission Story Guy.”
But like the fulfillment of prophecy, guess what Elder Smith’s website is called where he’s publishing a bunch of mission stories. It’s called This One Time on my Mission. And if anyone needs any further proof or convincing that the vast majority of mission stories are dumb, please click through to the website and read a dozen of them or so.
I don’t want to be a downer about mission stories. I’m glad “Elder Smith” has this website thing going on. Good for him. I hope it’s a successful venture and that everyone has a few laughs, but I’ll sit this one out. Well, if anyone out there has a great mission story, don’t share it here – send it over to This One Time on my Mission.
Any More Questions?
Ask Me Anything!!!