Friday, July 31, 2015

Easy, Inexpensive Repair to a Playhouse Roof

About a year ago our neighbors were getting rid of their playhouse. Their daughter was entering middle school, and they knew that our kids would love playing with it. Boy, do they know our kids. They are constantly in this house, making mud pies, sweeping, decorating, and just playing. I don't know why they love their "chores" in their playhouse so much more than their actual chores.

The playhouse sat with its plastic roof baking in the hot Arizona sun. If you have never experienced Arizona, our sun does wonders for "indestructible" plastic. As the plastic aged, it became brittle. Did I mention that the house also sat under the edge of our lemon tree? So this past winter, as we were shaking lemons off of the tree, plastic shrapnel was flying. I could hear Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" playing every time a lemon landed on the roof and plastic sprayed in the air. By the time the lemon harvest was over, the roof was a roof in the loosest of senses. Something had to be done.
The old roof has seen better days.

I had a package of shingles that was left when we bought the house, and I also had a roll of roofing felt from a shed project that I did years ago. Essentially, I had almost all of the supplies needed to re-roof the kids' playhouse. If only I had some inexpensive labor...

The kids and I started by dismantling the plastic roof. I took care of all of the small, sharp pieces. They took care of the fasteners inside of the house. After about fifteen minutes, the roof was off. I was very happy to see a recycling symbol on the underside of the plastic, so we threw the pieces into our recycling bin and moved on to the construction phase.

Big A diligently unscrewing the old roof.
The next steps were to add horizontal braces for the plywood, screw the plywood into the braces and edge of the house, adhere a drip edge, felt and shingles, and sit back and enjoy. Here's the process in a little more detail:

1) We installed a horizontal cross piece at the apex of the roof using 2 x 2 scrap. This gave us a place to fasten the plywood where it came together.

2) We measured the roof line and cut scrap particle board to fit. We then screwed this down, making sure that the screws went into the existing and newly installed cross pieces. Note - please check the length of the screw. The first screws I used were too long and went through the horizontal pieces. Normally I would be fine with something like this, but my kids' heads go into this playhouse, so I really didn't want the sharp ends of screws sticking down.

3) I installed a drip edge around the perimeter of the roof. This was the only supply that I had to purchase. The drip edge prevents water from running into the edge of the wood roof base.
Such hard workers!

4) I installed the felt using construction adhesive. I didn't want to do anythings with nails, since I kind of like my kids' heads, eyes, noses, and every other part that goes into the playhouse. I didn't want to think about them messing around and smashing into the ends of nails sticking down, so I decided that construction adhesive would be my best friend for this project. I used clamps to keep the edges down while the adhesive was drying.

5) Starting at the bottom edge of the roof, I started installing shingles. I used construction adhesive for these as well. As I got to the end of a row, I cut the last piece with a utility knife to line up with the edge. I then started on that side with the next run, alternating directions.

Installation of the horizontal supports
In total, I spent less than $20 on this project. The kids now have a playhouse that will keep them dry when they're playing in the rain, will keep them in shade when they're playing in the sun, and will keep them safe since they no longer have to play around shards of broken plastic. Aside from all that, the new roof greatly increased the resale value of the house, which is great in the sellers market that we are experiencing right now in Arizona.

Now if I could only get the kids to replace the drapes and change out the faucet.
Plywood and drip edge installed

Last run of shingles clamped and drying

Little E is thrilled with the result!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Turning a Closet Into an Office Nook

Prying off carpet strips
When I became a teacher 13 years ago, one of the things that I loved about summers was the time that I could spend working on house projects. I would begin tearing the house apart a couple of days after summer break began. I think that there was a part of me that missed the energy and intensity that kids bring to a school, and keeping myself busy with power tools was a way to compensate.

And then two things happened, almost simultaneously. I moved into full time administration, which meant that I lost my summers. And my wife and I started having kids, which meant that we lost all of our money. And time. And sanity. The number and intensity of house projects significantly decreased.

Checking the bases for level before painting
But this summer I had a couple of weeks off, and I have been feeling the "House Project Itch" for quite some time. Much like The Ring pulling Frodo towards Mordor, I could not resist the call that my power tools had to do something significant. With the urging and vision of my wife, we decided that it was time to gut one of the closets in our bedroom and turn it into a desk/study space. Now the time off solved the problem of not having summers off, but we still have the kids/money issue. So the challenge was not only to complete the transformation of the closet, but also to do it within a $150 budget. Challenge accepted!
Wiring the outlet from a nearby outlet

Enter the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. This place is fantastic! Habitat for Humanity is an organization that builds decent, affordable housing for people in need. And their ReStore is like Goodwill but with home goods and building materials. I perused the ReStore looking for inspiration, and I found it. I decided that I would use an oak filing cabinet that I had at home, along with a cabinet from ReStore, as the base of the desk. I found a beautiful piece of granite that wold fit the space perfectly, and some bamboo flooring that would be great underneath all of it. Even better, as I was looking around in their store, I saw that they were having a 50% off sale the following weekend. I decided that I would wait for the sale while I prepped the area.
Helpers are great for those long floor boards.

After removing the rad 1980s gold-framed mirror-doors and pulling out all of our stuff, I removed all of the shelves and brackets. My plan was to keep this as an open study area, so I wanted storage that looked nicer than wire shelves and brackets. I pulled out the carpet, and patched and painted the space (by the way, I bought the paint from Lowe's, which was also having a 50% paint sale. I'm really beginning to think that 50% off and I have a future together). I also cut into a side wall to add an outlet. My canvas was now blank, and I was inspired.

 I purchased the materials from ReStore for a total of $45. And yes, this was for an almost new piece of granite that was finished with a decorative edge on the front side, along with a used base cabinet and new bamboo flooring. The cabinet and filing cabinet were not at the same height, so I used my circular saw to cut the bottom off of the base cabinet. I used a level to make sure that they were the same height, and then both pieces got several coats of interior semi-gloss paint.
Painted cabinet from plywood

Next up was the storage cabinets. I purchased two sheets of maple plywood from Lowe's (unfortunately they were not 50% off), and, knowing that my upper cabinets would be 16" deep, I had the guy at Lowe's cut one sheet lengthwise in three pieces, giving me three 16" x 8' shelf pieces. This was a lot easier than me trying to cut the plywood at home on my table saw.

In essence, the storage cabinets that I decided on were all boxes, they were all three sides and some screws. I decided what heights I wanted for everything; for example, I wanted the printer the same height as the desk, so the first two spaces were a total of 31". The printer is 18" wide, so the base cabinets were 20" deep, giving me enough space to accommodate the printer. And then it was merely a matter of building boxes to stack on top of each other, and then painting them the same color as the base cabinets.
Clamped spacers ensure even cabinets

I built an upper cabinet that was the width of the space and 18" tall, with the top being a shelf for high storage. Now here is the oops moment. Because the opening had a lip, I couldn't just slide the assembled shelf into place. So it went in at an angle. But because the diagonal of the shelf is longer than the width of the shelf, it doesn't just move into place. So I tried to force it, and ended up with a hole the size of a softball in the painted wall. So now I had some drywall repair to add to the list of things to finish up. I had to disassemble the shelf, get it into place in the opening, and then reassemble it. And here I would like to formally apologize to Mrs. Wade, my high school geometry/trigonometry teacher, for disregarding the basic rules for geometric shapes and causing some extra work for myself.
Oops. Sorry, Mrs. Wade.

Upper cabinet in place, I touched up all of the paint areas that were chipped or scratched in installation. Power strips were plugged in, a back shelf was put in place, holes were cut into various cabinets for hidden running of cables and wires, and the desk is complete. Almost. I'm planning on building some doors for the upper cabinets and the top side cabinet, but that will have to wait for now. I will probably include those in a future post, but for now, summer is over, and I am back to work.

Total time: About 5 days
Measure twice, and then have somebody competent measure for you.
Total cost: $175
Total satisfaction: Significant

Ready and waiting for cabinet doors

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Great Family Road Trip: 5 Tips for Travelling with Young Kids

This summer we went on the Great Family Road Trip. We actually toned down our initial plan, which was to drive from Phoenix to Chicago with a three-, four-, and seven-year-old. We decided that it would be best for everybody's sanity to postpone the 27 hour (each way) car trip for a couple more years. Instead, we drove from Phoenix to San Diego. We had never been to San Diego, and it is one of the few trips that we have ever taken where visiting family was not the main event. Some friends flew into San Diego to meet up with us, so the destination included beaches, temperatures under 110 degrees, and quality time with good friends.

While spending more than thirty minutes in the car with your kids can seem daunting, and while it is easy these days to pop movie after movie into the DVD player to keep the kids occupied, that's not how we roll (plus we don't have a DVD player in our vehicle, so it really wasn't an option). Instead, we found ways to fill the hours in the car with quality time, family bonding and memory-making.
Car naps are wonderful, even with sand in your hair!

1) Road trip music is a must. When I was in college, making a cassette tape with some favorites was the way to go. The iPod doesn't have quite the same old school mojo, but it does make it so easy to create a playlist specifically for your trip. Here are our standards for every road trip that we take:

On the Road Again, Willie Nelson - This is the first song that we play after every stop
Holiday Road, Lindsey Buckingham - Our tribute to the Griswold's trip in the Family Truckster
Eastbound and Down, Jerry Reed - Technically it only works for one direction of the trip, but we play it anyway.
Drive My Car, The Beatles - Self Explanatory
Route 66, Nat King Cole - Classic
I've Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash - You can attempt to memorize all of the places he's been.

The first time in the ocean
We also add songs that pertain to the destination, so this trip's playlist included Surfin' USA, Surfin' Safari, and many other Beach Boys classics. The road trip playlist is a great way to expose your kids to various musicians and to create traditions that give grownups a much needed break from kid music. We had so much fun belting out these songs together and making up car seat dances. Good times. (Subsequently, if the kids get a chance to listen to their music, my wife and I will turn the music only to the back speakers. It is amazing how we can have a conversation while Pandora's Disney station plays in the back of the car.)

Little E was not a fan of the waves. The girls were.
Big A working hard on the USS Midway
2) Look for activities that your kids can enjoy by themselves or with each other. Little E, our three-year-old, loves playing trains. In the car we used a cookie sheet with sides and he was able to play with a little wind up train from the dollar store. That was good for almost an hour of entertainment each way. All three also love playing Guess Who (although the rules seem to be in a constant state of flux), and it is pretty self-contained, making it a great car game. Lacing cards also went over well with the seven-and-under set.

3) Make memories together and get to know each other better. We bought a book of Mad Libs and wrote several stories together. If you get creative, this even works for younger kids. (Instead of asking Little E for parts of speech, we would say, "name something on your body" or "what is something you can do." "Belly" and "go potty" were his go-to answers). The oldest got to reinforce her parts of speech. And of course we all laughed when we read about Potty Ice Cream. We also had a book of conversation starter questions. We would have the kids pick a number, and we would go around the car giving each person a turn to answer the question. Some of them were harder for the kids to understand, so we would either adapt the question or move to a different question. My wife had a Mary Poppins' bag of activities ready to go for this trip, but these activities where we engaged with our kids, created something together and laughed together were the simplest and the most fun.

The kids' commissioning after the scavenger hunt on the Midway
4) Never underestimate the power of snacks. Our kids eat more in a two hour period than many small towns consume in a week. We packed up what should have been sufficient food for a trip up Mount Everest, and our kids attempted to clean us out before we left our street. But many small snacks along the way helped keep them occupied. We would give them time frames ("You can have this fruit bar now, and then you need to wait 20 minutes until your next snack."). Trader Joe's has fantastic healthy snacks for kids. Target also surprised us with a broad range of natural and organic packaged foods. The key is novelty! By the way, small paper cups or other containers are a must for things like cherry pits to prevent the kids from putting them in the cup holders or door wells.

5) Kick car-sickness to the curb. One of our kids is notorious for getting motion sick. I think she inherited it from me. We spent part of several trips cleaning vomit off the car seat and digging through luggage for a change of clothes... Not our favorite memories. Then we discovered the wonderful world of peppermint essential oil. Peppermint helps with nausea. So a little dab of peppermint oil behind the ears and on the back of the neck (parents should apply to the kids and should avoid the eyes. Trust me on this one), and a peppermint to suck on, and we had no vomit on this trip. It was amazing! She did complain a couple of times about feeling car sick, but we dabbed on some more peppermint essential oil, gave her a mint, and she made it through.

While I initially had some stress about this road trip, we all ended up having a great time. The kids enjoyed a change of scenery, we all enjoyed the cooler weather, and my wife and I enjoyed not having to clean up puke in the car.

But the destination was not what was important. The time we spent together was. We created some tremendous memories. And the fact that I never once had to yell "If you kids don't stop fighting I'll pull this car over, so help me God" made this a win in my book.