Porch Life

…is fantastic.  Even without real furniture.


Living Room Transformation, Part 1 of Many

Ahh, the living room.  The gathering room.  The conversations.  The movies.  The winter snuggling.  The reading.  The playing.  With so many good memories about to be made in this room, we placed a lot of our initial energy on whipping it into shape. 

It really wasn’t a pretty sight at the beginning.  I mean, you saw the horrific before photo of the living room, right?  Here’s a refresher if you missed it:

EEGADS, am I right?  (Again, please remember, this photo is from the listing of our house–that is not our furniture or stuff!!)

One of the things on our required list (we really should post that full list sometime!) was wood floors in most of the house.  The listing for our house boasted wood floors throughout the main floor (except kitchen & bathroom); however, the living room, hallway, and one bedroom were covered in hideous carpet when we were looking at the house.  And we couldn’t pull it back to check out the condition of the floors, so we were really anxious to do just that once the place was ours.  (Side note: this stressed me out to no end.  I had nightmares of pulling back the carpet only to find no floor at all– just a deep hellish pit). 

Immediately after closing on the house, we went to our apartment to scoop up Ms. Willa and then drove her to her new house for the first time.  After enjoying her first run in the yard (video of that rompus event here), we went inside and started thrashing at the carpet (aka the scourge of our 1960’s ranch).  I mean, my heavens.  Look again at that carpet.  You have to wonder.

Mr. hubby had bought me a prybar weeks prior to get me pumped about ripping up the scourge, and boy did we whip that sucker out right away!  And…we found….



The only real problem was, for goodness sake, the installers of the carpet went way overboard with stapling the carpet pad STRAIGHT INTO THE FLOOR.  First of all, I’ve never even seen staples in the pad like that.  The weight of the carpet which is secured by the tack strips around the perimeter of the room ought to suffice, right?  And if you would want a little more reinforcement, I could understand putting one modest staple in each corner or something.  Maybe even a few sporadic staples.  But these people?  They stapled just about every inch all the way around the perimeter AND down the middle of the floor wherever they had strips of pad.  Did I mention they stapled right into the floor?

Please note Willa’s look of shock and horror.

It really was hard work.  Lanny pulled up the tack strips with the prybar and hammer as I yanked out the staples with a flathead screwdriver and pliers.  Word to the wise: if you ever face the task of ripping out tack strips, do take the time to put something (cardboard, wood, rubber) under the prybar or whatever you’re using to protect the floor from dents when leveraging.  As for the staples, my preferred method was grabbing on with the pliers and pulling up.  You’ll find a rhythm to the madness.  Also, I think technically it’s advised to pull out the carpet and pad entirely before getting into the hard work, but we just rolled it back as we went. 

Lunchy break.

The good news is, when there is the promise of hardwood floors, you really can’t keep the ZH fam down, so we powered through until every last blasted staple was pulled and all the tacks were trashed. With blistered hands and excitement, we took some moments to revel in the fruits of our labor.

Mmm…wood floors.

Do my muscles look bigger?

The end result is definitely less impressive than the initial corner we had pulled back as there are scratches and dull spots basically everywhere.  But, we polished ‘er up with some olive oil and lemon juice, and she’ll do just fine until we can refinish it later on (way, way later on).  Even with all the scratches, I will never understand why anyone would’ve covered up that floor.  Incomprehensible.

Now, moving along, let me call your attention to the second bane of the living room’s existence.  AKA, these guys:

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Those, in fact, are blue seashell blinds.  I know!!

I swear to you, these shook me to my core so deeply that, again, nightmares ensued.  And as it turns out, getting decent blinds custom fitted is pricey.  And so are curtains.  As I am wont to do, I agonized over the decision for weeks, but, finally mostly out of desperation, we together decided to go for curtains for now.  After having lived in the house for 2 months with those blinds, I think I may have been even more excited about getting rid of them than the carpet. 

This post is getting long, so without further ado, let me show you where we’re at today with the living room.  We’ll do a full post on hanging curtains, our paint colors, and other designy things at some point as well, but I wanted to get an “after” pic (which is actually an “in progress” pic) up since it’s been requested.

An honest picture of where we’re currently at with the living room (complete with clutter on the surfaces!).

Enjoy!  We’re still not finished, but at least the nightmares about floor pits and armies of devious seashells have stopped!  And really, can you believe that is the same room?  More pictures & tales to come!

Post by Amanda

Tomatoes and more Tomatoes

After getting the space for the garden established, it was time to get some veggies and herbs in the ground.  In the spirit of keeping things simple this year, I intended to have a small selection of plants to manage.  A co-worker whose parents own Happy Valley Farms, a veggie farm which does CSAs and sells at area farmer’s markets, asked if I would be interested in taking some tomato plants since they would have more than they need.  I happily said yes, thinking I could get 4-5 plants.  She replied that she would get me an amount closer to 10.  I knew I wouldn’t use them all but, you should never look a gift tomato plant in the mouth  (that phrasing doesn’t quite work, but you catch my drift).  I knew I could always pass the extras onto friends and neighbors.  I assumed they would consist of a couple varieties and welcomed the small selection.  3 weeks later I went to pick up what I thought was a large amount of plants, only to be very happily shocked.  They had given me 28 tomato plants consisting of 23 varieties.  Many I had never heard of, which is always exciting to me since I often flip through seed catalogs searching for the best tomatoes to plant.  Tomatoes like Indigo Rose, Paul Robeson, Striped German, Black Zebra, Big Rainbow, and etc. were laid out in front of me.  To a tomato nerd, this truly was every major holiday rolled into one.  The selection!  I had expanded the garden space to accommodate 11 tomato plants, which meant the careful process of selection.  Once I had my line-up,  I planted them in my newly established garden plot, but oh, what agony looking at those 17 other plants I would have to find good homes to go to.  In a moment of true weakness, I couldn’t give them up, after all, there were so many I had never seen before.  I wanted to know what they would all become in color, shape and flavor.  With the permission of Amanda I set off into the backyard, digging out more spaces until all 17 orphan tomatoes had found a home.  Combining those tomatoes with the two plants I received from our local farmer’s market a few weeks earlier, I had a line up of 30 plants and 24 varieties.

The beginnings of a beautiful tomato crop

The orphans I couldn’t stand leaving behind.

Making room for all!

I figured since I would never have such an opportunity again to grow so many varieties at once, that I would take notes and monitor the progression of each variety.  That way, I would have first hand knowledge of what varieties of tomatoes are best suited to grow in the garden.

I did not plant any Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes, which in my opinion, is the best tomato I’ve ever eaten.  But since I was given all my plants, I have no regrets, in fact I’m always excited to try growing new things.

Now I dream of rainbow colored salsas, tomato soup, and quart jars upon quart jars of tomatoes being canned in the fall.

…and so does Willa!

Posted by Lanny

A few words on location

Location, Location, Location.

One of the main reasons that Lanny & I have been so happy in Madison over the past 5 years is that we were fortunate enough to live in our ideal neighborhood: The Williamson-Marquette Neighborhood.  Located on Madison’s isthmus on the near east side, this amazing neighborhood was home to the hippies in the 60’s and 70’s, and though it’s now changing rapidly, it’s still heavily saturated with like-minded, politically committed folks.  The homes are historic and beautiful, Lake Monona graces the border, and there are gorgeous parks throughout.  Almost a little town in its own, it’s completely walkable/bikable, and downtown is just steps away.  There are fantastic ethnic restaurants, great bars, funky coffeeshops and cafes, and great bakeries.  A Madison icon founded in 1974, the Willy Street Coop is  smack dab in the middle of the ‘hood and growing by the day.  There are awesome festivals in the summer.  In sum, it hits basically every one of our heart strings, and I probably will always consider it home.

We knew when we decided we wanted to buy a house that we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy in our beloved neighborhood.  So, we started with looking at nearby neighborhoods so we could still easily bike to Willy.  And we just weren’t finding what we wanted.  We grappled, we cried, we broke down.

And then we found our little blue house with the screened-in back porch way up on the northside of town where we had never really explored.  It’s a whole different world up there.  Residential.  Hilly.  Not right on the lake.  Very diverse economically and racially.  No vegetarian restaurants in sight.  No hip bars.  Less young’ns like us.  More space.  Better houses for the dollar.  More lawns.  Newer homes.  No quick walks to the Capitol.  Potential.  TONS of magnificent green space, including Warner Park and Cherokee Marsh.  And woods and hills and little parks too!

Given the reality of our budget, we tearfully made the plunge.  And let me tell you, it’s been hard.  And it will continue to be for a long while, I’m sure.  The thing is, we care deeply about how we get around.  Not using the car more than necessary has changed our lives the last number of years.  It creates challenges & joys that one just doesn’t experience sitting in traffic.  And it’s made our overall carbon footprint much lighter.  So, not only is it sad for us to not have the comfort of being a block from our favorite bakery, it also makes us feel like we’re speeding up the melting of the ice caps more than we were before (so to speak).

The good news is that we’ve gained a lot, learned a lot, and have come to really enjoy our new stomping grounds.  We’ve found that our neighbors are just as lovely, friendly, and considerate as our Willy ones.  We’ve traded traffic noise and nearby concerts for the sounds of dogs, lawn mowers, children.  We’re outside a lot more.  And I won’t even start to describe how much Willa loves the new digs (that’s a post in its own!).  We’re finding new ways to care for the earth that were out of reach before.

Willy Street was Madison to us before.  And in some ways, it still is.  And we’re still definitely feeling pained about not being able to walk to our favorite places.  But, we’re up for the challenge of finding a new rhythm (and developing killer bicycle skills so we can still get to The Weary Traveler without emitting CO2).

It’s new.  And it’s hard & exciting & wonderful & scary.

Post by Amanda

It’s Gardening Time…

At the top of our “must have” list in selecting our house was a sunny yard with ample space to grow food for ourselves.  I’ve been an avid gardener my whole life, and nothing would make Amanda happier than if we woke up tomorrow in a world where there was no other food than veggies and fruit.  Seriously, the woman loves eating plants.  So the lot was almost as important to us as the house, and we’re happy with what we found.  It’s a decent lot for the city of Madison–certainly not huge, but there’s enough space to grow healthy crops of some of our favorites.

When we were house shopping in the early spring, I assumed that we wouldn’t be moved in before planting season, which in Wisconsin is generally accepted as June 5th.  So when we were able to get the house so early, we decided just to do something small since we have so much else to do and I hadn’t started anything from seed yet.  Image

After watching the movement of the sun over several days, I measured out an 8 foot by 14 foot plot that would get above the 6 hours of continuous sun that most plants need. I then took my shovel and carefully began to scrape the soil just below the roots of the grass so I could transplant the grass to other parts of the yard such as around our peony bush, which for some reason had no grass around it.Image

Willa did her part by sniffing every stretch of dirt I exposed.  Such a helpful girl!


Once I had my space cleared, I dug about 8 inches down around the edge and drove stakes into the perimeter, which would be the anchors to my chicken wire fence.


This is me pounding my stakes into the ground with the blunt side of my hatchet, much to Amanda’s chagrin.

I stapled and wired the fence in place, and then covered the bottom with soil.


Finally, just to make an extra challenge for rabbits and chipmunks, I lined the edges with brick.


I’ll get an exciting veggie post up soon!

Posted by Lanny

A bunch of sad BEFORE pictures that give us hope.

The following, for your viewing horror, are the pictures from our house’s listing.  (So don’t go blaming the decor on us!)  We thought we’d start with showing you exactly what our first introduction to the house was, and then we’ll go from there.  As we look back through these initial photos, we’re grateful we were able to see past the horrible carpet, printed paneling, overgrown landscaping, and outdated everything.  Each day as we rip up carpet, paint walls, dig out unhealthy plants, start our garden, and infuse the place with our personality, we discover a really great little house with a really great lot that we’re hopeful will serve us well over the coming years.  But my what a sight it was at first…

Front of House BEFORE

Living Room BEFORE

Kitchen BEFORE


Master Bedroom BEFORE

Bedroom 2 BEFORE

Bedroom 3 BEFORE

Get out your sunglasses for this one…

Bathroom BEFORE


Backyard BEFORE



Basement BEFORE

Basement Workshop BEFORE