Recovering from the August 11, 2014, flood

On August 11, 2014, several Detroit area communities received record flooding.  The flooding overburdened our sewer system.  The City of Berkley declared a state of emergency, as did the neighboring communities. Reports claim 6.5 inches of rain in Berkley that afternoon/evening.

We regularly took photos of our home and as we made updates, etc.  But, not our basement, unfortunately.  Here is a photo shortly after we bought the house in 2005:

basement before

The walls are drywall, and there is a gray carpeting (which we later learned sat atop padding that was glued to the concrete floor), and carpet tack strips nailed into the concrete. And, here is a more current photo (from another angle) of Amelia’s sixth birthday in November, 2012, I believe:

basement before 2

On August 11, 2014, after dinner, Jen went into the basement to check on laundry to discovery water coming up from our drain.  The water entering our basement turned to sewage minutes later.  Here’s Jen in her winter boots as sewage fountains into our laundry room:

sewage 1

Nice, huh?

This is the last photo we have of our laundry room before retreating upstairs since there was no longer anything we could do. We had a tiny bit of time to move a couple pieces of small furniture and our photo albums before retreating upstairs. The water was this brown:

sewage 2

I must have stepped outside during the rain to take this picture of our backyard, though I do not remember it:

rain 2

Several hours later, the sewage went down the same drain that it had just recently came up near our washing machine.  Our basement was pretty trashed; just look at how wet the carpeting is:

post flood


I like this photo of our turkey roasting pan.  Filled with neighborhood sewage.  Turkey, anyone?  (BTW, of course we trashed this pan.)


After doing preliminary clean-up that night, chatting with neighbors, filing an online insurance claim, and showering, we went to bed not fully understanding the scope of the problem.  The girls were obviously freaked out, so they slept upstairs in bed with us. To this day, they still get scared when it rains. On final measurement, we had 10 inches of neighborhood sewage in our basement:

10 inches

We spent most of day two removing trash (luckily for us, it was our scheduled trash pick-up day), developing a plan for getting our lives back to normal, and chatting with neighbors.  The girls stayed with their grandparents so Jen and I could focus on cleaning.  Since Jen was doing laundry when this all happened, we had two loads of wet clothes (never touched the sewage) that we took to the laundromat to clean.  We’re not packrats, but it was unbelievable how much work it was to remove the trash.  We spent that evening cutting and pulling up the carpet, pulling up as much of the padding as we could, and carting it outside.  Look at that sewage drip from the carpet:


With the help of friends, we also removed our appliances (goodbye to our washing machine and dryer) and large furniture.  I also spent several hours on day two researching companies who could help clean our basement.  Ha!  My name was added to seven waiting lists; on one of the lists, I was customer #700.  We quickly realized that we would be doing all of the clean-up ourselves — reports claimed that 4,600 homes in our little city were damaged.  Another much-larger nearby city estimated 23,000 damaged homes, and the metro area noted over 100,000 total homes affected.  No wonder we couldn’t find a contractor anywhere to help us.

We developed a preliminary budget, including low and high cost estimates to get our basement usable again.  It ranged from “too much” to “4x too much.”  Obviously, we weren’t planning on any of this.  We also talked about how we would pay for these still-to-be-determined repairs.  Based on early feedback from neighbors, it didn’t seem likely that the damage would be covered by our insurance.  Our insurance company confirmed this several days later.

We had a full curb of trash on the day after the storm.  Here is our curb from a couple days later (our second major trash pick-up):

trash day 2

Our house was built in the 1940s. The basement was finished maybe a couple of decades ago?  Half is a large family/dining room.  The other half is a laundry/furnace room with a couple of built-in closets.  The HVAC has been updated over the years, but several sections of asbestos insulation remained. This lousy photo shows one section — there probably was 15 feet of asbestos in total:


The closets were made of wood and were right at the epicenter of the sewage fountain, but, in order for us to demolish them, we had to first have the asbestos professionally removed. We had wanted to for a while anyway, but never got around to it. We scheduled an asbestos contractor to help us, after obtaining several estimates. Then, we asked one of our electrician friends to remove the lighting in the two closets. Once that was done, we demoed the closets. It was tough and loud teamwork. I demoed, while Jen removed nails and brought the debris upstairs. We went to bed that night tired and sore (which was the norm). Here is a photo during demolition:


On the other side of the basement, sewage penetrated the lower foot of our drywall. For ease in replacement, we demoed the bottom four feet of drywall then sanitized the wood studs.  It was messy messy messy! Here is the finished product after many days of work:

drywall removal

To help manage debris, we also bought a Bagster. All of our paint cans were submerged in sewage, so we dried those out and trashed them. Ugh. Check it out:


Looking to remove the dingy feeling from our laundry room, we painted/sealed the concrete block wall with Dry Lock paint. 11 gallons!! Then we painted over it a light gray paint. 3 more gallons, making 14 gallons total (and there is still more to paint in the laundry room).  It took us a full weekend of working pretty much non-stop.


But, the result was worth it. Especially when our electrician friend came back over to remove our lone overhead fluorescent light strip and replace it with seven bright CFLs spread across the laundry room. (The family room already had recessed lights.)  Ahhh!

laundry updated

The sequence of events was complex. But, we generally wanted to get all of the messy work done before we started the major reconstruction. We spent the next several days renting a pickup truck from the local home store, bringing home 18 sheets of mildew-resistant drywall (even the lightweight stuff is heavy!), and obtaining the other necessary materials to drywall the family/dining room and wall #4 of the laundry room. I think it was during this stage that I went to our local home improvement store nine days in a row.  No joke.  Here we are in progress:

doing drywall

Hanging, taping and mudding the drywall was quite a task, but a good friend shared his expertise. I learned a lot during the process. And got several intense workouts.  Here it is upon drywall completion:

post drywall

Once the drywall was done, we had a new 95% efficient furnace installed, and a new air conditioner (while not damaged in the flood, our A/C was old and it made sense to replace both together).  We went without heat and A/C for five weeks, including the hottest week of the year.


Then it was time to paint again. We first used three gallons of drywall primer to prepare the family/dining room and wall #4 of the laundry room. Then the family/dining room received six gallons of light gray, and wall #4 of the laundry room received one gallon of blue:

post paint

painted laundry

Our home’s old coal chute was previously inside the largest closet. But, since we demoed the closets, it was now in the open. We saw this as an opportunity to remove the loose insulation and coal door, and replace them with a window. We received several quotes to get this done.  Soon we had nearly doubled the amount of light coming into our laundry room:

glass block

In the center of the photo above, you can also see the new ductwork that replace the asbestos insulation. Nice to have the asbestos gone!

Early on, we talked about our needs for the space, which included larger gathering space plus laundry/storage space.  To get our lives back to normal, we needed to re-establish the storage space in the basement ASAP.  Interestingly, most nearby stores were sold out of many basement storage/shelving systems.  When we found some, we jumped.  They have been sitting in our living room for weeks now.  Along with several ready-to-be-assembled bookshelves.  A constant reminder that our stuff is everywhere.

We considered several basement flooring options including vinyl, concrete, epoxy, and carpeting.  We did online research, and talked with several salesmen.  Each option had its pros and cons.  We ultimately decided on epoxy, and had a couple firms out to give estimates.  All estimates were the same.  We selected on the company who had been doing epoxy seemingly forever, and who promised to make Jen happy.  We scheduled the epoxy work to begin when the painting was expected to be complete.  Which led to many very very late nights completing the painting.  The girls started school for the year, Jen started her final semester of grad school, and I had a conference in Chicago, too.  The two-day epoxy project turned into three days (floor prep/grinding, base coat, paint chips, then a clear coat of sealer) plus an additional two days for drying.  After spending what seemed like every available minute in our basement, it felt weird that we were, in essence, prohibited from our basement for 5 days.  The wait seemed worth it, though:




The floor has a charcoal basecoat with white, light gray, graphite, and silver metallic chips tossed on top.

A couple weeks after the flood when we found some amazing package sales, and once we had established our construction/contractor schedule, we ordered a new washer and dryer to be delivered.  This gave us a clear target date for completion, as we did not want to take delivery until the floors were complete.  If all went as planned (does it ever?) we’d have our washer and dryer on Sept 22, which gave us a sense of optimism, if nothing else.  Using the laundromat and family for laundry was not ideal.  Then they arrived, and we had much laundry to catch up on:


As we neared the finish line, we picked out a limited number of furnishings.  We ordered others online as sales made sense.  We spent several days building furnishings.  We found a couple affordable rugs.  We pulled the girls’ ottomans and beanbags from their rooms.  The new table expands to seat ten, which will be fantastic.  This is where we are for now:



There is still work to do, but I’d say we are 96% complete.  Putting down molding.  Repairing/painting the stairway and side entry.  Reworking some drywall.  Hanging outlet covers.  Bringing our books and décor out of storage.  But, those will all come in time.  It has been six weeks and one day since the flood, and it is amazing to look back at how much we’ve accomplished.

This weekend, the four of us are having a “Basement Party” with games and our favorite foods (and maybe basement sleeping for the girls), because the girls really need some good news and excitement about the basement after six weeks of frustration and fear.  Then we are going to enjoy the autumn, then the holidays, then maybe some snow.  I’m sure we’ll get the rest of the work done sometime, but for now there is fun to be had…


Thought it would be nice to add some more recent photos (taken at night) recently — after molding was installed, art was hung, furnishings/books returned, etc.  Still a bit more to do: door to laundry, stairway, etc. [November 2014]

basement done 1

basement done 2


A bit more of an update.  We finally hung a curtain “door” between the two sides of the basement, moved some furniture around from elsewhere in our house for extra seating in the basement, and Santa brought the girls a TV (for Abba Dance and Wii Mario Kart, obviously).  Almost done.  Just need to work on the stairway; but, ugh, that is a lot of painting.  [January 2015]

basement after christmas 1

basement after christmas 2


Kitchen done!

So, I started work on updating our kitchen two weeks ago when the girls took their final vacation of the year (without me).  There wasn’t anything that was really wrong with our kitchen and the paint color was fine, since we painted it shortly after moving in seven years ago.  In 2005, our kitchen was orange, and it was awful:

But we quickly painted it a green called “celery” and were happy with it.  Then, we had kids.  Kids who threw cereal, dropped yogurt, banged chairs, and whatever else seemed inappropriate to do to kitchen walls.  Our celery kitchen wasn’t looking so fresh any longer.  Periodic updates of curtains, lighting, faucet, a French door, and — most recently — appliances, kept the kitchen tolerable…

But, from up close, the walls were very, very dirty and and paint was chipping in several places.  We knew it had to be repainted, and took the opportunity to change the color, too.  See, when we moved in, our paint-selection mantra was to find a color we liked, then to pick the most muted, watered-down version of that color.  We ended up having a house of all pastel colors, which wasn’t quite our style.  So, we agreed on about eight much-bolder color swatches from Sherwin Williams for the kitchen and dining room, then I got to pick the final color so that Jen was surprised when she arrived home after vacation.  Actually, Amelia came with me to buy the paint, so she knew what color we were getting, too.  I swore her to secrecy, though.

This was also an opportune time to also replace our poorly engineered ceiling fan.  Since we only use our air conditioning when it is above, like, 140 degrees outside — thank you, Jennifer! — it is pretty important that we have a dining room fan (and living room fan, and bedroom fan, and girls’ room fan, and office fan) that work well.  And, the problem with our dining room fan was that the light dome would gradually twist over time, rendering the light cord and fan speed cord inoperable.  Which is unfortunate, since the fan wasn’t that old.  Note — no fan speed cord in this recent photo.  😦   So a replacement fan was on our list, too.

I started work on the kitchen and dining room after my Woodward Dream Cruise 5k two weeks ago.  I forgot how much prep it takes to paint.  I also forgot how much trim (ugh!) we had in our kitchen and dining room.  During the week that the girls were gone, I advanced concrete knowledge during the day, then came home and painted all evening/night.  I also had a U.S. Green Building Council Board meeting one night.  Work on the house progressed, but I was disappointed in my lack of progress.  I was, however, glad to finally be getting paint on the walls.

I was not impressed with the HGTV brand of Sherwin Williams paint.  It went on really thinly, and required two coats of paint.  I probably will not be buying it again, regardless of whether or not it is 40% off.

I took a half day off work on Thursday morning, and started painting at 6:30 a.m. that morning.  My dad came over that evening and stood guard when I installed the new ceiling fan.  I have hung ceiling fans before, but I always get nervous working on electrical and appreciated having some support here.  It was nice to hang out with my pops, and he helped a bit with the fan, too.  😉

I stayed up late Thursday to finish painting the dining room.  I managed to get one coat of paint on half of the kitchen.  But, I was far short of finishing both rooms.  Unrealistic expectations, I guess.  The girls came home on Friday.  Amelia was worried that she wouldn’t be able to come home on Friday since both rooms weren’t finished, but I reassured her the she, her sister, and mother were welcome here.  I spent many hours that weekend and several evenings the following week finishing up.  Everyone is pleased with the results!

I also took advantage of the opportunity to add some small under-cabinet LED lights.  Very happy with how they turned out!

Before we hung the art on the walls, the four of us went shopping around and found some Morrocan-style coppery gem art.  Jen convinced me to get it, and it now resides on the east wall of our dining room.

We’re all happy with how it looks.  The only downside is that we now need to find another place to put this new “art.”  It’ll likely end up on the ledge; however, its current frame is too wide to fit on the narrow ledge.  We’ll see…

Oh, and I only bought one gallon of paint for the walls.  As I was finishing up the painting stage, I realized I probably wouldn’t have enough to paint behind the fridge (and juuuuuust enough to paint everywhere else).  So, the four of us took the opportunity to “personalize” the area behind the fridge with our handprints.  I think the girls will enjoy checking this out as their hands get bigger over the years.  And, they always love any opportunity to paint some handprints!

So, that’s about it for our quick kitchen update.  Here’s hoping the girls keep most of their food off the walls and their chairs from bumping into the molding.  But, who knows, maybe I’ll be painting these rooms again in a couple years.  For now, though, we’re all very happy with our newly blue kitchen!

[In the hopes that publicly stating two final kitchen projects will bring them to completion, I want to add some maple trim to the left edge of the dishwasher.  You cannot tell in the photos above, but there are about four inches of unfinished space that has bothered us since we moved in.  I also want to replace the broken built-in cutting board above our two large kitchen drawers on the east end of the kitchen with a medium-sized silverware drawer.  This will require some new cabinetry, but it, too, has been on our to-do list since we moved in seven years ago.  And, just because we overlook it all the time, it doesn’t mean that it is still not broken and looks unfinished.]

Woodward Dream Cruise 5k

I had my third 5k run of 2012 today, in conjunction with the 18th annual Woodward Dream Cruise.  I’m not a big fan of the Dream Cruise, but it is nice that some people get so excited about it.  I thought it was neat that a portion of the race was on Woodward, so I signed up.

I’ve been running more frequently and further the past couple months, usually three to five miles each weekday morning.  I also purchased a running watch so I can measure my times.  My goal was to finish one 5k this year in under 30 minutes, and I still have two remaining (one at Arts, Beats, and Eats in two weeks, then another at Lawrence Tech’s homecoming in four weeks).  Considering my past times were about 30:30, 31:30, 32:30, and 33:00, I was optimistic.  I didn’t think about the logistical challenges of getting to the race start until just a couple of days ago, though.

Anyone who’s been to the Woodward Dream Cruise realizes the impact on the neighborhoods surrounding Woodward.  There was no on-site parking at the race, and all neighborhoods have blocked off most street parking.  The race started at 7:30 a.m., so I couldn’t ask the family to drive me.  I decided that I would bike two miles up Woodward so I could be at the race by 6:30 a.m. to check in and get ready.  I left my house at 6:00 a.m. to the roar of cruisers just a couple blocks away.  I past several people wrapped in blankets and sitting under tents about 6:00 a.m. securing their spots on Woodward and looking out for classic cars.  6:00 a.m.!  Crazy.

I checked in, picked up bib #76, popped on my t-shirt, and got ready for the race.  There were about 600 runners total.  Here I am about 1 second into the race — that is why I am still semi smiling.  I can guarantee that I wasn’t smiling for long.

The first mile and a half was actually on Woodward, which was neat.  Then, we snaked through a tree-lined Royal Oak neighborhood.  I kept my eye on my watch, and was running faster than expected.  My fear was that I would lose energy as I approached the end.  I surprisingly didn’t, and finished in a remarkable 28:42, or about 9:15 each mile!  This is unbelievable because I usually average 10:00-11:00 minutes each mile, and was much faster than I ever expected.  I was a sweaty mess at the end, but I guess most people were.  Be thankful I didn’t have a camera with me.  🙂

I drank a couple bottles of water and a surprisingly tasty bottle of lemonade Vitamin Water.  I absolutely took advantage of the Qdoba race sponsorship for free chips and queso (at 8:00 a.m., nonetheless!), but also grabbed a much-healthier banana and apple.  I then retrieved my bike and headed south down Woodward.  At home, I was greeted by three vacation-bound happy girls.  I snapped a quick photo in the girls’ mirror before cleaning myself up.

As I mentioned, before leaving the race, I stopped by the Qdoba tent to spin their wheel and win some prizes.  I won a coupon for free chips and salsa, and picked up some additional coupons for the girls.  Awesome!

At home, I helped get the girls ready for their trip, and sent them off.  I am home alone all week while they vacation yet again.  I am supposed to paint our kitchen.  I should probably stop blogging and start painting, huh?  But, now I am even more excited for my next two races!  Hopefully I can finish equally strong, which means I should keep to my early morning running routine as long as I can.

Family vacation, concrete, and LEED in Grand Rapids

It has been a month since the four of us took a family vacation, so we thought it was as good of a time as any to head west.  I worked a half day on Friday, then we loaded up the Scion, took a short two-hour drive (following the girls’ Vacation Bible School picnic), and cashed in a few of my Marriott Rewards points for a three-day getaway.  We had plans to see the new LEED Gold Certified Grand Rapids Art Museum, take an architectural walking tour of the city, play at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, check out the lighthouses/beaches in Grand Haven, then meet some of Jens’ college friends.  Plus some swimming in the hotel pool, of course.  We had wanted to eat at the LEED Certified Brewery Vivant, but the menu did not align, unfortunately, with our girls’ simple tastes.

However, Friday brought non-stop rain, so we did not go on the architectural walking tour (obviously), and decided to hold off on visiting the Grand Rapids Art Museum until the next day.  We stayed in the hotel, went swimming, then grabbed dinner at BD’s Mongolian Barbeque.  The little people generally behaved.  Once all four of us were in bed, Jen and I started watching Mad Men season 5.  We had to take several breaks to watch the supposed-to-be-sleeping girls “playing school” with the favorite toys in the bed two feet from ours; it is funny to watch them play when they don’t think you are watching them.  🙂  It was hilarious, actually.

We woke early Saturday, washed, grabbed breakfast in the hotel, then headed downtown.  The American Concrete Institute featured the Grand Rapids Art Museum in our magazine, our annual catalog, and in several of our sustainability resources, so I was looking forward to checking it out in person after reading about it for several years.


Nice to see such bold architectural concrete in a downtown with a diverse stock of old and new buildings.  Also nice to see several separate patio areas with difference types of concrete pavers, used to help control stormwater (and look interesting).

ImageAlso interesting was the dominant use of pervious concrete in the adjacent park.  While serving as yet another way to control stormwater and recharge the underground aquifers, the girls just thought it was fun to run around on.  And, Jen managed to unintentionally photo-bomb about two-thirds of my photos at the museum.  Jennifer!!


I thought it was particularly interesting how the pervious concrete went right up to the trunk of the tree.  It actually surprised me a bit.  Anyone know anything about that?


One of the neat things about the museum was the several pocket parks and seating areas around the perimeter.  I particularly liked this one.  Actually, I just wanted a couple tables and about eight of these chairs for my backyard…  🙂

Once we paid for admission, we were guided to the children’s art area in the basement.  There were several activities that encouraged kids to envision cities of the future.  I helped Vi draw a city with snow-sledding hills, moons (of course, she loves the moon), and dozens of birds and fish.  Next to her, Amelia worked on her city with a huge playground complete with a bank of swings so numerous that she would never have to wait for a swing to open up.  Good job, kid.


We then played with some flat building blocks.  Nice of Violet to be representin’ in her recycle pin.


I like how the museum tried to challenge children to think creatively.  Like this, for example.  It is a bit crazy to think about how much I have learned about materials and design in the nine short years I’ve been advancing concrete knowledge. Fun also to think about the buildings that our kids (and kids’ kids, etc.) will live in.


Before we headed back upstairs to the main galleries, we stopped in front of the Grand Rapids photo screen.  The docents helped the girls get on stools and use city skyscraper props to be photographed in front of the city skyline.


The museum itself was pretty slick.  It was very bright and open, and had lots of glass.  The girls got in trouble twice for running.  I may or may have tripped up the stairs with a strange riser height.  Ha ha.

Image We then checked out the Cities in Transition exhibit, which was one of the reasons we wanted to visit.  It was neat, but photos were not allowed so I don’t have much to share.  Jen noticed that several of the pieces there were on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts earlier this year, but I didn’t notice that.  We took a quick stop in the restroom to check out the concrete countertops before heading to the remaining galleries.


I always find gift shops in art museums pretty killer, and this one didn’t disappoint.  This clock would look awesome in our living room, but Jen insists that all clocks in our house either be digital or having easily recognizable numbers.  Something about actually being able to tell the time.


These would also make some awesome kid-friendly seats in our living room, but probably wouldn’t be too comfortable for long periods.  They, too, did not come home with us.


After checking out a few more corners of the museum, we walked around several blocks to find a lunch spot.  We found the nearby Grand Central Market and ordered some eats and some of what the cashier called the best chocolate milk we’d ever have.  I was really thirsty, so I had a Diet Coke instead.  I did, however, steal a sip from Jen and would agree that it was pretty darn good.  It was from Hilhof Dairy, so maybe we’ll pick some up again somewhere.  Reminded me of the Calder Dairy milk we pick up from Westborn on occasion.  We may or may not have brought the bottle home with us, since we thought it may or may not be fun to use for some flowers from our gardens.  🙂   This photo was taken just prior to Violet grabbing a cup and causing a bit of spillage.


We have a bit of a love-hate relationship with city lightpost banners, but what’s not to love about these banners promoting bicycling?  Plus, isn’t the bike on the banner pretty rad?  Jen reminded me that she had a bike just like that when she was a little girl.  Doesn’t Grand Rapids have a nice downtown?


After a swim back at the hotel then a quick rest in our room, we loaded into the Scion and drove to Grand Haven.  We walked the boardwalk/pier, checked out two lighthouses, watched crashing waves, played in the sand, ran into the lake (but it felt like a frigid 55 degrees, so we did not stay in), rang the buoy on dock, ate some ice cream, then drove back to the hotel.  It was a fun and busy day!

We woke early on Sunday morning and were checked out/on the road by about 8:30.  We met some of Jen’s college friends for breakfast at Wolfgang’s in Grand Rapids, then spent three hours at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

We raced boats in the Michigan shaped [concrete] pool.

Played under the massive American Horse.

And jumped through the interesting amphitheater.

We explored the gardens for about three hours — spending a bunch of time in the multi-level treehouse, watching Vi chill with a topiary beaver, trying to teach Amelia to play checkers, running through the shrubbery maze, watching Jen pose with the Mad Mom statue, and entering the mouse-hole many, many times.  We had fun, but left — again — thinking we could have spent several more hours exploring the rest of the gardens.  I guess that will keep us coming back, though.  If you have never checked out the gardens (or Grand Rapids), we all highly encourage it.  The city was interesting, educational, and showcased several green building technologies.  And, most importantly, the four of us had a great mini vacation!

Kitchen, part 1

We moved into our 1940s home about 7 years ago. We were fortunate that the house was really well maintained, and — except for a full demo/replacement of the bathroom, new roofing, and new windows — most of the improvement projects we took on were cosmetic.

Our previous owners replaced the kitchen shortly before they sold us the house. The appliances were in decent shape, but we’ve always wanted to replace the refrigerator, which was at least 10 years old when we moved in. The shelves on the door were very poorly constructed, but it didn’t seem to make much sense to replace the whole thing over some shelves that fell out about every fourth time we opened the fridge. We told ourselves that a new fridge would be more energy-efficient. We told ourselves it would look better. And, we told ourselves that it would work better. But, seven years later we still had the old guy. And, we secretly kept hoping it would break down so that we’d be forced to buy a new one. It never happened, of course.

On a spur of the moment, we decided that we’ve finally had enough. I took some measurements and we went shopping for a replacement refrigerator. We knew we wanted to buy a white replacement, but had discussed the many freezer-top, side-by-side, freezer drawer on the bottom, or French door options. Then, when we got to the store, we realized that there were only two models that would fit in the space we had available — a 2011 freezer-top Energy Star model with a matte finish, and a 2012 version of the same freezer-top with a glossy finish. So much for choices, huh? Sixty fridges available to us, but only two fit in the space! We checked the glossy version, negotiated with the sales woman for a 25% discount and free delivery (heee-eey!), and scheduled delivery. On a separate note, why do people need such large fridges? Please help me understand.

Apartment Therapy recently published a neat article on keeping your fridge organized.  Some pretty good advice, I think.

In the meantime, the girls and I scheduled a “Refrigerator Party.” Because what fun are new appliances if you cannot celebrate? Exactly.  Thank you, Violet, for coloring this invitation!

Several days later, the fridge arrived, as scheduled. Violet can now reach everything. We “partied” by making ice cream sundaes, complete with strawberries, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup. We even brought out the tall sundae cups we received for our wedding shower. It was a big deal, and the girls loved it. And, hopefully, we’ll realize some savings when our electricity bill comes. All of which makes us glad we finally decided to replace our old fridge.

Then, about seven days later, our oven died. Talk about luck, huh?! There was a popping noise one evening when our cauliflower dinner was baking. Dinner wasn’t as crisp as usual, but we ate it, nonetheless, without thinking anything was wrong. We cleaned up, then ran to the store to pick up some gear for a mini vacation the girls were taking to Chicago. We were welcomed home to a strong smell of gas in our kitchen. I quickly turned off the A/C (of course, Jen didn’t seem to mind turning it off), turned on our five ceiling fans, and opened all the windows. I then called the gas company, who arrived to our home about 30 minutes later. After some checking around, he determined our house was safe and the problem was likely a faulty ignition on our oven.

I researched our oven and found it was about 12 years old (a little older than I expected). I also found replacement ignitions that cost around $60. We wrestled with our options — do we call service and pay for the parts, pay for a service call to diagnose the problem, then pay for another service call to actually fix it when the part comes in — or do we buy a new oven? After a bit of back and forth, plus an evaluation of our busy schedules, we hopped online, did a quick comparison, and ordered a new oven without “kicking the tires” at the store. Sometimes, the internet makes things so convenient. However, I wasn’t really planning on buying two new appliances within a couple weeks of each other. But, doesn’t that kind of thing usually happen? Here’s hoping out built-in microwave doesn’t die on us!

The new oven was delivered. It looks almost just like the old one, which makes it hard to get excited about. But, hey, at least we can bake again. Because who doesn’t like to bake in the hot, hot summer? But, seriously, hats off to Jen for baking brownies today; isn’t she fantastic? At five cubic feet, I also think the oven is bigger than our last one.  We are taking a quick family vacation to the other side of the state this weekend, so we do not have an “Oven Party” scheduled. Yet. Maybe when we get back?

I also took advantage of the 40% off sale at Sherwin Williams a couple weeks ago to stock up on some new paint for the kitchen, so get ready for a mini kitchen makeover in a couple weeks. Only Amelia and I know the color, so it will be a surprise for Jen and Violet — though, I did get a pre-approved list of color choices from Jen. The little girls wanted magenta paint, but I regretfully told them “no;” I do have limits.  After buying the secret paint color, Amelia and I walked home from Sherwin Williams Royal Oak.  It isn’t too far to walk, but not really much fun carrying gallons of paint by the thin wire handles. Lesson learned. But, it was nice to spend the time with the girl.

All three girls are taking a week-long vacation (yes, another vacation!) later this month, and I get the pleasure of painting while they are gone. I purchased zero-VOC paint, but it is still easier to paint without six little hands getting into everything. I do let my daughters “help” when they are home, though it is sometimes best to keep Jen out of the paint. 🙂 I love you, Jen.

Stay tuned for the big reveal. If all goes well, I’ll have some painted kitchen photos to share by August 24.

Here’s why.

It’s no secret that I enjoy reading blogs — and (of course!), but I didn’t think I really had much that I could blog about.  I started thinking, however, about my travel schedule that will take me to many new and exciting cities, and I saw blogging as an opportunity to share some of what I learn with my friends and colleagues.  Plus, I think it will be a great archive of what I’ve been up to.  So, about my upcoming travels:

Grand Rapids, MI, for a quick weekend getaway in August to see the Cities in Transition exhibit at the Grand Rapids Art Museum — which by the way is an innovative art museum built with concrete that earned LEED Gold.  We also plan to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens since all four of us had fun there last year, see:

Later in August I head to Chicago for a quick trip to meet with leaders of ACI’s Concrete Sustainability committee to comprehensively review the the full draft of our upcoming sustainability report.  Still a ways away from being published, but nice to see such progress being made.

Early September I head to Quebec City for the Strategic Development Council’s fall meeting.  Many of the topics at this meeting focus on cutting-edge sustainability issues, including low carbon binders, green cements, consuming carbon, wind turbine towers, nuclear power plant construction, environmentally responsible aggregates, product category rules, environmental product declarations, and life-cycle analyses.  Plus, the Chateau Bonne Entante looks like an amazing venue.

The following weekend takes us to Chicago again to celebrate our niece’s first birthday.  Should be fun!

The following week I head to Washington DC to meet with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, National Building Museum, and National Institute of Building Sciences to plan the October Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative Resilient Buildings Workshop.  This should be a fantastic workshop with several industry leaders speaking.

The following day, I am working with several leaders at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Detroit Regional Chapter and USGBC national organization to coordinate a presentation from the developers of LEED v4.  Details of the event will be finalized soon, but, mark your calendars for September 18.

Then, the last week in September is Industry Day at the Concrete Sustainability Hub at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  We are also hosting the fall meeting of the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative in Cambridge, MA.  I love Boston; it’s probably my favorite city.  Perhaps I’ll stop by to see the skinny house again?

After a couple weeks in Detroit, I head to Washington for the October 18 Resilient Buildings Workshop.  We’re expecting a full auditorium, extensive media coverage, and amazing speakers.

Immediately after the workshop, I head to Toronto for seven days for ACI’s fifth annual Concrete Sustainability Forum and our Fall Convention.  This is always a busy but oh-so-productive week full of concrete sustainability, web design, organizational branding, student activities, educational outreach, media relations, social media, and more receptions than I can count.  Looking forward our social at the Royal Ontario Museum.  When I was in Toronto last year, I managed to sneak out one morning for a quite breakfast atop Toronto City Hall’s green roof — I’m definitely hoping to do that again.  Plus, so many of the concrete industry’s sustainability leaders will be there, and they always have such great insight to share.

Early November, Amelia turns six!  Looking forward to planning her party.

The following week I head to San Francisco (I love San Francisco!) for Greenbuild.  In addition to attending USGBC’s chapter leader’s day, I am looking forward to attending three days of education sessions, talking with environmental champions about concrete sustainability, plus championing a coordinated presence, raffles, and social media at the Concrete Solutions Pavilion.  I’m also looking forward to touring the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Building and San Francisco Federal Building — two ultra green concrete buildings featured in our first concrete sustainability guide that I helped publish a couple years ago.

Two weeks later, I head back to Washington DC for meetings with the American Society of Civil Engineers and Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative.  Washington DC is another of my favorite cities; I especially hope to get to Alexandria, VA, for at least a couple hours.

December and January offer a welcomed break from travel and plenty of time with my wife and girls.  Then, February brings travel back to Las Vegas for World of Concrete and a family vacation to Spring Mill Inn.  Followed by ACI meetings in Minneapolis, concrete sustainability in San Francisco, more concrete sustainability, and the American Institute of Architects in Denver.

I’m sure I’ll also include occasional posts about my awesome family, DIY projects around my home, and other semi-interesting topics as I immerse myself in this new-to-me technology.  I hope to post at least once a week, but we’ll see how it goes.

Rudbeckia hirta

The landscaping at our home has definitely been a work in progress, to say the least.  We purchased our house from a gardener back in 2005, but we didn’t like her perennial choices nor the lack of year-round greenery (which looked awful in the winter months).  Our many gardens still do not look totally like I want them to; but, I am thrilled that our focus on rudbeckia hirta — Black-eyed Susans — has paid off.  We started off by planting them in one small section, and they flourished.  Every year since, we have split them and strategically added them to other gardens.  Now, many of our gardens are full of their hearty and vibrant gold flowers.  They bloom for months, are require only limited additional water.  Awesome.

My fifth 5k race

I ran my first 5k on Fathers’ Day 2010, and my second one on Fathers’ Day 2011.  Both races were to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer awareness and men’s health, but really they were a challenge I made to myself.  In an effort to get more serious about this sport (which I surprisingly seem to enjoy), I have already participated on the Father’s Day 2012 run, and RunWalkBoom! run to raise money for the annual fireworks in Huntington Woods, MI.  My next race is the on Aug 18 — this should be fun since a portion of the route is up and down Woodward, and on Dream Cruise Saturday nonetheless.  My goal is to finish the race with my fastest time — under 30 minutes and 30 seconds.  I’m optimistic!

I’m also hoping to run a total of five 5ks this year, which means I need to find two more.  Which may be difficult given my travel schedule this fall.  I think there is one through Royal Oak during the Arts, Beats, and Eats event on Labor Day weekend.

Affleck House Tour

On June 23, 2012, Jen and I enjoyed a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills,MI.  Until I received an alumni newsletter earlier in 2012, I was not even aware that the house was owned by Lawrence Tech University.  We purchased tickets many months in advance, not wanting to miss the opportunity to see the house.

Though it wasn’t entirely my style, the house was amazing.  It was not a large grand house, but it used space and light so effectively.  It had fantastic outdoor space, and even though it was located just a few hundred feet from Woodward (shout out to the nation’s oldest mile of paved concrete roadway), it seemed miles away.  If given the opportunity, would I move there?  Absolutely.

Jen and I enjoyed the intimate tour, given by the LTU’s professor Faoro — I think there were only about 10 people in our group.  Experiencing the house made me want to learn more, perhaps even pursue volunteer opportunities there.  However, it also made me regret bailing on the tour of FLW’s studio in Oak Park, IL, several years ago because a fussy infant Amelia was in need of a nap.  I’m sure we’ll get back soon to check it out.  I can’t wait!

2012 Dance Recital

On May 1, 2012, Amelia (first full gal from the left) performed in her second annual dance recital.  This photo was taken at her dress rehearsal on Apr 30, though, when parents could get close enough to take quality photos.  Her excitement and care-free spirit on both days surprised me.  I love seeing her this happy. This photo, in particular, is one of my favorites — I love seeing her in the midst of a jump.

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