Washington Acres

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Natural Playgrounds

I have been wanting to create a playground area for the boys for a while now, but am no fan of big brightly colored plastic contraptions that litter the yard. After some searching for ideas online, I came across something new to me: natural playgrounds.

Natural playgrounds blend native material, vegetation, and landforms to create a play area that connects kids to the natural world through unstructured free play. Plus they look really cool.

We plan to create many of these natural play areas throughout the property over the next few years, but will be starting with the small backyard first. We already have some logs to use, and can get some boulders (eventually), but what I really  wanted to do first is put a slide into the hill like this:


I didn’t want to use one of the short, plastic slides you can find stocked in your home improvement stores. But after an quick search online for stainless steel slides, I learned they cost well over $1000. Ouch! So I started casually searching for used ones. To my amazing luck, I found one for sale in our local Facebook classifieds page and got it yesterday for only $200! Fantastic deal. I can’t wait to put it into the hillside and see the kids’ faces!


I had an awesome childhood that was spent climbing trees, digging in dirt, and exploring the woods in upstate New York. We’re fortunate to have acreage here in Washington so my kids can have an equally fulfilling childhood. Adding natural play areas throughout the property will make it that much more special. Let the work begin!


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Spring Forest Planting

A few weeks ago, the ponderosa pine seedlings were planted on the top of the hill. Originally I was only going to order a couple dozen, but they were pretty inexpensive (less than $1/each before shipping). So I ordered 50 seedlings from Plantworks near La Grande, OR, and 50 from Plants of the Wild in Chico, WA. By ordering seedlings from different sellers, we can see who has the best survival rate when planning future purchases. The plants arrived in a day and in great condition from both sellers. I don’t know how old the seedlings from either seller were, but the ones from Plants of the Wild were considerably larger.

Seedlings from Plants of the Wild

Seedlings from Plants of the Wild

We were lucky enough to have a forester friend I work with come and help. Although I hiked to the planting area, I wasn’t much help with two toddlers to look after. So the fellas carried on and got everything done in less than two hours while I took the kiddos back down and got lunch ready.

We’ll be heading up there soon to place tarps around each seedling, hoping to increase the survival rate. Feeling optimistic, I pre-ordered 300 more ponderosa pine seedlings for the fall planting from the University of Idaho (who was all out this Spring). After a couple years has passed and the pine is established, we plan to add some Douglas Fir. Because Ponderosa is so much more hardy and our planting area is on a tough site, it’s best to establish those first. This will create a microclimate and some shade to help other, less hardy tree species get established.

Jesse next to the very first planted seedling!

Jesse next to the very first planted seedling!

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Back Deck Makeover

The small deck in the back was covered in peeling red and white paint. Although it’s one of many things that will eventually be torn out, we’re far from that and in the meantime we’re stuck looking at it. So we went ahead with lots of scraping. sanding. and staining.
Lots of the paint easy scraped off, and the kids were happy to help. The belt sander took care of the rest. A couple boards had to be replaced, an old satellite dish was removed, and then the deck was ready to stain.



I kind of like it better with just one coat (below), but it’s much better than it was before!


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Heat pump disaster

On December 31, 2013, our new heat pump was finally installed. The old propane stove was burning fuel like nobody’s business and we decided to get rid of it after it burned about $400 worth of fuel in less than a month. We called up a local HVAC company and pulled the trigger on a $5800 system (Fujitsu model number: AOU36RLXFZ).

It worked great, at first. But by the time I put in a FIFTH service call in November 2014, less than one year of owning it, I realized we had a serious lemon on our hands. This time the entire outdoor unit was toast. We’re STILL waiting for it to be fixed.

I did a little researching online, and found a great forum where many other people experienced problems with their Fujitsu heat pump as well:

Why I can no longer recommend Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps: Poor product durability eliminates all cost savings gained from efficiency

Lesson learned: don’t buy a Fujitsu heat pump. In fact, I’m completely turned off by expensive “green” technology that is supposedly designed to be super-efficient and low-cost to run but truly is a gigantic waste of money. I don’t want a heat pump at all. Unfortunately, I was refused a full refund.

Right around the November death of the heat pump, we bought an older wood stove off our local Facebook classifieds page for just $200. We bought some needed stovepipe for another $100. It does a fantastic job warming the house, even in really low temperatures. And guess what? Firewood is free. I wish we just installed some more electric baseboard heat and got a really nice efficient wood stove professionally installed from the get-go. Hopefully our disaster will be a warning to others so they can make a more informed decision when considering replacing existing heating systems.

Not to mention, this doesn't need electricity and is quite handy when the power goes out!

Not to mention, this doesn’t need electricity and is quite handy when the power goes out!

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Afforestation Plans

Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no forest. Most of our acreage is old farmland that is now just rosehip bushes and grasses (outlined in red below).


Although I love the riparian area around the creek, I’m a big forest lover and need more trees. So why not grow our own forest? If successful, we will also be improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and providing even more to explore for the kiddos. Discounting the very steep areas, we have about 15 acres that can potentially be forested.


Since I know nothing about growing a forest, I solicited some free advice from a forester I work with. He recommended starting with ponderosa pine. Once that’s established, we can start thinking about adding other tree species. We will have to get seedlings appropriate for our elevation zone (~2400′-2600′), and plant them on the northeast side of anything that is a foot or taller. This will cast a shadow on the seedling in the afternoon sun and hopefully shield it from getting fried in the hot and dry summers.


Ponderosa Identification by Clyde froggOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Although I was told fall would be best, we can start in the spring. I’m planning on getting around 20 seedlings to start and see how it goes. If the planting is not a complete disaster, a lot more will be get planted this fall. The first year is crucial as the roots get established so I’ll be hoping for some of those rare summer thunderstorms we had last year.

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Kitchen Islands

We’ve been working on the kitchen the past few weeks and making progress! As Nick continues to hang drywall, I’m working on the island. We went ahead and put a new plywood face on the existing island. All it needs now is some paint and trim, kind of like this:


We are not planning on getting fancy countertops for a while, so I just figured I can make some inexpensive tiled counters for now. And then I saw this!

How awesome would an island made out of agate be?! I instantly knew that’s what I needed to have, and knew exactly how I was going to make it. The only problem is, I need agate. A TON of agate. And it turns out it’s not that cheap, unless you’re lucky and find a deal or start cutting your own. Since it’s going to take some time to find enough, this project is on the back burner for now.

But I’m going to need a functioning kitchen until then. Because we don’t plan on ever moving, I still wanted to do something unique and weird that maybe no one will love but me (and hopefully the husband too). Since I’ve always been interested in concrete counters, I thought we might give it a go and see how it turns out. I even bought rocks to inlay. I can’t believe I paid for ROCKS. And I don’t mean the fancy polished agate (which I also bought), but river rock. :/

I saw this awesome sink on etsy and am going for something similar. Wish us luck!


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One Year Update

I can’t believe we’ve been here an entire year! Ok, more than a year. This post is definitely overdue. But we were busy getting married and stuff, and then my laptop died. But less than two months overdue is close enough! After all this time, it feels like we didn’t get a whole lot done. A dozen projects started, over $29,000 spent, and not one thing is finished. So instead of a few great before & after photos, I can only offer some “progress” updates.

When we moved in last fall, the weeds below the house and along the creek were waist-high. That was fixed with a whole lot of weed whacking, pruning, and chainsawing this spring, leaving the area looking pretty good. But Nick had something more in mind. Other than the tiny front and backyards, there was no level ground anywhere. We need a big garden, and a place for the boys to play. One weekend with a borrowed bobcat and Nick made huge progress! Granted the many retaining walls that need to be built will take years, but I’m pretty excited with the way things are shaping up. And once grass is planted and growing it’ll look that much better. Not to mention the added trails are pretty awesome!

The outside of the house is looking pretty scary and will remain that way until work continues on it after the winter. The log siding came down this spring, and new windows went in this summer. A moldy storage addition was also knocked down.

Although we bought all the materials for a new metal roof and Hardie board and batten siding, we ran out of time this fall. There’s too much rain to leave the roof exposed as the eaves are extended and sheathing is getting replaced. And the temperature needs to be over 55 to paint the Hardie.

If Home Depot didn’t screw up and forget to order one window, I could have called that project done. I could go on and on about our “adventure” with Home Depot and ordering windows, but suffice it to say that we ordered new windows in April and the install was supposed to be completed in May. It wasn’t done until September (and that’s only because Nick finished it).

Most of the foundation piers need to replaced and work began on that last winter. It’s not even close to being done, and there are jacks holding the sunroom addition up for now.

I have no idea how long the foundation fixing is going to go on for, but I can’t tile or install new hardwood floors until it’s done. So for the meantime, the carpeted areas got new carpet (and fresh paint) to make the house feel a little more livable.

The bedroom upstairs got a new navy grid accent wall, which unfortunately got partially destroyed when the window opening needed to be enlarged. Anderson couldn’t make the new window as small as the original. And since I insisted on having Anderson brand windows, the wall suffered the consequences. On the soon-to-do list that goes! The attic space suffered the same fate.

The wood paneling on the sunroom walls was way too much wood for me so I painted it white, and we installed cheap wood laminate over the old flooring. The room is small, but it makes a convenient emergency guest room for now. It will eventually be torn down when we do an addition on that side of the house, but we’re years away from that.

Other than getting drywall destroyed, the utility/laundry closet now has a new (NOT dangerous) electrical panel. The old hot water heater (which was ALWAYS running out of hot water) has been replaced with a tankless hot water heater. We’ve had it running for a few weeks now. For some reason on two occasions it would stop heating the water. I’m really hoping it doesn’t do that again. Especially since it cost $600.

The bathroom was first on the list to gut when we moved in. We didn’t even use it. Once. But tiling the tub surround and floors is delayed, so I had to come up with some temporary solutions. I silver-taped a cheap surround so we can take showers, and put down some cheap flooring to protect the subfloor.

The kitchen was unexpectedly gutted as soon as we moved in because mold from the bathroom made its way through to the kitchen. We bought new appliances right before we moved in. So the appliances, a utility sink, and a small island with a cooktop makes up our kitchen. After waiting to solve an electrical mystery, drywall was finally being installed YESTERDAY!

So there you have it. Lots started, nothing finished! With almost all the money I predicted we needed to spend to get the place in shipshape already spent, I’m beginning to think I once again severely underestimated. But with the materials for almost all the big ticket items already purchased, I may not be that much off. Here’s what’s left: – kitchen counters $1000? – hardwood flooring $1500 – doors $200 – baseboard trim $500? – lumber for new front and back porches $1500? – more blocks and cement for the foundation: $500? – landscaping/misc: $500 If we can stick to something close to those estimates, we will hit my guesstimate mark!