Category Archives: Projects

Just a Few Stepping Stones….

“Hey, Ray…..Think you’d be up to putting down a few stepping stones when you are out at the hall in May?”

That is the exact text that I sent to poor Ray (and by extension, his wife, Bobby). He says he is going to frame that text. I think I’m going to have it put on a plaque and dedicate the entire patio to them. And yes, it is ALL MY FAULT. I own it and I will say it again and put it in writing. IT. IS. ALL. MY. FAULT. There, Kelly, feel better?

Start of patio

Kelly had been eyeing the side yard up for the past couple years. She wanted to fence it or put up a large dog run so that we could just open the back door and let the dogs out into a safe enclosure without having to constantly walk them around the property. I kept resisting (fencing costs too much; a dog run might blow over; it would be unattractive etc.) Then this year, we purchased these really cool topiary dividers from an auction (what else is new, right?) and started daydreaming about where to put them. We both eventually came around to “wouldn’t it be cool to use them to make a small secluded outdoor area for us and guests to enjoy the serenity of the sunsets?” Then we considerately thought of Charles, the lawn guy and thought that it would make his job more difficult to get around these things, so maybe if we had a more permanent area such as a small deck or patio and use these as privacy or shade, that would work. Pricing out lumber vs. pavers vs. stepping stones, we determined that a patio was the more cost effective way to go. Just a small patio outside the back door for a couple chairs and maybe a table (about 100 sq. feet). Then I realized that well, that will look silly and so small; we should expand it to the other back door so that we can eventually open both doors and really increase the flow of the house; let’s do this patio not as a square, but more of a rectangle. What’s a little more sand, gravel and a few more stepping stones? (about 250 sq. feet). Then, I think….well, might as well expand it back to a square and cover the entire area from the back of the house to the apartment area. A nice, easy square (800 sq. feet). Ok. That’s good. Let’s stop there.

Patio expansion

But wait, there’s more…..look at that great flow we have from the house, but the porches are being rebuilt this year and wouldn’t it be great if our guests could walk down a couple steps from the front porch right onto the patio and have a little walkway around? That’s just another 220 sq. feet and it makes so much sense! Hmmm….you know, if we just pull that out a little more and expand the entire patio another 6 feet out or so, then it makes so much more sense; for a party, we could use the porches, guests could walk down from the porch or the back front hall door or out the back side door onto the patio and we could have an awesome area for chairs, tables, events etc. So then that extra 6 foot pull out? That added an extra 300 sq. feet which brought us to….yes class? Anyone been following my girl math here? That brings us to 1300 sq. feet, give or take. And that, my friends, is how a little patio turned into, as one FB friend noted, a patio larger than some people’s houses.

Stage 3 of patio start

What have we been up to you ask?

A few things 🙂  First, over the winter we worked on raising funds for upcoming projects.  That meant making and acquiring more items and selling them.  As you can imagine, most of the projects at the hall are expensive and while we are willing and able to put in manual labor, materials and professionals still come with a cost.  In order to offset these costs, we started to buy things at auction and create/fix up items with the intention of selling.  Mostly we take our items to local consignments shops but we also use ebay and craigslist.  Here are a few examples:

Chair we no longer need
Repurposed footstool


Tutu puff ball light (handmade)
map shade
Lampshade with map (visible when turned on)
Euro pillow (reversible) – silk

You never know what kind of crazy items we might find or make 🙂 

We also discussed the plans for this year – Laurie has decided it is to have the porches redone (thanks to Denny) and build a patio!  Here is where the patio will be going:


Side of house (moving towards back)
Long ago “before”


Progress has been made – additional posts to come 🙂

We hope everyone had a wonderful winter and is enjoying this gorgeous spring!

The indoor pool is now open!

Nothing like getting the annual winter call from the tenant at Morton Hall….

“Laurie, hey.  Hate to call you about this but the pipe in (your kitchen, your bathroom, underneath my sink etc.) froze and there is water everywhere.  I turned off the water, but there’s a mess to clean up.”  So Friday evening’s call at 5:02 p.m. was a little bit worse, “Laurie, hey.  Hate to call you but the water main blew in the cellar and the water is just inches from the bottom of the electrical panel (think about 4’ here, guys).  I can’t find a way to reach a cut off or turn the pump off.”

Just out of reach....
Just out of reach….

Where is the cutoff you ask?  Right beside the electrical panel, of course, which is about 2 feet from the basement steps, which seems like an entire ocean when you are looking at electrical appliances and electrical cords floating in 4’ of water.

So MY annual call to Tom, the wonder plumber usually goes like this, “Hey, Tom.  Happy New Year!  How is everything going?  How are the kids, wife, new farm.  All the typical niceties and little catch ups and then the little laugh and drop the bomb of, “so of course a pipe exploded.  Not a big deal but can you get out and repair it so the tenant has water as soon as possible?  Great.  Thanks.  Hey, while you are there, could you give me a price on (insert whatever small improvement I was planning to make).  Great!  Thanks so much!

Quite a difference from this year’s call at 5:04 pm, “Tom, this is Laurie from Morton Hall.  I have an emergency.  Please call me.  I’m going to try the office.”  Called the office at 5:04 pm and of course they were closed.  Come on, it was a slow Friday.  But used their emergency contact info and left a message there and tried calling Tom again at 5:06 p.m.  Got him, this time.  He has already started out the door and is in the truck (have I mentioned before how much I LOVE my plumber and contractor out there?); apparently I am not known for crying wolf!  I explain the problem and he says he can turn off the pump from outside at the well but he cannot pump the water out because his pump seized up and he is traveling for the weekend.  Tom makes it out there and has the pump turned off at 5:40 p.m.

He calls me and is his normal calm, dry delivery self, but I can tell he’s laughing.  So, was the situation exaggerated?  Nope….he just finds it funny that everything is flFloating water tankoating around in the cellar including the holding tank, glass carboys etc; says it looks so weird!  Great…..sigh….is it really 4’ high of water?  Yep.  Got to be up to my waist, at least.  A quick debate about his short legs ensues….instructions on how to pump out the cellar and a debate between me, him and the owner of the company who wants Tom to pull the electric meter so there is no chance of electrocution.  Tom and I agree we don’t want to do that.  Water is still a couple inches below the electric panel at this point and with no more water coming in, water level should recede since bottom of cellar floor is pee gravel and sand.

So by 6 pm on Friday I now know what Kelly and I are doing on Saturday.  I arrange for rental of mud pumps (basically sump pumps with 2” fire hoses that put out 60 gallons a minute; another option which Tom recommended was a gas powered mud pump which pumps out 384 gallons a minute, but small engines and I rarely get along and the suction hose is rigid and would be difficult to fit in a mini-van.  After seeing the set up at Home Depot, I was very glad I did not have to go with that option; just looked to unwieldy for Kelly and I to deal with.  Of course, I get to the Hyattsville Home Depot and yes they have the two pumps they promised me, but only one hose since the other hose has a hole in it.  Fine.  Take the one pump and hose and stop at Annapolis Home Depot.  Same situation, but by the time I leave there, I have two pumps and two hoses.  We get to the house at about 1 pm and take a quick look:

First look....
First look ….

 Luckily, the night before I had gone through the “what can possibly go wrong” scenarios in my head and had asked Kelly to bring WD-40, bolt cutters etc. just in case I could not find the keys for the Use for old pipe - girl power!padlock on the cellar door.  So, while she’s unloading and running electrical cords to the outside cellar door, I’m trying the keys; of course, no key for the lock and her brother Robbie was right, neither of us have the hand strength to use the “cute” bolt cutters that he had to open the lock.  So we switch tasks and I start setting up to drop a pump through the basement door on the side entrance while Kelly cut through the lock with the Dremel.  Amazing how short a 50′ fire hose is; luckily, Kelly found a use for the big 3″ CPVC pipe that has been laying in the hallway for a couple years and was able to extend the reach past the side steps!  We also discover that this hose has a hole in it, right in the middle of the hallway; duct tape to the rescue!  

That great fixer...duct tape!
That great fixer…duct tape!

I had done some calculations on water volume etc. (I still hold to my opinion I did not need to learn this stuff in school; they have all the formulas on the Internet, you know!) and estimated that at 4’ of water, we had about 37,000 gallons.  When we arrived, there was a definite water line on the walls and it looked like the water had gone down about a foot.  So that took us to about 27,000 gallons of water that needed to be removed.  With two pumps going and putting out 7200 gallons an hour, we were looking at about 4 hours of pumping.  A quick check at 2:30 showed that I seemed to be about right, as the top of the 9th step was now showing.

We left for a couple hours and when we arrived back at about 4 p.m., found that we were down to less than ankle deep water and had to move pumps around to get the last deep bits out.  We also found that the car had sunk into the mud and was now stuck.  We multi-tasked for the next hour or so, rocking and pushing the car, packing up and cleaning equipment as much as possible and finally pushing the van out of the mud.  We left the house at about 5:30 pm feeling quite accomplished and congratulating ourselves on an eerily easy task.  Not sure if we were just due for a change, are so used to now planning for all contingencies or the fact that when little disasters occur, we just roll with it!  Of course, the worst is probably yet to come.  Tom will be back out on Wednesday to assess, repair and let me know how much this little disaster is going to cost me.  Am really hoping my new softening system which was put in last year made it through!