that polar vortex is a real a-hole

Polar vortex hits the only uncovered piece of “pipe” that I didn’t cover, freezes tiny leak from old cap, stops water, and freaks the hell out of me when I turn the faucet on this morning and….nothing….but…gurgle, gurgle. $2.89 later, we’re back in business. Whew. But seriously.


new planter boxes

A full post of the garden flop is forthcoming, but, in the meantime, this is the fix to our drainage woes: we’re going above-ground! Planter boxes and the square foot gardening method.


tin roof brewery


An early celebration of Dustin’s birthday led us to “Baton Rouge’s Brewery,” Tin Roof. Tin Roof is a small to moderate sized brewery that brews a regular lineup of average beers (some of the Rate Beer reviews are not as diplomatic, ouch). I find that their amber and IPA are pretty consistently low in carbonation, high in malt, and rather low in hops–neither complex, nor interesting, but still drinkable (and let’s be real, who turns down free beer?). Their seasonal, Watermelon Wheat, and their Blonde, however, aren’t bad. After being spoiled by the Minnesota and Chicago beer scene, I guess I’m spoiled.

The brewery tour was fun, though–it’s always fascinating to watch someone perform a craft, and the process of brewing is such a cool mixture of math and “feel.” The brewmaster is a nice guy, and gave a thoroughly enjoyable tour, even if it was about 95 degrees in the non-air-conditioned brewery. I honestly don’t know how they survive during the summer. I’d die of heat stroke. Or sweat to death.


diy: a man(tel) for all seasons

There is more than one way to skin a cat (an idiom that–apparently–literally has something to do with actually skinning cats…yuuuck).

Anyways, when it comes to building a mantel, you’ve got a lot of options: like this one from YHL or this one from the Lettered Cottage or a whole bunch of other versions you can find on a simple Pintrest search (I mean, if I used Pintrest that is…okay it’s the greatest thing ever). Most of what we saw on the DIY front used 1×6 boards to construct a “shell” type structure that looks like a full beam, without having to actually hang a “real” wooden beam above the fireplace. This allows you to avoid a bunch of extra weight hanging from your wall and have a little more control when building (I think my favorite mantel beam done this way has to be this one).

As we’ve made progress on the living room, we were committed to doing a full fireplace surround/mantel rebuild, But as things slowly came together, I started teaching and lost some of the steam to do a full buildout…so, we settled on a simple beam-style mantel . Although I had originally intended to do something like the above versions (i.e. constructing and staining a shell-mantel), I came up with a slightly different solution. Enter the 6x6x8–or as I refer to it, that huge-ass piece of wood.


The thing barely fit into the poor HHR–Marybeth had to ride behind me in the back on the way home from Home Depot because we needed to put the front passenger seat down to get the rear hatch shut. Eight feet is obviously far too long for our wall, though, so the first thing I did was cut this down to about 55 inches, the length we decided would be best for our project. Even at a little under 6 feet, this thing was so heavy that there was literally no way for me to hang it on the wall in good conscience, so I had to do some serious carving. Consequently, this is probably why piecemeal mantels are so attractive–you get to completely skip the next step because you don’t have to worry about net-weight on your studs.


Carving out a log without the proper set of tools is a really terrible idea, but, whatever: there are work-arounds. The red circle highlights the long rip cuts I made with a circular up and down the length of the log. I made probably 20 or 30 of these, making the occasional diagonal cut to aide in the eventual carving. (The 8 inch circular saw blade wasn’t quite large enough to eat all the way through the 6×6 log, so I never had to worry about accidentally popping out the backside.) I then used the small crowbar to pry out all the wood pieces and also to shave off a little additional wood. While this was a huge pain in the butt–it took about an hour’s worth of work–it dropped the weight of the beam by about half. This is pretty much the finished backside, complete with drilled holes that aided in the weight loss.

mantel_2With the beam’s weight significantly reduced, I still had to figure out how to hang it on our wall. In the end, I came up with a pretty easy solution: 3, 3/8″x6″ lag screws. I drilled pilot holes in three studs in our wall and then ratcheted the screws into the wall about 3 inches (this left a little less than 3 inches protruding from the wall). How did I know that these screws would be capable of holding the 40ish pound beam? Well, I used this guide to roughly estimate the necessary screw size for load-bearing weight. That, and a quick phone call to my Dad, and I decided that I’d probably be okay. The following is a picture of the screws (these are actually 5/16″…I went with one size larger, 3/8″) and a rough diagram of how I actually hung the mantel.


mantel diagram

This required an almost-insane amount of measuring, both to get the screws at the right angle on the wall and the holes in the mantel beam to fit them (thank God for the laser level). While the screws were easy to drill into the wall, the screw heads were too big for my initial holes in the beam, so I had to make an emergency run to Home Depot to buy a set of larger drill bits. I settled on a one-inch bit for the holes, which adequately fit the screws. Unfortunately, however, things weren’t level…(nick’s inner voice: of course they weren’t, that would be too easy you moron). Solution: I would slowly re-drill the holes, taking off just enough wood on the high side hole so that when the beam was placed on the wall it slowly lowered in height until the final product was level. Quite a process with a little bit of math, but it eventually worked out well enough.


After this, I actually set the beam outside for two days to let the wood dry out a little further. Being young treated wood, the beam actually held quite a bit of water, so this also helped with the weight issue by drying it out…and had the added benefit of causing the wood to expand and crack, which gave us an awesome split along the front of the beam–if you’ve ever wondered why flooring companies say you should allow wood to acclimate before laying wood floors, this was a great example. For the color, I chose the same stain recipe I used on the fork, knife, spoon frame: Jacobean Minwax and American Walnut Varithane.


After about a day of curing, we put the beam on the wall, had an electrician come and install all the wiring for our wall-mount, and stepped back to enjoy our hard work. And by stepped back I mean we watch that absolute cluster-mess of a meltdown that occurred on the Bachelorette–I love watching people cry on reality television…I digress…

First a before picture. Check out that hideous 80s mantel, the lovely carpet that looks like dog-barf, and the dark, oversized sofa the previous owner had. Also, hi, realtor Frank, your backside really adds to the photo, bahaha.

living_room_beforeAnd now, the after (forgive the grainy iphone photo…Marybeth took the camera in to take pictures of her little kindergartners today):


The only thing left to do in the living room is to resurface the fireplace surround in oil-rubbed bronze, resurface the ceiling fan white, and hang a bunch of pictures. Looking forward to finally wrapping a bow on this space. It’s been a long, long slog (new floors, new trim, repainted crown, window trimmings, hella spackling), but one that’s been totally worth it. And the best part about the mantel project? It only cost me 30 bucks for the log and the new drill bits. Neat.