Category Archives: DIY

Can I Get a Tardis?



Photo: Casey Alexander

This week I started a new job, had hour-long meetings with each of their teachers and the IEP case manager, still managed to get them to all activities and appointments on time, studied like mad for 5th grade science, social studies and spelling tests (first week of school, let’s dive right in, shall we? ) and agreed to restore a house-worth of old shutters.

Starting to think I need my head examined.

Or I need a Tardis, so I can keep going back to week’s beginning until I’m caught up. ¬†Preferably with a Dr. Who to drive for me…reading the Tardis Operating Manual might send me over the edge.

Share your crazy week and make me feel normal. ūüôā

How to Prevent Water Damage without Losing Your Mind Part 2

Maybe my reaction when I found out our son was filling water balloons in the bathroom INSIDE OUR WATER-CURSED HOUSE was a little inflated. Maybe.

Are you CRAZY??? We had to replace that floor down to the joists because of water damage. I’m upstairs plastering the bathroom because of a leak. NO. WATER. PLAY. IN. THE. HOUSE!

His response: “But I covered the floor in towels just in case I spilled!”

Wise beyond his years. Sort of. I had just finished folding those towels…

We’ve now experienced eight—count ’em, eight—leaks in this house.

Our latest was not the fault of the previous owner. For once.

When the plumber replaced the pan under our air handler, he neglected to clean out the drain lines. The small pipes clogged. Water backed up into the air handler and poured down into the air ducts. Missed it? Read all about the horror (and how to prevent major damage) in Part 1.

Last night I finished priming the bathroom. In case you have a leak of your own, here’s what you need to do after installing the drywall.

Remove any paper tape on the edge of existing drywall. This will make it easier to make a seamless connection with the piece you install.


Use low-dust drywall compound. This stuff is magic. Instead of creating an invasive cloud of white dust which will cover every surface in your home, particles of low-dust compound fall straight to the floor as you sand. The drywall knife you see is my favorite. The stainless steel never rusts and is perfectly flexible. A big rectangular blade works best for working large areas but I love the smaller blade for most of the plastering.


I forgot to take a picture of the fiberglass tape. If you have an edge that doesn’t quite match, lay fiberglass tape along the edge to help build the plaster. Here, if I slathered on enough plaster to meet the existing edge, it would likely crack. Fiberglass tape (looks like gauze) helps prevent cracking. Use fiberglass to join all flat surfaces as well. Fiberglass tape is slightly sticky, which means you can apply it directly to the drywall, then plaster over it.


Working in from the edges and corners, smooth on thin layers of plaster. Also fill in the dents where screws are used (always use drywall screws, not nails) since this will take several thin layers. I used paper tape (not fiberglass) on the 90-degree edges (plaster directly on drywall, lay tape, smooth with plaster knife, add thin layer over tape, allow to dry). Paper tape works better because you can fold it at a 90-degree before placing on the wall. Thin layers work best. Scrape the edges flat with the blade. Smoothing it as you go means less sanding.


Cover all of the drywall with a very thin layer of compound (it’s okay if you can still see the drywall; this is for paint uniformity). Using a large, rectangular blade works well here. Sand the entire surface. Any rough edges will be magnified by the paint, so be thorough.


Bare plaster in a bathroom doesn’t work well (shower steam, etc.) so I primed and painted the ceiling and primed the walls as soon as the plaster dried. Color-change paint is best¬†for painting white-on-white. Mine starts out pink and turns white as it dries. The wall primer looks really weird in this picture but dried to a light tan.


Air handler broke

The water leaked

I felt angry—

really piqued.

Pulled plaster out

and fiberglass

wanted to beat

our plumber’s

Door down (what did you think I was going to say?)

Plastered scraped

and painted too

and now I’m done




How to Prevent More Damage after a Leak without Losing Your Mind

I’m very thankful for our house, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, I dream of living elsewhere. In a house with dry walls and ceilings. No bubbles of water under the paint. No soggy insulation.

We’ve had seven leaks in this house. No, eight, counting this week.

On Wednesday, I planned to do some yard work to surprise Hubby. He’s been under crazy pressure at work and I was excited about giving him a break. Pulling¬†on work clothes, I looked up at the wall in our bathroom next to the door. A swelling bubble, the size of my hand, glared back at me.


No no no no no.



Positioning my fuzzy purple towel under the anomaly, I pierced the bottom of the bubble with tweezers. Sure enough, water soaked out into the towel. A tiny splash hit my toe from the other side of the doorway; I craned my neck to see a steady drip-drip  coursing down the wall from the ceiling on the opposite side.

The only source of water in the ceiling was the air handler, possibly dripping too much condensation into the drain pan. I ran downstairs to grab the shop vac (an item I highly recommend you keep on hand if you live in an older house).

With the kids’ help, I lugged the cleaner up the creaky attic ladder. The lightbulb had blown and I couldn’t see a thing.¬†Fighting vertigo caused by being more than two inches off the ground, I took pictures in order to see in the dark attic.¬†Sure enough, a small, steady stream of water poured from the handler’s corner.


Water stained the floor under the handler supports.


I checked the water level in the pan; oddly, the water level stood nowhere near the top. My initial suspicion that the pan had overflowed was incorrect.


Yet everything under the pan was soaking.


The insulation was sopping.


And then…I found the source. (See the shine? It’s a little hard to see.) Water leaked¬†between the tape on the duct work joints onto the insulation below.


After vacuuming up the water in and around the pan (just in case there was still a pan leak), I called for a dry towel. The attic temperature was triple-digits; I didn’t trust my sweat-soaked ability to navigate back across the trusses without a slip-and-crash, feet-first entrance¬†through the ceiling below. I clambered down the ladder and hyperventilated for a moment. Phillipe Petit I am not.

Then, I started pulling away the saturated drywall. Steady drips fell from seams in the duct (that silver thing in the picture below). No drips, steady or otherwise, should be falling from the duct—it’s for air flow only. I stuffed my¬†towel in to stem the flow, then pulled down more drywall (wet wall?) and then removed the batts of fluffy yellow fiberglass insulation. Like yellow cotton candy, but way more itchy.


Three industrial garbage bags later, I had most of the wet insulation out. Hubby arrived home about that time, so together we pulled down more drywall and removed insulation until we felt sure all the standing water was removed. We cut away about a foot around the top of the wall anywhere it was damp and I peeled the paint away like sunburned skin.


With two high-powered fans (and the really hot attic) on our side, the walls steamed. We finally made it to bed around 1 am. The next morning, things were dry enough to consider replacing the ceiling.

We called the plumber (who also does HVAC work). In short order, he fixed the air handler (an internal pipe clogged, causing water to fill the unit on the INSIDE and spill down into the ducts).

That afternoon, less than 24 hours from leak discovery, we replaced the insulation and drywall. We’re leaving the wall open for a week to make sure everything is completely dry.


And that, my friends, is how to mitigate a ceiling leak. All you need is a shop vac, broom and dustpan, trash bags, a drill, drywall screws, two fans, a slab of drywall and a trusty purple towel.


P.S. I’ve used Wikipedia in my links this time (rather freely), which is normally taboo for this blog, since I like to be right. And I like to be right all the time, according to my mother… Anyway, I’m so tired right now, I checked to make sure the first sentence was accurate and moved on. Before making any decisions based on information found in Wikipedia, please double check facts elsewhere.¬†

To Be or Not to Be…Medicated Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I’m not 100% comfortable with medication as a solution for attention problems.

I can’t deny the efficacy of certain prescriptions—last week, our son had his FIRST PERFECT WEEK at school.

Granted, we only had two days in class due to snow but this is still a first. Two days, back-to-back, with only green marks (given for helping, staying on task, getting behavioral compliments from teachers in supplementary classes, etc.)? Never happened before.

The potential for success is incredible.

Possibility of side effects, now or in the future, concerns me.

I can say, in good conscience, that we tried EVERYthing before turning to medication. Still, nagging guilt plagues me, an¬†oppressive feeling we “gave in” to the road more traveled.

Some of my friends say things like

Drug companies are the devil


Pharmaceutical conglomerates care about making money, not about making kids healthy

and although I’m not sure they’re correct on the first count, I acquiesce on the second. Companies are formed and sustained for one purpose: to make money for someone.

Knowing this, why do we—as a nation—fall in line for the daily dose?

The unfortunate truth is this: other alternatives require more time and¬†sometimes bring less direct results. In the world of mental health—mental health of children, in particular—we search for expedient outcomes. ¬†Medication is fast, and in some cases, immediate.

Research for alternatives led me to an option so easy it’s laughable. MOVEMENT. Activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.¬†In other words, exercise.

One of the¬†article links cracked me up: “exercise-seems-to-be-beneficial-to-children.” No. Really?

According to several studies (see the links throughout this post), exercise can be just as beneficial as medication. Some claim prescriptions may be eliminated by implementing a consistent workout routine.

Why don’t we hear more about exercise as an alternative to drugs?¬†

This article¬†by Yasmin Tayag is blatant in accusation. There’s no money to be made; physical activity is, well, free.

To be fair, our doctor did recommend exercise—not to replace, but to supplement the medication. After I explained¬†our involvement in Karate twice a week, Scouts, family chores (yes, cleaning up counts as exercise) and treks through the woods, she agreed that no one could call our family sedentary.

CalorieLab even has a cool page for learning how many calories you burned vacuuming or doing other chores, if you’re interested.¬†

She also recommended limiting screen time. Our kids watch about four hours of TV. Not per day. PER WEEK. Much lower than the national average, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics article. Where these kids find time to spend 7 hours a day (A DAY!?) entertained by screens is beyond me.

I have to agree with Yasmin; money seems the root of the problem; drug companies court pediatricians and other doctors constantly. I saw three reps during our 30-minute stay in the waiting area.

Why exercise?

If you¬†don’t know the answer to this question after years of watching Richard Simmons Sweat to the Oldies, I can’t offer you help. I mean, really.

Stop pretending you’re not overcome¬†by memories.¬†You know you loved it.

Okay, let’s get serious. Shake off your nostalgia.

This article in The Atlantic shows pictures of brain function with and without exercise. Due to the wording, I can’t determine whether the pictures are a representation of the study or genuine, actual slides. Either way, the visual difference is staggering. The article references children sitting in class with “blue heads” for nine months. Lost learning potential could be significant. An excerpt:

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do.


Exercise makes you feel good.

No small accomplishment¬†for a child who tends toward a negative self-image. Many kids with ADHD feel “less.” Less able to do the work, less likely to succeed, less likable (due to their sporadic behavior) than their more focused classmates. Exercise can improve self-image in many ways—not just physical.

Exercise reduces “learned helplessness.”

ADHD kids are likely to quit before they start because they feel they won’t succeed regardless of what they do. ADDitude mag editors also quote John Ratey as a resident expert, but are more conservative. This article describes exercise as a supplement rather than replacement for medication.

I see “learned helplessness” in our children, both of whom struggle with attention (although our guy has a much more difficult time). Our daughter, in particular, would rather not try if she sees potential for failure.

Simple math problems take FOR-EVVVV-ERRRR because, instead of relying on her bank of memorized facts, she counts on her fingers before answering. This backfires, as she is often distracted while counting and ends up with an incorrect answer. This reinforces her idea that she won’t get it right. We’ve worked very hard with her, encouraging her to use¬†the first answer that “pops into” her mind.

Exercise jump-starts your brain

Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions ‚ÄĒ sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.

-John Ratey, M.D.

Working memory is the key for many¬†ADHD individuals. Our son scored very high on psych evaluations in almost every area except this. Without working memory, we can’t perform two tasks at once—at least, not easily.

How much, how often?

  • WebMD suggests 150 minutes of exercise per week in an article about adult ADHD
  • According to an article in Inverse, some schools have implemented three 20-minute exercise sessions or use “time-in” instead of time-out: if a child acts out, he or she spends the “time-in” on an exercise/ machine

Exercises to try

  • Aerobics/Cardio
  • Running/Jogging/Walking
  • Push-ups, squats
  • Yoga
  • Sports/Martial Arts

Not all exercise must be physical, although aerobic exercise is an excellent strategy to focus that brain. You can also try the following:

  • Try¬†focus exercises¬†geared toward ADHD.
  • Train your Brain. The jury is still out regarding brain-training games, but it¬†seems logical. If your brain is a muscle, and you engage in¬†consistent brain workout, I conclude¬†that it will be stronger and better. ¬†NeuroRacer sounds pretty cool, although they¬†now¬†focus on aging adults. I contacted the company to ask if the game is¬†available to the general public.¬†
  • Learn something new. Khan Academy¬†offers free classes; the site is amazing. Learning a new skill stretches your brain. Remember when you learned to read? C-A-T. Struggling to decode words. Look at ya now—reading is as easy as breathing. Always wanted to learn Chinese? Greek? Spanish? Learn to play an instrument, to cook authentic Italian food, to swim.¬†Now you have a reason.
  • Do math. I’ve seen exponential (see what I did there?) improvement in the kids’ focus as we’ve dedicated time to learning long division and double-digit multiplication.
  • Write. (YAY!) The creative process, research, putting words to a page whether written or typed, editing—all of these contribute to better focus. I’ve never been diagnosed ADHD (except by all my best friends and Hubby), but I do have my suspicions. When I practice faithful writing, everyone can tell.

Now what?

Our new routine started today. 30 minutes of sustained activity each day—that’s the goal. Hubby and I don’t often sit (we like to DIY, and we’ve been remodeling the kitchen for several weeks). The kids, however, would prefer to meld with the carpet, or couch, or whatever.

As I mentioned above, we all take responsibility for chores at home. Daily chores take a legitimate 15 minutes (for the 9 year old) and 25 minutes (for the 11 year old).

I’ve stopped counting their chores toward daily fitness because she, in particular, moves at a very slow pace. She’s admitted a hope that we will give up if she takes forever. So far, no dice. Sorry, honey.

During research for this post, I realized that our kids don’t participate in¬†sustained physical activity every day. ¬†So, today, I instituted the first daily “30 Get Up and Move Minutes” session. 30GUMM for short, because I’m a nerd. If the weather is nice, out they go. If I look out a window,they¬†should be¬†walking, running, playing with the dogs, swinging, etc.

Our first day of bad weather,¬†I plan to¬†break out the Wii. Yes, it’s screen time, but at least they’ll be moving, so I think it counts. Sort of like tricking them into exercise. Bwah ha ha ha.

Do I have to forgo meds?

This post (including Part 1) is not intended to denounce medication as originating in brimstone.

Although¬†I don’t like the thought of possible side effects, school and self-image are my main concerns for the moment. As long as the side effects remain only on the pharmacy document regarding “all the horrible things that will probably happen because now you are looking for signs of them,” they’ll keep popping pills. Responsibly and at the lowest possible dose. If side effects occur, we’ll re-think the plan.

And for the moment, we’ve had no issues.

On the other hand, I plan be more intentional about integrating physical and brain exercise. Getting them in shape, body and mind, can only benefit. If we’re able to phase out the medication, that will be a lovely added bonus. ¬†I’ll let you know how it goes.

How about you?

Are you a medical teetotaler or pill pusher? Is BigPharm the evil villain, or do you think alternative medicine is for hippies? Have you found ways to focus? What’s your strategy?

Of course, if you think freebasing Vicodin is a panacea, I recommend keeping that to yourself…

We’re all interested in what you have to say. Share below!



Where I’ve Been

This is my imagined reality: you, sitting at your screen, waiting with impatience for my next post and thinking, “Whyyyyyyyyyyy did Casey stop writing? What could possibly be keeping her from us?”¬†

Real reality: you, sitting at your screen, thinking, “Who’s this Casey person again? When in tarnation did I follow this blog? I definitely need to adjust those auto-follow settings…”

It’s cool. I’m fine with it. Except when the person asking how to unfollow the blog is Hubby. Out loud. From the armchair five feet away. Then…it feels just a little personal. But it’s been a long month; I’m a little over-sensitive. (Just kidding. Pretty sure he’s at least fifty-three of my followers.)

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. NOTHING is finished. I tried using the blog as my carrot. “I can write when I finish…”


Photo Credit: Clay Junell

And yes, if I’m reaching¬†for the carrot, I know what that makes me.

Exhausted and desperate for motivation. That’s what it makes me.

Why—what were you thinking? HEY!

Anyway, life has been nuts. WordCamp US 2015 was fabulous. I still have pending (read: I need to sit down and write them) posts about what I learned. If you’re able to attend next year, I highly recommend the experience.

I’m still working through the pictures from WordCamp because as soon as I came home, Hubby and I began demolishing our kitchen (also a planned post…more later).

I keep telling myself that I can write a post once I get through a certain number of pictures. I can edit pictures when enough work is complete in the kitchen. And the day-to-day tasks don’t go away. Laundry, school, shopping, packing for family gatherings.

The above paragraph¬†sounds like a list of complaints. Not the case, I assure you. I’m ridiculously happy when busy.

However, I realized today that I’m getting a bit twitchy. My carrot is just a little too far out of reach. I¬†need¬† to write almost as much as I need to sleep. (In fact, I’d much rather write.)

The kids have been good today—exceptional, even—and I still found myself wanting to withdraw from everyone to a dark, quiet space this evening, to write. Craving a keyboard.

Instead, I forced myself to participate in “building night.” Hubby and the boy assembled a K’nex roller coaster on the table while the girl and I sprawled on the floor nearby and snapped together an elfin Lego kit.

Three minutes in, I felt better. Spending time with the kids one-on-one (and together) has been on my subconscious “list of things that are making me antsy because they aren’t getting done.”

It’s so easy to put off the things we¬†want¬†to do because of everything¬†demanding¬†our time, and in many cases what we¬†have¬†to do must come first. Sometimes, though, doing something you want to do can give you the boost necessary to get through harder work.

Time with the kids, now blogging with you.

I feel the “we will never finish any of this and our house will always be a wreck and the laundry pile will never deplete and the list will only grow and…” panic dissipating already.

I am so ready for tomorrow.






A Day in the Life…

Writing 101 assignment, Day 14: Recreate a single day

Saturday, October 3.

11 am. Hubby and I decide it’s time.

We’ve been planning an overhaul of the downstairs bathroom for almost a year. The new cabinet and toilet have been sitting in my kitchen (in boxes) for about a month, waiting until we completed more urgent projects (like repairing areas where leaks occurred). The floor is a bit soft; we’ll have to replace some of the plyboard.

He removes the toilet that refuses to work properly. We find that the previous owner (PO) never installed a wax ring. Now the soft floor makes more sense.

For those of you not prone to replacing your own ceramic thrones, the wax ring fits under the toilet and prevents water from escaping. Without it, water had been slowly leaking for years.

First person to spot the new place for the toilet gets three points. (Don’t worry, it’s not permanent. We’re going to pot a mum inside it and put it in our neighbors’ yard. They’re going to be thrilled.)


We remove the mirror and pull the sink top from the cabinet. It looks pretty good in these pictures, but it’s actually falling apart and still smells like smoke inside. (The PO left a lot of tar and nicotine behind.) It was white; I painted it chocolate when we moved in, hoping to forestall the bathroom remodel until we had settled.


We pull the cabinet out. That thing is darn heavy. Note the “Danger, Construction Zone” sign. Guess whose handiwork and you get another three points. Ignore the spelling; he was in a rush.


We find decent white vinyl underneath the gross stained vinyl.


It’s important to score the sheet rock heavily before demolition; this allows a clean break and causes less mess.


The boy is thrilled to hear that he MAY kick holes in the wall. Just this once.


See that grey pipe? That has to go. It (and its fittings) have caused seven leaks in the last year. We’ve re-piped most of the house but waited to replace these until now.


We pull up the top layer of vinyl to find the PO’s lack of wax ring use has caused a really nasty mess. The toilet leaked under the top layer of vinyl. UGH.


This is the moment we bring the kids in for a look. And an object lesson.

Hubby says, “The guy who used to live here decided not to bother with a $5 part. Because of that, the floor is damaged. We have to spend a LOT more than $5 to replace the floor. The directions for installing a toilet say to use a wax ring, but he decided not to follow the directions.¬†His decision to ignore the rules is costing us a lot of time and money.

When we don’t follow the rules, it affects someone. Sometimes it affects us. Other times it impacts¬†somebody else. And SOMEtimes, we don’t feel the effects¬†right away. This guy actually owns his own contracting business, so he knows how to install a toilet properly—he just didn’t do it.

We¬†know a lot of people, and many of them ask my advice about who can fix their house. After this, I’ll be letting them know that they should not use the guy who built our house. So, even though he made the decision to ignore the directions years ago, that choice will start to affect him now.”


The kids peer at the damaged floor.


“You know how we always talk about following directions and we make you correct anything you don’t do properly? This is why. We want you to know how to follow the rules and directions in small things as a child, so you’ll be able to do it with the big stuff when you grow up. Does that make sense?”

(The floor in the below picture¬†was so saturated, it crumbled when Hubby pressed it. I wonder…if the floor had collapsed while someone was sitting, would that cause a toilet-phobia? Is that even a thing? I’ll have to look that up in the DSM-V…)


Our girl nods. “So when I grow up and build a house, I will remember to put the wax ring on before the toilet.”

This is not exactly what we were looking for, but yes, that’s an important step when constructing a home, so we’ll call it a win for now. Next time they have to re-write spelling words in a legible manner or pick up the trash after forgetting to close the lid (to keep out the dogs), there will be another “wax ring” discussion.


Hubby cuts out the rotten sub-floor (above), then reinforces with 2x4s (below). Note the vinyl (above) is gone (below). That was me. The installers used staples all around the edge. In order to remove the vinyl, I had to pull the staples out with needle-nose pliers. All fifty-million of them. (Slight hyperbole. Slight.)


He cuts a new piece of plywood. I think it looks like that game everyone is playing…Cornhole.

Great. This is what¬†I’ll think of the next time someone suggests a toss tournament. Because…ha ha ha cornhole. When you eat corn it doesn’t always…never mind. Stop looking at me like that.


While the floor is open, Hubby drops down into the crawl space to replace the pipes. I push the pipe through the holes and he connects it.

As we work, one of the kids uses the bathroom upstairs and flushes the toilet…re-pressurizing the pipes. Thankfully, it’s clean water, but still—Hubby gets soaked.


We install the new piece of sheet rock.


I start layering the plaster.


I use fiberglass mesh tape to cover the gap on the wall and paper tape in the corners. In the corner on the right, you can see a trick I figured out when we had to make repairs in the boy’s room: remove the old paper tape first. This leaves a cavity the exact size needed, requiring less plaster work.


The key to seamless plaster work is several layers, wider each time.


Hubby installs the final floor covering before we put in the new vinyl.


Done¬†for the night. I’ll sand tomorrow, then add one final, wider layer.


Our son re-purposes the commode box into a submarine, complete with hinged top, gun turret and front window. Of course.


So, there’s our day. In under 24 hours, we pulled out and replaced the damaged wall, flooring and pipes.

Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one. —Dr. Seuss

How was your day?


All photos: Casey Alexander

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