Thursday, February 4, 2016


Back in 2010 I had the fireplaces professionally cleaned specifically so I could light a fire for Thanksgiving. We have two fireplaces: one upstairs in the living room and one in the finished portion of the basement. They have separate smoke chambers that run side by side in the same chimney.

Our basement room started filling with smoke shortly after I lit a fire in the living room fireplace. Either the deformed damper that was permanently stuck in the open position downstairs was sucking in smoke from the upstairs chimney OR we had a crack or break in the brick/mortar between the two smoke chambers. Regardless, we never used our fireplaces again because I couldn't afford that kind of work at the time.

We decided to splurge and have gas inserts installed in the fireplaces, which would bypass the need to replace the dampers or deal with cracks between the two smoke chambers. I got three bids and ultimately decided to go with All Fuel. I felt like they really took everything into consideration, including how to deal with the curved front of the fireplace downstairs.

In order to comply with code, we had to install a hearth in the basement. We used Neilson Construction and I couldn't be more pleased with the job they did.

Just for fun, let's look again at what the fireplace looked like when I moved in.

The previous owner had installed a hearth, poorly and incorrectly, and it broke up when I accidentally hit it with a floor scraper. Hall and Oates were sort of blocking the cold air that came in because the damper was deformed and stuck in the open position.

I don't even know, guys.

The flooring was cut away to accommodate the new tile. You might be asking why we went with a hearth that's wider than the fireplace. When we installed the laminate flooring we couldn't get the flooring flush with the curved, irregular bricks of the fireplace, which left a 3/4" gap on the sides. It was too irregular to use something like quarter round (and that would've looked dumb, anyway), so I decided to have the guy tile around it. I wish I had a picture of the gap but I somehow missed that spot in the 1.4 billion photos I've taken of this house.

I also went looking on Houzz and it turns out an extra-large hearth isn't all that abnormal. Yay! This would've been a fun time to install some funky tile but I really just wanted this hearth to look like it had always been there. We found tile that exactly matched the 6" x 6" tile upstairs and went with that.

Original upstairs fireplace tile
New downstairs fireplace tile! It's just missing the transition strip.

Tom, the tile installer, hand cut all the tiles to fit around the clinker bricks. I swear I almost wept when I saw what a meticulous job he did. I want to retile our bathroom NOW before he retires. He seriously rocked this job.

All Fuel took the wood piece we had covering the firebox and had a metal fabricator create a perfect match. They had to grind away some of the brick edges to get everything to sit flush. They told me that this was one of the most challenging installs they'd ever completed.

And here we are now.


And after:

Next project: get a mantel built

Now, to the living room! Upstairs we were missing a tile.

The tile is all original to the house and it's unlikely we'd be able to find a match. We opted to pick out new tile that looked almost identical, then had them chip out the old. They left the granite corner pieces, which are still in fine condition.

Like it was always there

Now I just need to stain the hearth grout (they informed me that it was originally charcoal colored and has bleached out over the years) and we should be good to go.

I want to reiterate how great All Fuel was to work with. We had to wait about three weeks to get a bid from them and wait a little longer for install, because they are in such high demand. Their bid was $2000 less than Jacobs and they covered all the little things that make these projects better. They wear booties in your house so they don't gunk up your floors. They put down drop cloths. They are very communicative about what they're doing, when. They are unfailingly nice and very clean. Someone picks up the phone right away when you call. The install takes three days total and this was probably the least stressful project I've ever endured (for the record, insulation was the most stressful).

Likewise, Tom at Neilson Construction was fantastic. There were several times when I asked for things (extra cuts! more tile!) that created more work for him and he cheerfully gave me exactly what I wanted. He was so easy to work with.

If you need me, I plan to be camped out right here for the next few months.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day January 2016

Happy new year! I've been pretty content that it's winter. I know a lot of people hate winter and I know the weather sucks, but do you know about butter and parmesan? Cooking rich, satisfying food and watching a lot of TV? Hot toddies and snowshoeing? Going for long walks when it's very cold and feeling very virtuous? I don't think winter is so bad, especially since it's so mild here.

The other day I ran across some photos of my garden in April and I got excited to garden and now I'm actually looking forward to spring. It's still a ways off, so I'll be over here with my bowl of rag├╣ and my Netflix. It's not so bad.

My mahonias are still going, which means we have lots of hummingbirds.

Mahonia x 'Charity'

 This witch hazel smells so good I feel like my neighbors should be thanking me.

Hamamelis I. 'Early Bright'

This silly self-seeded Calendula

And the award for bloomiest year-round performer goes to Othonna cheirifolia. Even under snow it was blooming.

Othonna cheirifolia

Happy bloom day! Thanks to our host Carol, over at May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day December 2015

The Meiji shinto shrine in Tokyo

At the end of October Greg and I flew to Japan for our honeymoon. We had one full perfect day in Tokyo under our belts when I got a call that my brother had passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. He was 42 and an exceptionally good human being. We are completely devastated by the loss of him. I think almost everyone knows this already (and you've all been so nice, thank you for that) but I'm posting it here for those last far-flung friends of mine who don't have a Facebook account. (Which is so annoying, guys. Everyone is on there; please get an account already.) In-person social interactions are exhausting and I can't handle talking on the phone, so I find myself very grateful for social media, which has allowed me to interact with the living without getting out of sweatpants or this fort I've made from used kleenex.

I am also grateful for my mahonias, which are bright, cheery beacons in the winter.

Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies'

Mahonia x media 'Charity', which bloomed for the first time!

And this clematis, which I put in the ground in July, forgot to water, and thought I killed. It defied me by blooming through a hard frost and some of the heaviest rain we've had in ten years. Thank you Xera, for growing bullet-proof plants. This one is evergreen, turns bronze in the winter, and blooms November through February. I planted it outside my kitchen window where I can appreciate the hummingbirds covering it.

Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream'

Thank you to our host Carol at May Dreams Gardens. We really can have flowers almost any month of the year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sneak peek: HPSO and Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour

This weekend I was able to preview three of the gardens to be featured in this year's Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO) and Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour. The organizers did a great job of choosing a variety of styles of gardens. There's something for everyone.

If you'd like more information, check out the tour page on the HPSO website. Tickets are greatly discounted for HPSO members; if you haven't joined HPSO, what are you waiting for? It's cheap, it's fun, and you'll get access to tours, lectures, and classes with like-minded gardeners. Did I mention that a lot of our local nurseries offer discounts to HPSO members?

On with the tour!

The Prewitt Garden:
This 1/3 acre garden blew my mind in a really great way. In addition to the most impressive potager garden I've seen in a long time, they also have a great succulent selection, and some of the biggest salvias I've ever seen. I don't get excited about edibles but this garden really inspired me. And the owners are delightful.

This Salvia 'Amistad' was well over six feet tall.

Is this the most perfect grape-covered potting bench ever?

The Mitchell Garden:
Whew, I loved this garden. The owners have done all the work themselves and they use texture and layering expertly. Repeating plants and establishing a rhythm is something I struggle with and they do this really well. They've worked in a large number of conifers into their planting, meaning their gardens look great in the dead of winter, too.

Be sure to smell Hosta plantaginea, it smells like citrus!

The Winchester Place Garden:
My apologies to Zachary and Leon: my camera battery died upon entering their garden!. I love how these two roll, with separate terraces for cocktails and dining, plus expertly designed hardscaping, with attention to sight lines. Their garden is half formal restraint and half colorful exuberance, with bright annuals repeating throughout.

The tour runs next Saturday, August 29, 2015 from 10am to 4pm. Tickets can be purchased online at the HPSO website. Do yourself a favor and go! And big thanks to the owners for opening their gardens to us. We had a blast.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Random personal updates

Do you know what happens when you have a busy spring and summer and then your laptop dies? I don't know either, but you sure as hell don't blog. Many of you know this already from Facebook, but Greg and I got married in June on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Getting to have all of our closest friends and families with us for a week was fantastic. I had no idea how much love everyone would surround us with during that time. Getting married is super fun and I can't recommend it enough. Exactly a week after our wedding, the Supreme Court made marriage legal for everyone in the US and our marriage felt that much more special. We were giddy.

My family, spearheaded by my eldest brother Chris, spent the six months prior to our wedding making us tiki mugs. The first night in Hawaii we met up for dinner and one by one everyone brought us a wrapped mug that they had carved and glazed themselves, from my little nephews and nieces to my parents. It was overwhelming in the best way.

Zwucker is our portmanteau.

Can you even?

I learned a few things getting married, namely that I don't understand wedding photography at all. My nieces are beautiful and photogenic, so why not set them up so they look like they're watching TV while I get my picture taken?


Greg and I are not terribly comfortable in front of the camera, but I think we knew that.

How long do we have to stare at this green screen while she photographs my back fat?

Luckily we loosened up after a few maitais.

Me and my sister reenacting a childhood dance

I'm not changing my name and we're not having babies, so future big news around here will be limited to the gardening and pet variety (if I can convince Greg to get a dog and a cat).

In gardening news, I'm barely watering anything and seeing what survives! A roster of the departed will follow soon. Happy Monday! Yay marriage!