Encapsulating the Crawlspace, When Mold Takes Over.

A homeowner’s worst expense is the one that you can’t even see and isn’t likely to improve home value. That’s where we found ourselves last year. Our first year in our home was a drought year. We had some rain, but by mid august the leaves on the trees were fried and falling off we were so hot and dry. That was the year we did the most work in the crawlspace with running new pex water lines, removing the old copper and fixing some wiring issues from removing walls. There didn’t appear to be any issues in the crawlspace that year. Then came a year of rain. We noticed the water lines sweating bad, the house smelled musty, the AC rotted out the wood frame from sweating so badly and it constantly blew air in that smelled like musty old socks. Then we saw the mold starting.

We had a couple companies come out and give us quotes to fix it. Then came the scary news. The mold could be killed and soda blasted off. Not cheap, but it would go away… for now… The problem was that the floor joists were 58% saturated with moisture from the damp environment. Even though there was plastic on the ground and air vents, we had standing water from all the sweating and humidity. To fix that and make sure our house didn’t rot away, it needed sealed up and insulated with a permanent dehumidifier. $$$.

Because I know it will be asked… yes, we had a home inspection. Mold was found and treated per our purchase agreement. What the inspector did not check was moisture in the wood. The crawlspace company told us that this was not a “new” problem for this home. We were lucky the house wasn’t that old and they were apparently killing off the mold regularly. The previous owners just didn’t address why the mold was growing in the first place. As someone who’s taken a home inspection course, I can tell you that they’ll miss something, despite best efforts. We had a great guy and he was very thorough… but he missed this issue.

We have a large crawlspace, as in, you can stand up in most of it, and slightly crouch in the other half. No crawling needed. Makes it easy to work in, and expensive to encapsulate due to extra materials. In the end it cost us $13,000. 😩 It was a long process. First they removed all of the old plastic and insulation and put the dehumidifier in to start drying it out. Then they made sure all the holes for the wiring and plumbing in the wood were sealed. Next they came in hazmat suits and soda blasted the mold. And finally, they lined the walls with foam board and plastic. The floor got a sheet of thick black plastic with felt on it and a clean white layer of plastic on top.

A work In progress…

Was it worth it? Well, it was necessary to not have mold and rotting wood… You read a lot that it will help electric bills and such. I don’t know on that honestly. But we have a two story house and live in the south. What I can say is that the house no longer smells musty, the AC no longer blows in dirty sock air, nor does it sweat. The dehumidifier does its job and keeps it nice and dry. I don’t know that it will add any value to the price of our home. It seems like it should… however, most home buyers are looking at how pretty a house is, not the boring encapsulated crawlspace. It does show that we cared though, and the home is maintained. Maybe that will count for something. Time will tell. We did notice that our sinus issues have all but disappeared. Getting the mold out was well worth it.

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Holiday Inn Club Time Share, is it worth it?

In 2014 we opted for a “cheap” Florida vacation by using a free hotel voucher which included a time share presentation with Holiday Inn Club. Having been through a time share presentation with Wyndham and having a less than stellar experience, I was not looking forward to it. I went into that meeting fully prepared to say no to every question, seem as disinterested as possible, but polite… I know those sales people are just doing their jobs. We all gotta make a living. We had a very nice sales lady and I felt bad pretending to be an incredibly rude person. So I politely listened, asked a few questions, praised the property we toured (Orange Lake) and sat down ready to say no, we aren’t interested. However, my husband took my politeness for sincere interest and the next thing I know, he’s asking pricing and negotiating a deal. 😳

We’ve now been owners for 7yrs. I have a hard time answering the “is it worth it” question. I guess it depends on how you plan to use your points and were you successful in that plan. Our first four years, we were not really successful. Our lives changed since we bought in. Daniel went from a job with very little travel to one with a lot of travel. Which means we can’t plan vacations very far in advance. Maybe a few weeks notice, or maybe a day…

Let me give a little info about how this time share works. You essentially “own” a period of time for a certain villa. You never have to step foot in that villa, but it’s worth a dollar value during that week (or more) that you own. Some weeks cost more than others (holidays, summer, spring break). We do not own an expensive week. Our dollar amount is broke down into points. We get 133,000 points every two years. Those points will expire at the end of the two years. Holiday Inn Club owns several resorts all over the country and continue to add more. You can also convert your points to IHG and use them at any IHG hotel. (Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Intercontinental, etc…). Holiday Inn Club works with RCI, The Royalty Collection and Interval International, as well as the ability to call the Holiday Inn Club travel agents and use your points for cruises and flights. I don’t recommend the latter as you can find cheaper options rather than blow through your points for cruises and flights. Anyway, with the ability to convert your points for use with the other partner companies, you could find a location to stay pretty much anywhere in the world you want to. I have found that it can be harder to find availability at certain locations for last minute travel though. Such as our Germany trip last year. I did not luck out at all with 2 months in advance looking. So, for us, we’ve only used the Holiday Inn Club resorts, they currently have 29 resorts.

Some other numbers to keep in mind. On top of your price tag that you agree to, you’ll also have property taxes, maintenance fees, and your yearly membership dues. Also, if you choose to convert your points to IHG, you’ll pay a conversion fee. Every time you book you’ll pay a booking fee (currently $69). These are our current fees for what we own, your pricing will be different dependent on the time frame/villa you would buy, and of course, we purchased in 2014… so take these prices as an example only as everyone will likely be different. Our villa/time frame cost was $15,000, which converts to 133,000 points every two years. One year we pay property taxes, currently around $125, the next year we pay maintenance dues, currently around $850. Those prices can fluctuate of course. Our yearly membership fee is $125 I think.

That all sounds like a lot of money… so this is where that “is it worth it” gets tricky. You have a lot of resort room options that all cost something different depending on location and size of villa. Maybe you have a large family and need three bedrooms, maybe it’s just two adults and a studio or one bedroom villa is fine. Location also plays a factor in pricing as well as when you vacation. A 2 bedroom poolside villa in River Island (Orange Lake Resort in Orlando) during Christmas week will cost you roughly 198,000 points for 6 nights. My two years worth of points can’t even purchase that… you would obviously need a bigger package than we bought. But we are a family of 3. We can usually manage to travel during a cheaper time frame. We also do not need a large space or a pretty view as we don’t stay in our villa much except to sleep and eat a couple meals. While I’ve rented a two bedroom and brought my mom along, basically blowing all my points on one trip because they were about to expire… I’ve gotten much more frugal with how to get the most out of them.

For example, we’ve visited Orange Lake in Orlando twice in the last 3 months. During Halloween and the last week of February. Not expensive weeks. I picked the studio room in the West Village. That provides 2 queen beds, a twin size pull out sofa, table with 4 chairs and a kitchenette. First visit was 7 nights for 52,000 points, second visit was 4 nights for 32,000 points. That still leaves me with 49,000 points to get another stay in a studio room this year, or maybe a couple days in a one bedroom if we choose to go somewhere else during a cheap week.

Each resort offers something different. Many have golf courses and a pool. But they might also have mini golf, arcades, activities such as bingo and karaoke, restaurants, horseback riding, indoor water park, etc… we do prefer Orange Lake as we are close to family that lives in FL and of course, the theme parks. Orange Lake has 4 resorts on one property. You have access to all of them. Multiple pools, golf courses, restaurants, paddle boats, jet skis, tennis courts, lazy river, walking paths, arcades, ponds with white sand beaches… I’m missing so much. You can easily just park your car and stay at the resort for a week and be pretty happy. They’ve also got a Publix right outside the property so we do quite a bit of cooking from our villa and save money rather than eat out every meal. We’ve also stayed at the Williamsburg VA location and loved it. It has a beautiful indoor/outdoor pool and a bowling alley. Super cute rooms too.

Some downsides… sometimes you’ll get a room that’s ready to be remodeled and a bit rough. I’ve never had a dirty room. But I have had one with chipped cabinets or a stain on a couch, maybe a bit dated looking… but don’t feel like your maintenance fees are being waisted. The grounds are immaculately landscaped, amenities always top notch, and the rooms do get regularly updated. We’ve had several with granite countertops and high end furnishings to make up for the couple old ones. Once a year, they like to get you in to an “owners meeting.” Essentially, another time share presentation. I usually get out of these, but did get roped in to one in Williamsburg. We actually had a really nice lady that told me some tricks at getting those RCI bookings I wasn’t having luck finding availability for. And got $100 for a restaurant in town. Didn’t buy a larger package and she wasn’t pushy about it at all. It was relatively painless, but I still wiggle my way out of them if I can… 😂

So, would I do it over again? Gosh, I really don’t know. Orange Lake feels like our home away from home now, but we also have a camper and could have used it or did an Airbnb if we wanted somewhere with a kitchen… on the other hand, we love the amenities, service has always been top notch, the grounds are always lovely and I’m getting a lot more out of it by being frugal with my room choices. In the end, I think it really depends on how you use it and what you want out of it. Not a very definitive answer, I know. It’s the best I’ve got. We’ve certainly had a few years that I wish we hadn’t gotten it, but lately I’ve been very happy with it.

If you read all of this and interested in getting a stay at a Holiday Inn Club resort, please send us a message with your email and I can refer you to a 4 night stay for $199 at resorts in Orlando, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Williamsburg, Branson, Scottsdale, Gatlinburg, Cocoa Beach, or New Orleans, if you are ok going through a time share presentation. No obligation to buy. Gives you a cheaper resort vacation and us a small bonus of points to use for our future stays.

Visiting with the wildlife at Orange Lake.
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Fixing Discolored Grout

I’m not a tile pro by any means, but I’ve installed tile in our various homes over the years at least 6 times now. So I considered myself, at the very least, somewhat experienced… However, our recent kitchen remodel (Finally, A Kitchen for the New Year) really had me stumped. My white grout turned yellow in places. Lots of research later, I’m still not really sure what went wrong. It was either too wet when I applied it or it didn’t dry evenly. 🤷‍♀️. I was left with this:

I know it’s a little hard to see… but this was freshly installed alabaster white grout and yet it looked like I spilled something down the wall that turned it yellow and dingy. Ugh. So after determining I didn’t want to screw up the rest of the grout work on the opposite wall, I went with a different brand of grout in light gray instead of white. This offered a bottle of matching grout color renew stuff (Polyblend Grout Renew) that I hoped would fix my yellow mistake.

This is NOT an easy or quick fix. This was painstakingly slow. Painting the grout lines with this fast drying grout stain using the smallest brush I had. You are supposed to wipe off any colorant that gets on your tile immediately. HA! If you wipe it off too fast or too hard, you’ll take it off the grout too. If you leave it 10 seconds, it’s dry and you’ll be scraping it off. A dry paper towel seams to stick and spread it into a bigger mess. A wet paper towel will take it off your grout… the “best” but worst way was to use my finger and clean my finger off on a wet paper towel after I’ve wiped off a 6” section or so. Even that is a mess and you might pull it off your grout line in the process. My fifteen feet of 18” tall backsplash took me 2.5hrs… Left side of this pic is “finished” with the gray colorant painted on, right is still original white:

As I got tired, I got sloppier… what I found out is that this product will scratch off a glazed tile pretty easily using a nickel. That won’t work if you have a porous/unfinished tile. I don’t know that I would recommend this job for a tile that might stain as it’s near impossible to not get it on the tile itself. As you can see here, this dried and didn’t fully wipe off, so I’m lightly scratching it off with a nickel. It comes off much the same as a scratch off lottery ticket. You don’t have to scratch hard, but it definitely won’t rub off with a damp rag.

The other thing to keep in mind is that it may need a second coat in places where you might have put it on a little thinner or wiped off more than you wanted when cleaning up. So you may be repeating this process… Sigh. But once it’s all on and dry, it seems to stay put. A little goes a LONG way. I didn’t even use 1/4 of a bottle. So I’ll keep it around for any future touch ups I might have. I’m very pleased with the final result. It matches the corresponding grout and I no longer have dirty, white grout!

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Finally, A Kitchen for the New Year

Happy 2021! Last night I made sure to stay up and open the door at midnight to kick 2020 out of here. Sounds silly, but it’s the truth. I’m not one to stay up late, ever… but I made it, just for that purpose. To start our new year off right, we finished our kitchen today. It only took 2yrs and 31 days. It was actually the first project on my to do list when we bought this house… yet it somehow became the last. We started with a hilarious mash of old cabinets and cut up countertops precariously perched on them in a makeshift mess with busted up flooring and water lines going up through the middle of the room… Not even joking!

Once cleaned up, we were left with this for a couple months.

I quickly realized that it was futile to wish for the kitchen first. Functioning bathrooms, wall removal and drywall repair, flooring that didn’t give you splinters we’re all important things. Some of that required contractors, so while they were here we had them also do the back deck and various other projects… all of which pushed the kitchen further away. I did decide to improve it and make it function. Painted the old cabinets and built wood counters for temporary purposes. That kitchen lasted almost a year.

She wasn’t pretty, but she worked.

Then, frustrated at the slow process, we took out a small loan and bought the new kitchen and installed the cabinets/counters/appliances in Jan of 2020.

And that’s how it sat all year. I simply could not make up my mind on what kind of backsplash tile I wanted. I struggled with this decision in both the upstairs bathrooms too. I searched through the local tile shop and the only things saying “buy me” were $20 a square foot… laughably expensive when I wanted to tile a 20’ long wall to the ceiling. I didn’t want to go with predictable subway tile. Not that it looks bad, but sometimes it looks dated the minute it’s finished and I need this kitchen to last. I don’t want to do it again!

I knew it had to be a white or light color, it had to be shiny to help reflect light… my kitchen is at the back of the house and only gets a couple hours of sunlight through its windows. It’s always felt narrow and cave like. I needed light to bounce around. Some shiny texture maybe so when you walked through it would reflect light from different angles. I just couldn’t decide. I kept falling in love with these beautiful teal colored tiles that really wanted to be in my home somewhere, but never made it.

Finally I decided on a 2×10”, “handmade” looking tile from Wayfair. 25 boxes ordered. It arrived with only ONE broken tile. I was so impressed. But then I lost motivation. For a couple weeks those boxes sat neatly wrapped on their pallet and waited. If you have ever remodeled a house this size, every room, maybe you’ll understand the extreme burnout that can hit. I really just wanted to hire someone to finish everything. We actually tried, but they did such a crap job that we decided to do the rest ourselves anyway. I was just so sick of it.

There they sat, waiting to be loved.

I’m a very creative, artsy type of person. If it’s a cool, colorful project, I throw myself into it 120%. If it’s a boring, tedious, all white type of thing, just kill me. I probably need to add that Daniel left me on my own to tile the first bathroom upstairs. By the time I finished I was crying and ready to move. Dramatic, I know. But it required climbing in and out of a deep tub one million times and cuts I never seemed to get right. I was so grateful to finish it, I never wanted to touch tile again. Then Daniel pushed me to finish the second bathroom. It was ridiculous of me. We had the glass surround and faucet sitting in the garage for 8 months… 😂 I just didn’t want to do it. It turned out to be more of a pain than the first bathroom, but at least Daniel didn’t leave me on my own. I refused to let him. So you can imagine my look of dread as I walked past that stack of tiles waiting for the kitchen…

One day though, I decided to be motivated and do the corner section. It took a bit of debate and a Facebook friend poll to decide brick lay or herringbone for the corner. I had 100% decided herringbone for the long wall, but the corner isn’t the focal point. Did I really need to be matching? Could I make it easier on myself? Yes, yes I could. Brick lay won. Had it up in an hour.


And got it grouted the next day. Once it dried I realized I had a bit of a disaster on my hands. The grout might have been too wet or didn’t dry evenly. I’ve never experienced this before but it ended up splotchy in color. My “clean white grout lines” looked splotchy yellow.

Blotchy, yellow/white grout.

I wasn’t sure if I did a grout colorant in white if it would all come out an even color. I was so frustrated and burnt out that it sat that way for a month. The last thing I wanted to do was tile the big wall and screw it up too. But Daniel had some time off for Christmas… The slave driver that he is, convinced me that we really needed to get this kitchen done. Ugh. It took us hours to get the first small section done. I’ve never done a herringbone pattern before. Getting your angles set up right was a lot of work. Soooo many cuts, not helped by my hidden shelf brackets I did and electrical outlets. Not to mention old walls that were not “perfectly” flat anymore.

Seriously, this small section took us 3.5hrs…

I do not recommend a herringbone pattern for DIY, especially if you’ve never done tile before or might be OCD. This made my brain hurt. We certainly have a couple blooper pieces in that wall, but I know guests won’t notice them. It’s just me. This house has taught me to overlook the little things that drive me nuts so I can keep my sanity. So three days of work later and we got to this point right before my parents came down to stay with us a few days. No grout, but the tile was up.

The wood box on the wall above the stove was the start of the range hood framing.

This house has also taught me to get over embarrassment of unfinished home repairs when guests are here. I was honestly just grateful to have all the bathrooms working this time. 😂. Their last visit only had one full bathroom downstairs working and one toilet upstairs. My in-laws have been here when we hardly had any drywall or flooring in. Matter of fact, they were also here to see the kitchen in its first glorious state in the first kitchen picture at the beginning of this post.

Anyway… it took me a couple days after the parents left to get some motivation to grout. Or better yet, to figure out the grout problem I had going on with the corner too. After much debate we decided to go with a light gray grout instead of white and picked one with a matching grout colorant/renew to fix the bad side. My big 20’ wall took me 2.5hrs to grout all by myself. Painting the corner section to match also took me 2.5hrs to finish all by myself. Ugh. I don’t wish that job on anyone! I’ve got a post on that here: Fixing Discolored Grout.

And today Daniel finished the range hood cover. For the first time since we moved into this house, I have a range vent! No more opening windows and blasting the fans! So without further ado. Here is our wonderful kitchen!

She took her time getting finished, but I’m pretty happy with her. It sure feels good to start the new year off with a FINALLY finished house.

Update: Some questions about our flooring. It is Flooret Modin Rigid, Sutton Signature color. I did another post about it here: Flooret Modin Rigid Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring Review – Sutton Signature

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Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in the time of Covid

If you are going stir crazy like I was and looking at stateside vacations, Universal might be on your list. Actually, it wasn’t on mine. I was looking at taking a road trip to TN and KY to see the fall color. Then I saw some videos of how crowded the state parks were and decided that it didn’t look peaceful and the hotels were booked up or really expensive… out of curiosity, I checked prices at Disney and Universal. For the first time, Universal prices beat our military Disney tickets by a landslide. They have a buy 2 days get 3 days free promotion. If you happen to be a Florida resident, there are even better deals to be had.

Of course, Covid adds some questions. Is it safe? Disclaimer, I had Covid in March. Frankly, I don’t give a crap anymore. If you do care, you probably aren’t looking at going to a crowded theme park and won’t be reading this. If it’s a small concern, then I think you’ll be happy how it’s being handled.

All Security Check lanes open, social distance markers are easy to follow.

The obvious, masks are required. You can wear the neck gator type. My son and I preferred neck gators in this heat and humidity as they were easier to breath through and dry fast. Hand sanitizer is required and provided before boarding all rides. Lines have markers to help maintain social distancing and plexiglass dividers where you line up to board rides. Some rides only allow your party in the vehicle, others don’t. No single rider lines.

Social distancing in ride lines.

The parks are supposed to be maxing at 25% attendance. That was what I found on their website. Some locals told me they heard it was 50% now. I can’t verify anything for sure. I can say that the crowds were low and easily managed tues-thurs. Friday started getting crowded, but Saturday doubled in numbers and the park never closed. Most ride times during the tues-thurs time frame was 10-20min. Friday, Saturday and Sunday you had a brief time in the morning for those 10-20min waits and then it jumped to 45-80min. Some rides went to “virtual lines.” I don’t know why they don’t do this for all of them. The only downside is that you’ve got to keep an eye on the app. They don’t give warning when one goes virtual and the spots can fill up. Which means you won’t get on that attraction that day. Don’t confuse virtual lines with their extreme fast past. You will still be waiting in line for an undetermined amount of time. It just gives you a time to enter the line so they can keep the physical line small enough to social distance.

You won’t have any issues maintaining social distance on the slow weekdays. Expect that to change drastically by the weekend. We felt packed in like sardines at times. What was crazy to me is that we left at noon on Saturday, yet as crowded as it was, hundreds of people were still coming in. It felt equal to a busy summer weekend. People are great about wearing their masks and there are plenty of employees reminding you to keep it over your nose as well for those who pull it down. You are allowed to remove it for water rides.

Crowded Fri, Sat and Sun.
We left at noon on Saturday and the crowds were still pouring in.

I think the biggest downside was having your 3D glasses fog up while wearing your mask on the ride. We did end up pulling the mask off our nose or we couldn’t see anything.

Indoor dining locations have you order through the app. Once seated you will hit the button to start your order and a server will bring your food. Some seating had plexiglass up between tables, others had tables removed to keep distance. You’ll also find lines to get in on the weekends.

I do believe they removed some seating in hopes of keeping people from congregating close to other parties. It didn’t fix anything, people are just perched on decor, buildings, curbs, etc. All surfaces that don’t get cleaned as often…

So is it safe to go? Honestly, it’s probably the cleanest it will ever be… I don’t foresee an end to social distancing and mask wearing for another year in public places like this. No one knows what really helps and they are all just trying to do their best. Go have some fun, have a little patience and tolerance, and you’ll have a great trip.

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Fabrico Above Ground Pool Dome Review

Shortly after moving into our house Daniel was determined he wanted a pool. We’ve had a pool before. Who was out cleaning it all the time? Me. Who doesn’t like to swim? Me. I did not want a pool… But I was outvoted and we put in a 24′ above ground pool in a flatter area of our yard. We have large, beautiful trees all over and around our yard… What was not really taken into consideration to this nice flat spot was the tree line next to it just waiting to dump all it’s leaves into it. We also discovered the neighborhood frogs LOVED pools and had a field day laying eggs on the surface… UGH.

Cue a two month work trip for Daniel to be gone and me cleaning up all this mess… I closed up the pool in early august and called it done for the year. I was over it. Then spring rolled around and it was time to open the pool again. I refused to even talk about it until we bought a pool dome to help me keep out nature. I researched and bargain shopped. Ended up purchasing a Fabrico Sun Dome from Ameri-brand Products Inc. This was the cheapest place I could find it. The website, though rather old and basic looking, was easy to purchase from and walked you through purchasing the right cover for your size/brand of pool. It arrived pretty quickly.

First of all, a FYI… Our pool has resin caps, not metal. They include screws for metal, but in the directions it states you need to get anchor screws for resin caps. So this took another trip to Lowes to get the screws they recommended. Once we started trying to follow the directions to use those screws, we just couldn’t get them to work. We ended up using the metal screws directly into the resin caps. How long this will last? I have no idea. They seem pretty secure and survived all season but we do not pull on the support frame at all, so if you have rambunctious kids that will mess with the framing, you may need to work out how to resolve this issue. You will also need to have duct tape to tape the pipe together so it doesn’t pop apart while you are trying to put it up.

With my husband’s work schedule, we ended up spending a few evenings putting this up at dusk with poor lighting. Don’t recommend that! It did take all 3 of us to get the framing up. Thank goodness for the “filler” pieces that add a couple extra inches to the pipes if your pool isn’t exactly round. Our pool ended up using all the pieces they sent to get secure. Guess we didn’t do so hot installing the pool and getting it perfectly round last year!

The framing seems pretty weak and scary to pull the vinyl cover over, for fear you’ll collapse the whole thing. It’s not screwed in or secured at the center, merely supporting itself. Once you get the cover on though, it’s pretty sturdy. We’ve had some high winds and no issues, though I will say that it’s in a more protected area of the yard and not hit broadside as it would in a more open space.

It has been SUPER nice to keep clean this year. While I still had to drop the vacuum in once a week for algae control, I did not fight with any outside leaves or junk falling in the pool. And despite one tree frog making it’s way in at the door flap, I did not have the horrendous frog issue that I had last year. It’s also helped keep the water warmer since our area is in the shade for a large part of the day, it needs to keep all the warmth it can get. That being said, once you open it on a hot day, it’s going to be pretty steamy hot air in there until it filters out the door and screened windows. I do keep the windows fully shut unless we are using it, just to help keep the pollen out of the pool. Which means I open them all first thing when I enter to get some fresh air in.

Overall I used less chemical than last year and had less water evaporation. I also ran the filter less. It probably saved me roughly $200 in chemical, water and electricity. I don’t know if it will survive enough years to reimburse itself, but so far, so good!

The only thing we found to be somewhat of a bummer is that when you have a cover on, you can’t have all the fun of jumping in the pool anymore. That was a little sad. However, for me, the pros have far outweighed the cons. We do live in AL and I plan to leave the dome on this winter. Up north where you might get snow, I would not even consider it. Down here, snow is not likely, or if it does, it’s not much and melts quick. We’ve talked about adding a pool heater and some insulation around the exterior so we can swim year round. I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, we’ll see. For now, I’m very grateful to have purchased the dome this year, as I type this while sitting on my porch watching the fall leaves drop off the trees and slide down the outside of the dome avoiding making a mess in the pool I never wanted… 🙂

UPDATE: 2/28/21 – my beloved dome did not survive the freak snow/ice storm that hit the south. 😞 we had left it up all winter without issue. Of course, we are further south and typically only see a light dusting of snow once a year. We only had 1.5” of snow with a crusting of ice on top. It gave out over night and died. Very expensive mistake. Nearly every support pole bent. The cover tore in a spot from a broken pole with a sharp edge. Because our pool had resin caps, the screws did damage/busted every cap. I don’t believe we will replace the dome this year. I’m not looking forward to all the debris falling in and the frog invasion. Daniel is coming up with a different plan to get a large sun shade to angle over the top that will hopefully keep the bulk of leaves off it. It will be a project for late spring as he’s taking off for a work trip tomorrow. Until then, I get to look at a mucky pool I never wanted and remind myself all the reasons why I hate it. 🥴

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When life gives you lemons, change up your blog.

I originally started this blog as a family travel blog. I thought it would be a great outlet to share our adventures with others and maybe help families plan their trips by reading our experiences. Then 2020 happened. I feel like I’ve gone through many different stages of grief over the death of vacations. Daniel has been off on a few work trips, even internationally… But Riley and I have been stuck at home. Make no mistake, I am not scared of Covid… I had it in March… It sucked… I would happily go pack up my bags and jump on a plane to some other country right now. But having watched my husband go through quarantine insanity and the fear of potentially having a fever and getting stuck in some other country’s hospital upon arrival doesn’t sound appealing. So my blog has sat dead for most of the year. I couldn’t figure out anything worthwhile to write about. Nothing interesting to share. I was in mourning for my former life. First world problems, I know…

That said, life was still happening. This year we added a new bathroom upstairs, completely remodeled our master bathroom, put down all new flooring on the 2nd level, added new kitchen cabinets/counters, stair railing, a back deck, chickens… And I’m missing stuff in that list, but you get the point, it’s been a lot! I started thinking how all of our home renovating experiences might be interesting to some who are looking for ideas or maybe just a little encouragement to try something new in their home. Slowly, ever so slowly, I started getting the itch to write again. Even if it’s about something boring like wall trim… I don’t know if merging my travel blog into a mix-mash of family home renovation and random ramblings is a good idea, but here we are. I need the diversion. I still sit here scrolling through travel websites and dreaming of future vacations while also searching through the world wide web to hunt down floating shelves… Procrastinating because there is a pallet of tile sitting in our garage waiting for me to install on the kitchen backsplash… I feel like this renovation is never ending. Which means I’ll have a lot to write about. So here’s your official welcome to my seemingly random blog of life happenings. It feels good to be back.

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Backyard Chickens. Is it worth it?

When Covid hit and the grocery store shelves started going a bit bare, I started feeling like we needed to be a little more self sufficient. I’ve had chickens in the past. I really enjoyed having them. I parted ways when coyotes found them and I couldn’t stop them. It was pretty sad, you get attached to your birds, their quirks and silly personalities, the wiggle butt waddle when they get excited to see you and come running… We had the sweetest rooster that loved to be held and hang out with you. His death was the worst for me and after that I gave my remaining hens to a friend. So did I really want to get back into it again? We live in a different state now and in a rural neighborhood with large yards and a slightly more limited set of predators. I decided to take the plunge. We had an open area around the back shed that would work perfect for a coop and plans to fence off more of the yard to make it safe to let them free range.

Granted, I’ve owned them before… My research this time around was a little more specific. I was wanting friendly, non-broody hens, no roosters. I didn’t mind looks so much, just good layers and large so the hawks would leave them alone. After a lot of reading, I decided I must have Bielefelders. They were described as the German engineered “Uber Chicken.” Good layers, big size, not broody, you could determine male from female at hatching due to different coloration and dog like in personality. And of course, bigger price tag. Can’t do anything cheap around here! Since they are not sold at Rural King or Tractor Supply, I found a breeder about 3hrs away and determined that he had some 6 week old girls available. I only wanted 4. The breeder only sold in groups of 6. When I got there to pick them up, he had two extras in that age group that he threw in for free… I was then a proud owner of 8 hens… When I only wanted 4… If you are looking to get into chickens you need to know that this happens… They accumulate. So when building your coop, make it as big as you can. I now own 10 and looking to add 2 “Easter Egger” hens to add some blue eggs to my colorful egg basket…

Tip #1- Chickens can stink. Their runs can get gross. I learned previously that using shavings or straw was a mess and you didn’t want the runs to get muddy. This time around, I decided to use sand. Good old contractor sand. Not pretty play sand, nothing with silica. Too fine and it could compact their croup. But a good contractor sand will actually help them break down their food. Sand has been a life saver. I rake it out once a week. After 6 months I noticed some smell and my sand level was getting low. I put lime down and added 6 more bags of sand, problem solved. They love to scratch in it and give themselves dust baths.

(We also installed a French drain to keep water out of their covered area as our yard slopes)

Tip #2- Eggs get gross… If you’ve visited Europe you might have noticed that a lot of people keep their eggs on the counter, not in the fridge. This is because they buy farm fresh eggs that have not been washed. Our cold, store bought eggs have had their shells sprayed off with cleaner before they are packaged up and sent to the store. Once the protective coating is washed off your eggs must be refrigerated. Chemicals are absorbed through the shell, so if your eggs were cleaned with anything more than water, you’ll be eating that cleaner with your breakfast. My problem having hens before was that the eggs would always have poop on them. They sit in their nest box and poop while they are laying… Then they all seem to love to share the same box and the poo accumulates. If you aren’t cleaning that box regularly, your eggs might be sitting in a weeks worth of poo. I didn’t want this problem again. I wanted to keep my eggs on the counter, displayed all cute in my farmhouse kitchen. I found rollaway nest boxes. You can make them like this guy did… After 2 yrs of home renovation I don’t want to make anything… There are a couple pre-made options. This one runs cheaper at $99. What I didn’t like about it is the plastic front. Chickens can be picky and not like the insecure feeling of slick plastic. It also required coming up with bedding in the box that would still allow the egg to roll. Option 2 is more expensive, the Best Nest Box, this model coming in at $165 for the double size. But it had a washable bedding mat in it and the opening was still big enough I thought my large hens would use it since it is all open with no dividers. It also didn’t have the plastic piece on it and had a solid back. Reading through reviews it had me sold. I installed mine down low but you can certainly hang it. However, my young hens wanted nothing to do with it and were actually scared to walk in it… So I ended up finding a couple cheap backyard hens that were older and laying and added them to my flock. They had no qualms with going into the nest box and started laying right away. Once my other girls saw this, their fear was gone and they too started using the box. The eggs roll out just as described and rarely do I ever get a messy egg.

Tip #3- “Automatic” Feeder and Water. Maybe you can hook into plumbing, maybe you cant. I can’t. I had a small chicken waterer like this. It was constantly getting messy and required daily cleaning. There had to be an easier way. I found a video of a guy converting a plastic garbage bin into a chicken waterer with the use of these Rent a Coop Make Your Own Waterer Nipples. Picked up a sturdy plastic can that was see through enough that I could see the water line, drilled the holes and installed the nipples in a few minutes and then magic… I had an automatic chicken waterer that held enough water to last my girls a couple weeks. I did worry if they would use it, but it turned out not to be a problem at all. They were all curious and started pecking at the weird red things within minutes. I had puddled a little water at each nipple so they realized quickly that water came from it when they messed with it. I no longer have dirty water. I do spray it out with some bleach and clean it well between refills. This has worked so nice I also use it for my little pet bird, who also learned how to use it very quickly. Great for vacations as I don’t have a pet sitter cleaning out his water bowl every day.

For a feeder, I originally started with a standard chicken feeder like this one. What a mess. The hens would just scratch the food out everywhere and most of it went to waste. I looked at making one with rubbermaid containers and PVC elbows… But again, I’m sick of building stuff. So I found this one, 45lb chicken feeder. I’ve had no problems whatsoever with it. They can’t scratch the feed out and they don’t knock it over.

Tip #4 – Automatic door. If you free range your hens or keep them locked in their coop at night, you might enjoy letting them in and out… Can’t say that’s my jam. I have one hen who thinks it’s a fun game to run away when it’s time to come in and I don’t want to wait around for her to decide it’s dark and she wants to come in on her own. I also want to keep my freedom to travel and need to make life easy on my pet sitter. So I found this automatic chicken door. LIFE SAVER. It has a light sensor. It opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. You can set this one to open or close 30-90 minutes later too. Which is great for my annoying hen that likes to come in after dark some days. I know she’s not stuck out there. It does require electricity, which for us wasn’t a problem as we have electric ran to our shed. But something to think about. There are solar powered doors but they will run you well over $300. In my location, it’s mostly shaded by large trees so that would not have worked for me anyway. My hens love their door.

So if you are reading this and starting to add up how much we’ve spent to have our backyard chickens just to produce eggs at home… Yeah… there is NO savings happening here. You could probably buy free range, all organic, farm fresh eggs from your local farmer for less in your lifetime than what we’ve spent on building our coup, buying the girls, and outfitting it to be the easiest set up possible to keep them… But you don’t have the fun of owning them. Watching them get excited for treats. Sharing your extra eggs with friends. Or trying hilariously to photograph your cute little fluffy butts. Is it all worth it? For me, yes. It’s been a fun hobby, and somewhat addicting… And I might need more hens… 😂🤷‍♀️🐓🐓🐓🐓

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Flooret Modin Rigid Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring Review – Sutton Signature

When the menfolk started tearing down walls, it became painfully obvious that we would not be able to live in our house without replacing the flooring, sooner rather than later. We had 4 different flooring types going on downstairs with chunks missing where the walls once stood, holes in the subfloor of those chunks from wiring, and lots of spots to stub your toes trying to dodge it all. I had a big MUST HAVE list while I hunted for flooring. Must hold up to big dogs, crazy kid, more construction work and water splashing on it in the kitchen and bathroom. And must not break the bank. I wanted the same flooring throughout the whole house, no carpet and no ceramic tile as the subfloor was not 100% level anymore and the existing tile had cracked over time. No hardwood as I’ve learned hard wood stands for easily damaged… It had to survive and look great for a good 10yrs in case we sell this house when Riley moves out. I don’t want to be laying flooring again!

Photo comparing the wear layer thickness of Flooret Sutton Signature on the bottom to a brand from both Lowe’s and Home Depot. As you can see, Flooret’s wear layer is twice as thick or more. The wear layer is the “clear” layer above the white line that the arrow is pointing to.

I brought home several samples from Lowe’s and Home Depot. Each time I would take my car key and see how easily it would scratch. Disappointed often. I finally decided it had to be Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) but I still wasn’t happy with the “affordable” options Lowes and Home Depot offered. The price jump for their better LVP we could order was in the $6-10 per sqft range. We have 2300sqft to cover here. That was painful to add up. I started searching online and found Flooret. They boasted a 40mil wear layer, larger planks, and a cheaper price as they cut out the middle man and sell direct. I ordered samples of several colors. That is a VERY important tip. Order the samples. I know they aren’t free, but the color on your computer and what that sample looks like in your house under your ceiling lights and natural light from your windows is totally different. You can see this if you check out Flooret’s customer photos. The same flooring looks like 20 different shades of brown depending on the lighting of the home. I thought for sure I wanted Ashford, but I ended up picking Sutton Signature as Ashford seemed too dark in my space. It’s worth pointing out that Flooret offers 2 different models of each color, one with a 20mil wear layer and one with a 40mil wear layer. Obviously there is a price difference. I decided that price was worth it to get the thicker wear layer because life happens…

It’s here!

The ordering process went totally smooth. We were given a shipping notification and the shipper contacted us to set up a delivery time and gave us a heads up prior to their arrival. It was unloaded straight into our garage. Flooret will replace any damaged pieces so don’t hesitate to contact them if there is an issue. We did have one damaged box on a short end, but ended up using those pieces anyway as we needed some cuts that allowed to remove the damaged bit. To spread out the cost some, we only ordered the downstairs first and then the upstairs was done later once the bank account recuperated a bit.

Laying this flooring is pretty easy. I actually did most all the laying while Daniel would make the cuts. We kept up with each other pretty good that way and had the downstairs finished in two weekends. The only word of caution I have is to be careful when tapping it down to lock into the short end of the previous plank. If you go too far it will bubble up the edge. I did damage a couple planks by doing that. Later I noticed we have a couple spots of the floor where that happened ever so slightly but we didn’t notice. This had me really worried if they would separate or damage with wear, but a year and a half later, those spots have caused us no problems whatsoever.

One of my favorite things about this flooring is how far it can go without needing transition strips between rooms. Flooring needs a little breathing room to expand during the warmer months. Most flooring needs a transition strip just to allow some gap to let the flooring move. Flooret Modin Rigid has such a small expansion that this isn’t necessary. We were able to lay the downstairs with only one transition strip and that was my fault as I got it a little misaligned in one room that connected through to the bathroom. I couldn’t seem to get it to back up straight, so it was either take up the flooring I had laid in that room and try to re-lay it, or put a transition strip. I was tired. I chose the transition strip. Upstairs we had the floor installed by a contractor who made it through all the bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways with no transition. Just one smooth surface throughout. I love it. We also experienced no “off gassing” smell that can come with most flooring options.

Care of this flooring is so easy. It vacuums fine, my robot vacuum doesn’t get hung up on anything, you can use a wet mop for bad messes, but I usually use a Bona spray mop with microfiber cloth. A plus with the Sutton color, it hides dust and pet hair SOOOOO well! It is not a shiny finish, but does have a slight grain imprint. That imprint can collect some dirt from muddy paws. The back door area gets a little grungy faster, to be expected. I’m happy there is an imprint on it as it gives some grip. The floors are not slippery like a hardwood floor. No sliding in your socks, you’ll have to break out the rollerblades, or in our case, Riley rolled around the house on the garage cart with the dogs chasing him for hours…

We have put some scratches into the wear layer. A couple in the kitchen from moving the appliances when the new cabinets were installed. And one in our guest room done by the contractor and we didn’t notice until later. The ones in the kitchen are not deep and only noticeable by me as I saw it when it happened. I don’t even think Daniel could find them if he tried. The one upstairs looks like a nail caught it sideways and made a scratch in. It reminds me of a paper cut on your finger. I’m not happy its there and sadly, in an open spot you can see… But it’s not through the wear layer, and as it’s the guest room, it’s not going to get any worse. The dogs have not put ANY scratches or wear on it, both are over 50lbs and very active.

At the time of this writing, the downstairs has been in for 21 months and the upstairs for 9 months, all through continuous renovation. I am THRILLED with how well this flooring is doing given the beating we have given it. I never have to worry about wet kid coming in from the pool, my large dogs running races around the stairwell, rearranging the furniture, etc… It was the best decision we could have ever made! A bonus, we were very thrifty in our measuring and cuts and ended up not using as much overage as we had thought. We have enough left over to install in our camper. A project for next summer!

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Cathedral Caverns, Woodville, AL

One of our favorite local spots to visit is Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, AL. Originally called Bat Cave, Cathedral Caverns was opened to the public by Jacob Gurley in the 1950’s. The cave was renamed because of its cathedral-like appearance.  The state acquired it in 1987, it was opened as a State Park in the summer of 2000.  The first thing you’ll notice about Cathedral Caverns is its massive entrance. The opening measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. Inside the cavern is “Goliath”- one of the largest stalagmites in the world measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.   But our favorite is the stalagmite forest which makes this cave one of our top pick in the country.

The guided tour is 90minutes long. There are no unguided visits. Call ahead to make your reservations. We’ve visited at several times of the year and I do not recommend stopping in during school hours as it gets packed with school field trips. Our worst visit consisted of listening to a bunch of third graders constant yelling to hear their echos. The path in the cave is all smooth and paved. We have been a couple times when they’ve had a handicap assisted tour and used a golf cart for them. So if you have a handicapped friend or family member, it might be a great place to take them and enjoy some nature that usually isn’t the easiest for them to see. $19 for 13 and up, 5-12 is $9, 4 and under is free. The park has great covered picnic areas, clean bathrooms, a nice gift shop and even a slues to pan for gold if you purchase one of their gem mining kits.

The surrounding area is gorgeous. I highly recommend driving up the mountain to Grant and stopping at the lookout. It’s a beautiful pit stop.

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