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Three-year Anniversary!

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Happy Anniversary, Linds!

This post is gonna be quite a bit different from some of the others we’ve done. Wednesday, Lindsey and I celebrated our three-year anniversary as a married couple! Whoop! They always say cheesy things like “It’s been an adventure” or “Feels like just yesterday” — but I’m learning that these things are repeated often for a reason. When you’re with the right person it really does feel that way. But when things get really¬†exciting is when you take the adventurous aspect to the next level and get out once in a while on a super rad trip. A couple years ago, we did just that, so I thought I’d reminisce a bit about how we spent our 1-year anniversary. ūüôā

Road trip stop

For this trip, our destination was Redfish Lake, in the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. To celebrate year one of our marriage, we¬†rented a car and hauled ass across the West in search of an old relic left up in these mountains by my grandfather back in the’70s. Back in those days before Leave No Trace was widely adopted by wilderness wanderers, he used to leave stuff all over the place. Not out of disrespect for the¬†wilderness, but just out of a crazy desire to know who the people were that might have also passed between the same mountains as he had. So throughout the ’60s and ’70s, it’s hard to say how many ketchup bottles and peanut butter jars tucked between Western alpine ridges contained a note from him, with his address and a request that anyone who find it please write him a letter, addressed to Norman in little old LeGrand, Iowa.

The particular relic we were looking for, though, wasn’t a ketchup bottle, but a little bicycle license plate that read “KIRK”. It belonged to his son (my uncle) Kirk, and had been nailed to a tree sometime around 1977. In the years since it had been hung up, plenty of travelers had found the same lake. With the license plate fixed on a prominent tree by the shore, it had actually become unofficially known as Kirk Lake. When my sister took a trip out to Idaho to find it in 2008, the tree had since fallen but she found the rusty plate still nailed to a tree. I took my own trip out to find it in ’09, and I figured it’d be fun for Lindsey and I to take our first backpacking trip together and check it out again.

Lindsey posing

Redfish Lake

Saddleback & Kirk Lakes

Looking down on Kirk Lake

Kirk Lake is a small, heart-shaped lake that sits above a chain of three larger ones called Saddleback Lakes, about a half day’s hike in from the trailhead off of Redfish Lake. So not too bad to get to, but the last mile or so is damned steep (“takes a lot of heartbeats to get up there,” says Grandpa Norman). We had planned about 4 days out in the rough, and made it up to the Saddlebacks with no issues on Day 1. Little chilling out, little gourmet campsite dinner (chicken curry), and we were dead to the world cozied up in our little tent before we knew it.

Saddleback Lakes are arranged with one draining into another, along a narrow bowl formed by Decker Peak to the south and Elephant’s Perch to the north. Elephant’s Perch is a gnarly dome of rock overlooking the valley and Redfish Creek, which meanders down below to eventually drain in Redfish Lake, tinged with slicks of grease from a million granola hippie climbers who dip their hair in Upper Saddleback after a rough climb. Damn, that was¬†poetic. All about a fuggin’ rock. Anyway, it is¬†pretty badass.

Elephant's Perch viewed from Middle Saddleback Lake

After spending some time relaxing in camp on the morning of day 2, we hauled south to Upper Saddleback to catch a steep uphill east to find Kirk Lake and see if the license plate was still there. With no trail, it was tough going, scrabbling up using tree roots and trying to keep rock slides from triggering. After maybe a half hour of hunched down crawl / hiking, we crested the ridge and bushwhacked a bit to the shores of Kirk Lake. Having been there myself before, there wasn’t quite as much mystery & anticipation surrounding the hunt for the fallen tree this time. We beelined it to the spot I remembered from 6 years before, and sure enough, it was still there! There were plenty of volunteer trees trying to overtake the dead and long-fallen Kirk tree, but the plate was still surprisingly visible and well-affixed to the old trunk. Just shy of 40 years since he’d put it there, I was finally able to share one of the coolest memories of my grandpa with Lindsey. Super cool stuff.

Fallen Kirk tree

At the time of the trip, Lindsey was working at a design firm called Ideas That Kick. One of her projects over the course of the weeks leading up to us leaving was package design for a company called Lonolife. These guys were in the middle of developing a K-Cup bone broth drink, with a target market of granola hippies who sit at the bottom of domes like Elephant’s Perch and think about climbing it, but instead kick back with a solar-powered Keurig and sip a hot bone broth in the shadow of the beast. “Damn thing’s so¬†tall,¬†man ohhh shiiiit this stuff’s delicious. PALEO, BRO, ONLY WAY TO GO.”

Anyway, one of Lindsey’s tasks on our trip was to photograph some epic vistas for the Lonolife packages, so we hoofed it up to the saddle above Kirk Lake to try and find some overlook, package-worthy spots. We figured we could try to get some cool shots on the way up, and possibly summit the roughly 9,800′ unnamed peak along the ridge to the east. Thankfully, I’m a¬†total¬†genius mountain man, and I directed us on the¬†exact¬†path of our failed 2009 summit of the exact same peak, soooo… Yeah that went as you’d guess. But we got some cool shots at least.

Josh posing

Lindsey posing


Lonolife Beef Bone package

Yep, that’s the finished package.¬†Please feel free to call me Beef Bone from here on out. Def not gonna stop anyone who does so. Thanks.

Day 2 had us coming down from Kirk Lake, breaking camp, and then descending the remaining 2,000′ to the valley floor and Redfish Creek before heading further up the valley, so we called the summit a lost cause and said goodbye to the license plate. As I write this, now 40 years after it was left there, I hope it’s still around, as unnatural as it is for a metal license plate to be situated in such a place. It’s definitely possible that’ll have been the last time I get to see it, and if it was, that’s alright. Such a rad experience.

My badass mountain man skills continued to serve us well and led us off the trail on the descent after we broke camp, and we had a kinda annoying climb down to the valley. Gaining or losing 2,000 feet over the course of a mile is hard enough when there’s a trail, but just straight difficult when you’re also bushwhacking and backtracking off of dead ends. We were to become really familiar with that whole bushwhacking thing over the next couple days, so I suppose it’s just as well we got used to it early.

Farts & Bears

The Sawtooths aren’t considered terribly dangerous with regard to bear encounters, but they do happen on occasion. As is normal with black bears, they tend to avoid humans, unless you get between a mother and her cubs. The rangers in the area had told us that there had been a handful of sightings, so be sure to have our bell (we didn’t) and / or mace (we didn’t) handy, just in case. This wasn’t really an issue in the end – we just made sure to not hike silently, with the occasional “HEY BEAR” shout just to let em know we were around so we wouldn’t startle em. Night 2 gave us our first bear-ish encounter, though. But first, a word about me as it relates to backpacking meals & snacks. Tons of protein, salt, dried fruit, nuts, when combined with altitude change, turn me straight up into Gassy McGoo. So Linds got to deal with that starting to set in overnight (sorry babe). Sometime in the middle of that night, she woke up to a rustling, grunting sound she was pretty convinced was a bear. ¬†Having had one pass right through my campsite on a previous trip a few years before, I can’t blame her for being pretty freaked out in that moment. So naturally she tried waking me up to tell me, but realized as she started shaking me that it wasn’t a bear, just me snoring. Cool. So Gassy McBearMcGoo was really just a great tent partner that night. ūüôĀ

Lake Kathryn

The next morning, our destination was Lake Kathryn, about a 4- or 5-mile hike through mostly trail-less rough, and the origin point of Redfish Creek down in the valley we’d camped in night 2. Lake Kathryn is also the namesake of another member of my extended family, Kathryn Mills. I forget the exact chain of who’s related to whom, but I think she was something like my grandpa’s (the one who posted the license plate) aunt maybe? Anyway, she had also held a deep love for the Sawtooths, frequented them, but had suffered an untimely death. Her family made a case to the Forest Service to have a lake in the area named after her sometime in the years after Kirk Lake had been unofficially named, and so she lives on up there. So yeah, the Johnson family heritage runs pretty deep in that neck of the woods.

Lake Kathryn was…really hard to get to. No joke. We got off track a good many times and for sure would have gotten lost if it hadn’t been for the GPS on my phone. Wrong turn after wrong turn, we finally found ourselves across the valley and at the bottom of the final climb that would put us over the ridge and drop us down to Kathryn’s shores. It was getting on towards dusk and the climb was HARD. We were each carrying packs that were about 30lbs, were exhausted, and had gotten pretty tired of bushwhacking and wrong turns throughout the day. The scrambling climb up to Kirk Lake was really nothing compared to this last hike we had to get up. I think it was mostly due to our state of being exhausted, but when we finally crested the ridge after nearly tumbling down the whole slope a number of times, we both just burst into tears. In the end, it turned out to be SO worth the hike, too. Lake Kathryn wasn’t terribly far off of any trails, but it felt incredibly remote, like we really had the whole world to ourselves up there.

Lake Kathryn campsite

Josh at Lake Kathryn

View from Lake Kathryn

As we made camp and dusk settled in, the water of the entire lake seemed to come to a boil as the fish came out to feed for the evening. I’m a terrible fisherman, but I really regretted not having a rod with me that night cause I wouldn’t have needed any skills. A fresh catch was literally the only thing that could have made it better up there. After basking in the sunset for a bit and filtering some fresh water, we settled in for a cold final night at 9,000ft. As we lay ready to go to sleep, we were really surprised to suddenly get a text message on Lindsey’s phone from her mom. Some wizardry of bouncing signals had somehow delivered a cell signal to her phone out in the middle of nowhere. So we spent a few minutes texting her mom from the tent and assured her all was well, since she was a mom and bound to worry about broken legs, bears, and overly gassy husbands, and eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next morning we woke up to a once again boiling lake surface, poured some instant coffee, broke camp, and headed back over the ridge and down to the valley. A bit more bushwhacking brought us back to the trail, and another half day’s hike brought us home to the boat dock where we’d been dropped off 3 days earlier. Not a long trip, but definitely a memorable one that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend with anyone else. Happy Anniversary, Linds! Thanks for being so awesome, and for making every day feel like an adventure.¬†Sure do love yah. <3

Josh & Lindsey at Lake Kathryn on one year anniversary


Kitchen Work In Progress

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We had some big dreams for the kitchen remodel, and we went into this project with one major goal: to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. We knew going into it that we didn’t have the tools or know-how to pull it all off, but we also didn’t wanna just hire someone to transform our home while we were at the office, then crack a beer after all their hard work at the end of the day. That process tends to be a lot more expensive, and when you have personalities like ours, a lot less satisfying too. Plus, cracking a beer after you bust your ass all day feels pretty damn good. Lindsey and I really wanted to be as involved as possible, and for the things we didn’t yet know how to do, we had amazing backup in these guys:

Matt and John Bennett

That’s Lindsey’s brother Matt and her dad John. John’s a lifelong contractor who’s been doing some of Central Iowa’s best remodeling since he settled down there in the 80’s, and Matt’s fixing to follow in those footsteps, with some great work of his own already under his belt. We definitely owe these two a lot for their help on several parts of this job, so thanks again guys! Not only were they willing to drive four hours north to help out, but they brought some tools that we didn’t have and taught us a lot along the way. Next time we lay floor tile (hopefully those rad concrete ones Lindsey talked about here), it’s all ours to tackle. ūüôā

Lower Cabinets

One of the first things we wanted to get underway in the remodel was the cabinets. I wanted to paint the lower cabinets while they were in place, and it made sense for me to do so way early on in the process for a few reasons. First, the lowers are quite a bit larger than the upper ones are, so maneuvering them around onto sawhorses while uninstalled would have been pretty cumbersome. Plus, we had junk flooring that we were gonna pull up later, junk countertops that were gonna come out, so on the off chance that I made a mistake spraying, I likely wasn’t going to mess up anything that mattered. Finally, we wanted to use the partially completed job as motivation to keep things going!

To get a really true black color, we used a primer that was tinted down to a dark gray which would allow the black to deepen, rather than having a bright white primer underneath it. For the finish coat, we diverged from paint that I’m familiar with (Sherwin Williams ProClassic) and went with a Benjamin Moore product (Aura). I’ve always been a little hesitant to change from a brand that I’m super familiar with and confident in, but we didn’t have a choice in this case. ProClassic isn’t made with a tint base that allows for super dark colors to be made, so we picked up the Aura. At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I really couldn’t tell a difference when spraying, or with the results. Yay, Benjamin Moore!

Lindsey cleaning cabinets with a TSP substitute

Lindsey sanding cabinet doors

Just because we were going to be taking out the floor and countertops didn’t mean I wanted to jack them up and get paint all over them. We still wanted to live in as clean of a house as possible for the next several months. After some painstakingly detailed prep with tape, plastic and paper, we had the whole kitchen looking like a scene from Dexter and ready for primer. Around this time we also wiped all of the surfaces down with a TSP substitute to clean them, then took an 80 grit orbital sander over everything to rough up the surface so paint would stick. For really visible surfaces like the drawer fronts and doors, we made sure the sanding pad on the orbital was really well worn down when we hit those, to help avoid swirl marks in the finish that a fresh 80 grit pad can give you.

We got the primer on with little fanfare, and we were super excited to get all the doors and drawers painted with finish coat and see how the black looked. Initially we’d chosen Black Knight as the color they’d tint that Aura product to, and if you’re like me you think when you see it that it looks damn near pure black. Maybe not quite, but close. We found out after painting all eight doors and six drawers that that definitely wasn’t true. It looked like a weird blue-green-black that was not at all what we were going for. Thankfully the folks at the paint store were super gracious when we brought in the swatch and one of the doors, showing that the door looked way different from the swatch, and they replaced our gallon with another, this time in true solid black.







Pretty spiffy, eh?¬†Once we had these lower cabinets all black, we were even able to tolerate the boring, bowed formica countertops a little more easily. They still didn’t look good, but they looked better than they did against the light oak from before.

We found that kicking off the remodel by tackling the lower cabinets first really motivated us to keep it all rolling. We were so motivated, in fact, that we took hammers to the wall separating the kitchen and dining room a few days later…

Wall Demo, Part 1

Hammers and pry bars rule!

There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into us starting this part of the project off. We still weren’t certain whether or not the wall was load-bearing, but we knew that we couldn’t hack the dungeon-y dark dining room any longer. So on a random afternoon we hauled out a couple of pry bars, pulled off the trim on both sides, and went to town.

A few hundred pounds of plaster lighter, with kitchen light streaming in between the lath, we let the dust settle and realized we were definitely at the point of no return. And thank god. Even with limited view between the studs and lath, we could tell how much of a difference the change was going to make in the space. The dining room was twice as bright, which made that room feel way bigger. We could also envision ourselves entertaining friends, with all of us able to see each other and chat, instead of Lindsey and I hidden away in the kitchen like The Help.

Once we were all cleaned up from knocking out the plaster, we¬†coordinated a time when Lindsey’s dad could come have a look-see and find out what our next steps needed to be going forward, and took a step back to have a breather.

Good news of the non-load-bearing variety, plus electrical rough-in and maybe even the upper cabinets & backsplash, next time! ūüôā


Bedroom Trim Painting

DIY, House By 4 Comments

Now that I’m not painting as a career anymore, I really enjoy the chances I get at home to get back into it. You may think I’m crazy, as I always hear people moan and groan whenever they have to tackle a painting project. I really do love it though. Painting caps off projects nicely, since it’s usually one of the last things to get done, and it’s when you finally start to see all the hard work paying off. This refresh of the bedroom was no different, and I found myself having a ball during the whole process!

Spraying trim in the bedroom

As Lindsey mentioned before, there are a couple of things with this bedroom project we’d have done differently if we were gonna do it all over again (which some crazy, perfectionist part of me is actually tempted to do). The big thing we’d do differently is choose to use an oil-based primer on the trim. In my previous life as a painter, I used exclusively Sherwin Williams and came to have a lot of faith in their products. However, I was always working in new construction, which is a really different application than a 100 year-old craftsman with original woodwork. We opted for Sherwin Williams Multi Purpose and Pro Classic for our primer and finish coats, respectively. Right at the start, the finish looked just great. The bright white contrasted well with both of the blues we chose for the walls, and the finish coat has a really durable, clean look. My gripe, though, is with my choice to use latex primer. And I feel a bit like a newbie, but I totally should have known better.

Yellowing trim on the closet door

See how the trim around the door is a brighter white? Consequence of not using an oil-based primer to seal the yellow woodwork stains away.

That’s some pretty yellow woodwork we were dealing with. Even though I applied a couple of good coats of primer, plus a contractor grade finish coat, as Lindsey mentioned before we’re having that yellow start to bleed through. The end result isn’t mortifying, it’s just not nearly as cool as it was right when it was all fresh. These days, it’s more looking like an off-white than bright white. Passable, but like I said, the perfectionist in me wants to go back and do it all over again using this as a primer. Problem solved, seriously. The stain blocking capability of oil based primer just can’t be matched by a latex product. I recently used that oil-based primer to cover some reeeeaaaaally bad nicotine stains on the walls and ceilings of a lifetime smoker’s house. In one coat it blocked all of the stains perfectly, and that house just sold, with the new buyer none the wiser that a smoker had ever lived there! I know, it sucks to clean up oil-based paint and it smells awful, especially when you spray it, but no joke this oil primer woulda saved me the embarrassment of admitting that I (the professional dingus painter) opted for the cheaper, easier option and ended up with less-than-stellar results. Lesson learned & ego taken down a peg. Onward!

Spraying paint – you can dooooo it!

One big thing to keep in mind when you’re spraying walls or trim with paint is good masking. These spray tips atomize the paint so small that it ends up on errything if you’re not careful. Cover the floor with a thick, durable rosin paper (taped neatly against the edge of the baseboard) and cover the glass on windows with tape & plastic. If you’re only painting a section of the house, find a doorway that you can close off tightly with masking tape & plastic to keep dust from floating all throughout the house. If you do leave any furniture in the room (like we did), make sure it’s covered tightly with plastic and that the plastic is taped down tight to the paper you covered the floor with.

Bed and floor all masked tight for spraying

Like Lindsey mentioned, we used an airless sprayer that I’d borrowed from my boss to get the trim painted. I have the benefit of having sprayed hundreds of gallons of paint back in that previous life, so for me it was a matter of muscle memory to get a glassy finish on the trim. For the ambitious DIY-er, it might be a slight challenge, but it’s still absolutely doable to use a sprayer if you’re a newbie. There are plenty of tips and video tutorials out there that show how to operate the sprayer and apply product. Plus, considering how much better sprayed trim looks vs. brushed, it’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. You will have to sacrifice a little bit of paint in the interest of practicing and getting a feel for the gun, but it’s still worth it for the look in the end. When you’re using an airless sprayer as a rookie, just remember two things: 1) When in doubt, go thin. You can always come back again with another thin coat to finish coverage, and two thin coats is better than one thick one that runs in spots. 2) Always have your arm in motion when the trigger is pulled on the gun.

We used a Graco pump and gun, with a fine finish tip. Everything you’d need should be relatively easily able to come by for rent at your local Sherwin Williams or equipment rental shop, though I would recommend purchasing a brand new spray tip for the gun, even if the rental joint offers you one. If not operated at the correct pressure and properly cared for/stored, the tiny hole that’s machined into the tip can get blown out too big, which can lead to wasted product and runs in the paint if you’re not familiar with the process. No one wants that. I’ve always used Graco spray tips as well, and a fresh 410 or 412 tip (fine finish variety, specifically for trim) will give you the best control possible. More on what the numbers mean here if you’re curious, I won’t bore you.

Spraying the closet with primer

Once I had the sprayer all set up and had gotten a good solid coat of primer on, we let it dry fully (overnight). Once dry, we used some medium grit sanding blocks to gently¬†sand the primed trim smooth. I say gently because if you have fresh primer over top of old, stained woodwork and you sand aggressively, you’re apt to burn right through the primer and expose the stained trim again, thereby defeating the purpose of priming that spot. This is especially prone to happen on edges & corners. All it really takes is a few gentle but firm swipes with a sanding block (check it with your bare hand for smoothness after you swipe it with the block a few times) to get your primed trim super smooth again.

After we sanded, we caulked every crack in the woodwork we could find (more pro tips on this process later – can’t share them all in one post!). Once the caulking had dried fully overnight, or whatever the tube said the dry time was, we switched over to the Pro Classic for finish coat. While I’m definitely unhappy with the performance of the latex primer we used, I’m super happy with how the Pro Classic looks. We opted for a semi-gloss to help the trim stand out a bit against the lower sheen walls, and semi-gloss also gives you a surface that you can clean more easily when you need to.

Using an airless sprayer can be a bit intimidating, but don’t let it stop you from trying. With all the tutorial resources out there, plus the comment section juuuuust down below (let us know if you’ve ever tried using one! ;), you have everything you need to tackle a job and have it look great. Now that spring is finally upon us, we’re gonna be pulling the sprayer out of storage soon and painting the exterior of our house, so stay tuned for that!


Move In Weekend

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Move In Helper Donna

Thanks for the help with the hostas, Donna (Lindsey’s mom)!

We left off here when we wearily walked through the door of our new house after the exhausting process of buying a foreclosure. Exhausting, yet rewarding nonetheless. We mentioned a few of our first impressions of the place here, and now it’s time to talk about how silly and crazy our goals really were for that first weekend. First, remember we had all of our possessions sitting either in a truck owned by my work (which had to be used the next day) or in the garage of our previous apartment. Lindsey’s parents were around and willing/eager to help, but that was only four of us, and considering this list below, you’re totally forgiven if you laugh your ass off at what we thought we could get done…

Move In Weekend Goals:

  1. Remove carpet from bedroom, make it a livable space
  2. Remove carpet from living room, ditto above
  3. Clean up the back yard, overgrown with 7-foot weeds in some places
  4. Get new appliances installed (Fridge, stove, washer/dryer)
  5. Remove upper kitchen cabinets
  6. Remove kitchen tile backsplash
  7. Paint upper kitchen cabinets in the garage
  8. Reinstall cabinets 6 or 9″ lower, as they were initially installed with giants in mind (Lindsey is 5′ 2″)
  9. Move ALL OF OUR STUFF in, and find a place to put it that didn’t interfere with any of the aforementioned
  10. Read Tolstoy’s War and Peace cover to cover

Ok, so #10 is obviously a joke, but still. Cute idea with the kitchen cabinets and backsplash, right? As you’ll see later on, the cabinets alone took us four or five days when we finally got around to that project, so silly us. But can you blame us for wanting to take care of that? Those things are sooooo high up, like a full 30″ or more above the countertop.

Move In Weekend Kitchen Goals

Anyway, just about all the rest of the stuff on the list we managed to accomplish. The yard ended up being a crazy amount of work – weeds tend to reign supreme after a year of not being tended at all. Our neighbors have some vines on their fence that had slowly crept across the lot, grown into cracks in the cement, and worked their way into the walk-out exit of our basement. All told, that weekend we ended up filling 58 30-gallon lawn bags from Home Depot. NBD. Also, a friggin’ fountain in the back yard? In Minnesota? Nope. We tore that mosquito breeding ground out as fast as possible, and we were delighted to find a giant wasp nest underneath. We were glad it was only 35 degrees outside and the things were…hibernating? Do wasps do that? Whatever. Bye fountain!

Move In Weekend Back Yard

Overgrown Vines

Back inside, the carpet came up easily enough, although the living room pad was held down with double-sided adhesive strips, as opposed to staples (BOO!). Head lamp scraping/sanding took up plenty of time in the next week, and we eventually gave up and left the rest of the tape to come off down the road with a big drum sander when we refinished the floors. ūüôā And in the bedroom, even though our West Elm bedding from the previous post is greatly preferred, we at least got the bedroom to a spot where it’d be livable for the near term while all the rest of the dust settled!

Pulling Carpet In The Bedroom

Temporary bedroom setup