Tag Archives: diy

Jack of All

Jack of All

One thing I’ve heard a LOT in the week since coming home from Rhinebeck: “You knit/spin?  Wow, that’s a dying art!”

Well, 6 million knitters might argue with that.  But I get what they’re saying.

But honestly, it’s hardly the only dying art.  So many things that our grandparents took for granted are forgotten skills now. Car repairs, home repairs, small appliance repairs, all these little things we just don’t know how to do in our disposable age.  I don’t remember ever seeing my parents change their car oil or fix a toaster.  Not that they didn’t, I just never saw it, and it wasn’t something they taught me or my siblings.

Today I ran up against one of those things.


As the weather gets colder, the kids have been nagging me about turning on the heat.  But I refuse to do it until I get all the windows sealed for the winter.  Living in an old house as we do, there are a lot of drafts, especially out all the original windows.  Replacing the windows would be ideal, but totally out of my budget.  Instead I put shrink plastic on them all every fall and hope for the best.  Xander has a tendency to take a sharp edge to the one in his room every year, despite my threats.  The worst offenders are the windows in our back laundry room, though.  I hate these windows, and one of my long term goals has always been to replace them.  One of the windows won’t stay shut properly, and two of the panes have had chunks broken out of them for years now, which have been patched as best as possible with packing or duct tape.  And the frames are so old and peeling so that the tape for the plastic won’t stick to them.  In a “Give a Mouse a Cookie” moment, I decided repainting the frames would at least fix that problem, so I dug out the oil primer, dusted off the frames, pried off some old hardware, and handed Morgan the paintbrush.  As always, a lick of paint made such a difference!  But it made the broken panes stand out even more.  I was going to just seal them up with silicone, or replace them with plexiglass.  Except one pane of plexi that size (12″ by 24″) was $15!!!  So no.  In a fit of “I can do it myself”, I got glass cut the right size, picked up glazing points and window compound and took a stab at it.

Remember, I have never seen anyone do this outside of a home improvement show.

First off I had to get the glass out.  Seemed like the easiest way to do so was to break them and pull the pieces out.  I put on gloves, got a hammer and a dish towel, and gave the first one a whack.  It didn’t break.  WTF?  Tried again.  Bounce.  FIVE TIMES I tried to break it before it actually went.  Who can’t break a window with a hammer?  This girl, apparently.  Because the second one took me 8 goes!!  Ridiculous.  Finally got it all out and pried out the glazing points and most of the dead glazing compound.  Then I painted all the exposed edges with the oil primer and went to make bread.


Once that had dried, it was time for the scary stuff!  The two windows face opposite directions, so one I could do from the inside, but the other I had to go out on a step stool to place the glass.  I had Morgan come out with me to hold the glass in place while I set the glazing points.  No dropsies!  It was hard to smooth out the glazing compound properly just because of angles and that stupid top window that wouldn’t stay shut, and I’d left just enough of the old compound in that the glass didn’t sit quite flush.  Grumble.  But it was in place and sealed, although I did have to back fill a little from the inside.  The other pane went in easier, as I wasn’t teetering on the top of a step stool.


Neither were a perfect job, but it’s still better than it was.  I can already feel a difference in there!


It’s hard sometimes to get the confidence to try to do these things yourself.  They’ve built up such a lot of baggage as being too hard to do yourself.  But don’t be scared.  Just like knitting skills are being preserved on YouTube, so too are repair skills.  Check out a couple of videos and then bravely go forth.

After all, glass is cheap.

Mini(van) Victories

Mini(van) Victories

I fixed my car last night.

This wasn’t a check the fluids/change the windshield wipers kind of repair, either.  This was ELECTRICAL.  Scary, scary stuff, right?

Well, not really.  But scary enough for this newbie.

Last week, the heater in the van stopped working.  Mostly.  I could still get heat out of it, but only if I had the fan on high.  So either I was freezing or melting.  Not good when it’s only February and you’re expecting at least two good storms over the next few months.  But I really didn’t have the money to get it fixed.  As usual when I’m desperate, I turned to the internet.  A search of “Grand Caravan heat only on high” turned up a bunch of YouTube videos and a post on the Car Talk website.  “It’ll cost $600 to get it fixed” was the first thing I saw.  Bleah.  But the responses were all opposed to this.  Everyone else in the discussion said this was a common problem with Grand Caravans and that it was the heater blower regulator, a $12 part and an easy self-fix.  Well, easy for them, think I, but for $12, it’s worth taking the chance on, right?  At least I’ll already have the part when I have to take the car in for the repair.

Found the part on Amazon for $11.95.  Once again my Prime membership pays for itself.  Ordered it on Friday (along with a tart pan, three springform pans and The Force Awakens soundtrack), and it came on Saturday.  I was running around too much over the weekend to do the repair then, so when I got home from work last night, I went back to those YouTube videos and started watching.  Once I got past all the scary testing instructions (I don’t have a multimeter.  Not sure I want one.  Seems like a good way to get myself electrocuted.), I found out that yes, it is easy.  There are two sets of wires going into the unit, both in clips like what you clip the ethernet cable into your computer with, and then two hex screws.  One of the videos even told me the size of the hex, 8 mm.  Now, I don’t have metric hexes in my tool bag.  The ones I have are all imperial.  But you know where I do have hex heads?  In my mini bike repair kit.  Sure enough, there was the 8 mm, so out I went with that, the replacement part and a headlamp so I could see what I was doing.

And you know what?  It WAS easy!

Took me five minutes.  If that.  The hardest part was getting the motor power cord out without pulling the wires out.  That sucker did not want to come out, but after 10 years, who could blame it?  Other than that, it was easy out, easy in, plugged everything back in, turned the key and voila!  And it was so satisfying to have fixed it myself!  Especially since I saved myself so much money.  Even if it was only $150, it was still more than I had to spend, and really, considering how easy this was?  It would have been a little embarrassing.

I think maybe the bike repair class helped me with more than just learning how to fix bikes.  I think it gave me a bit more confidence at fixing anything.  I still don’t regret the $200 I spent to get the washer professionally fixed, because they were able to get the housing back on properly which I haven’t been able to do for 3 years, but I did have the confidence to look it up, find out what the problem probably was and decide no, I couldn’t do it, rather than go into it ignorant and vulnerable.  You don’t have to know how to fix everything, but knowing how to fix anything makes you a little braver in taking a stab at other things.

I did get new windshield wipers this weekend, too.  But I let the clerk at the auto parts store put them on for me.  Because I’m lazy and it was free.

I got the title for the van in the mail last week.  I guess it’s all mine now.  Which yay!  But also eek.  Small voice is saying, “You could get financing to get a new, smaller car now…”  Not yet, brain.  Not yet.

The rear windshield wiper has stopped working.  I should go look that up.  Maybe it’s just a fuse…

The Bench

The Bench


So, this is the bench.  Isn’t it cute?  Simple, but with some nice wood turning.  Well worn but not too beat ups.  The finish is worn, but there aren’t any gouges or chipped off pieces.  Just a nice, sturdy little piece.

Taffy likes it, too.


Actually, all the rabbits like it.  Not sure why.  I guess it’s just the right height for them.

Obviously the seat needed to be recovered, but I wanted to do something about the finish as well.  Not strip it, because I didn’t want to lose the look, but just filling in the pale spots.  I had some red mahogany stain in the basement from when I stained my spinning wheel, so I decided to just give the whole thing a coat of that and then a coat of wax.  I gathered my materials and got to work.


I didn’t take enough pictures of the process, because it got downright funny at times.  The stain went on in about 5 minutes, then I washed up and got to work on the seat.  Loki and Sam were both in, and they wanted to help with that.  I don’t know what was in the old fabric, but they both kept chewing on it like it was the best thing they’d ever eaten.  I got that and the padding off easily (it just came apart as I tugged on it) and then got down to prying out the brads that had held it in place.  That was not so easy, and did end up drawing blood a couple of times, as I had to pry them out with a screwdriver.  It didn’t help that Sam was still going for the fabric which I was using the catch the tacks while Loki was using the board itself as a sliding board.  Talk about being double teamed!

Once that was all cleaned up, I set the foam in place, lined up the fabric and started stapling.  I maybe should have gotten a slightly larger piece of foam or some batting to wrap it in, because even with pulling the fabric tight before I stapled it, there’s still a bit of hollow space around the edges.  But otherwise it looks great.  The paisleys in the fabric centered really nicely.

I wiped off the extra stain and then let it sit overnight.  Then Monday I applied the wax.  Just one coat, enough to seal in the new stain without diminishing the aged quality of the old varnish.  Then it was just a matter of screwing the seat back in place and taking the “after” pictures!


I have just enough of the fabric left that if I was a decent seamstress, I would love to make it into a little box bag with buttoned straps to attach to one arm and keep my spinning notions in.  But other than that, it’s just absolutely perfect.  For $1 (plus $25 in materials.  Oops.) I have a perfect little spinning bench!

Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

This was my first weekend out of the boot, and much to my surprise, it ended up being brilliant.

My first stop Saturday morning was physical therapy.  This was my first time ever doing PT, so I really had no idea what to expect.  But it’s a really nice center, and the team there was great.  I’m working with Mike.  He did all my baselines and tested my function, which he said was actually really good.  I credit it to cheating and doing stretches while still in the boot.  He did say both my feet are hypermobile, so we’re working on strengthening both of them.  Well, in the office we’re working on strengthening the broken one, but at home I’m doing the same exercises on the other side as well.  It actually didn’t hurt much, and it’s not as big a set of exercises as I’d expected.  Mike doesn’t think I’ll have to do more than an couple of weeks, which is good because it costs me $20 a pop even with my insurance.  I did find out they do gait analysis there as well, so once I get approved for running (and save up the $250), I’ll do that 6 week program to keep this from happening again.

Hero was sleeping over at a friend’s house, so I stopped off to pick her up.  Since we were out already, I took her with me to Horsham to see about getting my phone fixed.  About 3 weeks ago, the camera quit on me.  I just kept getting “Camera failed” messages.  I’d had that before and had been able to fix it, but this time no go.  Which is part of why I haven’t been blogging much the last few weeks.  Blog posts without pictures are kind of dull!  And then the charger stopped working.  It hadn’t been working well for a while, occasionally not connecting unless I jiggered it just so.  But then it started shifting into car mode, which no one could give me a good explanation of what that was.  Something to do with docking it, but since a) I didn’t have a dock and 2) it was doing this randomly and sometimes constantly in and out, it was making the phone pretty much unusable.  I’d taken it to a guy in town, who hemmed and hawed and wanted $75/hour while sounding very unsure of what the problem was.  Yeah, nope.  This place in Horsham is part of a chain, so I thought I’d at least give them a try.  Totally worth it.  He knew exactly what the problem was (apparently it was pretty common for these phones) and he thought he could fix it without replacing the port.  $55 if he did, $35 if he didn’t.  Sold!  And he said he’d diagnose the camera at the same time.  I couldn’t afford to get it fixed that day, but at least then we could plan.  3 hours later, it was fixed.  Not only did they not need to replace the port, they’d also fixed the camera!  Apparently there was water damage in it, which confused me, as I hadn’t spilled anything on it.  In the end we both think it was sweat from carrying it running.  Which I can believe.  So I’ll have to find a different way to rig that.

On our way back from dropping off the phone, we noticed one of the churches up the street from us was having a rummage sale, and some of their neighbors were taking advantage of it to have a yard sale of their own.  I hadn’t gotten to go yard saling all summer, plus I love poking around in churches (a hold over from my childhood), so we stopped to check it out.

Well.  Did we ever score.


At the rummage sale, Hero found this great floor seat that is on rockers and reclines for $4.  I found gold cut lace valences that match the new dining room paint and a dozen black napkins, all for $2.  And best of all, I found a hand cranked meat grinder with 3 grind plates and the original package insert from the 40’s for $5.  Homemade sausage, here I come!

The yard sale across the street was even better.  They had antiques.  Real, genuine antiques.  Not high end stuff, but still.  Just my favorite kind of stuff, old and sturdy.  One of the pieces was what must have been the seat to a vanity.  Just a simple bench with rolled arms.  It was missing the crossbrace and desperately needed reupholstering, but my mind instantly shouted, “Spinning stool!”  I braced myself as I asked how much they wanted for it.  When she said a dollar, I think I threw the money at her trying to pay her so fast.  And we found a running hydration belt.  It was a really good Nathan belt, still with the tags on it.  I’ve been researching these, so I knew these went for $55-65.  They were selling it for $1.50.  Again with the money throwing.

So I ended Saturday dead chuffed.  I made pancakes for the kids for dinner and ribs for me and started planning how I would recover the bench.

There’s a Joann’s about a mile and a half from our house, so the Sunday morning plan was to go get fabric and foam.  But I wanted to ride my bike.  Mike had told me I could ride as much as I wanted, and I’d taken Galadriel out for a warm up ride around the parking lot across from the house, just to get used to everything, so I figured a bike shop would be perfect.  Hero decided to go with me, as Joann’s is right next to 2nd Avenue, our favorite place for used clothes, so off we went.  The ride was not bad.  I was able to get up the Insurmountable Hill (my initial motivator for getting a lighter bike) with only a little huffing and puffing.  At that point the main road made me nervous, so we decided to risk the sidewalk.  Except the sidewalk through there was TERRIBLE.  I just about jarred my teeth loose.  First cross street we came to, I bailed and went the long way around.  But she rode sweet, and I didn’t have any problems with the gears or shifting.

At Joann’s, I found a great upholstery fabric that echoed the original fabric the stool had had, which ended up being 40% off, and the dense cell foam I got was half off as well.  Woot!  I also got buttons I need to finish up a knitting project (which I should get back to knitting on, actually).  I managed to keep it together in 2nd Ave.  Got another pair of running capris and an awesome pair of Clarks shoes, all for under $20, while Hero got some costume pieces for about the same.  Just for grins we stopped in the dollar store as well, and I scored the best trick or treat handouts ever.  Glow in the dark vampire teeth.  I bought 4 dozen.  No candy at our house this year, but I don’t think the kids will mind!

The best part?  It all strapped to the back of my bike.


The ride home was a little more problematic.  I took the chance of riding in the street on the main road, which meant going up the back side of the Insurmountable Hill, which is even worse than the first side.  I made it to the top on my last gear (barely), and in celebration, I slammed the shifter all the way up…and threw my chain in the middle of traffic.  Lesson learned.

I’ll save the refinishing tale for its own post, but needless to say it was an incredibly satisfying weekend.  The hunter-gatherer in my soul was much pleased!

Walking the walk

Walking the walk
Walking the walk

As predicted, pie day did not happen.

It was walk day instead.


I say day, but of course I had to work all day, and got home at 4:15 with about half an hour of daylight left.  I’d warned Morgan by phone what we were going to do, and as predicted, he wasn’t thrilled.  But I got him to work raking away the few leaves and digging up the old flagstones while I got changed.  Then we set to digging.  I marked it out with a flat bladed shovel and we started pulling up the sod.  That was the easy part.  Because under that was clay.  Clay so thick and solid it felt like rock when we hit it with a shovel.  Thank goodness we didn’t have to get too deep or it would have been a nightmare.  As it was, Morgan had no patience for it and ended up melting down trying to dig it up.  We got to have a shouting match there on the front steps.  It’s times like that that I’m reminded forcefully that he is still a teenager, even if it’s only for a few more months.

The biggest problem we ran into was actually a really old one.  100 years old, to be precise.  You see, when our house was originally built, it had had a wrought iron fence around it.  There were still bits and pieces of it lingering when we moved in, but not enough to even be called a fence anymore.  I knew it went along the side of the house, but I hadn’t realized it went along the front.  So when we hit the base for the gatepost, I thought initially it was some pipe valve I hadn’t known about.  Morgan came up with the explanation, and I figured he must be right.  As we got the rest of the base level, I started trying to dig it out.  Got about three feet down and tried giving it a couple of kicks, but that sucker wasn’t moving.  So I’m adjusting the whole shebang over 4 inches, and we’ll just bury it again.  Or something.

By then it was dark, Morgan was unbearable, our shoes were caked in clay, and we were done.  I roped the hole off so no one would fall in and we called it a night.  I took Hero to colorguard and made dinner, fought with Xander over homework, picked Hero up and crashed.  A typical Monday night.

But I did get a little Thanksgiving prep done.  This year I decided to try dry brining my turkey.  I don’t have room in my fridge or my life for wet brining, no matter how wonderful it may make the turkey.  But a couple of weeks ago I found instructions for doing a dry brine.  These call for the turkey to be thawed, and mine never thaws in time, but fortunately it links to permission to do it frozen as well.  Making do with what I had in my cupboard, and in the spirit of the season, I mixed 1/4 cup of kosher salt with 2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning and half a tablespoon of pepper and rubbed it all over that sucker.  It was still too frozen to get any inside, so I’ll do that when it goes in to roast.  It looks a little…green at the moment.


This bad boy will now sit in the fridge until Thursday morning, soaking all the flavors in and drying out a little bit.  Then Thursday around 9 it goes in the oven for 4 hours with nothing more than olive oil and butter.  Looking forward to it!

This morning, I got up bright and early (well, 6:15), got the kids up and went outside to do the next phase.  8 bags of paver base and a cinder block to tamp it all down, and you get the picture above.  That took me about half an hour.  So so far, total time for actual execution of this project = an hour and 15 minutes.  Keep that in mind the next time you think you don’t have time to do something.

At work I found my spatial relations skills failing me, so I printed out some graph paper and during lunch sketched out the design for the brickwork layout.


Simple, and the squares are stamped with a cobblestone look, so I think it will look nice.  I still have a pile of bricks from when the borough pulled up our brick sidewalk 12 years ago, so I wanted to incorporate as many of those into this as I could.  I also have a cement brick making kit that you can put words into the bricks with, so that may be a summer project, to replace some of the bricks with words.

I slipped out of work a little early so I could get started and have a little extra sunlight time.  The sand went down FAST, although three of the bags were soaked, making it a little harder to level it out.  I just took a board edge and went over it just like planing the sides of a sandcastle.  Then I picked over the old bricks and started laying them out according to the plan.  First problem:  It was about two inches too wide, meaning I had to incorporate the fence post into the brickwork.  Okay.  Found a couple of broken ones that fit either side.  I could fill in the gap with dirt and sand, maybe get something low to grow in there.  It took about fifteen minutes to get everything laid out, and it was all going beautifully until I got to the last row by the steps.  I was about half an inch too small.  The bricks wouldn’t fit if I laid them flat, but if I put them on edge, they’d be too skinny. So I shoved some in, lifted the last square paver up to make an angle with them, and then stomped them flat.  It worked!  It was just enough to force everything closer together and make it fit.  It wasn’t elegant, but it was done.

I had a bag of garden soil left from the garden, so I shoveled that in around the edges rather than mess with that godawful clay.  Then I dumped half a bag of the remaining sand on top and swept it into all the joins.  Again, whole thing took me maybe an hour.  And in the end, I had…


Looks like it’s always been there, doesn’t it?  I think the older bricks help.  It’s far from perfect.  It’s not quite level, and it bows towards the middle instead of the edges.  But it’s so much better than what was there, and I think suits the character of the house and the family that lives in it.  And now I have even more motivation to replace those ugly steps come spring!  They’ve needed it for about 5 years.

So that’s it.  Done just in time for the first snowpocalypse of the year.  Oh, and Thanksgiving.  But that’s okay.  It will be easier to shovel.

In which I am a muggle

In which I am a muggle

I didn’t spend a whole weekend cleaning for a change.  Don’t get me wrong, I did quite a bit, mostly in the kitchen (organized and lined the cooking tool drawer, got rid of one of the counter top shelves that was really just serving as a crap collector), did laundry, got Morgan to organize the camping closet. But I did a lot more fun things.  Well, for certain definitions of fun.  Morgan and I went to Lowe’s and picked up all the supplies we need to lay our new front walk over Thanksgiving weekend.


I made bread.  (The bread will be getting its own post.  I’m in absolute transports about the bread.)

20141116_190524  20141115_163310

And I got to hang out with my girlfriends.  It’s not always easy for us to find time together.  Nikki and I are online together most nights (or we were before my children started doing ALL THE THINGS), but we tend to only see each other once a month, and Deb is even harder.  I get to have lunch with her maybe once a month, but Nikki doesn’t even get to see her that much.  And for all three of us to get together?  Madness.  So our Wholigan nights are special, even when we don’t do anything special.  Saturday night was one of those nights.  Nikki came up to my house, and I let her shop my fiber stash to feed her burgeoning spinning interest.  Then we went down to Deb’s and hung out.  And really, that’s all we did.  Hung out at her dining room table, ate and talked until her kids went to bed, when we moved in by the living room fire to eat and talk some more.  And knit.  And spin.  Nikki had brought her new spindles, so when I got frustrated with my current knitting project (a Tilting TARDISes cowl.  Only five more repeats.  Out of eight.  *sigh*), I picked them up and some of the fiber she’d pilfered from me and took them for a test spin.  I’m not a big fan of spindling, but it was soothing to do for an hour.  Deb’s husband laughed at what a wild group we were when he got home to find us all sitting in front of the fire just watching this spindle spin.  But hey, it was that kind of a night.

So it ended up being a bit of a spinny weekend.  Sunday night I got on my travel wheel to work on the yak/silk fiber I got in Rhinebeck.  Got about 2/3 of the way through the bobbin and was spinning until midnight, happy as a clam.  Nice, fine, even singles coming off my fingers.  My shoulders are a little stiff now, but it’s a good feeling.

The feeling that’s not so good?  My long draw spinning.  I can’t do this.  I don’t think it’s a skill.  I think it’s magic, and the people who can do it are laughing at me for being such a muggle that I can’t figure it out.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this video.

It just flows off her hands.  That’s not normal.  When I do it, the fiber fights me every inch, breaks, knots, clumps, it’s awful.  It takes me fifteen minutes to get through one rolag.  We hates it, precious!  We hates it forever!!

But that quote is why I HAVE to master this.  I got some gorgeous Gotland fiber at Rhinebeck this year. (maybe I told you this already)**goes back and checks** (Yup, you know all about my Middle Earth fiber.)  But because it’s…*ahem*…precious, I want to make sure I spin it right.  And all the recommendations I’m seeing are to spin it long draw to keep it from being wiry.  So I am determined to learn.

Even though I suck.

My teacher (herein referred to as Alpaca!Deb, not to be confused with Who!Deb) told me when she was first teaching me that it takes a pound of fiber to learn a new skill.  So that’s what I’ve done, set aside a pound of different braids of fiber to practice on.  Not my best stuff, but not crap, either.  I pulled the first braid into rolls (called rolags),


and I’m trying to do fifteen minutes a night.  I’m failing miserably.


This is what I did in October.  That’s about two hours of work.  Remember how I filled 2/3s of a bobbin Sunday night?  Yeah.  And it’s all clumpy and bunchy and underspun and I’m miserable about it.  I want to be a wizard, not a squib, and I’m feeling very squib-like at the moment.  But the good spinning this weekend has rededicated me.  I *will* practice fifteen minutes every night.  At a minimum.  Even if it’s just one rolag.  Just like Tour de Fleece, I must spin every day.

But I still think these magical spinners are keeping information to themselves…

Fine Dining

Fine Dining

Every other weekend brings a new project, mostly because that’s when I get paid and so can afford the bits and bobs I need for whatever I’m working on.  The last week and a half or so has been the dining room.

dining room

Look at the wallpaper, not the person!

The wallpaper in this room has been there since we moved in sixteen years ago.  Even then, it was already coming up at the edges, and from day one, the plan had always been to take down at least some of it and paint the walls (my mother hates that wallpaper!).  But I’ve lived in old houses my whole life.  I know the perils that lurk beneath a seemingly innocent layer of wallpaper.  One layer becomes two becomes twelve, and god knows what state the plaster will be in when you finally get down to it, if you can.  So we put it off. Endlessly.  Hid it behind large pieces of furniture.  Basically just accepted that it was what it was, and other things were more important.  Even when the rabbit started pulling strips of it off, we did nothing except joke about letting him do the whole thing.

Then I started cleaning.  And things didn’t seem so overwhelming.  To the point where living with it was more depressing than not doing anything about it.  I knew I wanted it painted, so in an act of desperation, I pulled a piece of the wallpaper down.  And then another.  I let Xander try.  Hero had a go.  Morgan came down for a drink, and the next thing we knew…

So far, so good.  It seemed to be peelable vinyl paper, meaning the surface layer came off really easily, leaving just a paper backing.  And it *seemed* to be drywall or something underneath, not an infinite loop of more and more paper that was the only thing holding the house up.  I did research on stripping paper.  I didn’t have any money yet, and was itching to get started, but I did have a spray bottle and a lot of vinegar, so I figured I’d give that a shot.  50/50 mix of vinegar and warm water.  The paper came off like BUTTER.  No problems whatsoever, except in the angles of the bay window that had rough plaster spots.  And the people we’d bought the house from, bless their hearts, had obviously stripped it all before, as there was a tidy coat of latex primer underneath.  No surprises (unless you count that one!)  In fact, I think the primer may have been the wallpaper’s downfall.  I suspect that, since they used a high gloss paint, the wallpaper glue just couldn’t get a good enough grip and started coming up at the edges right away.  But it meant that not only was the stripping easier, I would not have to prime 3 (well, 5 if you’re being pedantic) of the walls!

So the plan was to strip one wall a night, which, as it was Monday, meant that I would have it all down by Thursday and could start on the priming on Friday.  I used a step stool and an old oak dresser as my ladder and got going, and by the end of that first night, about an hour and a half of work, I had a wall and a half done.  Seriously, that fast.  The kids hadn’t even finished pulling the surface paper!  So we started moving out the furniture from the walls, and I chased them around the room.  Xander and I were even peeling paper before school one morning!  (Morgan wins the prize for being able to pull one whole sheet down in one piece. He was very proud!)  By Wednesday, everything was peeled and scraped, and the minimum of required cleaning had been done.  Some of that furniture hadn’t been moved in ten years, and OMG the dust!  We also got rid of some extraneous wiring, which made ongoing cleaning easier as well.


Tux helped.


Then it was time to decide on colors.

I knew the basics.  I wanted to carry on the theme of the old wallpaper, with one dark red accent wall and the rest in a neutral khaki color.  I’d started bringing home samples as soon as we started pulling the paper, and by Wednesday we had found the red we wanted (Behr’s Vintage Merlot, if you’re curious).  The neutral was much more elusive.  We’d settled on three that we kind of liked, so I got samples of all of them and painted big swatches on the wall where they’d get good sunlight.  We hemmed and hawed for three days.  One was too green, but still kind of nice.  One was too dark.  One wasn’t brown enough.  In the meantime, I started taping.  I taped everything (or thought I did).  I even got clever and bought pre-taped dropcloth.  Basically it’s blue tape with a folded piece of plastic attached.  You tape it along the baseboard, and then pull out the plastic.  Voila!  Instant 2-3 foot dropcloth!  And meanwhile, we still debated the wall color. It went on like that until Friday afternoon when I surrendered and went with the medium not green one (Jute).  Now, bear in mind, it’s Halloween.  In the midst of buying candy and snacks and cider, I’m out buying paint and supplies.  I had most of the supplies I needed at home, but since I was getting two gallons of paint and wanted consistent color, I had to get a 5 gallon bucket to mix it in and a couple of extra things.

It was cold that day, and was going to be damp and rainy all weekend.  So, since the house was now all sealed up and I’d changed the furnace filter, I decided at long last to turn the heat on for the year.  Except…it didn’t come on.  I cranked up the thremostat.  Nothing.  Checked all the switches.  Nope.  Swore a little. Why won’t that help?  No heat.  Fine.  A problem I would deal with another day.  But it was going to slow down my painting as I waited for it to dry.  Dammit, Murphy.

Got home with my paint supplies, made dinner, put snacks out for Hero and her friends, put Morgan on the door and then got to work.  First up went the tinted primer for the red wall.  It went on PINK.  I mean really pink.


Everyone who came through commented on how pink it was.  “Don’t worry, it’s just the primer.  The actual paint is red.”  “If you say so, mom.”  That went up pretty fast, and then I started on the neutral.  What a difference.  It was a little more yellow than I would have liked, but compared to what had been there, it looked clean and fresh and took me less than an hour and a half to get the first coat up on the whole thing.


By the time the kids were back from trick or treating, the deed was done.  Which was a good thing.  I was talking to the parents of one of Hero’s friends about it and complained about how since the furnace wasn’t working, it would take forever to dry.  “I’ve done furnace work,” he says, “would you like me to take a look?”  “YES.”  So he does, and can’t find anything wrong with it, although he does comment that he can’t smell any gas in it.  Ugh.  So I figure I’ll call the gas company the next day.  Then I remember that while I was stripping the walls, some of the vinegar water ran down the wall into the thermostat, and the whole display had gone out.  I’d let it dry out and replaced the batteries, which seemed to revive it but maybe…  I resolved to try that first.

But first, I had to work on Saturday.  I still work occasionally as a sub at the Y.  It doesn’t pay much, but it does keep my free membership active, so it’s worth doing a shift or two a month.  In this case, though, I was resenting it because I wanted to be painting, not working a 9-4 shift.  Ah well.  But I did get up early enough to put on second coats.  That was all the neutral walls needed, and went up in about 20 minutes.  The primer on the red wall looked patchy, so rather than start the red, I did a second coat of primer, which in the end I was glad I did.  Finished at 8:50 and raced off to waste the day.  I stopped at Home Depot on the way home and picked up the new thermostat and a new light fixture for the third floor stairwell, so that light would finally have a cover and not clock people in the head every time they went through.  Had to make dinner when I got home, but as soon as that was done, I dove into the red.  Well, first I got smart and taped the ceiling line and the neutral edges.  Have I mentioned that I’m a messy painter?  Yeah, I should have thought from the beginning about taping the ceiling line.  There were already little spots and streaks of color on the ceiling all around the room, but I hated to think what I would do with red on white.  And I certainly didn’t want to get it on the neutral!  So from now on, when I paint, I tape the ceiling.  Only I’ll do it in a 6″ wide strip next time.  3 didn’t quite cut it…


The first touches of red were gorgeous, but a part of my heart clenched that it was a bit…purple.


Never mind, I was committed at that point, so on it went.  Nice and thick and dark.  And patchy.  Oh yeah, this was going to need more coats.  The only question was how many.  Once that was done, I tried to install the new thermostat.  Turned off the power at the fuse box, hammered in the wall anchors, put in the batteries, inserted wire A in slot B, turned it on and…HEAT!! I know it’s not that difficult of a home repair, but I felt so virtuous for having done it myself!  And OMG the heat felt good.  Got that all done and started the clean up for the neutral walls, cutting off tape, doing little touch ups and the like.  I had seriously overestimated how much paint I was going to need, as I have a whole gallon left.  Not sure what I’m going to do with it.  Maybe paint the third floor stairwell with it.  That desperately needs paint of some kind.

I did coat 2 of the red Sunday morning, which looked pretty good.  But not perfect.  Then I had to take Morgan into the city for a school trip to the Academy of Fine Arts, so I met Nikki and we went to Reading Terminal Market.  I love that place when I go in with a goal.  But I’m not as crazy about it for browsing.  Too crowded.  But the smells were amazing.  We stopped for lunch at my favorite Mexican place, and then we stopped at the Farm Fare stand where I scored a 15 lb. Blue Hubbard squash for $9.  (I’ll save the heritage of the Blue Hubbard for another post)  Hadn’t heard from Morgan yet, so we went back to Nikki’s where I got to oogle her gorgeous new kitchen and where Skye actually deigned to say hello to me.  Morgan met us there, and I tried to talk Nikki into coming home with us without success, so by 2 we were on our way home again.  I changed back into my paint clothes (I’d had to designate paint grubbies, as I didn’t have any due to the weightloss) and got on to coat number 3.

Three is a magic number.

It looked perfect.  No white patches, everything even and glossy, just perfect.  Then Eric showed me how to install the light fixture (I let him do most of the work, as it was at the top of a staircase and he didn’t need a ladder.  I’ll do the next one.), found out we needed some longer bolts to attach it to the ceiling, and I went to get Hero from Odyssey of the Mind.  We stopped at Lowe’s on the way home and got the bolts and a new switch plate, plus one to cover the gaping hole in the kitchen wall, and then back home for dinner and clean-up.

I didn’t start putting the furniture back until last night.  If there was one thing I knew that room needed, it was a mopping, especially under where the furniture went.  But the first mopping told me that that wasn’t going to be enough.  So when I got home from work, I got a bucket of hot, soapy water, a scrub brush and a roll of paper towels and got down on my knees.  It was the right decision.  I’d scrub a section, then wipe it dry with the paper towels, and they’d come up black.  Two passes with the brush got it to acceptable levels.  I just did the sections where the furniture was going back, which took me about an hour, but in the end I think it will be worth it.  Pointed out all the milk splashes to Xander (my chief culprit in that area) and told him if I found them again, HE would be the one on his knees.  Next up, I vacuumed all the dust off the back of the computer cabinet and then purged the inside.  Filled another constructor trash bag with stuff and reclaimed two more power strips.  Nicely organized now!  Morgan and I got that back in its corner, and I vacuumed the other three bookshelves, cleaned the tops and got them back in place, including purging the last one that I hadn’t done already (another trash bag full.)  Last dust of the china cabinet and all was back in place.  Morgan was astonished at how much room there was, although to be fair, the dining room table still isn’t in.  I need to get it cleared off first.  I also still have to mount the folding table and the “mantle” shelf on the red wall between the bookcases, but I hope to get that done tonight.  Plus I scored 4 antique Windsor chairs that have been living in my car since Friday.  I can’t wait to get them in as well.

Here it is, all but done.


Next up: NO BIG PROJECTS.  I need to spend the next few weeks getting back on track with the cleaning routines and getting ready to host Thanksgiving (although all this is making me feel much better about that.)  I am purging and cleaning the fridge this week, and this weekend will be purging and organizing the pantry.  I WILL NOT LAY NEW TILE although I may have enough left from the kitchen floor to…NO!  Then Gabe wants to help me with a project while he’s here, so I think we’ll be replacing the front walk to make shovelling easier this winter.  We’ll see what the weather holds for that weekend, though.  First I have to get the living room clean.  Again.

Oh, and another bonus of doing this?  My chore list is almost all done!


Hitting the floor

Hitting the floor

To quote John Watson, that was the most ridiculous thing I have ever done.

Everything started out according to plan.  I got home from work Thursday afternoon to an empty, quiet house and started moving stuff.  Everything came out of the kitchen.  Everything off the coat rack, everything on the floor, all the tables, everything except the corner cabinet and the fridge.  Those I just pushed into the middle of the floor.  Morgan wasn’t due back from school until after 8, and I had no idea when the kids would be home (turned out to be almost 10), so I started cleaning.  It was TERRIBLE.  The dust under the corner cabinet was cotton candy thick, and under the fridge was even worse.  I couldn’t even get most of that up, but since the floor was coming up, I didn’t really bother.  But the baseboards were bothering me.  So I tried cleaning them.  Emphasis on the word “try”.  I tried cleaner and paper towels.  I tried bleach cleaner and rags.  I tried Magic Eraser.  No good.  It kept coming up dingy and gray.  Depressing.  It was going to need repainting.  But not now, I insisted.

I picked Morgan up from school and brought him home with the promise of a late dinner after we got the furniture moved.  The corner cabinet went pretty well, considering it has nothing to get a good hold on.  But the fridge… Yeah.  I ended up taking the handles off of it and taking down everything stuck to it so we could get it out.  It was a production.  But we managed it with only a tipped over jug of milk (it fortunately didn’t spill).  I started Morgan’s dinner, and while we waited for the water to boil, I pulled up a chunk of the linoleum.  It was so old, most of the adhesive had disintegrated, so it came up in a big piece.  Morgan tried one and got a bigger piece.  And we…just kept going.  For me it was like peeling a sunburn (which I love doing).  He kept pulling pieces up and reading them like clouds (“Look, it’s South America!”)  By the time his spaghetti was ready, we had all the low hanging fruit up and had started in the butter knives.  We were both committed now.  And by 9:30, the kitchen looked like this:


(See what I mean about the woodwork?  And that’s after cleaning it.)

And the dining room looked like this:


Okay, so all was good.  Friday I would get up what else I could of the old linoleum and get the floor swept and vacuumed within an inch of its life.  And I wouldn’t think about painting, even though with my incredibly sloppy painting style, this would be the PERFECT time to at least do the woodwork.

And then Nikki, my faithful Ethel, told me she’d come up by about 11.

I get up at 7.  That’s FOUR HOURS of wasted time!  I could do anything in that time!  I could… do a second coat of paint.  *sigh*  Yeah, I was painting.

So I stopped at Lowe’s on my way home from work.  Got a gallon of “high hide” (HA!) white for $20, a couple of cheap brushes and some masking tape.  I also scored a length of moulding.  It’s called carpet reducer or transition moulding, but it’s basically a piece of sloped moulding with a cut out to go over the edge of carpeting or other height difference in the floor.  I have that from the hardwood floor in the dining room to the subflooring in the kitchen, so this will make a nice change from the crappy metal strip that was there before that people kept tripping over.  We ordered in pizza and Chinese and I started painting.  It took me about 45 minutes to do everything.  It helped that I didn’t have to be careful of ANYTHING.  The paint was flying.  I didn’t care about the floor, because it was all going to be covered, I’d taped the glass so it was mostly safe, and I didn’t care about the walls, as I was just going to be painting them in a month anyway!  And even that first coat made such a difference, although high hide, my ass.



And yes, I painted that grill, too.  Irritating.  The only time I hesitated was when I came to the kids’ height measurements.


This was the last place they were preserved, as the other was at my mother’s old house and she didn’t take that piece of moulding with her.  Advice for new parents: Invest in that height measurement doo-dad.  Or just get an 8 foot piece of moulding, paint it up nice, screw it to the wall and forget about it.  You’ll think it’s stupid at the time, until it comes time to move or paint.  Then it will hurt.  This hurt.  But I did it anyway.  As you can see, it needed it.

One coat was definitely not going to be enough, though, but since Nikki was coming so late, I’d have plenty of time to get it done.  And maybe wash the paint out of my hair.


I woke up at 3 in the morning with the overwhelming need to go paint.

I should have listened to that urge.  Instead, I read for an hour and then tried to go back to sleep. Got up around 7 after an appalling sleep, had my breakfast, and got back to work.  But as I worked, it quickly became clear that two coats wasn’t going to be enough, either.  The baseboards seemed okay, but the doors and windows were still looking streaky and gray.  And just as I was finishing, I paused to check my texts.  Nikki was on her way and would be there around 9.  It was 8:50.  I looked at all the wet paint in horror, and then started revising my plan.  We had to wait 4 hours between coats.  Okay, I had to get the kids up and out the door with their father, and then we needed to microwave shop for Nikki for her apartment reno and hit Target for some sheets and cleaning supplies.  So we did all that, plus I ended up with a new toilet seats and hooks to fix the kitchen coat rack, and we stopped for lunch.  Eating is good.  Must remember to eat.  We got back around 2 and started on the third coat.  At least with two of us it went a lot faster.  But yeah, it was definitely needed.  Nikki said, “I thought this wasn’t really necessary until I started putting the paint on…”  Yeah.  But everything’s gorgeous now.  So it was about 3:15  by the time we finally got started on the floor.

The first decision was the hardest.  The tile was…not what I’d expected.  The online picture had looked like varying length worn wood planks.  What was in the box was just vaguely wood colored stripes with a bit of graining.  I almost burst into tears when I saw them Thursday, the first time I had opened the box.  But it was what I had and it would have to do.  But as I’m laying out the center point (we finally ended up being lazy and using the subfloor seams instead, as I was making a hash of it), Nikki suggested, “Why don’t we alter the directions?”  Initially I was horrified.  I was so focused on trying to make this blend in with the rest of the house that I was sure doing such a thing would look terrible.  But, pretending to be a reasonable person, I agreed to try it.  It…looked okay.  So I jumped in.  “Okay, do it.”  And we did.  It started small:


And just kept growing!


It didn’t take too long to get the bulk of the floor down, maybe 45 minutes to an hour.  Then we started trimming to fit around all the edges and cabinets.  That took longer, at least an hour and a half.  But when we were done, it was beautiful.


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I kept telling Nikki that she was right.  And she absolutely was.  If I had done it the way I planned, it would have looked tacky and terrible.  This was gorgeous, warm and inviting.  It even made the cupboards look better!

Then the drama of getting the furniture back in began.  We started with the fridge.  I had wisely bought sliders to help get it across the floor.  They didn’t help.  The new threshold didn’t make it any easier to get it through the door.  We pushed and pulled and shoved and cursed, and I dropped it on Nikki’s hand.  (We’re now even for when she dropped her metal loft frame on my head.)  Finally she had the inspiration of using the small luggage hand truck she had brought to haul her new microwave with.  I handed it over, we heaved and ho-ed, and like magic, the fridge was in.  Plugged it in and pulled out a bag of frozen peas for her hand while I shifted the corner cabinet.  The sliders worked for that, and in fact I’m probably going to get some nail in ones to make it easier in the future.  But that was enough for one day.

We wanted to watch Doctor Who, but neither of us had the brain capacity.  We did go out to dinner around 6:30, and discovered that the new Indian place around the corner is about the best EVER.  Getting some food in helped (as lunch was about six hours before), but we were still pretty toasted.  We hung out until the kids got home around 9 just so we could see their reaction, and then I drove Nikki and her new microwave home.  We avoided the Deb traffic curse and made it down in good time, although getting home was more of an adventure, as the exit onto the Schuylkill was under construction, so I got to drive around the neighborhoods and past the zoo to get on, and then there was an accident.  But I was home by 10:30 and totally crashed.  Only to wake up at 4 and not be able to sleep again.  *sigh*

So it is now a kitchen again, and I’m so happy.

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It still needs the walls painted, and I need to replace the ceiling tiles.  I’ll paint the grid at the same time I do the walls.  And believe me, I will be taping and covering the hell out of the woodwork and the floor when I do!  And new rules are in place now that whoever does the dishes also has to sweep the floor now.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, as I’ll do a perfect job on it with my weekly sweeps, and it can now get mopped once a month as well.  I can’t tell you when the last time was that I mopped that old floor.  But for under $200, I’ve had a pretty substantial improvement in my kitchen.  It just feels good to be in there.

Now to decide on my next project.  I should get the front walk redone before the snow flies…


Out of my mind.

Out of my mind.

I think with all this cleaning, I may have finally snapped.

Nothing is perfect, but it’s all better.  Calmer.  Less overwhelming.  I still have a lot of work to do, but for the most part that’s all deeper cleaning stuff.  The kids’ floors are clean, the living room and dining room are swept, the table is clear every night and the kitchen sink and counters are always clear.  It’s even becoming ingrained already.  I get twitchy if I can’t get the sink and counters wiped before I go upstairs every night.  I wasn’t able to do anything extra yesterday because of all the running around with the kids I had to do.  It’s a good feeling.

But it’s dangerous.

See, cleaning isn’t going to help all that’s ailing in my kitchen.

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Notice something wrong in those pictures?  Yeah, aside from the really hideous cabinetry (I’m working on that).  The linoleum.  This is OLD linoleum.  Like, paper linoleum. at least 50 years old.  It’s worn, and dirty, and you can see where the rabbit has gotten his nasty, sharp, pointy teeth into it and ripped up whole sections.  It’s ugly, it’s impossible to take care of and it needs to get replaced.

I bought new peel and stick linoleum last week.

Sears was having a great sale, so I got enough to cover the whole floor for under $100.  But I knew it was going to take a couple of weeks to get the kitchen in shape enough to do it.  Except…  Well, the worst is done.  Sort of.  I need to pull out the corner cabinet to clean under/behind it, and I have to pull out the fridge to do the same.  But if I have to move them anyway…

The nail in the coffin?  The kids are going to be gone this weekend.  Their father’s family is in town, and while the little kids are off school today and can go visit, Morgan has classes, including the first meeting of his English class which he absolutely can’t miss.  So Eric is taking them all down to Delaware to his cousin’s house on Saturday, leaving me all alone in the house to do whatever I want.  Which is apparently going to be re-laying the kitchen floor.

Morgan and I are going to pull out the fridge and corner cabinet tonight when he gets done with classes, which will give me a chance to sweep and possibly dust (although possibly not).  Then tomorrow he only has one class in the morning, so he’s going to start the demolition, which will let me vacuum everything really well.  Thankfully Nikki, bribed with many good meals, is going to come up on Saturday and help me with the peeling and sticking, so hopefully by the time the kids get back, we’ll have a brand new kitchen.

Well, except for the cabinets.  And the ceiling.  But that’s next.

If you don’t hear back from me by Sunday, tell my mother I loved her…

DIY Summer Camp

DIY Summer Camp

We’re down to the last few days of school.  Which in many ways, hallelujah.  They only had to do one extra day to make up for all the snow days (because they only had one day for spring break.), so next Wednesday they are done and dusted for another year.  It was rocky, but all in all I think it was a good one.

But now they have three months with nothing to do while I have to be at work.

Unfortunately, they’ve both aged out of summer camp.  Xander’s too old to do anything but CIT, and with his learning challenge he can’t CIT, and Hero’s just really not interested.  And it costs too much for someone who’s not interested. I know what they would do if I let them.  Lots of video games and YouTube videos.  That is totally not happening.  So instead, we’re designing together a DIY summer camp.


source: DIY.org

The use of DIY is very intentional.  The core of their summer will be earning badges from the DIY.org site.  For anyone with kids, this is a great site to check out.  It was inspired by the whole maker movement, which I fully endorse, even if I’m only good in a couple of areas of it.  Basically, the kids are encouraged to complete 3 challenges in any skill set, from baker to backyard farmer to gamer to LEGOS to computer development.  Just about any activity that your child might be interested is represented here, from sports to academics, “domestic” work to technology.  And when I say earn badges, I mean real, actual physical badges, just like I used to earn in Girl Scouts.  So we set up the camp structure on the idea that they would each have to earn one badge every week.  I don’t care what they are, and they don’t each have to work on the same one, but they have to do at least one every week.  To pump them up a little, I gave them badges to start with.  Hero had already completed three, so I got her those physical badges and I got them both generic DIY logo badges as kickstarters.  Unsurprisingly, they both had more fun with the slipcases the badges came in, but we’re already looking at bags for them to stitch the patches to and keep their camp gear in.

They do have summer reading to do, which will be pulling teeth.  But Hero needs to read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Xander needs to read The Illustrated Man, and then they both have to read another book of their choice.  I want them to read a lot more than that, but I’m not sure if that’s going to happen, even if I allow graphic novels (which I totally will).  So that’s the second component of their camp day.

The third part is physical activity.  I don’t care what it is.  They have bikes, they can go for a long ride.  We have a Y membership and they’re both old enough to be there on their own, so they can go swim or play racquetball or something.  They can go for a walk or a run.  I’ll buy them a basketball and teach them how to play horse. I don’t care what it is, they just have to do SOMETHING.

And finally, there will be daily chores.  Mostly it will be small household stuff, but I do have a couple of big projects that need doing that they and their brother could manage: pulling off the carpet on the first floor stairs so I can refinish them, and pulling up the linoleum in the kitchen so I can lay new tile.  Heavy labor, but it’s all destructive, and not very big, so I think they’ll have fun with that.  And they learn that everyone contributes work to the family.

I figure that’s 3-4 hours a day of structured activity.  After that, they can do whatever they want with their day, including video games and YouTube videos.  But with this, I don’t have to feel like a bad mother or worry about them all summer.  And with the badge work, they get to try some new things and hopefully find some new interests.

I’ll report back on how it goes!