Stairway to heaven?

One item on the unbelievably long list of steps to revamp the front yard was “stairs through front bed”.  Before the front bed was brought back under cultivation folks tramped willy-nilly through it, oblivious to the fact that expensive shrubs and perennials slumbered under the knee-high grass and weeds.  No amount of shrieking at the menfolk could stop them.  Now I have proper stairs: a clearly delineated path through the ever-more-beautiful garden that has been transformed from the bane of my life to my pride and joy.  Anybody tries to blaze their own trail now gets pummeled with whatever I have handy — firewood, BB gun, shovel, rolling pin.  Be ye warned!

On Saturday night I laid out the path from the front door through the yard and bed.  I used the really-long-measuring-tape-and-knotted-string trick for folks who shy away from the Pythagorean theorem to ensure that my very long rectangle was both “square” (that is, had four 90-degree corners) and perpendicular to the house.  Overhead the sun was going down rather spectacularly.

Cue the choir.

Yesterday I got the treads carved out, the scrap wood 4 x 4 risers cut and placed, and the landscape fabric pinned down.  By that time it was past noon and well over 80 degrees.  I wanted desperately to be done but I couldn’t manage it.  I went inside, drank 2 quarts of instant lemonade, consumed an entire honeydew melon, and took a 2 hour nap.

This morning I finished the project.  I installed little side blocks to keep the gently mounded soil on either side of the treads from falling back in, redistributed all the displaced soil, planted the four new plants I had been holding back because I wanted them near these stairs, and filled the treads with bark mulch.

Eventually the front yard will be stripped of grass and a grid of raised beds will go down in its place.  Open ground will be covered with more landscaping fabric and wood chips.  I opted for wood chips because as nice as pea gravel and decomposed granite look in gardening magazines they can be expensive, they are heavy, and they travel (pea gravel especially refuses to stay put).  Bark mulch and wood chips are gloriously free and abundant when one is married to a logger and lives next door to a would-be arborist.  They don’t pack as well as, say, crushed rock, but they do eventually compress.  They need replacing and topping off, but, again: free and plentiful.  Also, they retain moisture and are soft and quiet to walk on.  I passed on the idea of pavers and/or bricks because I think the garden should be in keeping with the style of the house.  My house is very plain and simple.  A formal garden, no matter how well designed and maintained, would be terribly at odds with my plain Jane home.  But I think a potager, softened at the edges with a cottagey sort of garden would be just right.

— Amanda

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Before and after: bedroom window

I despise mini blinds.  I hate everything about them: how they look, how they sound, how they operate, how they totally don’t block any light at all, how frequently they break, how hard they are to clean, how they gouge the inside of the window frame when they’re improperly sized or installed, how cats destroy them for fun.

And, of course, we had them on every window when we moved in.

When I removed the mini blinds in the bedroom window Matt forged a lovely (and rather unique) steel drapery rod for me to put proper curtains on.  The rod is very cool, but my first attempt at making curtains was not.  I accidentally reversed the width and length measurements because I was so focused on getting the “keyhole” right.  (The horizontal rod sort of hangs off of two L-brackets on the wall, which creates a bit of bulk at the corners.  A deep rod pocket would have accommodated this just fine but I insisted on making this cutout bit so that the join is visible.)  The curtains looked OK but weren’t full enough horizontally so they juuuuuust barely met in the middle.  With nothing behind them this meant that every time we walked by the window the curtains flapped open and the neighbors could see us traipsing about in the altogether.

Because we are both natural-born hicks (I am a redneck and Matt is a tarheel) we solved the problem not by buying proper curtains or hanging a shade but by throwing a quilt over the window and holding it up with giant plastic tarp clips and almost never opening the drapes ever again.

Before: The plaid flannel curtains that barely meet in the middle.

Before: The quilted cover-up.

Charming.

The window has stayed like that for years now because I couldn’t for the life of me find ready-made drapes or fabric to make my own from that was both A) complimentary to the groovy paint by number landscapes over the bed and, B) not heinously expensive.

I found myself at Fred Meyer a few days ago and I wandered down the window dressing aisle (just to look, I swear) and discovered that just about everything was half off.  I snatched up a roller shade, which I had been meaning to get for aaaaages, and then noticed these antique gold faux silk panels.  My first thought was, “Ew.  Gold?  Gold drapes are for hotel rooms with down comforters and dark Berber carpeting and gas flame fireplaces.  Not something I can pull off in a double-wide.”  But my next thought was, “Hey . . . the frames on those paint by numbers are fakey antique gold, too . . . maybe next to the paint by numbers the gold will look pleasantly tacky instead of ostentatious.  Mid-century kitsch!  I can’t make a Craftsman cottage out of my mobile home, but I could certainly pull off the ranch house look.”

At 50% off, the package of two panels was about $20.  Good luck finding a decent home decor fabric in the remnant section of Jo-Ann for less than $15 — a yard.  (And I would have needed 4-6 yards depending on width.)  So they came home with me and got shortened (and keyholed) this morning.  The gold is going to take some getting used to, yeah, but I was right about the paint by numbers.  When you look at the drapes and the paintings together you want to snicker instead of pull a face.

After: Gold curtains and white roller shade.

After: Gold curtains, closed.

And, for reference, by beloved mid-century paint by number paintings, off-kilter, as always.

My aesthetic may not inspire awe but I’ll settle for bemusement.  I think, though, that if a staff writer from Better Homes and Gardens circa 1953 was magically transported to my bedroom she would approve. (After she got over the shock of me going to the grocery store in jeans and a t-shirt.)

— Amanda

P.S. After removing mini blinds, but before hurling them, javelin-like, into the bin at the dump, snip the blinds themselves into 6-12″ sections.  They make excellent garden markers!

Before and after: goodbye hi-fi clutter and hello new bed

Remember way back when I finally finished the green wall and I promised that I would deal with the hi-fi (and the years of clutter on top of it) really soon?  Well, that was December 2013.  I finally got around to it yesterday
.

Before: At the bottom of the frame you can see the stack of shit on top of the hi-fi, which, because it had a stack of shit on top of it (including another record player) we never used.  The hi-fi goes to its new home on Thursday, where it will hopefully get more use.

After: This bookshelf replaces both the hi-fi and the knee-high filing cabinet that was clogging up the entrance to the dining room.  All the shit from the top of the hi-fi, as well as the smaller record player, go on the open shelves and the files from the filing cabinet are behind the cabinet doors.  There’s even (finally) a place for Matt’s lunch box and my stack of library books (other than the dining room table).  Also, it protrudes only about half as much as the hi-fi, giving us a eensy (but valuable) bit more floor space.
This month we had one of only two “free” paychecks this year — a check out of which no bills at all needed to be paid.  I’m hoping to sock some of it away in savings but we agreed ahead of time to make at least one major purchase with it: a bed.  We have a decent mattress and box spring which are only a year or two old, topped by a nice featherbed.  But the frame we have been using is one of those angle-iron and industrial caster nightmares with no support underneath at all, so our carefully selected mattress and box spring visibly sagged in the center — even when neither of us fatasses was on the bed.  I shopped around and found a bed we both instantly liked the looks of, and which went along with the general style and color of our dressers (square, leaning toward Mission style, and stained very dark).  I was extremely pleased, when constructing it, to find that there were five sturdy slats underneath — which screwed into place so that they can’t wiggle loose — the middle three of which have extra legs in the middle for even more support. It feels like a whole new bed.  Like a bed at a fancy hotel.
Before: We may as well have had the mattress on the floor.  At least then it would have been flat!  This picture is from 2006, the year we moved in.  We had gotten as far as painting over the one wall that was 97% Kelly green, but not as far as painting it blue.
After: What a difference!  Paint!  Artwork!  A snazzy bedframe!  The bed’s made, even!  The nightstands still don’t match anything and the bedspread and curtains are still at odds, but nothing actually clashes.  It’s actually pretty restful in there these days. (If you ignore the avalanche of magazines and socks pouring out of Matt’s nightstand, that is.)

Every day it looks just a little less like a frathouse in here.

— Amanda

I can die now

In the spring of 2006, when Matt first drove me past the house I am now sitting in, my first thought (honestly) was “Holy crap!  Look at the size of that garden bed!”  Between the roadside parking strip and the level front lawn was a sloped, gently curved, absolutely huuuuuge bed edged in large river rocks.  The landscaping in it (urine-scented conical conifers, weedy Sweet Williams, and two unkempt rhododendrons) was a bust.  But the bed was rife with potential. 506 square feet — more than half the square footage of the house itself!

With the help of friends, I yanked out all the unhappy, ugly little euonymous along the driveway and shoveled out yards and yards and yards of dyed-red pine chips from the beds against the house.  (The very thought of which makes my hands itch.  Man, those things gave you slivers when you looked at them wrong!) And I even managed, eventually, to rip out almost all of the thick black visqueen that the previous owners had lined the front bed with.  I guess they thought it was landscape fabric.  But it starved most of what they had planted and forced the hardier survivors to send roots out on top of the plastic, under the 6″ deep mulch layer.  It was a disaster all around.

And until this spring I never did manage to get the bid front bed under control.  There were weddings, surgeries, employment nightmares . . . and the project just got more and more daunting as the weeds grew thicker, taller, and more aggressive.

This year I was out of excuses and not in the mood to make any more.  My surgery was in 2007.  I quit smoking 3 or 4 years ago.  I have no job outside the home.  I have no good reason not to weed that damn flowerbed.

So I did.

Matt helped . . . in his way.  He used the front bed as a testing ground for Candy, his “new” old backhoe.

Candy’s little bucket scooped through 6 years of neglect like butter.
On the left: the results of Matt’s “weeding” with Candy.  On the right: the results of my hand, hoe, and shovel weeding.

Every day that it wasn’t raining and I wasn’t in the woods with Matt (save one day to visit with my folks) I was out there from breakfast to lunch — and often, later — shoveling, hoeing, pruning, and yanking.  My joints feel like they’re full of hot rust.  My sciatica makes my eyes pop out of my head every time I bend over.  I have blisters on my pinkie fingers, even.  But I’m so happy.

Yesterday morning I officially pulled the very last weed.  Matt and I met in town for lunch and it was all I could talk about.  He was hauling gravel and sand all day so he said that, since it was literally on the way home, he might swing by the pit and get me a load of screened fill to level off the big depressions where the weird scallops used to be.  He did — but what he showed up with was actually some very nice topsoil.  As soon as I started spreading that stuff people started coming out of their houses to watch.  (And not just because I’m a dab hand with a shovel.)  People slowed down as they drove by, and rolled down their windows to call out “It looks beautiful!”

To my credit, I replied generously with “Thank you!” and “It sure does!” instead of my internal dialogue of “Suck it, bitches!  My garden kicks ass!”

And now, what you have so patiently waited for: the pictures.

BEFORE: 2006, just after we moved in.
AFTER: Yesterday morning.
AFTER THAT: This morning, with all the lovely topsoil spread.

And now, what I have so patiently waited for: my first trip to The Plant Farm to start filling in all the empty space I’ve created!

— Amanda

Out with the old (desk) and in with the new (desk)

Before:  The old oak monstrosity.
After: The new, slimmer desk.

I’ve had a new desk for months now.  I got it on clearance for half off.  But I haven’t been able to use it until today because the old desk — a solid wood behemoth with a cast-iron typewriter inside — was taking up the space.  Had it been the kind of furniture (like the new desk) that breaks down, I would have taken it apart and whisked it off to the thrift store the day the new desk came home.  However, having approximately the same dimensions as a bunk bed, and weighing approximately as much as a loaded chest freezer, I was unable to move it alone or to shove it into the back of the Volvo.  We had been waiting for a nice day to heave it into the back of one of Matt’s trucks but: a) nice days are days on which Matt needs to be putting in long hours on his logging jobs, and b) what nice days?  This is spring in the northwest — all it does it rain.

So yesterday, downpour be damned, Matt had finally had it with listening to me bitch about the old desk (and how much room it took up and all the bad memories associated with it) and with working around the still-boxed new desk (which, even in flat-pack form was about the same dimensions as the couch) so he backed Bruce into the driveway and dumped the old desk (end over end) into the bed.

Neighbor Lee (in hooded Carhartt jacket) supervises Matt as he prepares to tie down the old desk — handcart and all — in the back of the truck known as Bruce.

Somebody who has the room, the inclination to repair the water damaged veneer, and who likes old typewriters, is going to love that beast.  I, however, love my new, slimmer desk.  It’s just as wide as the old one but half as deep, which is perfect because we get some more walking space back in the living room and we used less than half the drawer space in the old desk.  You can see in the top photos that the old desk protruded so far that it prevented us from getting around the end of the couch to reach the corner shelf.  You can still see the dents in the carpet from the old desk’s feet.

— Amanda

P.S.  I know that ready-to-assemble furniture has a bad reputation with some folks but I have never had a problem with it.  When the dorks at the store build a display model they use about half of the recommended fasteners, which is why you may have the impression that this kind of furniture is rickety.  No piece I have ever built has ever failed — nor do any of them squeak, rattle, pinch, list, or otherwise suck. Real wood furniture is nice, of course (There’s not much I wouldn’t do for a whole mortise and tenon crafstman living room set, made of 100% real teak and 0% glue or screws!), but real wood is prohibitively heavy and until I win the lottery it won’t be in my budget.  Extra bonus: for some sick reason I love assembling this stuff.

A bright idea

Before.
After.

 I have had this vase just about as long as I can remember.  Maybe one of my parents remembers me buying it.  I think it was allowance money spent at Pier One?  Maybe one of those oddball catalogs full of dragon sculptures and hippy clothes and crystals and wall-hangings that I used to pore over.

At any rate, this thing is responsible for my lifelong obsession with the ocher yellow color I painted my living room.  Good news: the color was a perfect match.  Bad news: the color was a perfect match and now this lamp blends into the wall like it’s wearing camouflage.

I decided that the easy answer (given the unconscionable price of new lamps) was to move the yellow lamp into our blue bedroom and switch it with the black candlestick lamp on my nightstand.  The only problem: while this lamp lights up just fine, my middle-school attempt to convert it from bouquet-holder to torch-bearer was falling apart and the whole works had gone wonky.  I had drilled a hole in the vase (and even found a little plastic dingus to stuff in there to keep the cord from getting cut by the jagged potmetal of the vase body) and threaded the cord through a metal tube that acted as the neck of the lamp.  To keep everything in place I filled the body with expanding construction foam.  A strange choice, perhaps, but it worked dandy for more than ten years.  However, after half a dozen moves and lot of abuse the expanding foam had come loose and been smooshed down so the “neck tube” rattled about and sat sideways.  Also the shade had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

After a little internet research to see how the pros make vases into lamps I ran around to a few hardware stores.  The solution this time was a little more sophisticated than expanding foam: I was going to use tension to hold everything in place.  A threaded rod passed through the neck of the vase with a bracket on the bottom end, inside the vase, snuggled up against the vase’s shoulders.  On the top side I planned to use a decorative curtain rod end as a poor man’s vase cap (since I didn’t want to order a single $3.00 part online and they didn’t carry this part in the local hardware stores).  On top of that a simple hex nut was going to create tension: when I tightened the nut the whole works should come together since the twisting action would bring the nut down on the vase cap and the bracket inside the vase up towards the mouth.

Most of my materials.

I began to question my slippery grasp of physics after an hour of tightening, dismantling, reassembling, and tightening again.  The damn thing just wouldn’t tighten!  No matter how many turns I gave the nut it just kept working down the rod until it got stuck.  But everything was still loose inside the vase.  It took me that whole hour to realize that the problem was not in my design: it was one of my parts.  The curtain rod end had a shank on it and that shank protruded down into the very shallow neck of the vase and was hitting the bracket.  So when I got the nut tight the contraption was still loose because the length of the vase cap shank was preventing the bracket from reaching the shoulders of the vase.

After that epiphany I tossed the vase cap and grabbed the first round piece of metal I found: a canning jar lid. It fit perfectly on the  mouth of the vase.  I drilled a hole in it, threaded all my bits and pieces back on the wire (for what felt like the dozenth time) and tightened down the nut.  Aha!  Just to be sure, I shook the snot out of it.  It didn’t budge.

I added some new shades and voilà!

The living room lamp now lives on my nightstand.
And my nightstand lamp now lives in the living room.
And here’s the mess I made.  Yes, the fruit snacks were an essential tool in completing this project.

 — Amanda

Before and after: kitchen floor

Behold!  Look upon my floor in awe!  (And reassure me that the surprisingly strong pain in my legs was worth it.)

Before.
After.

I would highly recommend these tiles to someone on a budget who wants the look of a brand new floor but doesn’t have the mathematical skills (or saintly patience) to deal with sheet vinyl.  It’s cheap, plentiful, comes in easy-to-handle 12″ x 12″ tiles, is self-adhesive, and cuts easily.  (If you can cut drywall you can cut this stuff.  Score and snap.  You don’t have to cut deep, just straight.)  I installed it right over my existing sheet vinyl floor.

(But Jesus Christ will your legs hurt.  Not your knees so much — contrary to logical expectations — no, the problem is not that you’ve been on your knees for the better part of a day, but that you have done approximately 1,000 squats in a day.)

Every project has its challenges.  This project had its share: 1) The high spot/screw holes, 2) the loose cabinet face between the fridge and the dishwasher, and 3) the oblique angles of the infamous three-sided divider wall (the one from which I just removed all those godawful windows).

1) The people who lived here before us, who inspire me daily to invent clever and colorful new expletives, were pretty harsh on the kitchen floor.  There was a burn by the stove that looks like they dropped a cinder (or a lit cigarette) and ignored it for about half an hour.  There were lots of weird slashes, like they let the kids play with a box cutter.  Worst of all, though, was the screw holes left over from when they had a bolt-down mini table in the corner where I am trying to put up shelves.  (I assume there was a “breakfast nook”. But I suppose it’s equally likely that it was a stripper pole.)  When they removed the table (or pole) they just pulled it out and left the holes in the vinyl.  The underlayment is MDF, so every time I mopped the water dribbled down those holes and the MDF absorbed it and swelled, resulting in a high spot.  (Had I been thinking — or had I known more about flooring 8 years ago — I would have at least caulked the holes when we moved in.)

You have no idea how much it pleases me to have written that whole paragraph in the past tense.

I cut out that section,

pulled out the loose stuff, scraped down the high spots,

and filled the low spots.

(With this stuff, which I actually bought for a different project.)

Then I patched it with a piece of one of the replacement tiles. (Rather artlessly.  These were literally my first cuts into the new tiles.)

2) The cabinet side wall between the fridge and the dishwasher, as I discovered when I was back there ripping off the crappy old molding so that I could paint, is only attached to the counter top.  Not to the wall or the floor or the little tiny bit of facing on the right side of the dishwasher.  In the grand scheme of things this is probably not likely to ever be a real issue.  But it bugged me enough to get me to spend $2.00 on a package of teeny weeny L-brackets.  I used two of them to reinforce this section.  I cut a little piece out of the old floor to accommodate the bottom half of the L and screwed it into the floor and the cabinet wall nice and tight.  The bottom of the bracket was level with the old floor so the new tiles went right over without a divot or a bump.  The top of the bracket will be hidden by the new molding.  I may have to take a little notch out of it to make it lay flat but I think I can Dremel or chisel it easily.

3) I hadn’t actually intended to tile all the way under the shelves against the troublesome wall, but when I was down there on my big fat butt I saw how shallow the area really is.  Anyone on their feet — or even their knees — wouldn’t be able to see to the wall, especially when all the jars of dry foodstuffs are put back under there.  I fiddled around and discovered that with some origami skills I could do this thing.  I tore up the installation instruction booklets that came in each box of tiles and set them against the tiles that were already down just like I was laying a new tile and then folded and creased them where they came up against obstructions — like the oddball walls and the central support for the shelves.  Then I set the paper template on a whole tile and simply cut around it.  (Sorry I didn’t take pictures.  I was on a roll.)

Another point that pleases me no end is my new transitions.  Previously there were two different kinds: one that had a nice step to it (apparently called the “seam binder” type) and two that were gnarled, nasty, sharp little things that encased the raw edge of the carpet.  They were damn near impossible to pry up without ripping the carpet because they have barbed perforations underneath (like a highly aggressive cheese grater) that bit into the carpet from underneath and the top edge had been pounded (unevenly) deep into the pile.  I ended up having to cut the latter two free.  My new ones (all three the same kind!) are the nice seam binder type, easy both to sweep and vacuum over.

Before.
After.

I had to go back to the hardware store for 8 more tiles on Tuesday (that weird-ass corner ate up a lot of partial tiles and didn’t leave big enough chunks to use anywhere else) so the project cost a little more than I predicted, but it still came in admirably low: 2 six-foot carpet transition bars @ $11.37 each plus 103 vinyl tiles at $0.88 each = $113.38 before tax.  Not bad!

I still need to caulk the gaps (there were some tiles that simply couldn’t be convinced to butt up against their neighbors politely or which I couldn’t manage to cut quite straight) and install toe-kick molding (and caulk that, too).  But I have a new floor!

— Amanda