Category Archives: House Projects

She gave me a funny look but I did not wilt

Once I vacuum the plaster dust off of the top of the window frame, I can put away the ladder. It has been in the office-guestroom for a number of days and sits behind me right now in front of the new curtains. I was determined to get the rod level – something I failed to do when I put curtains in our bedroom – and with Brian’s help and remembering some tips from my dad, I managed to do it this time. Brian doesn’t like curtains of any kind, referring to them as “cloth”. Yet he’s the one who picked out the rod. I love this. I love those finials that look like Christmas ornaments woven with muted gold strands. I like knowing that this is what he chose. We were going for brass but were told that Millennials aren’t buying it, so it can be hard to find unless you go online. It’s something I’d rather not do. For some reason I was stuck on the idea that the curtain rods throughout the house – actually not too many at this point – should have the same finish. So much for that.

Last night during a break in the World Series, Brian came up to help me add a third bracket to address a barely perceptible sway in the rod. It’s at these points in a project just as I’m about to do one more little thing that may or may not be necessary when I worry that I’ll screw it up. Every time I drill a hole I think, yep. This is where it all goes to hell.

I love the curtains and wish that Brian did too. But as much as he is trying not to ruin it for me, I know that he’s just being a good guy, a good guy who will to take me to the store. Fifty stores! It’s unfair to ask him to use his good eye for “cloth” but he knows me. I’m a shopper with little stamina and nothing to warn you when I’m about to run out of gas at which point I might cry, collapse or threaten to pass out. And without help, the chances are good that I’ll leave empty handed because an annoying song has driven me out of the store. So while Brian would rather replace Mick Mulvaney than cover the house with cloth, he does not leave me stranded and will share an opinion that can get me off the dime. There is also the judicious use of the veto power. A room darkening panel is going to make him groan, but it was the only thing in that soft gray tweed that I liked. Besides, we could use the added insulation. I mention this, thinking that he will be impressed. But I have failed. He will never be a curtain guy.

As we stood there in the store looking at the displays, I regretted that we did not get a double curtain rod so that I could put a sheer behind the curtain. I know. More cloth. We both know that we can go through the rigmarole to exchange the thing, but I’m anxious to be done. (Imagine me singing “I just want to be done” to the melody of “It had to be you”.) Still, it seems unfortunate. I should have made a better plan. Then I got an idea.

When I told the salesperson that I was going to put the sheers on the same rod as the curtain, she gave me a look. On the verge of wilting, I remember something my mother says. “It’s your house. Do what you want.” I tell the woman that I don’t care if the sheers will create a gap when you close the curtains. If total darkness is the goal, you could pinch them shut. But honestly, a column of light between the dreaded “room darkening” panels might be kind of cool. She is not convinced but doesn’t try to talk me out of it. Why would she care? She’s just happy to be looking at curtains with us, well past the point of helpfulness. She’s sixty-nine years old and would rather shop than work. Her words. But until she pays off her credit cards, her husband says that she has to have a job. What does sixty-nine look like? Not that. She probably gets this all of the time. “You look great! I never would have guessed your age!” I want to say something equally unoriginal. “What’s your secret?” But here’s my real question. “How much credit card debt do you have?” The words will not come out of my mouth and for this I count myself lucky.

The sheer curtains overlap by two grommets behind the drapes. This keeps the pieces connected for opening and closing.

Well my idea wasn’t that crazy. It works fine and I would argue that putting the sheers on the same rod with the main curtain makes for a clean and simple look. Plus, when you use a double rod, you have to use pocket sheers as opposed to the ones with the grommets, which are easier to open and close. The other thing I ended up doing that played against convention was to offset the center supporting bracket. This accommodated the width of the off-the-rack panels so that fewer would be needed. Imagine two panels on one side and one on the other instead of two on each. I was stuck on symmetrical, but once I realized that this was just another application of the “rule of thirds” whereas in framing a picture – let’s say in a video – offsetting the subject will be more pleasing to the eye than perfectly centering it. I know that this is not radical. But in breaking these inconsequential rules for which I deserve no prize (or in this case, adopting a different set of rules to follow), I am aware of how little deviation is needed to make you feel like a rebel. What about the rules of substance? If a stranger with a part time job at Bed Bath & Beyond is going to tell me “that’s not done” when it comes to window treatments, who’s going to wield the stick when I really try to live my life?

Take the walker. He wasn’t “the walker” but just one of a number of people who have dropped out of the day-to-day grind to… well… walk. This particular walker was making loads of money at some kind of financial job until he quit to walk across the country to raise awareness about a cause – economic justice? the climate? the war? – something like that. I wouldn’t have known about the walker had it not been for co-workers who found him to be a self-riotous imbecile who had¬†evidently never roofed houses in California in July. Otherwise, he would have known to cling to a job he loathed because an air conditioned office is nothing to take for granted. I’m pretty sure that had my co-workers had the chance, they would have been happy to pummel the walker silly with a stick. The ungrateful bastard would have deserved it.

Right now the panels hang to the side, leaving the full width of the window lights visible underneath the sheers. If Brian were here, he would certainly push all of “the cloth” to the sides so that the window was completely exposed. And he could. That’s the beauty of it.

This was a tricky picture to take. These curtains will easily open up to expose the entire window.

The cat is passed out on the floor next to me. For the moment she has given up on herding me into the next room where a choice of brushes sits on top of her purrniture.

Brush the cat.

Move laundry.

Get the vacuum cleaner.

Put away the ladder.

Lunch.

Glorious lunch.

Put the schefflera that is taking up the counter space in the bathroom back into the office.

Cut tape for a new podcast episode.

Wallpapering a Kitchen Door

The original mission was to replace the dishwasher. This presented the question of whether it was time to address the tile countertops. Albeit out-of-date, they looked decent enough. But there was nothing practical about having grout on working surfaces.

What did that tile ever do to me? Why should it be cast out where it would spend the rest of eternity in a landfill next to a diaper full of shit? If I ever wondered whether a partial kitchen remodel could be justified, the black spots found underneath the wood trim by the sink eased some of the guilt I feel whenever there is waste. It was time.

Months after the demolition began, it was about a year ago on New Year’s Eve when Margo packed up her tools for the last time and drove off in her red pickup truck. But things were not done-done. The new Formica countertops and the white subway tile backsplash made the brass cabinet pulls look out of place. And next to a freshly painted wall that went from a sickly bisque to a dramatic blue (honestly, it mostly looks green to me, but either way it is dramatic), the dinginess of the back door bugged me. For the longest time I had a large swatch of white taped to it. It seemed better, but I wasn’t convinced that it was right.

Then I remembered hearing about how my niece had used wrapping paper on the walls of her apartment. So I taped a sample of Christmas paper to the door. Stunning! Then I taped an old cover of an art magazine to the door. I liked that too. It turns out that while our color choice might have been “dramatic” it was also neutral. A lot of things worked. Newspaper? That did not work. I settled on some remnant wallpaper that I rescued from a garage sale maybe 10 years ago. After making a template with some recycled office paper, I cut out half of the pattern. But when I tried to hang it up, I discovered that there was no tape in the world that was going to stick to the back of this wallpaper. I tried rubber cement. So much for that. There was always the wrapping paper, right? Tape will stick to that.

When I first got the idea to use magnets to hold the wallpaper to the metal door, I wasn’t convinced that it would be practical. The one magnet that I had that was strong enough for the job came from a gift shop at the Honolulu airport. It was a flower with a touch of bling in the center. It was perfect, but certainly too expensive; I thought I might need 50 of them.

Enter Axeman Surplus. They had some black disc magnets for 25 cents that were rated to hold a pound. In addition, they had loads of stuff I could use to dress up these generic magnets.

Unfortunately for Brian, the magnets worked great! He’s not a fan of this project. But so what? It’s not permanent. In fact, I have another wallpaper remnant that I can use whenever I want to change things up. And maybe after awhile, the door as it is won’t seem so horrible to me. Or I’ll find the right color and paint it. In the meantime, this is just fun.


[After painting the kitchen, this door needed something.]


[Here the door is half covered with some old wallpaper.]


[Magnets hold up the wallpaper on the metal door. I decorated a couple of cheap generic magnets with bike reflectors @ 30-something cents each. You can actually turn the lights on.]


[The white on the other side of the wallpaper is a template in the making. I used recycled office paper, a paper cutter and scotch tape.]


[Progress on the template.]


[Done! I didn’t have enough wallpaper to match up the pattern. Or maybe I should have worked from left to right? In any case, there wasn’t enough paper to avoid an extra seam in there. However, it doesn’t bother me.]

Break My Heart Wallpaper

How can wallpaper break your heart? Find the one that you love. Then find out that it isn’t made for kitchens unless you’re a character on Sex In the City who never cooks or you’re the super duper careful type (not me) or you won’t mind adding routine repair jobs to your chores or – and this isn’t really fair – you’re staging a home for sale.

Updating Oak Kitchen Cabinets

The goal is to update the kitchen working with the existing reddish oak cabinets and replacing the tiled countertops. As long as we are doing that, we’ll raise the countertops by 3/4″ to accommodate a standard sized dishwasher. We’ll also add better lighting under the cabinets.

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[I love this wallpaper that goes with the gray laminate we chose for the countertop. However it turns out it isn’t suitable for use in the kitchen.]

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[Here you see the Charcoal Boomerang laminate with the red and the yellow that will be in the dining room. At the top you also see a sample of Sea Salt, a Sherwin Williams color that is supposed to go well with oak cabinets according to this blogger. It also happens to coordinate with Balmy, the color in our living room.]

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[Here it is up close. When choosing a wallpaper to go with a pattern that has a small print and some “movement”, a designer I briefly talked to at Abbot Paint suggested going with a medium pattern and straighter lines. I’m not sure this paper falls within those rules, but I still think it works.]

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[The paper would have been used on the back wall that surrounds the door. But since I can’t use it, Sea Salt it will be. You see a swatch of it above the door.]

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[The Sea Salt will sit behind the red and yellow in the dining room.]

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[Then there is this nook to do. A shelf will be made to match the countertops. A sconce will be added if I can find the right one. But the wall is tricky because it leads to the basement, which is turquoise. The Sea Salt will work okay, but it could be better.]

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[For this coffee nook in the back of the kitchen, I thought about using the yellow from the dining room. When I was trying different shades of it, I got the idea to try stripes. Here you see it with the Charcoal Boomerang laminate and the Sea Salt.]

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[Here’s the Charcoal Boomerang laminate with reddish oak cabinets. We tried the darker colors that I’ve seen with similar cabinets, but they just didn’t seem right. I keep coming back to this one.]

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[Here’s the laminate with tile we are considering. Taking a tip from the person who was giving me advice about the wallpaper, I’m favoring straight lines. I love this size and to my eye it looks good. But I wonder if it is too small for the pattern on the laminate.]

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[Here’s everything together. I see I included Sedate Gray from Sherwin Williams. That will go in the bathroom off of the kitchen.]

This is still a work in progress, but we are getting closer to finalizing some decisions.

Getting More Space Out of Your Kitchen With What You Already Have

Lid Storage

I thought, “When I’m 90 it’s not going to be so easy to fish out these pans and lids from a cramped lower cabinet.” Then I realized that it’s driving me nuts now! So I removed some minor irritations by using certain spaces and some objects in unconventional ways.

Kitchen Storage

Pan lids are stored by maximizing underused space at the top of the stairway to the basement.

Pan lids are within easy reach, hanging just around the corner from the kitchen at the top of the stairway to the basement. Some lids hang on picture hanger screws. Others are resting on a two-dollar thrift store find, a rack we were using for mail.

Kitchen Storage

The ledge along the staircase keeps the lids out of the way.

The ledge along the staircase gives enough clearance so that the lids don’t obstruct the path or make it likely that they’ll get bumped.

Storage for pans, spices, paper towels, potatoes, onions, garlic…

yyyyy

A shoe rack used to hold pans.

Commonly used pans are where I can easily grab them.

Pans on shoe rack.

Pans on shoe rack.

In addition to saucepans, the shoe rack can hold often-used spices, a bowl for garlic (we’re out of garlic, it’s the blue and white bowl) and paper towels. More pans hang on the wall and sit on top of the radiator below. Baskets hang from a plant hanger and hold potatoes and onions.

Where do you put a kitchen utensil holder, knives and cutting boards when there is no counter space?

Getting around limited counter space.

Getting around limited counter space.

Storing the kitchen utensil holder in the cabinet freed up precious counter space. With open wall space also scarce, it’s a good solution for us. I also liked using what we already had. Brian’s Red Sox bucket was nice and roomy and lightweight. So instead of getting stored and forgotten as many souvenirs do, we get to enjoy it every time we reach for a wooden spoon!

Related to this, I have a friend who stores her cups and glasses in a drawer. When her kids were little she wanted them to be able to reach them so they could help unload the dishwasher. The point is, you can do what you want. Make it work for you. For me, I see the kitchen as a workshop.

Getting more room out of the pantry for canned goods

Canned goods storage.

Canned goods storage.

Putting canned goods on a sloping rack made the bottom shelf of the pantry more functional. I can see everything at a glance. I got the idea from another blogger (I’m sorry, I don’t recall which one) and it works great!

What’s next for my kitchen?

Painting – I’ve been painting the house and the kitchen will be included in this. Now that I’m mostly done with the basement and the living room, the dining room is next. Once that’s done, the color consultant will come back to help me with the kitchen.

New Counter Tops – Right now we have tile on the counter tops. I dream of grout-free counters.

Floors – The wood floors throughout the first floor of the house need to be refinished. I’m not sure when we’ll get to this, but that’s the plan.

Island – I can get more space with an island that can be rolled from in front of the dishwasher, where it would normally live. The extra prep space would be dreamy. I saw a good example of what I want at the Black Sheep, a pizza place in downtown St. Paul.

So much for the “fun” part

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves with a color that will show the contents better.

Before – Built-in shelves from living room/entrance to dining room

I’ve been listening to Love it or List It as I’ve been working on these shelves. On the show two people, usually a couple, disagree about whether to sell their home or remodel it. In the end they choose between their house that has been updated by a designer and a dream home found by a realtor. My messy shelves remind me of that show. Here’s a tip. Before starting fresh in a new house or even hiring a designer, try dusting off a few things. Put some stuff away!

After

After – Built-in shelves

The dining room is next. On the bottom of the dental molding will be red, like the fireplace. On the top will be “Inviting Ivory”, a buttery yellow, which will carry over into the stairway.

Before

Before – Chicken on shelf

After

After

Before

Before – Tiny train on shelf

After

After


I think that my dad made this little train, but I do not know for sure. I keep meaning to ask him about it. I found it buried in a package. I love it.

So painting and putting the cabinet back together was supposed to be a treat. Instead I was met with frustration that made me want to spit. I knew enough to note certain things when taking the shelves out. But, I didn’t know, for example, to note that four of the 32 clear plastic shelf brackets were different from the rest.

If only I were as sharp as the superhero who changed my tire. Triple A sent her one morning when I woke up to a flat. She was no bigger than me, not big. She had red hair and I think that was key. I think that had something to do with her superhero powers, but I’m not sure. I loved her! I watched her change the tire. Focused. Every bolt had a place. Every step was deliberate. She paid attention. When something didn’t work as expected, she calmly figured it out.

Sometimes I can be like her. Other times I’m defeated by an extra layer of paint.

My house just turned 100 this year. Things aren’t straight. Get a grip. Deal. Deal with it like a superhero. Oh, and enjoy. Love it. I vote “Love it!”

It’s Just Paint

There was a lot of angst over choosing a new wood stove insert. To keep the larger stoves in play, we entertained alterations to the hearth and the height of the mantel; this gave the salesman the idea that I might be a prepper.

“Maximum capacity is a thing with them.” He said.

Worse than being outed as a screwball who believed that a complete economic collapse was possible within my lifetime, ruling nothing out added to the stress of making an expensive purchase that was expected to last forever.

When no one else could, the guy who came out to take the official measurements convinced me that it was possible to go too big. He regretted making the same mistake when he installed a new stove at his cabin on Lake Superior.

“It’s impossible to regulate the heat.” He told me as he sized up my living room. “Once it’s 90 degrees in here, it’s 90 degrees.”

But even after narrowing our choices down to two stoves, I was torn between giving up what I simply preferred and giving up 200 extra square feet in heating capacity. And while the stakes were low — to believe the salesman, we couldn’t go wrong — it was helpful to acknowledge that choosing one thing meant that I could not have the other thing. This is obvious. Nevertheless, noticing the fear, the cause of my indecision, aimed to quell it.

It felt good to put down the deposit and to know that we weren’t doomed to drag things out with false objections and the endless weighing of pros and cons. If we’d be met with buyer’s remorse, it would be a fluke with lessons that needed to be learned from direct experience; it would be life. It wouldn’t be for carelessness that we might somehow end up disappointed. “So enjoy it!” I kept telling myself. To celebrate, we followed a sign and ended up at an odd little place that served breakfast in seven tiny courses.

But still, I can kick myself over something as little as a failed 15-dollar purchase, a tortilla press to be exact. The selection at the mercado in Powderhorn was slim. I settled for a plastic model that had a grip that suited me and somehow seemed sturdier than the metal presses with their loose hinges. Once home, imitating a YouTube video, I promptly cranked down on the handle to achieve the desired paper-thin dough and snapped the sucker off. While it rankled me to be out the cash, chucking the broken press into the trash within hours of buying it seemed criminal, although I wasn’t sure where to place the blame. A mistake so easily corrected, Brian couldn’t be bothered with it. I, on the other hand, hail from the camp of there-ought-to-be-a-law, as in: “There ought to be a law against manufacturing junk!”

I had always been charmed by the fireplace and recall the house blocked out with a few bricks coming into focus for the first time. “Oh, there’s a house.” I said standing there in my socks and down coat. “Cute.” The realtor piped in from where he sat at the head of the dining room table to tell me that no one else had ever noticed it. While I didn’t care that the fireplace had been painted white, others — certain friends, the plumber — were easy to pronounce it an atrocity that spoiled the integrity of the old house. Their revulsion stirred my insecurities.

The fireplace needed to be repaired before we could safely use it.

The fireplace needed to be repaired before we could safely use it.

“We didn’t paint it.” I would say instead of checking my unsolicited critics. “It was that way when we bought the house.”

“Hideous!” the chorus would answer. “You should take it down to the natural brick!”

A quick Internet search suggested that it was unlikely that any of these assholes had ever tried to remove paint from brick. Still, I could imagine that the fireplace might look dingy next to the new stove. I wasn’t sure how, but I suspected that it could be better. So I consulted with a professional colorist.

Removing the white paint on the fireplace was not an option.

The white fireplace with the insert that we would replace with something more efficient.

Staring up at the fireplace that by now was covered with a gray primer, I asked Brian if he missed the white and he admitted that he kind of did.

Gray primer on white bricks.

Gray primer on white bricks.

The following week, I called Brian to warn him that his living room was starting to feel like the lobby of a McDonald’s. But he saw promise and favored sticking to the plan.

I was starting to feel uncertain about this!

The consultant suggested that we highlight the decorative house on the fireplace. It’s rare according to everyone who has seen it. People often ask if we did it, but it’s original.

I'm told that the house on the fireplace is rare. People often ask if we did it, but it's original.

We were happy with the results.

When my mom saw our new red fireplace, she was reminded of the cardboard one we used to set up at Christmas time when I was a kid. Here I am posing in front of it with our dog Rusty. Notice the stockings. There are seven. Seven? Six kids. Mom and Dad. Eight! I count eight!

Rusty was a good dog.

Rusty was a good dog.

And then came the walls. After finishing one side of the room with “Balmy”, a color from Sherwin Williams, I would swear that I loved it and would marvel at how beautifully it showed the woodwork. Then I couldn’t tell or sometimes I just felt like I was in someone else’s house and I wasn’t sure I liked that so much.

The blue is supposed to set off the wood.

The blue is supposed to set off the wood.

Hey, lady! It’s just paint!

I know.

And then I noticed a cup of ice in a photo, one of the before shots.

I was taking a picture of the couch, but it's the cup of ice that caught my attention.

I was taking a before shot of the wall, but it’s the cup of ice that caught my attention.

The photo was a haunting reminder of a time when I couldn’t be without my cup of ice. It reminds me of how Brian would wait for me to fish out the last cube before getting out of the car, patient no matter the weather and regardless of the thing that needed doing. After years of a crawling decline, so slow that it would redefine normal, I found out that my addiction was a common symptom of chronic anemia. So seeing that cup of ice reminds me of a time when I couldn’t carry a load of laundry up two flights without losing my breath. I thought I was out of shape. I thought it was age. It reminds me of the lawn mowers that hummed outside my window. “You can’t do that!” They taunted. It reminds me of being torn over invitations, only to have my skipping rare gatherings affirmed by yet another ruined pair of pants. Getting to the bottom of the problem was scary and full of decision points that can put the biggest of choices into perspective let alone the color of paint.

Realizing that “it’s just paint” isn’t necessarily going to make me a more decisive person overnight. But as a second-guesser, an apologizer and worrier, I am starting to see the value of determining the gravity of a decision before applying a blanket worst-case scenario and giving my emotional well-being over to the whims of a tyrant. For example, I recall having a tough time proceeding with repairing a window because I was afraid that I’d break the glass. I mentioned this to a friend who asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I’ll break it!

“Say, you break it. You’ll take some measurements and buy a replacement piece.” He made it sound so simple. I had been stuck for no reason. Sometimes this is clear. Sometimes it isn’t.

Even if I couldn’t bare to lose the antique glass with its imperfections that soften the southern light, casting wavy shadows on the walls and floors, it wouldn’t be impossible to harvest it from salvage shops or even from the alleys next to trash bins or from the random curb side. Sheets of college ruled paper hastily yanked from spiral notebooks are routinely slapped on these masterpieces with two dabs of masking tape; a semi-dry Sharpee barely manages: FREE!!!

Here's the couch with the new color.

Here’s the couch with the new wall color.

I used the comics for this decoupage project.

One of my favorite treats after painting a room is choosing outlet covers. In this case, I found a spot for a goofy decoupage experiment where I used the Sunday comics.

As I start to put the furniture back into place, I like the blue more and more.

As I start to put the furniture back into place, I like the blue more and more.

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves.

The next step will be to paint the insides of these built-in bookshelves. Behind the shelves you see the dining room, which will also be painted. I can’t wait!

I'll use a dark blue on the interior and the same camel/napery color from the fireplace for the shelves.

I’ll use a dark blue on the interior and the same camel/napery color from the fireplace for the shelves.

The new color should show off the objects better

The new color should show off the objects better.

Painting the Basement – Part 2

Painting the Basement – Part 1

Update: November 29, 2015

Bookshelf Progress

One of my favorite Thanksgiving Day holidays would have been the time my friend Jackie came over to my apartment to help me assemble a dresser-armoire unit that I had bought at a garage sale. The white laminated particle board furniture came with a matching dresser that had sticky glides and a lingerie chest that had the same problem. There were no directions. No diagrams. Just various pieces strapped together with blue painters tape, a stack of drawers and a Ziploc bag full of hardware and a hex key. Putting this thing together with one person holding something steady and the other tightening screws was comforting. How many friendships have been fortified by the quiet assembling of things?

The memory comes to mind because this Thanksgiving my friends Al and Craig and my sister Amy helped me take a huge step forward with making my bookshelf; it is the thing that needs to get done before the anything else can.

Craig and I went over to Al’s workshop where Al showed us how to cut the wood for the support boxes. Then he showed us a couple of different ways we could assemble them.

Amy and Craig assembling the boxes for the bookshelf.

Amy and Craig assembling the boxes for the bookshelf.

Amy and Craig assembled many of the boxes while I made pumpkin black bean soup and cornbread for dinner. The goal was to get them done in time to reclaim the dining room for Thanksgiving the next day.

Quite the team!

Does this make me Charley?

New rule: No pie before the boxes are done!

New rule: No pie before the boxes are done!

It's coming together.

It’s coming together. It was fun reading random titles aloud as I put books on the shelf, Amy crocheted, and Craig and Brian replaced a light switch.

I plan to add another shelf, likely in the spring. For now, I’m thrilled to have emptied several boxes of books that have been taking up floor space. It will help me see the room and figure out what to do next.

I'll sand and shellac the boxes as I have time.

I’ll sand and shellac the boxes as I have time.

I love my bookshelf. I especially love the people who helped me make it. I love sitting in the chair next to it, tucked away where I’m not so easy to find. Once discovered, Brian will say, “You’re staring at your shelf again?”

Yes. Yes I am.

Painting the Basement – Part 1