Category Archives: House Projects

Quilt haning on curtain rod

Use Everything

When you open every box, you might be shocked by what you find, how much you find. We have – as Brian likes to say – an embarrassment of riches.

In most any of the de-cluttering books I’ve come across, there is this idea of releasing the things that you do not use so that someone else can enjoy them and so that – if you are inclined to take this perspective – the object itself can enjoy a better life too. This is supposed to make it easier to let go of attachments and to a great extent it works for me.

It isn’t often that I regret letting something go. But the one thing that comes to mind whenever I consider this question is a desktop rotary telephone. I bought it over twenty years ago only to realize that it had a mid-1960’s round wall plug that would not work with a modern telephone jack, at least not in the United States. By “modern”, of course, I mean modern for the time, the so called modular jack or Western jack, a name that comes from the Western Electric Company that first used it for telephone wiring. It directly preceded the explosion of mobile devices that would have happily pummeled landlines into obsolescence were it not for nostalgia and the joy of tactile things: Against the weight of a spring, pointing and dragging the dial around to the finger stop. That clicking beneath a cover of hard plastic – the coil winding up might remind you of zipping a tent shut – and the sound made as the finger wheel returns home, the “uncoiling”, could be mistaken for gurgling – faint though it may be – emanating from a swampy ditch. Are those frogs? A bird I do not recognize? Of course, if you know this sound, it is simply dialing.

There I am in my grandmother’s telephone chair in the corner of the dining room wishing that I had someone to call.

There is also the shape and weight of the receiver, hopefully pleasing, otherwise what’s the point? Dial tones. The sound of brass gongs as they are struck in rapid succession by the clapper ball. No, the ubiquitous smart phone could not efficiently snuff out this delightful gadget completely, but it did in effect stunt the evolution of things hardwired. Just try to purchase a brand new telephone, one that plugs into the wall, that isn’t junk. It is for this reason, the lack of faith that anything better will ever be made, that Brian could not resist purchasing a phone at a garage sale two years ago. The keypad is in the handset, making me think that it must be something from the 90’s. We have yet to plug it in. But there it is, just in case.

Well, thank goodness for my dad who did the dad thing and fixed this otherwise useless vintage telephone from the ’60s. On the upside are all of the tangible things previously mentioned plus a really long cord. The downside, I suppose, was the color. Beige. No fun there. There was also a crack in the housing. It wasn’t big or especially offensive, but noticeable nonetheless. But damn it was sturdy. Sturdy with a good ring. With the exception of these minor aesthetical preferences (black or red would have been groovy!), I loved that phone. So why did I take it to the Goodwill some years ago?

When I met Brian, he too had a number of rotary telephones, including the black one that sits in our living room. We couldn’t possibly use all of them, so in a gesture of sympathy for his own attachments that I might have imagined and in trying to stick with the self-imposed rule that everything must have its place or it must go, I decided to give up my old phone. After all, there was the color and that crack. Of course that’s when I realized that the phones we did keep had their own problems. For example, a poorly fitting connection on the phone in the bedroom means that I need to be careful to ensure the cord doesn’t pop out of the receiver in the middle of a conversation. Then there is the short cord, relative to the one I gave up, that makes this more likely. Faded colors. Brittle cords. Permanently foggy plastic finger wheels that are supposed to be clear.

I miss my old telephone, the one my dad fixed. But missing it hasn’t deterred me from taking a cold look at the other stuff in my environment and – if it seems like the right thing to do – letting it go.

I recently hung some random Barbie doll clothes in the tree in our boulevard. I really made a nice display of it, pinning them on a hanger with paperclips. After a few days of no takers, I was about to declare this a failed gift. But one morning while I was reading the newspaper on the porch, two women walking their dogs stopped and took note. “Can we take these?” they seemed to ask. “Yes. Take them!” I pleaded without speaking a word. “Read the sign! Free! Free!” I look back down at the paper. I’m afraid that if they sense me watching they might fly away like nervous birds.

Finally.

Hurray!

One less thing stuffed in the corners of my garage, but instead out there enjoying a better life mingling with other beloved doll clothes in the bedroom of an eight year old.

Why not imagine something good?

Of course this only encouraged me. So, next I hung a Word Find puzzle book in the tree. Brian gave this to me, along with other magazines and amusements years ago when I was recovering from a health issue. Or it might have been a Christmas stocking stuffer. He really goes over the top every year. Indeed I am spoiled thanks to the stocking that I acquired the Christmas I visited my brother’s family in Virginia. To include me in the festivities, they made a stocking with my name glued in silver glitter on the fat white cuff. Well it’s huge. I mean really big. And Brian fills this up every year. There are usually a lot of practical things like a toothbrush and dental floss, my favorite moisturizer and razor blades. Then there is candy, possibly a stuffed animal and magazines about gardening, writing and mid-century furniture. And, as I said, there could have been this puzzle book. An embarrassment of riches indeed.

Well days pass with no takers. And when it rained, I forgot to bring the puzzle book inside as I promised myself I would do. It’s under a canopy of leaves. Maybe it’s okay? Then one day, a Somali girl who lives down the street appeared. She was riding her bike up and down the sidewalk that marked what we imagined to be an agreed upon boundary where no streets would be crossed. Every time she passed, she smiled and waved at Brian and me who were sitting on our enclosed porch. Not a little wave. She waved big. Smiled big too, as if she imagined herself to be Miss America at the center of the Macy’s Day Parade. After her tenth pass or so, I yelled out the window. “Do you see the book?” “A book?” “In the tree! You can have it, if you like!” She needed some help figuring out how to release it from the binder that was tied to the string that permanently hangs from the tree. So, Brian went out to give her a hand. The pages were dry but a little wavy from having been wet. “It’s fine.” Brian said. But I worried that the girl’s mother would wonder why we were giving our garbage to children. I can only hope that the brand new and newly sharpened pencil with its fancy foam grip that I included with the book might have made up for any of its defects.

Soon after that, the girl disappeared only to return with two of her siblings. The youngest, a boy who looked to be three or four, knocked on the door. He was not a shy kid, as his knock was big. While his two sisters looked on from the sidewalk, he handed Brian a note. “My sister wanted me to give this to you,” he said. It was a thank you note and an introduction.

Of course now I am keeping my eye open for more presents to hang in the tree.

Then there are the things that are inexplicably hard to give away. For example, take these plain white aluminum curtain rods. We can’t use them. And that is the new rule I’ve declared since taking on the task of tidying up the garage. Use everything. This year we are going to use everything: Random garden tools, some that I cannot even name (the monster claw thingy turns our to be a hoe and cultivator combo); recreational equipment, including the ice skates from my childhood, a huffy bike that weighs a hundred pounds more than the bike that replaced it, and foam noodles that haven’t seen a lake in half a decade; and enough car care products to open a shop. Use it this year or let it go. And I am keeping track! “I used some burlap!” I report this to Brian as if it were the most exciting news of our lives – and these days – it just might be.

As for the curtain rods, it is not so much that I imagined they would ever be used for curtains, save some that might be used to convert the garage into a stage at some point (Note: I once saw the best play I had ever seen in someone’s garage on the hottest day on record.). Nevertheless, there was a nagging potential that I could not quite name. So, there they sat destined to be listed on FreeCycle along with a metal bed frame that has lived in the rafters of the garage ever since we moved into the house twelve years ago. But not today. Not today.

Thank goodness, not today. Or the magazine rack that I made with some of these old curtain rods would never have been conceived.

Magazine rack made from a white aluminum curtain rod and curtain rod clip rings. I also tried using cafe curtain rings, which worked but not as well, and binders looped through a standard keychain ring.

It just so happens, that in addition to the rods I had these rings with clips on them that I had found while “sorting bolts.” No doubt these were purchased years ago for some project that was either abandoned or where a better solution for whatever it was that I was trying to do had presented itself. Frankly, I don’t remember. I just know that as a pile of magazines a mile high stared me in the face, organizing maven Marie Kondo came to mind, specifically her idea that you should be able to see what you have. Stacks of things are the enemy of a tidy place. But there is no magazine rack big enough for the pace at which this stuff comes into the house. Combine all of this with having seen someone on HGTV hang a rug from a curtain rod and the idea for this magazine rack flashed through my mind. I would not be able to rest until I could see whether it was a good idea or a bad one.

I love it!

More than having the materials to make it, what matters here is having touched those materials a number of times in the course of organizing my things. I spent a lot of time contemplating what to do with these damn curtain rods. Logic would have said out with them! My own preferences for a space that isn’t burdened by visual noise would have pushed me to get rid of them. But my mind couldn’t stop noodling with the possibility that these things presented.

So they sat.

Maybe I’ll give them away tomorrow.

But not today.

Not today.

To touch everything that you own in a household that has accumulated things over years is mentally exhausting. Embarrassing, even. But it is necessary. How will you ever really know what you have? I am paralyzed and depressed by clutter. Who would not tuck in the messiness of life as if everything can be fit into a uniform box that only needs to be wrapped with the perfectly sized sheet of Christmas paper and a dab of scotch tape? But what can be imagined in a perfectly sterile environment?

Cleaning the Garage

This is from a message I sent to my friend Santwana:

Being “disconnected” has been interesting. When Wilson – our cat – died, I completely lost interest in Facebook in particular. It was like I suddenly didn’t like pizza, though I never liked FB that much… Anyway, for whatever reason, grief just triggered this aversion to scrolling through random posts. When I transferred the account to the iPad when the “email/social media” computer went down, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to resist checking it whenever there was a pause in the action (sometimes wrongly interpreted as boredom). But this has not been the case so far.

Lately, the main thing that has occupied me has been cleaning the garage. It’s the thing I itch to do the second I get up in the morning. On top of the regular spring cleaning that would normally take part of a day, I’ve been reorganizing things so that the space works better. I am looking in every box, every corner and dealing with every misplaced bolt. I make progress every day and end up spending much more time on it than I ever plan because I just get lost in how to store something tricky like the bag to the lawnmower, which is rarely used but used. Answer? Strap it to the ceiling with bungee cords and some eye screws.

… When I am staring at a bunch of lampshade frames that I’m going to make something with (more lampshades?) “someday” and wonder how the heck to store them, the last thing on my mind is checking my email. It feels great. I think that there is also something psychologically beneficial to doing something that has visible results. It’s a place to retreat when you’re not sure you’re making a difference elsewhere or worse, when you feel powerless to make a difference.

Last night I gave Brian a haircut in the garage. Then he brought out some drinks and we had a cocktail there. It might have seemed like an odd thing to do given that we have a yard, a deck, a nice porch… But there is something about being in a garage Рespecially a spiffed up garage Рthat I just love. And I figured that with the pandemic, we might as well mix it up and expand our living space.

Do I sound like a nut going on about my garage? …

Indeed I have figured out some creative garage storage solutions. For the moment I’ll share this one. Where do you keep the whiskey?

As I mentioned to Santwana, I am looking in every box and in one of them I found a set of kitchen canisters. I bought them at an estate sale years ago but couldn’t make them work in my kitchen with its limited counter space. While pretty, in the wrong space they feel like clutter. When an attempt to sell them on Craig’s List failed, I stored them in the garage. Eventually I would find someone who needs them, right? Or maybe they would become the next hot thing and I would be rich? Doubtful. So I was either going to use them or give them away. But now with everything shut down because of Covid-19, taking the set to Goodwill is not an option. It’s common to see free stuff waiting to be claimed in the boulevards we pass on our daily walks. Maybe I could do something like that? So I unpacked them and when I did I found this note taped to the top of one of the bundles: “Open with care. There is a smaller canister packed inside the larger one.”

“Open with care. There is a smaller canister packed inside the larger one.”

Of course this note was intended for somebody else. But now here I am reading it as if a stranger had written it for my benefit. It got me thinking about the notes we leave for our future selves.

Well, I must talk about “the garage project” a lot. Let me explain.

Yesterday was a yard day where I was trying to clean things up and get some basil planted. Actually, I was trying to get several other things planted too, but I only got to the basil. In any case, on my way into the house to get a bite, I found a package on the step.

Hmm, What’s this? For me?
A gift? Hmm, late birthday gift? Early Christmas? Random surprise from Brian? Ginger? Mom?
Florence! What on earth could this be?
A flask!

Notice in the background in the picture above there is a basket with a couple of books in it. My sister Amy was recently cleaning out some stuff and sent this along with a macrame plant holder that she thought I could use. And not that long ago there was a postcard from my sister Ginger. It’s a picture of Joyce Niebuhr striking a pose in front of an Iowa cornfield, leaning back with her face in the sun. She’s wearing a strapless, knee-length silky purple cocktail dress and long white gloves. There is a short necklace. A dot of an earring. What I imagine to be matching heels are obscured by turf. Did they sink into the ground? Her hair is up. Blonde. One hand loosely rests on the hip that faces the camera, while the other is elegantly outstretched holding three dog leashes that are attached to pigs. The caption reads: “Iowa Poodles”. “Enjoy your day!”, my sister writes.

With so much Zooming and various digital connecting going on, I wonder if “these times” call for more surprise gifts and handwritten notes. A simple phone call out of the blue and – yes – even the pop-over guest.

A little while back my friend Mary Jane stopped by unannounced. Anyone driving a Model T can do whatever they like. But it was actually a detectable slowness of things that emboldened my friend to break the convention of making plans, calling ahead. She says that she never wants to make plans again, an intriguing idea. I want to explore this but some neighbors have wandered out for a look at the car and Mary Jane must field questions. I am impressed. Passed down from her father, she has lived with this machine for her entire life and can talk shop with the best of them. We sat on the front lawn and visited until she had to leave in time to make it back to White Bear Lake before dark. A threat of rain made things even more exciting. It made me want to jump in the car with my friend, but of course I didn’t do that. Not even with a mask would I do that at this point. But for a moment, things were normal. Better than normal in that there was space for an impromptu visit and more room for perfect timing.

Back to the flask, an unusual gift, right? For some context here, I was telling Florence about wanting to put a flask of booze in one of those canisters. While it seemed hard to explain why this had its appeal without sounding like I had a drinking problem, she got it.

Du Nord Distillery
Let’s not waste any time!
For emergencies and pop-over guests.

In other canister news, a few days ago I noticed a trail of ants marching toward the sugar canister. Being that there hasn’t been any sugar in there for years, I concluded that the ants must have read the label and naturally had to check it out. But Brian and my friend Craig (Yes, he too had to hear about the garage!) insist that ants can’t read and that instead they’re smelling residue sugar. When you see how badly the coffee canister is stained, I can see their point. We had a discussion about deterring the ants, including making the container unsafe for food by placing a mothball in it. A salted moat was also discussed. Lucky for me, the next day there were no ants. So my theory has not changed. The ants saw a sign for sugar, went to check it out and left after a thorough investigation turned up nothing. It would be crazy for the ants to press on with their invasion, right? Fingers crossed that they stay away!

There are more boxes to open. More bolts to sort. But it’s coming along between QuOTeD Podcast episodes, a short story and the garden. Most days I make progress. It requires a certain amount of unstructured time and staring into space for answers. It requires a slowness that I quite enjoy.

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