Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stuff I Did While I Wasn't Here

First of all, Susan at Between Naps on the Porch has a cute style quiz up, and I find everyone's responses so charming.  (Mine are under "the misfit," of course.)  Go over and participate! 

(That counts as something I did while I wasn't here, by the way.) 

So what else did I do?  Well, as I may have mentioned, I am trying to embrace a "do it now" philosophy with the house.  In other words - the proper answer to, "Some day, I should fix the edge on that sink counter" is, yes, "Do it now."  Of course there's the caveat that I can only do a certain number of things at a time, so there's a "do it next" version of this, too.  Lately I'm running a master to-do list and a sub-to-do list for just the current weekend on my phone.  Things like "laundry" and "grocery shopping" are there every weekend, of course, but it gives me such pleasure to get to deploy a check mark next to something (that I previously was doing anyway, but without the reward of a nice check mark).

Anyway, speaking of that sink:

Obviously, that is an old picture, because that is my old stove.  The sink sat on top of a cabinet I had built with 2x4s (to take the weight of the sink), skinned with luaun, and covered with a 1/2" thick sheet of MDF and then tiled with 6"x6" tumbled Carrara marble tiles.  (I would have preferred honed to tumbled, but the tumbled were at the ReStore for a song, so there you go.  In fact, if I had it all to do again, I'd buy a remnant slab, because I now realize it would not be that hard to cut it to fit that style of sink as I thought at the time.) 

In any case, the front edge was fairly raw - you could see the front edge of the MDF and the front edge of the tiles.  Both are pretty finished edges; they're not rough, but they're both thin where they show:

(I'm afraid that's the best "before" picture I have of that spot.  Silly me.)  It just didn't have a substantial look to it. More importantly, I made the door flush with the edge of the countertop. I knew that countertops usually extend 1" out from the cabinets below, but it was easier to build this one flush and I didn't see the standard practice as useful for any reason, so I took the easy route. After using the sink for a while, I realized that having the countertop sit further out prevents water running off the counter from running straight down the cabinets. Of course this counter gets spills, because it's next to the sink - and the dripping was ruining the wood on the cabinet door.  So I needed to fix the door, but I also needed to do something about the water running off.  And I did this:

I added 12" long pieces of marble wainscoting trim to the edge of the counter.  They're attached with grout/adhesive, and before I attached them, I nailed in some painted oak trim to help support them (and stabilize them while the adhesive dried).  My original goal had been to use thinner trim tile and a piece of wooden trim all the way across, but I didn't pay enough attention to the dimensions of the tile when I ordered it, and it was too thick to fit trim underneath without blocking the door.  (I was disappointed that I couldn't see the marble in-store before I bought it; I like to pick out my own pieces of everything, and the pieces I was shipped are allegedly Carrara but don't look like Carrara to me at all - no veining!  I know I just got some peculiar pieces, but I would never have chosen them in person.)  I set the tiles a smidge higher than the edge of the existing surface, so they will trap water behind them and I can mop it up before it runs down the cabinet (not sure whether you can tell): 

Also, I need to learn to splash less when I wash dishes.  (When I worked in food service, I would be soaked from shoulders to knees after doing a big batch of dishes.)  And, as you may be able to see in the photo above, I did an extremely bad job sawing the left-hand piece to length (though I do have the correct blade for this).  It's badly chipped, and much more noticeable than I was hoping it would be:

I will have to find some way to patch that.  Oddly, that project took over a week to complete.  Then there was the clothes line:

The previous owners built it.  The end posts are set in concrete, which is pretty hardcore for a clothesline IMHO.  I like being able to dry things out there occasionally, but I don't use it often.  And I thought of a way to make it more regularly useful but still (perhaps) usable for drying my shower curtains:

There are two sixteen-foot pressure-treated 2x4s spanning the original clothes poles now, with 1x2 strips of pressure-treated lumber crossing them every foot.  I stupidly neglected to "sight" the lumber before I attached it - the left-hand sixteen-footer (further away from the camera in the photo above) has a natural downward curve in the middle.  This is not atypical for wood, but the point is that you face the curve counter to gravity so that it straightens with time.  I did the opposite.  Fortunately all it's holding is its own weight, some relatively light cross-pieces, and (eventually) a climbing hydrangea (you can see it in the lower left-hand corner of the picture above - it seems very healthy, but it is not growing at all.  Maybe next year). 

But then I decided that I wasn't quite satisfied with the arrangement.  For one thing, I wanted the weight of the trellis supported by more than just the T-bars on the original clothes line - those sixteen-footers are quite heavy.  For another, I wanted to separate the load of the hammock from the load of the trellis.  With them separate, the odds of both collapsing at once (i.e., with someone in the hammock) are nearly zero.  With them both resting on the same support, if there were a collapse, everything would come down at once (i.e., hammock falls and the trellis lands on the person in the hammock, who can't duck out of the way because he is busy falling - albeit not very far).  That would be bad.  Also, the hammock rapidly became less attractive when the mosquitoes returned for the year.  Solutions:

Eeeeeeexcellent.  The new 4x4s were about $8 each (I compaced the soil beneat them before setting them in and screwing them to the rest of the trellis, but no concrete), the mosquito net was $15 on Amazon, and the hammock stand was a steal at $25 on craigslist.  And here is the view from the other side, with my garden in the background:

It just so happens to be next to the flower garden, and have a motion-sensing nighttime spotlight trained on it (those were added prior to the hammock), and be under the shade of a giant live oak during much of the day.  I love when things work out like that.  (And yes, I know the oak tree is one reason the hydrangea isn't growing.  But the hydrangea tag wouldn't proclaim "sun-loving" quite so boldly if it knew it were going to live in the DC sauna.  It will thank me later.) 

Speaking of the garden, it's been going crazy lately:

ALL OF THAT GREW IN MY YARD.  I am so pleased.  It had wilted within hours (I think we keep the house too warm - I put ice cubes in the vase and refreshed the water every couple of days, so I was trying), but I think it looked nice for its close-up :). 

I had also been planning to capitalize on a fortuitous arrangement between our property line fence and the roofline of the sun porch and add some lovely outdoor lights.  (This is what we call making a virtue of a necessity.  If your house is further than ten feet from your property line, and therefore further than twenty feet from your neighor's house, you won't be able to pull this one off for $20 in lights and socket adaptors like I did.  You poor baby.)  I told my DH of this idea last year and he was highly skeptical.  So I shelved it for a bit.  Ultimately I decided he was obviously wrong, so I did it anyway.  I absolutely love it:

I think it makes a feature out of an overlooked/unattractive spot on the property.  And I love outdoor lights.  Here it is from the other side:

To my DH's credit, it wasn't a failure of imagination.  He's not sold on it now that he sees it in person, either.  But don't worry.  It's staying.  (The lights are powered by a socket/lightbulb adaptor I added to the floodlight - which is the bright spot in the very center of the picture - that was already on the house.  Because the floodlight has a light sensor, that means that both the floods and the decorative lights come on only at dusk.  I feel that I got a little luxury feature in there for $0.)  By the way, that's the aforementioned live oak in the background of that shot. 

What else did I do?  Oh yes.  Well, the extra support posts I added to the hammock/trellis arrangement were originally eight feet long, so I had two feet of extra from each.  I figured a pair of these sunk halfway into the ground (well, actually, I also had some concrete leftover in the garage, so I set them in that.  Then it refused to cure, so we're going to say that I set them into the dirt, which is similar to uncured concrete) would make good supports for the little archway I've been planning to put over our front walk.  Originally, I had planned to keep an eye out for a great sale on a sturdy wooden archway, or maybe an antique wrought iron one.  They can be very expensive, and I hadn't found one yet.  I was also contemplating the cost (and difficulty of construction) of making one myself from scratch.  Then my two big beautiful fig trees died over the cold winter (they're regrowing, but from the ground up - it will be several years before I get any fruit), and I knew I needed to cut them down, but I didn't have the heart - I couldn't just put them in the burn pile.  And then I had an inspiration, so I went to houzz, where inspiration properly lives:

And concluded that, yes, I could make an arch out of my fig trees.  So after I sulked for a couple of days about the concrete that wasn't curing, I got myself some green landscaping wire and made myself an archway out of fig trees:

I screwed the big pieces of tree into the pieces of 4x4 sticking out at the bottom (you can just see them in the photo above).  This might better show how I attached everything:

I just wired every piece to the previous pieces in several places (and then tightened the twisted ends of wire with pliers).  Here's a closer shot of the top:

It kind of has a flock-of-seagulls haircut.  I could trim that, of course (with a ladder - I put together a little over half of it while it was lying on the ground, then attached it to the supports and kept adding more.  I made the inside of the arch over seven feet high in the middle, so that everyone can safely walk under it.  But my reach on tiptoe is just a bit over seven feet).  But I haven't decided whether I want to keep it unruly.  Obviously, my inspiration photo is a lot neater, but then that's probably not made of fig tree.  I'm also planning to train a climbing rose on it (I planted a little one in spring, and my husband promptly killed it with the lawnmower.  It's the most expensive plant I've ever bought, and after a suitable period of mourning, I decided I was jolly well going to buy another one to plant in the fall, and put a stake by it to keep the lawnmower at bay).  So it has not yet achieved its intended appearance.  The last thing I need to do is soak it in wood sealer (I have tons left over from another project - I just need a cheap spray bottle to apply it with), in hopes that it doesn't rot.  By the way, I trimmed the hedges this spring.  I am going to do them again.  But I want you to know I'm not lazy.  I just live in a swamp. 

While I was fussing with the outside of the house, trying to stick to my "beautiful and useful" goal (thank you, William Morris), it crossed my mind that we have a fabulous antique doorbell (the kind you crank) on the front door, which can be heard throughout the house - but nobody comes to the front door.  Meanwhile, friends sometimes come to the back door and we don't realize they're there if we're not downstairs.  Sure, Bailey, the living doorbell, is usually on the case, but she needs to learn a bark for "a friend is visiting" versus "the neighbor just pulled into his driveway."  Or maybe I need to learn bark better.  So, I decided, I would keep an eye out for an antique bell I could hang.  Then about a week later I realized I am not actually that patient (as I imagine this post attests, yes?), and found a new patinated iron one on Amazon for about $20.  I think it looks awesome:

Contra one of the reviewers, there is not a directional limitation on ringing, the interior bolt is not finnicky, and the entire thing took me about ninety seconds to assemble correctly.  Also, it's true that it doesn't come with mounting screws, but anyone without a giant jar of slightly-rusty wood screws should not be buying an aged-looking bell in the first place.  I'm just saying.  Oh, and it has a lovely full ringing tone - and is so loud my DH insisted I wear ear plugs when I tested to see whether you could hear it from the living room with both exterior doors closed (yes).  Here it is from further away:

OK, stupid $20 bell.  Makes me happy.  Whatever.  What else did I do?  Well...I had most of a $25-gets-you-$50 coupon from one of those local coupon deals that just so happened to be for my favorite junk shop and was about to expire.  For months they hadn't had any antiques or anything, and I had been very disappointed.  Then I popped in a week before the coupon expired and found this for $50:

That's it hanging from my tree.  Absolutely love it.  It's actually comfortable, believe it or not.  And that unassuming-looking rope is jute-colored nylon rated to hold 700 pounds: 

Don't let the pretty fool you - we mean business around here.  I also finally got real sheers for my living room windows (instead of the white vinyl roller shades).  When I saw them for $10 for the pair at Ikea, I knew it was time.  Unfortunately, they really emphasized the high-water length on the curtains (also from Ikea). So I picked up a yard and a half of upholstery-weight velvet on clearance at the fancy fabric store to make trim that would add four inches of length. (I had originally been looking for a peacock blue, after seeing Ikea velvet curtains in that color. I didn't find that, but I did find a gray that coordinated with the curtain color.). I think the trim turned out well:

Oh, and I also shortened the sheers. I only did one window, since that's the only one you can see :).  Here's the whole window: 

We have company next weekend, so I wanted to get the visible part in order - I'm telling myself I'll have more time afterward, but realistically, I'll probably do them when we replace the sectional with a sofa that doesn't cover the other two windows.

I also bought a second sconce for our room, and a revamp of the headboard wall will soon be underway.  And, of course, I'm working on the third bedroom - made some progress on that this week, and will be able to share a full roster of changes soon, I think. 

But my biggest project for 2014 was always going to be resurfacing a 900SF section of asphalt in front of the carriage house.  The sheer size of the area has made almost every option cost-prohibitive - it is a purely cosmetic change, after all; the asphalt functions fine - but I think I have finally figured out how to do it.  The first step is going to be demolishing 300SF of the asphalt (to reduce the cost of resurfacing, and because it's bigger than it needs to be and I can easily sod a portion and merge it with the grassy area behind it), which will be miserable hard labor, but also much-needed exercise.  As for how I'll get to the final product - here's a hint:

And - last on the "stuff I did" (sort of) - I know this is bragging and maybe obnoxious (in which case, so is this whole post).  But recently I had an utterly unimpressive realization.  A few months ago, I was being somewhat disciplined about eating and getting regular exercise and my clothes were fitting better and my weight was dropping (finally!) - but it just wouldn't dip into the range I wanted.  It was extremely frustrating.  (Then I started eating worse and getting less regular exercise and that problem has become academic.  I am working on it.)  It took me literally months to realize - I can lift twice what I could a few years ago.  I don't lift at the gym (apart from a few PE class requirements, I never have).  All the muscle I have built - which is visibly obvious; I've always had little twig arms, regardless of my weight, so you can really see the difference - I have earned the old-fashioned way.  I've been gardening, working with power tools, carrying drywall and lumber (and soil and mulch and concrete), and building things. 

And because the change in my body stems from actually living my life, rather than from some appearance-driven diet or exercise plan, I didn't actually understand that it was happening.  I didn't understand that even if I got myself into my historically smallest adult dress size (which I am still hoping to do this year), I would weigh a good five pounds more than last time I wore that size.  I dabbled in anorexia in college, and the scale has a disproportionate power over my thinking.  But this point is so obvious a child would understand it; it should not have surprised me.  This has made me realize that I view my body, not as the source of strength and vitality that's supposed to carry me through life and help me accomplish all the things I will want to do, but as a blank canvas for my vanity and insecurities.  I see my arms not as things that carry lumber, but as things that wear clothes.  I do sit-ups in hopes of a flatter stomach - I don't spare a thought for the fact that they're necessary to prevent back injury.  I look enviously at teeny girls on the metro and remember when I looked like that - and forget that when I looked like that I couldn't sprint the escalator or carry drywall or use a circular saw properly. 

Probably by the time most women in America reach adulthood, they see their bodies as the, well, embodiment of failure to meet a host of standards that are frequently self-contradictory and should never be applied generally anyway.  (It's fine for some people to be very thin, but not everyone has the same body type.  Everyone needs good food and exercise - but not to be skinny.  And these days a lot of people get and stay skinny by avoiding good food and healthy exercise.  It seems too obvious to say, but we all need to hear it more - me included: that's not healthy.)  By the time most infertile women get a few years into treatment, they see their bodies as miserable, defective failures, with shortcomings that undermine their fundamental sense of their value as human beings.  And that's to say nothing of the fact that their bodies are physically harmed by infertility treatment - from pain and surgical scars to bloating, weight gain, nausea, the expansion of cysts and adhesions, and hormonal instability (and worse problems, like cancer, ruptured fallopian tubes, and miscarriages). 

I am no exception.  And as I walk down the street I hear the accustomed refrain in my head, that I'm pretty sure we all hear - you're not as pretty as she is.  You're  not as thin as she is.  You could never wear that.  You don't have her posture.  You're not as young as she is any more.  Your hair will never look that good.  Those people will look right past you because you're old and out of shape and unattractive.  And then I climb to the top of a ladder and I hear a voice I'm not accustomed to at all: Everyone knows you're clumsy, but you never fall when you're doing this work, and you never break your expensive supplies and tools.  It's a good thing you have really long arms - most women couldn't reach that.  You just read a blog where someone said she hired a professional to do a wiring job like this, but you learned how to do it yourself.  You know, that's a lot heavier than you realized - you couldn't have lifted it a few years ago.  You're doing manual labor in the heat and you didn't realize an hour just passed.  In fact, you're about to finish this job and start another.  A lot of people would be exhausted right now, but if you pause and think about it, you're not even sore.  You actually feel good

I don't know what to do with that voice yet, but I don't think my life or my body is a waste.  Maybe at some point that will really sink in. 


  1. I've been away too. Glad to read your post! I absolutely LOVE what you've done with the outdoor space especially. Don't be surprised if you see me lounging in that hammock sometime.

    Not really. That would be sort of creepy.

    Oh, and I know what to do with that voice. Listen to it. It's right. :)

  2. I've read your blog for a while, but never commented before. Sorry! I just had to say that loved what you said about your view of your body. It was a great reminder for me. Also, I love your house!

  3. Hi! Your home looks beautiful! Have you ever been diagnosed with endo and put on the Lupron shot? Would you recommend it to other ladies with endo - yes or no? I'd love to hear. Thanks!

    Maria In Mass