Garden improvements


The mission to eliminate the front lawn continues. The path to the front door replaced some of it a couple summers ago. We put in a burgundy bunny grass edge on one side of the front path a few weeks ago which eliminated another strip, and we bought more grasses for the opposite side so it will match.

And this weekend we dug up some more lawn (if you can call the dry desiccated remains at the end of this hot, dry summer a lawn) and put in a small paver area where I want to put a bench under the shade of the dogwood tree.

The pavers we chose were kind of an impulse buy. I had another more ordinary square paver in mind at first, but when I saw these I really liked them. They don’t match the pavers we used on the path, but I wanted the uneven edge and hope to coax creeping thyme and moss into the cracks. I also thought it would be better for us, as amateurs, to use larger pieces. Easier to get level and less likely to shift around later. Fingers crossed.

It took some effort to figure out how to lay them out correctly. When we bought them they were just kind of stacked, and it was a bit of a jigsaw to get them all in the right order. It took my youngest child who is good at puzzles to get it right when we laid it out on the lawn before we put it in place.

The older son was also roped in to be muscle. He has a lot more endurance than I do! With our heavy clay soil, it took a pickax to work a lot of that ground out.

And of course, because it’s us, it also took an extra trip back to the place where we bought them to get a few more when I realized it was going to be too short for the size bench I want. It was hard to calculate how much space they would really cover when they were such uneven shapes just stacked on a pallet. For future reference, 16 of them used in total. There are two left over. Stepping stones, maybe?

It’s even level, despite the fact that the lawn is not. This was our stopping point on Saturday.

Sunday we filled in dirt back around the pavers and I planted upright and trailing heathers as well as some lavender and a few other transplants around the edge.

While I put plants in the ground, my husband dug out another strip of lawn on the opposite side of the walkway and we planted another row of the burgundy bunny grasses to match the other side. Some landscaping fabric and some bark and the edges are finished.

I still need to rake up some of the rocks and clay clods left on the dying lawn, and there are more plants to get into the ground, but we called it good for the weekend.

Next up for improvements will be making a bench.

A little paint makes a difference


I was too lazy to put the top drawers back in when I realized I hadn’t taken a before picture.

I’ve owned the same solid wood dresser for decades now, and it’s held up amazingly well. It’s sturdy, holds a lot, and doesn’t dominate the room. However it’s pretty boring – just basic brown everything, from drawer knobs to body – and lately I’ve been eyeing it and wondering how I could spiff it up. I thought about replacing the drawer pulls, but I need 16 of them and anything that’s very unique ends up costing quite a bit.

Pinterest to the rescue! I saw some dressers where the body was painted but the drawer fronts were left stained, and I decided that was just perfect for our room. We have a black and white duvet cover and ombre gray curtains, so I decided to paint the body of the dresser black.

My sister came over to help me, which basically meant motivating me to actually do it. I got a small can of cabinet paint from the hardware store and we used the orbital sander to get off the wax finish that I used when I originally stained it 20 some years ago.

The pulls got a paint coat as well.

After two coats of paint, I let it sit for a couple of days and then put on the topcoat of the same polyurethane I used on my family room tables. Unfortunately I didn’t think about the effect of doing that on a day when it was 88° and the top of the dresser dried too quickly and the polyurethane didn’t completely level out. I’m going to have to get some very fine sandpaper and smooth it and then put on one final coat. The sides and the front were all fine and don’t need to be redone. I think the combination of the heat and maybe putting it on a little too thickly was the problem on top.

The almost finished dresser, with matching dog.

While we were at the hardware store buying the paint, we wandered by a barn door kit that was the perfect solution to my sister’s bathroom door issue. The door swung into the small master bathroom in her house, and took up so much room. She was constantly having to maneuver around it.

The box was an all in one kit with everything that she needed, so after we finished painting the dresser, it was her turn. My husband and I went over and three of us got the door up and working in just an hour or so, if you don’t count the time that it took to drive back to our house to get the ratchet set that we forgot to bring the first time.

I guarantee that door will not stay white and plain very long.

We are both really happy with the changes to our rooms. It feels good to actually get something crossed off the to-do list. All this Covid time has made me fairly apathetic, and I feel like I’m wasting a lot of my days watching the world go by from my couch. So this was satisfying.

Although all that sitting on the couch left a lot of time to watch past seasons of the Great British Bake Off. Which inspired my husband to make these:

Operation Comfort

Two years ago we bought a little tent trailer. It is perfect for our weekend camping trips in state parks. Last year though, with the shutdown, we didn’t get to use it at all. So this year, we got the camping bug early and went last weekend.

We had a great time. Even the teenagers, who are always reluctant to leave their electronics, seemed to have some fun. Fire always helps with that.

Our youngest dog has never been around people or other dogs much as we got her just a couple months before the first lockdown – she rather resented other people sharing the campground, but she loved the woods. Theo, our anxiety ridden other dog, actually thrives on camping and loves walking in the woods.

But . . . this shakedown trip to remind ourselves how to camp did highlight a few flaws in our set up. An 8 foot trailer base means there is almost no storage. Even on a weekend trip, we are people of stuff. So much stuff.

I bought stacking drawer units the first year, which handle all the dishes and pots and much of the food, but the clothes and shoes are everywhere.

The other issue is the beds. The mattresses are just thin foam, which we stuff camping pads under, but it doesn’t cut it for me. I’m not young and flexible anymore. I need real padding!

So, when we got home, Operation Comfort began. I researched, and read pop-up trailer discussion boards, and poured thru Pinterest, and made some decisions.

First, I ordered some foam floor mats from Costco. Those came today and we immediately started cutting them and putting them in place.

That should add insulation from cold underneath and get us off the boards.

Next I did the tissue box test, where you put an empty tissue box in the trailer and close it up and then measure how much it is crushed to know how much space there is between the mattress and ceiling – that tells you how much height you can add to the mattress. I was able to order a dense three inch thick bed foam that we can add under the original mattresses. The two changes are going to make a huge difference to our sleeping!

A lot more measuring and figuring and it turns out I can fit also another couple of storage drawers in when the trailer is closed, so I can go higher with our drawer stacks.

I also did some sewing this week, since we were off for spring break. I bought this pattern to make hanging bags.

It was very clearly written and simple to sew. (Just don’t look too closely at my top stitching – not one of my strengths.) I made the large size, with a modified loop with Velcro. I used a sheet and a curtain, both Goodwill fabric finds. It was a decent size – enough space for my pajamas and wool socks. But I needed more room if we are going to do away with the duffles. So I had the pattern pieces blown up 150% at a copy place. I used a Goodwill tablecloth the second time, flattened out the bottom a bit to make it wide but not too long, added a second tab, and it was just right!


And we hung them in the trailer today while working on the beds, and they are going to work just as I envisioned.

So now I need to make lots more. . . At least four for each end.

And I have ideas for hanging shoe storage that will fit on the sides of the stacking drawers. Some more mulling needed there, but I think there are possibilities.

It’s just a rectangle

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My sister moved into a new house near us last spring, and her attention has been focused on fixing up the inside to make it not just a white box. But as summer arrived she started to take a look at the outside, specifically the little side yard that is her main outdoor space. When she bought the house, she paid for a fence to be put around the yard, and the builders spread bark there, but it was otherwise barren and ugly. And she complained of bark splinters in her bare feet.

She got some quotes on having a paving stone patio laid, but they were crazy expensive. And she started thinking about a deck, but she was a little intimidated about the building process. But it’s only a rectangle! How hard could that be?

So we made building her a deck a summer project.

She hired my boys one morning to scrape away most of the bark to use elsewhere, and then deck building commenced.

What we discovered early on is that apparently a lot of people in America right now have decided to do home building projects. And, with factories sometimes closed or shipments delayed due to Covid, the local stores were cleaned out of a lot of what we needed. It was a two state search to find 10 foot pressure treated joists. Luckily the 16 foot lengths for the beams on the long edges were easier to come by, and we needed fewer of those.  I have a battered but useful utility trailer that made it possible to haul in the 16 foot boards.  

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While the 10’ board search went on, we dug down and packed gravel for the cement blocks.  A friend helped her jackhammer away the cement steps in our way.

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(Let me tell you now that I don’t know most of the technical terms for any of the things we used. Pressure treated wood, joist, nail, that’s about the extent of my building vocabulary. The words “support thingy” were used a lot and about more than one part.)

My husband helped with delivery, and my sons helped with the hammering of two by eights together to make support beams for the long end. They also helped us get the first joists hung to create our rectangle.  We also made a lot of construction-question phone calls to my brother, who lives on the East Coast, and builds house additions in his spare time.

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At times my hammering skills were not up to par. But most of the nails went in all the way in and straight.  For a given definition of straight.

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We stretched it 16 feet along the side of her house, and then right up against the fence, just 10 feet out from the house. We made it a floating deck, using post blocks that could be leveled, because I was pretty sure the two of us wouldn’t be able to get posts in the ground and make them all the same height.  According to local codes, any deck less than 18 inches high doesn’t have to be permitted, and because it’s not attached to or touching the house, she didn’t have to go through the HOA approval process.

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Our proudest moment was when we successfully used my small and slightly wobbly portable table saw to rip a flexing, flopping 16 foot Trex board down to fit the final gap at the fence edge on our first try.

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Least proudest moment is the support brace between two joists that bent five nails and three screws before we gave up and figured there must be a hidden knot.  We were relieved when that one disappeared from sight as the top Trex boards went on.

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it isn’t perfect, but it’s level, sturdy, stable, and a great size. Now we’re starting to think about what kind of deck furniture we might build to add to it, and what the step up should be made of. It takes up about half the length of her side yard, so she also has another area that we can make into a patio at some future point.

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The happy new deck owner.

Power tools

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Lately my crafting has involved saws rather than sewing machines.

We’ve spent the last month having our yards, front and back, totally redone.  New patios and paths, and a multitude of new plantings.  It was all finished just in time for it to be too cold and wet to really be useable.

For most of it we threw money at people to do the work.  But I wanted to put some effort in, beyond the plant buying, so we are making the various privacy screens ourselves.  (Not the posts, though.  That was another task we farmed out to the people with muscles and stamina and post hole diggers.)

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The people at Lowe’s got us started with the cedar fence boards, cutting the 5 1/2” boards into 2” and 3 1/2” boards.

We then stained them what was supposed to be a neutral sort of pale brown but turned out to be very orange.  I also didn’t think there was enough difference in size between the two boards.  So, back to Lowe’s for more boards, colorless stain, and a second attempt.  This time I ripped the boards myself, using uncut 5 1/2” boards and making ~1 3/4” boards.

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This is the new privacy screen around our window in the back.  Too pale?  I didn’t find the right brown yet I guess, but at least it isn’t orange.   It still needs trim on the edges and the post tops cut off, but I’m happy with it.  There is a star jasmine and a climbing rose which will be trained up it on both sides to make it even more private.

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The second one we finished today, except again for the post cutting.  I figured the orange boards didn’t matter as much in the front where I won’t be sitting in a patio chair staring at them, so we used those we’d already stained for the screen around the garbage cans.

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My son “helping” during the photo shoot, in between holding boards for me to screw into the posts and sweeping up sawdust.

We have an 8’ wide screen to build on the property line so our neighbor won’t have to stare at our trailer, the screens where the hot tub will eventually go, and a small screen blocking the view of our air conditioner still to go, but we’ve worked out the kinks in the method, so they should go quickly if the weather holds out this week.

 

 

Much brighter

My sister decided yesterday that she could no longer live with the curtains she inherited from the previous tenant when she moved into her apartment.

It is not hard to see why she turned against them.

Crtains before

She is very far from a brown and red plaid person.  I don’t know how they lasted as long as they did.

Here’s a closeup.  I think they would maybe work in someone’s hunting cabin in the woods?

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There was a lot of agonizing at the fabric store because she couldn’t find a print that matched what she saw in her mind.  She wanted bright, but not too busy.  She also didn’t want to pay a fortune for curtains when she isn’t sure how much longer she will live in this apartment.

And then we hit on the idea of ombré color block curtains.  Kona cotton rainbow of options to the rescue.

After a bit of math confusion at the cutting counter, I handled the cutting and sewing, and she handled all the ironing.

 

I made French seams to encase the raw edges, as they will show from outside through the windows when she is on her patio.  We didn’t line them as she needs all the light she can get in that living room.

On her way home she went to Lowe’s and got a can of silver spray paint to turn the rings and rod from black to silver.

Such a vast improvement after a morning of work!

Curtains after

The teal/turquoise is also in the quilt that I gave her when she moved.  (A camera shy niece is hiding under there.)

Quilt a d curtains.

Next we need to make some pillows for the gray couch that will brighten up that too.  It is so satisfying to be able to make such a difference with a few yards of fabric.

Chaos in the kitchen

I’m trying to think of an explanation of why I thought it would be a good idea to do a kitchen remodel during the last crazy busy weeks of school.  There has to have been a reason, but now that it has actually started, it escapes me.

But there is no going back now.

On Sunday, my kitchen looked like this:

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On Monday afternoon, it looked like this:

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I’m taking a lot of deep breaths and reminding myself that change is a good thing.

 

Box shelves

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Nearly a year ago we moved to a new house, a decision that made my commute to work much shorter, but my sewing space a lot more cramped.  Instead of a small dedicated room, I have the end of the family room for my crafting space.  At least it is the end with the window!

Storage is the main issue.  If I need a lot of work space, I can take over the dining room table, but that doesn’t work for storing fabric, yarn, fiber, and all the millions of doohickeys and whatsits that I accumulate.  So things are scattered in various parts of the house, and too many of the smaller items build up in the work space and get in the way.

In an effort to improve the situation, I made box shelves.

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It took a number of days.  Once I got the right wood (5″ wide hemlock boards) I went to L2’s house to get a refresher course on using a table saw.  I have a small, portable one – like most of my larger tools, it is the result of a visit by my brother.  He sees home improvements that can be made, always resulting in me owning tools that I may never use again.  (I have two jigsaws now, because I forgot I had the first one when he swung through town and needed one to work on a kitchen project for me.)

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Then L2 taught me that there are corner clamps.  I’m a fan!  And we used her air compressor (though my brother had me get one of those too) to shoot very fine nails into the secured corners to create the boxes.

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Out of two eight foot boards I got three boxes and a 4 inch left-over.  Once I was home again from my power tools seminar, I did the finishing work.  I needed to fill in a few spots – the wood putty was a bit dried out, but it worked OK – and sand.  Stain I had on hand, and I bought a small sample size of limeade colored paint for the inside.

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They aren’t perfect.  I need to remember next time to put the nails on the tops and bottoms, not on the sides where they are going to show more.  I taped the edges when I was painting, but they still aren’t perfect, so I’ll need to go buy a razor blade to clean that up.  And I haven’t yet tried the keyhole fasteners for the back that I intend to use to hang them.  (Mostly because I can’t figure out where I put them.)  But the shelves match the picture I had in my head, so I’m happy with them.

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I need to make one more, for symmetry, as they are going to hang in pairs on either side of the window, making space for button jars, thread spools, and other items that accumulate on top of the cutting and ironing surfaces.

Odd patches

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No finishes this week – unless settling on a kitchen remodel design counts? – but I did make a new start.

I’ve been sewing lots of little squares together in spare bits of time.  There hasn’t been a lot of spare time, because spring means getting to the neglected yard work and we’re also been spending a lot of time looking at cabinets and countertops, but I have gotten some sewing done.  The dining room table is lost beneath all the scraps and cutting boards and irons.

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For quite a while I’ve been cutting up leftover fabric after each project into whatever square sizes will fit.  Five inch if possible, some 4 1/2″, and the rest become 2 1/2″.  The littlest ones were really starting to pile up, although for once they were piling in neat little stacks instead of a mound.  Some effort to be organized is going on, though my family would deny it.

I found an online pattern called Growing Up Odd that uses up a multitude of squares – 2,425 of them in the original pattern!

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I separated out the lighter and brighter fabrics for the most part and stuck to the darker tones, but other than that it is very eclectic.  There are batiks and 30s style little florals and the occasional giraffe.  Everytime I pick up a square I remember the quilt or bag or basket that came before it, which is what I love about scrappy quilting.

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The original calls for 2″ squares, and mine are 2 1/2″, so I’ll be making fewer blocks or it would swamp any bed we have.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to try for a king size, which would mean quilting it in pieces and then attaching them so I can handle it on my home machine, or if I’ll scale it down to the usual generously sized twin.  We use those so much around the house, but I really need a king size quilt for the summer months when the down comforter is too hot.  I’m just not sure this is the pattern I want for the bed – I have a picture of giant flying geese in my head for that one.  On the other hand, I don’t have all the fabrics that I want for the geese, and we could probably stand to have more than one large quilt as an option.

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Not a decision I have to make at the moment, which is good because my head is stuffed with kitchen backsplash tile options with little room for anything else – why are there So Many Choices!?  I can just keep mindlessly chain piecing little squares when I can’t look at tiles anymore.  It is soothing.  I have 50 9-patch squares done, and a lot more little 3-patches to join together.  Chain piecing goes so quickly, but I’m going to need a lot more.

 

Redecorating

Some back story:

We moved into this house in July. It was built in the 1970s, so it was a little tired. We knew we were going to have to do some updating.  One of the least pleasant parts was the carpet – an already stained off white that my sons fairly quickly turned rather gray.  It had to go, especially in the living and family rooms.

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Six months later, all new windows, gas fireplace inserts, solatubes, new bamboo flooring, and a whole lot of new living room furniture, and we finally have a useable, attractive front room.

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All this furniture was new, stored in the garage until the new flooring came.  We unpacked and assembled and set it in place 5 minutes after the workers left.  We’d waited months and couldn’t wait a minute more.

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But no new room can be complete without a quilt! (Pictures, paint, and a rug would also help.)

After an unplanned shopping spree at the fabric store, I combined a lot of warm and cool toned grays and browns, added in golds, and mixed half square triangles, four-patches, and solid squares.

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I got a lot of use out of my triangle square up ruler.  My half square triangles are never perfectly sewn, so I cut the squares at 10” to get a slightly bigger than desired square and then trimmed the slight extra edges to 9 1/2” after the blocks were pressed open.

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The finished quilt top is 7 x 9 blocks, 63” x 81”.  The colors will really pull the room together once it is quilted.  Perfect for naps on the new couch.

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