Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Midsummer update

I had a slow winter, with one cold after another hitting our family, and then I had morning sickness and early pregnancy fatigue on top of it. With the coming of spring, I've been healthier and have had a lot more energy, so I have spent the past several months doing tons of little projects around the house, many of which I will write about in the fall after my sabbatical year ends.

My indoor seed starting this year was a total failure. I didn't find the right amount of moisture for the seeds I was trying to start, and then a marauding toddler came through and made hash of it all. But my heirloom petunia and calendula plants (that I grew from Seed Savers seeds last year) reseeded themselves, and are doing well. Both of them produced lots of flowers last year, and kept on flowering after the first snow or two. The petunias also have a nice odor.

I planted some of my sorghum seeds from last year's plants, in front of the bedroom windows, in case they grow to be nine feet tall again.  But I sowed them densely and haven't thinned them much, in an experiment to see how much that will limit their growth.

One very quick project was to rearrange some of the items in our basement storage space (which is partially visible from the family room) so that the prettiest items are in the most prominent places, and the ugliest items more out of sight, instead of the other way around.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Quick lampshade

I picked up a lamp from a pile of free stuff by the side of the road.  It needed a shade; while I thought about it, I put on a spare lampshade of entirely the wrong shape, and put it in its new home in our family room.

What I finally ended up doing for a shade was to follow the Japanese principle of building anything that is at high risk of being demolished via disaster from the simplest and most easily replaceable materials.  I used a paper grocery bag, cut off the bottom and remove the handles, put it around a five-gallon bucket (the bag fit loosely around it), and then gave it two drippy coats of some spray-on fabric stiffener that someone had handed down to me.

With the fabric stiffener, the bag could hold its shape, and didn't need much of a lampshade frame to support it.

To hang the shade on the lamp, I did the simplest thing I could think of:  take a dowel, cut it slightly longer than the diameter of the shade, then punch a hole on each side of the shade to run it through and across.  (For this, I used a very beaten-up old dowel that I was about to throw out.)  Then I lashed the center of the dowel to the top of the lamp's harp with wire, and slipped the shade over and onto the dowel.

The final result looks interesting with the lamp on, like very, very old parchment.  The shade is a little short in proportion to the lamp, so I am thinking of adding something to the bottom edge.

UPDATE:  I unravelled one side of a strip of burlap to make a fringe, which I stapled to the inside lower edge of the shade.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Asking the right questions

We are coming up on making a larger financial decision.  Most of the time, I've found that a simple list of pros versus cons will make the right decision clear, but in this case they were about evenly balanced, and we remained confused about what to do.

I realized then that we were trying to answer two questions at once.  The first question was one about general direction, and the other was about taking a specific next step in whichever direction we chose.

Once I had those separated, I could assemble numbers to answer the first question.  The numbers came out clearly in favor of one side, and with that answered, the second question of the next specific step is probably answered as well, with the opportunity at hand.


I've reluctantly started on the year's yard work, working wherever the toddler chooses to play.  Little steps of progress add up over time.  I also got some seeds started indoors, a couple of weeks late.


A family friend was moving, and gave us some furniture, and other things like folding sawhorses and a bicycle.


A while back, I took my dried sorghum tops from last year and tied them into a small broom, for sweeping off the workbench.  I am planning to plant some more of it this year with seed I saved, but not right in front of our main window, as it grows higher than the eaves.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Tax season

This was the year that I really wanted a get-out-of-filing-tax-returns-free card. But I slowly slogged through sorting through the paperwork, gathering the numbers, and working through the forms.

I still use the paper forms. I printed them out at home, which was a bit of work as I ended up moving our old-and-dying printer over to the FreeGeek computer. Otherwise, I would have made copies or printouts at the library. You can also order paper forms online for free from the IRS, in limited quantities, but they take several weeks to arrive.

My slow start turned out not to matter, as we were among the taxpayers affected by the new delay in issuing refunds.

It is always interesting to see how the numbers for the year come out.  In 2016, we were able to increase our giving, but we again failed to outgive God:  our car made it through the year with only a few minor repairs, for example.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A light fixture and a small blackboard

I spent a few days tinkering and came out the other end with a hanging light fixture for the living room.  Socket and cord salvaged from a floor lamp, cover for the cord made of scrap burlap, a shade of garden fence wire, scrap fabric, and scrap plywood. It is hanging from a chain that I strung between two beams. I also made a conduit of wood through which I am running an extension cord up the wall--that is the part that I am least happy with, as it was tricky to put up with the cord already in it. I also ended up having to take the cord off the socket several times; now I can almost tie wires in an underwriter's knot without consulting my fix-it reference book.

It was a series of technical puzzles to solve, which required persistence. The light looks too small and high for its location, but it needs to be, to keep it out of monkey reach. It would be wise, in most cases, to make a cardboard mock-up first.

The new light makes a huge difference in the room; it was one of the missing pieces.

I also made a small blackboard sign, out of scrap plywood painted black with acrylic paint. With some chalk dust wiped over it to mellow out the surface, it looks nice. I used the scroll saw to cut it; I never did get the hang of using a coping saw without having the blade twist all over the place. Some of the Victorinox Swiss Army knives have a nice saw blade, wickedly sharp.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Coming together

We bought a chest freezer, 7 cubic feet.

Our landlord bought a new washer, with a discount because the old washer was one of the models that was recently recalled for "exploding". The new one is a front loader, which is surprisingly difficult to load and unload. It gets diapers cleaner than the old one did, but still doesn't wash diaper covers, shower curtains, waterproof mattress pads, or tennis shoes. Last fall, I bought a plunger-type Rapid Washer at a flea market, which helps a lot with handwashing the larger items. I still use an antique washboard to scrub the diaper covers.

We had an infestation of pantry moths, I am not entirely sure that we are over it, but we were already keeping most pantry items in glass jars, metal tins, or large buckets.

I have been mopping up some smaller projects, like hemming a pair of pants that has been waiting for more than a year.

Also, I made some progress on the chair re-upholstering. All that is left now is putting on the trim over the tacks. I think I will be buying decorative tacks, and perhaps craft glue, to attach it. The chair is now in place in the bedroom; I needed to make space in the basement for the freezer.

I repaired several books, some needed packing tape (buy a good brand, cheap packing tape is miserable to use), and one needed a cardboard tube glued into the spine.

My husband and I have put in our seed orders.  Also, we've been reading a Joel Salatin book, and are getting more excited about growing and cooking our own real food.

I found this article on Energy Management by Personality Type very helpful.

Last month, I worked through a book of little art exercises, called Creating Art at the Speed of Life. It was a lot of fun, and I ended up with several art journal pages that are worth keeping. This month, I am taking a break from art, and working more on music...I have over time accumulated enough knowledge of music theory to be able to sort of, almost, play songs on the piano with a combination of playing chords and playing the melody by ear. You get better at the things that you do.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Step one

I signed up for The Nester's Cozy Minimalist course. It is offered only sometimes and costs $39; well worth it, in my opinion, if only to keep me from making a few dud purchases. And as it is also helping me to set up a room to support the purposes that I want to accomplish in it, then the course is worth far more to me than the sticker price.

So I am working on my living room. One very obvious need in this somewhat large room is for more lighting; there was one working lamp, one not working, and the rest of the light comes indirectly from adjoining rooms.

I had tried a couple of times before to fix the floor lamp, which was a curbside find with a halogen bulb. It would work for a second, now and then, but that was it. I did some cautious tinkering, with no improvement. Finally I used my pocket knife to scrape the corrosion or carbon off the bulb contact points, which did the trick. The room feels very different now at night with a light source in that corner, much more functional and comfortable.

It is still too dark at the other end, which is tricky considering the location of the outlets and the need for everything to be monkeyproof.