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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How to fix a cracked vacuum hose

A while back, my vacuum's hose cracked, right near the end fitting. I poked around on YouTube, and learned that some hoses are easy to disassemble, trim down, and reassemble, but apparently mine wasn't one of them.

We were out of duct tape at the time, and my chewing gum repair attempt failed to ever completely harden, so I kept on thinking about it. I looked through our hoard to see if we had a length of pipe in the right diameter that I could put in, but we didn't.

Finally, I worked out a solution: gluing in a tube made of leather, to bridge the gap. (Remember, old-fashioned materials are often very good materials.)

For leather, I had a scrap of medium weight leather, about five inches long, left over from other projects.

For glue, I had Barge Cement, which I have recently found at Hobby Lobby in the leathercrafting section for about $8 a tube. (Disclosure: no one pays me, so I have nothing to disclose.)

The tricky part is that Barge Cement is a contact cement. That means you coat both surfaces with it, let them dry for a few minutes, and then press them together firmly, and that you shouldn't count on getting a second chance to position them how do you do that when you are trying to maneuver a leather tube into a just-slightly-larger plastic tube???

My solution for that was to not actually seal the edges of the leather tube together, but to cut the circumference of the tube a bit wide, put on the cement, roll it up very loosely lengthwise without gluing it to itself, push it into the hose end, and then use a stick to push the leather against the inside of the hose. Repeat with the other piece of the hose; not too difficult because my break was so near the end. There would be a small hole where the leather bridged the gap, but I could live with that, if the Barge Cement would hold onto the plastic--something I wasn't sure about. Or perhaps I could patch that up later with a little more leather.

So that was the plan, to be carried out outdoors, because this stuff has fumes that are not at all good for you.

In practice, this sort of went well, right up until the point where it didn't, and I was almost in a Brer Rabbit situation of getting inextricably glued into the hose myself, despite wearing latex gloves. But I pulled myself loose enough from it to work, and I found that I was able to reposition the leather just enough to put it where it needed to go.

Since then, I have been using the hose and putting the repair to the test. There is a small hole where the leather overlaps itself, which reduces the suction of the vacuum somewhat as it pulls in room air. The repair held through a couple months of regular vacuuming, although I was trying to be more gentle with the hose than before. Finally, we reached a point where replacing the hose was more fiscally appropriate.

Once we got the replacement hose, I gave the repaired hose a harder test, with a strong, straight pull, maybe 75% of my full strength. It didn't budge. I didn't try twisting or wrenching it, which would be more likely to make the adhesion fail, but it did get some of that as I used it.

Substitutions:  I think other leather and shoe cements, such as Tandy Leather's house brand (last time I checked, forever ago, they only sold Barge Cement on a wholesale basis, not retail), or Shoe Goo, might also work, although probably not as well. There is a contact cement is used for gluing down countertops; I've only tried that stuff once, but it might also be an okay option.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Learning to love home in the new year

I've been spending a lot of time on the post-holiday/new-year transition, using a hybrid approach, based loosely on The Nester, Apartment Therapy, and FlyLady.

It occurred to me that these authors and some others could be summarized (in a vastly over-simplified, one-dimensional way) by what they have taught me to love about homemaking:

The Nester (Myquillyn Smith) taught me to love new beginnings in my home.
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan of Apartment Therapy taught me to love the structure of my home.
FlyLady (Marla Cilley), as well as Sandra Felton, taught me to love myself and my family enough to keep me from getting overwhelmed by homemaking.
Marie Kondo taught me to love my possessions.
Edith Schaeffer taught me to love the creative work of homemaking.
Cheryl Mendelson taught me to love the technical work of housekeeping.
Brenda Nuland and Anna and many others taught me to pursue Beauty at home.
Sallie Borrink taught me to love being at home.