Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just simple solutions

Our refrigerator still thinks it is a freezer...sometimes. That makes it hard to store non-freezable foods like lettuce; I just gave up on buying them for a while. Finally, I started putting them in a small cooler, and the cooler into the fridge. That has been working well.

The other thing is that we have a nearly-walking baby. We found that an empty five-gallon bucket, upside down, makes a good push toy on a hard floor. Baby is very happy to toodle around the kitchen pushing it. We always make sure to close the basement door first.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Adventures in renting: chalk on the walls

 I came across a striking picture of handpainted wallpaper with white flowering branches on a brown background (here, the 11th picture down). It occurred to me that a similar effect could be made by drawing on painted walls with white chalk, and that this would be a reversible and renter-friendly option for dealing with some of my mud-toned walls.

So I've been experimenting with several colors of chalkboard chalk. Chalk is, of course, not as opaque as paint, so there is much less contrast. Nor is chalk anywhere near as permanent; I fully expect some children to come through in the next five minutes and wipe out a big chunk of my efforts. I was able to almost completely erase the chalk with just my sleeve; I expect the rest will come off with a little scrubbing with a damp rag.

The lighting in here is terrible, and my drawing skills are not much better, but here it is:

Monday, June 20, 2016


Early in our marriage, an elderly relative died, and I inherited all his socks...which  lasted me for more than a decade. Now that I am finally wearing out the last of them, I have been working on new socks for myself for next fall.

I priced new socks, but it seems to be a choice between buying super-basic cheap socks, or paying $20 a pair.

Then I occurred to me that I could make socks...I have sticks, I have yarn. I looked up a basic crew sock pattern, for reference for the heel and toe areas, and off I went with the yarn and the needles that I have. (I have knitted several pairs of socks before, mostly for children.)

The yarn was given to me, it is a very nice hand-dyed, hand-spun wool. Not the most durable yarn, so I worked with a double strand, which was just as well as my only knitting needles are about size 8 (made from chopsticks and dowels). I cast on what looked like the right number of stitches, and then used the pattern to figure out what proportion of the stitches went to which needle.

The problem with knitting socks is that the straight areas are rather tedious, especially in comparison with the heels. I used those parts to improve and speed up my knitting technique, first in holding the yarn in the continental style, which is much faster and more efficient (for the knit stitch), and secondly in smoothing my transitions from one needle to the next.

After laundry day, I am going to inventory my socks and see how many more pairs I will need. I don't have enough wool yarn for another whole pair, but I will see what I can come up with.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The saving game

We have a new medium-term saving goal, along with the same moderate income as before. So the money for this goal is going to either have to come from increasing income, or reducing expenses. Reducing expenses is the easier of the two in the short term, although there is a limit as to how far you can realistically go with it.

So, the game:

1. For an upcoming planned expenditure, determine what the cost would "normally" be for you.

2. Try to beat smarter shopping, creative improvisation, or doing without. Or a combination.

3. Put the difference into savings.

For example, I have been in need of AA batteries recently,  but I have been going through our accumulation of dead, half-dead, and unused but rather old AA batteries to see which ones are still usable, instead of buying new batteries at this time. I won't count this as fully saving on the cost of new batteries, but it is still a success at leveraging two or three dollars of value out of things that we already have. So I've put three dollars of what I would have spent on batteries into savings.

Step 3 is the most important of the three, otherwise you're just saving the same few dollars over and over and over.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

45 meals

I made a list of main dishes in my cooking repertoire, there are about forty-five, including a few specific variations. Some weeks I meal plan and some weeks I don't, although I try to at least plan out a day at a time. (I often plan around ingredients, and leave the details to be creatively worked out later.) This list will be handy for when I am having a hard time deciding what to cook; most of them don't require special ingredients. I also have about a dozen old handed-down issues of Taste of Home and Quick Cooking, if I am feeling particularly uninspired. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A pause

I have several projects going at the moment, but no hurry on any of them. Which is good, because we need a Family Sick Day today. So I can catch up on listing some of the things that I have been doing:

From the box of cedar shingles, I used some shingles for flower bed edging--just by pushing them into the ground, thin edge first, in a row. This was in an awkwardly unfinished area next to the house, where a bunch of sand had been put in as fill, so I knew that the ground would be neither hard nor rocky. I was able to push them all in by hand, with some effort. I sowed some wheat berries behind them, which are now sprouting well.

The rest of the shingles, I used to line the closet shelves where we keep our wool clothing and blankets. Not quite as good as a cedar chest, because they're not enclosed, but maybe it will work. In our previous house, we didn't have problems with moths, because the closets were tucked under the eaves and weren't very well-insulated (in fact, they were the insulation) so they got far too cold for moths in the winter. In this house, the closets are all on interior walls. I haven't seen any signs of moths, but I'd rather keep it that way.

We have two metal-framed straight chairs with vinyl seats and backs that we've been using as dining room chairs for forever. (They were $1 each at a yard sale.) The frames have held up well, but the children have been very hard on the seats with their forks, scissors, and picky little fingers. (Hence the seat covers that I made a while back.) I've started the re-covering process by taking off the seats and backs (held on by screws), and prying out the staples and prying open the hooks that held the vinyl on. There was one screw that was rusted in; I kept soaking it with WD-40, and finally got it loose a few days later. New vinyl is going to cost about $25, from the marine upholstery supplier, if the homemade oilcloth that I am experimenting with making doesn't work out.

I also have started deconstructing the dumpy blue rummage sale armchair. It is well-made, with lots of little tacks to pull. I am taking careful notes as I remove the old upholstery.

I finished the clothesline basket a while back; I'm just waiting for a day with good light and charged camera batteries to take a picture of it. It is now in the living room, serving as a container for all the small toys that keep migrating into the room.

I also experimented with putting white electrician's tape on the beige bedroom window frames, but didn't like how it looked. (There are some helpful tips here on how to apply this kind of tape.) I may try taping just parts of them later, in some sort of pattern; first accept, then transcend.

I looked at the paint colors throughout the house, and how other colors look against them. The walls are all very muddy neutrals, not mixes of clear primaries as the "mouse colors" in the Jeanne Dobie book are, so any real color (or wood grain, even) really stands out, but will not look harmonious unless there is some mud in the color. Bah. So far, I have coped with this by using artwork and textile patterns that include a little mud color. But the accepting step is hard:  "This is why we can't have nice colors."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Survival mode

There's a good post on that here for you.

I'd add:

I've put in a lot of work over the years to scale our lifestyle down. There is a very long list of things that I don't do, and of all the things that I do do, I do none of them perfectly. More like 30%-80%.

Pay special attention to making sure that diapers get changed on time; diaper rashes during survival mode are no fun at all.

The most essential essentials are food, clothing, and shelter. Probably the house will keep standing up on its own for a while, so that leaves food and clothing. And diapers.

Exercise:  Even ten or fifteen minutes, twice a week, makes a big difference. Use weights (enough to challenge you at 5 reps, but not so heavy that you hurt yourself), and get physics on your side:  Force = Mass x Acceleration, Work = Force x Distance, Power = Work / Time. In other words, use heavier weights, work up to fast but controlled movements, and do only a few reps of each motion before going on to the next.

Rest:  Write it on your to-do list, because in survival mode you're too busy not to rest. Seize your opportunities as they arise.


Water:  Pay special attention also to keeping your water intake consistent.  If your hydration is all over the place, your blood sugar and mood and willpower and eating will be, too.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book review: Creative Home Improvement, by David and Jenny Lee

Published by Backwoods Home (2014) and available here for $14.95 plus shipping. Bought with my own money. I don't get paid to do reviews, nor do I do affiliate sales.

I expected to be surprised several times over while reading this book, and I was. David Lee--Jenny is listed as a co-author, but the entire book is in his voice, as far as I can tell--has many years of experience in building and tinkering with houses, along with a strong bent toward owner-buildability. He shares a number of techniques that he has developed over the years, with tips based on his experience. The book has many color pictures, which illustrate his points well, along with a few, clear drawings where needed. The buildings exhibit a unique aesthetic, which I would call Extreme Storybook:  shaggy shake siding, unusual roofing patterns, towers, solid wood doors with elaborate handmade hinges, quaintly painted floors, and bits of colored glass in unusual places. It would be a bit hard to integrate this style into an existing house built in the Boring Shoebox style, but many of the techniques described could be carried over.

The book also gives the outlines of a substantial backup water system, along with a very DIY heating system, including the chimney. I was curious whether the stove designs would meet current EPA regulations. From a cursory search of the internet, it appears that they would, but only on the basis on being owner-built. (Some areas have more stringent regulations.)

Some of the projects are suitable for a beginning DIY-er, with a limited skill set and tool set. Others are more ambitious, and require basic construction skills. The more massive projects will require consultation with a structural engineer beforehand...seriously. You don't need your whole house falling down on your head. Warnings are given at appropriate points, but the reader is assumed to be a competent and responsible adult. Building codes are mentioned occasionally, but clearly they haven't constrained the Lees' creative home improvement process much.

The project  instructions given seem to be clear and sufficient, but without excessive hand-holding. After each procedure described in step-by-step detail, he has a summary section, which gives a quick review of the steps in the process. I found this a nice touch that makes the book much more readable and usable.

There are a couple of points where I am a bit skeptical of his claims, such as that panels containing colored glass (while blocking much of the available winter light) can cure seasonal depression. He may be right, but I want to test that one for myself. The book lacks a chapter on homemade doors, but some hints can be gleaned from the pictures.

For me, the book was well worth the price, if only to learn the details of making a Forever Floor (which is related, but only distantly, to the old floorcloths), and to add several more ideas to my Future Home list.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tinting latex paint with acrylic paint

It worked out all right when I was painting the coffee table to go with the rug, but I didn't look into the how and why of it until now.

I learned that most latex paints nowadays do not actually contain latex--since "latex" has become a generic term for water-based paint--but that many latex paints do contain acrylic polymers (read the label on the paint can), along with other components. So mixing a little craft or artist's acrylic in will work out okay, although some acrylics are better than others.

The best book I've found for learning about how to mix and use colors is Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing. Her focus is on watercolor painting, but there is much that can be applied across the arts, and all the way over into decorating. I just re-read her section on "mouse" colors, and how she uses them to set off her singing jewel colors (lean the red-yellow-blue components of the mouse color in the direction of the jewel color's complement). This house is very heavy on mouse tones, and tomorrow when the light is better I am going to look around and see what undertones I have to work with, and which colors might sing against them.