Saturday, December 23, 2017

Last minute gift crafting: decoupaged pens

A family member had writing utensils on their Christmas list. My Christmas shopping is finished, and all we have in stock at home are promotional giveaway pens and beat-up pencils.

But I had an idea:  take some pretty paper, and cover some not-pretty pens with it. I had some green marbled paper from my first try at shaving cream marbling. I also had decoupage medium on hand (although clear acrylic varnish or even white glue would work).

So I cut strips of the paper, painted the back sides of them with the glue, wrapped them around the pens like cylindrical wallpaper, smoothed them out, and then painted the outside surface of the paper, as a sealer.

After doing a few pens, I also grabbed an old pencil, sawed off the used-up eraser, and covered it in the same paper.

They came out well, although not perfect, as I was in a hurry, and damp paper tends to wrinkle.

I used to do this with pens and pencils for my own home, but at some point I got busy and forgot about it. I'm going to start it up again, though, instead of just living with ugly pens.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Preparing for Christmas

I am enjoying this Christmas season a little differently this year. Having a new baby, I am taking things much more slowly and simply.

My Christmas shopping is mostly done, and mostly will be done at the thrift store and the grocery store--but not during the baby's third-week and sixth-week growth spurts.

Our Christmas decorations are exactly the same as in past years (follow Christmas tag on the sidebar to see posts with pictures), except that I haven't made any paper snowflakes.

I've been taking a moment here and there to stop and enjoy the Christmas lights in our house and neighborhood.

I did one fairly quick papercraft:  shaving cream marbling on some index cards.  How:  make a pile of shaving cream, stir in paint until partially mixed, flatten the surface of the cream, and press the card down onto it. Then carefully lift the card, scrape off the excess shaving cream, and set the card aside to dry.  I used bronze acrylic artists' paint, Golden brand, which had the unexpected effect of leaving a verdigris color where the paint was thinnest.

Christmas baking will happen next week. I usually make caramel popcorn, and will attempt to make a batch of cookies from an old family recipe (full batch:  10 dozen cookies). My husband usually makes some kind of a sugar cookie for the kids to decorate.

Friday, November 24, 2017

More window than I wanted

I did a sabbatical project/experiment with colored glass pebbles, but to get all the colors that I wanted, I ended up buying a lot more pebbles than I needed.

I had the idea of finding an old window, and gluing the extra pebbles to the glass.  Some time later, I did find a free-by-the-side-of-the-road window, but it was rather large and heavy...five feet long and double-paned.  I hauled it home anyway, and thought about it for a while.

Then I looked at it again, and realized that the glass was framed with wood, covered with metal on the outside face, and that I could drill through the wood at one end, and drop pebbles down between the panes.

So I drilled a hole, carefully aiming between the panes, and enlarged and shaped it with a keyhole saw and small files.  The hole was close to the corner of the interior cavity, which was helpful for shaking out the sawdust that fell down inside the window.

Then some children helped me put the pebbles in.  I put the window on enough of a slant for the pebbles to slide down to the bottom, but not anywhere near vertical...I didn't want a falling pebble to break the window glass.

I also didn't fill up the entire space between the panes...between one-quarter and one-third full was as much weight as I felt comfortable putting between the panes.

Then there was the question of where to display it when it was was far too heavy to hang easily, and I didn't want it falling down anywhere.  (In the previous year, I had already cleaned up broken glass from a large picture frame and a clock.) I finally leaned it against the bedroom wall, horizontally, until I could find a better home for it.

In the end, I donated it to a charity rummage sale, and someone bought it--whether only for the pebbles or for the piece as a whole, I can't say.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A rug of sorts

I had been thinking for a while about where and how to get a rug for the family room.  The main considerations were that it had to be colorful, without an overly busy design, and non-scratchy. I decided that I wanted to make a rug, and I worked out a color scheme--based on some of our wedding pictures that were taken at the beach--and a general design.  I even started pricing materials.

Then my husband came home with at least two yards' worth of Ikea decorating fabric (heavy cotton).  The design, from a few years ago, is modernist with Alpine motifs; I call it the "drowning goats" fabric because there are two swimming goats in the design, and I am not fond of goats.

I noticed that the fabric colors were almost exactly the same as the colors I had chosen for the rug.  So I started using it as a rug.  Later on, before its first washing, I stitched around the edges with a zigzag stitch, to keep it from fraying.

Since it is cotton, and I am terrible at stain removal, it has picked up some dirt that didn't wash out.  But I like it anyway, for the color that it adds to the room.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A pregnancy project: Making things stay put

Making room for a new baby mostly means making time for a new baby...with an emptier schedule, fewer commitments, and simpler housekeeping.   I did some work on the last point, to fix some things that seemed to never stay where I had put them.

One rocker had a seat cushion that ended up on the floor at least six times a day.  I used scrap pieces of denim to make ties for it, which I sewed onto the cushion by hand.  That was several months ago, and I haven't had to put it back even once.

Our bath towels were frequently sliding off their pegs. So I crocheted a loop onto a corner of each towel, using sturdy cotton yarn. The yarn has been in our stash for years, but the colors coordinated well with the bathroom colors. Now the towels stay put. I should note, though, that the pegs for the towels used by the younger children are horizontal, and they can easily get their towels down without ripping the loops off; in other situations, that might be a problem.

I have a crate that we are using for a piano bench, with a seat pad made of several layers of fabric, tied together quilt-fashion. This seat pad was also frequently found on the floor.  I used linen yarn to tie it directly to the crate, through the hand-hole. Now it sometimes is flipped down, but it is easy to flip back.

One of the children's winter coats did not have a loop inside the collar for hanging it up; I made one out of a scrap of bias tape, and sewed it in.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sabbatical 3: Lessons learned

Having just completed my third one-year sabbatical, there were a couple of things about it that surprised me.

The first is how much of this sabbatical I spent just catching up on maintenance and unfinished projects. When you take a break from "getting ahead", there is time to do those sorts of things.

The second is that even though our income was the same as the previous year, we had a number of financial challenges over the year that left us needing to make do and do without, much more than usual. Last sabbatical, I put some money toward a special crafting project--a homemade fiddle from a kit.  This time, I did another special sabbatical project (which I will post about later), but for the most part I crafted and created using only materials that I already had, or ones that showed up unbidden on my doorstep.  I made lots and lots and lots of things, but I never ran out of supplies.

For part of the year, I set my never-ending to-do list aside, and just did what needed to be done, or what I wanted to do.  Other times, I went back to making lists, and went full speed ahead on Getting Things Done. I have a new baby coming very soon, and there was a lot that needed to be done beforehand.

Spiritually, I have spent a lot of time reading George MacDonald novels, and I have been learning a lot from him. (He has been a significant influence on C. S. Lewis and other Christian writers).

I also put some effort into making wish lists this time...sometimes I get so used to using what I have and doing without, that I forget to think about what I would actually like to get. What is remarkable, looking back, is how many of those things that I listed actually showed up, one way or another.  Some things I was able to buy, some things I was able to make or improvise, other things I realized that I didn't really want after all, and a number of things were handed down to me, unasked-for. It sounds like The Secret's "law of attraction" at work, but I don't believe in that; I believe in a God who loving and gracious. George said, in one of his books, that no desire is too small to set before God, who will purify it.


The book I wrote after my second sabbatical year, The Serendipitous Sabbatical:  Rest in Unexpected Places, can still be found here.

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 took 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.

LONGEVITY UPDATE (3/2018):  This lampshade frequently falls off its dowel, but it is easy to put back, and the fact that it falls down before it is torn down has helped this flimsy paper lampshade survive at kid level for ten whole months in my house.  I have several times had to restaple some of the fringe; also a quick job.

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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The search for a solution

Problem: an ugly black wastebasket in the secondary bathroom.

Solution 1:  Buy a new wastebasket; this was put on hold until I could get out of the house.

Solution 2:  Cover the wastebasket with fabric in a good color. I already had the fabric, and tied it on with string. Result: I didn't actually like that color in that particular place.

Solution 3:  Trade wastebaskets with the main bathroom, where the acceptable, white wastebasket is kept out of sight under the sink...problem solved, cost = $0. I put the $4 I might have spent on a new wastebasket into savings, for a double win.