Category Archives: Projects

Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Part 2

A day off. December looming. A husband stuck heading into work to finish up a project. It added up to the perfect day to deck out the house and surprise my hardworking husband by having him come home to Christmas.

First, and most importantly, the tree. We made the transition to an artificial Christmas tree a few years ago, so at least I wouldn’t be stuck driving back from Home Depot with a tree drooping into the windshield of my tiny Honda Fit. But our fake tree spends the off-season in a giant box on a shelf in the garage. I do not like the garage. If Baroque cartographers had sketched the continent of “Garage,” they would have marked its mysterious wilds with “Here There Be Spiders.”

With one itchy-trigger-fingered hand holding a giant red can of Raid, I opened the door between the mudroom and garage. I flapped my other hand wildly in the darkness to trigger the motion sensor and get some light. A cricket bounced away from me, presumably to tell his spider friends about the fresh meat coming their way. Picking my way through the junk on the floor, I found the tree shelf. The front of the box was clean. No cobwebs. I shook the box, hard, to disturb any creatures with too many legs who may have been hiding under or behind it. Nothing scurried, so I lifted the box.

That is to say, I heaved and pulled and yanked on the box until it crashed to the floor, and then dragged it into the house with many huffs and puffs. Artificial trees are heavy.


I didn’t need the Raid. But I was PREPARED.

I got the metal stand assembled and hoisted the bottom section of the tree into it. The tip that goes into the stand looks like the end of a patio umbrella, and trying to dock it with the base took a few tries, a few curses, and lots of flailing. Between its weight and the twenty branches flapping in my face and obscuring my view, that section is tough to maneuver.


Umbrella stage complete.

The other two tree sections were much lighter, and I could easily see where they fit together, so the rest of the tree went up without any swears. The six pairs of plugs for connecting the built-in strings of lights were color-coded, and easy to reach and connect. And almost all of the LEDs worked, halleluiah! I pulled on a pair of work gloves and spent the next half hour fluffing out the branches. The cats helped by tasting lower branches for doneness.


Al dente, just how Horton likes it.

Next, I installed the fiber-based anti-cat tree-protection device. Very necessary when you have cats who consider the Christmas tree a great place to recreate the epic battles of history. While I enjoy a good cat fight as much as the next guy, I’d rather not lose my ornament collection as casualties of war.


Fiber-based anti-cat tree-protection device. Patent pending.

Fluffed and secured, the tree was ready to be dressed in its Christmas finest. I made myself a mug of hot chocolate, put on the Christmas radio station through the TV, and trimmed that tree like I meant it.

IMG_1085sIt ended up beautiful, and my husband was all smiles when he came home to twinkling lights in the living room. I caught him staring at the top of the tree, which is when I remembered I’d put a placeholder up there so that he could be the one to decide whether it would be an angel year or a star year. He hasn’t changed it yet, so it looks like 2013 is a Stegosaurus year. That feels just right.

Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Part 1

It’s been Christmas around here for a while, as far as the stores and restaurants are concerned. The Jingle Bells and Holly Jollies started weeks ago almost everywhere we shop or eat, and the aisles in Target and Wegmans and Michaels are full of already-discounted decorations and holiday-themed housewares.


What, you don’t have a Christmas-themed Spreader Set? You barbarian.

I hate that I’m always pressured into starting “Christmas” immediately after Thanksgiving, but that seems to be the way it works around here. Six seconds after your first post-Thanksgiving-turkey burp, an elf pops up and yells “CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS!!! GO GO GO!!!” while waving a Macy’s Black Friday Sale flyer as a starting flag.

image from


I usually resist decorating my own home and allowing the Christmas spirit to permeate my being until I can flip the calendar over to December. Too early and the music will annoy me too soon. All the snowman cookies will be eaten long before I’m supposed to leave some for Santa. And I’ll forget which presents I’ve bought for whom and end up buying much more than I need.

But this year, I started early.

I’m going to claim that this year’s super-late Thanksgiving coerced me into obeying the starting elf. A late Thanksgiving means that there are only four weekends between the holidays, which means a whole lot less time to get anything done, especially when you factor in parties and family get-togethers. I had a whole Friday to myself. I was kept from sleeping in by the army of leaf-blowers clearing the neighbor’s yard. I wasn’t going to fight the Black Friday crowds for discount cheese knives. Why not haul out all the Christmas crap and decorate?


It’s Halloween! We get quite a few trick-or-treaters around here, so I try to be ready with the good candy (always chocolate) and enough decorations to signal we’re home and ready to drop candy into pillowcases and pumpkin buckets.

The theme for this year’s pumpkin: goofy.

IMG_1070He’s even cuter when he’s lit up.IMG_1071I love Halloween. 🙂


The Weeds of Summer

So, I’ve pretty much let my garden go.


It’s not for sheer laziness, I swear. We were supposed to have the backyard gutted and re-graded this summer, so it didn’t make sense to put too much effort into making it look good. I moved most of my backyard plants to the front garden, so the landscapers could backhoe or bulldoze or otherwise wreck the place without hurting my irises and white Echinacea. I kept my vegetable garden tiny: tomatoes in pots and some herbs in a planter. I let the weeds grow, because it was all going to be pulled out soon anyway – why put in the work? Unfortunately, as is usually the case with big projects, the start date kept getting pushed back. Other problems needed fixing – with money – so we’re now almost in September, no closer to finishing the backyard project.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Because this has been the busiest summer I’ve had in years. We’ve welcomed tons of houseguests in the past four months, and we’ve been booked almost every weekend in between. Dinners and games, wine and friends, housewarmings and weddings and birthdays. Who knew I’d develop a social life in my 30s? There just hasn’t been enough time or energy left over for me to worry about anything but the basic necessities. I’ve kept us eating off of clean dishes and wearing clean clothes, so we don’t need to worry about plague, but outside appearances have been left to fall apart. The front yard is marginally better than the fenced-in-and-hidden backyard, which is probably the only reason the neighbors haven’t yet left passive-aggressive notes in our mailbox.


I was embarrassed enough to take half an hour today to fix up the front. But that’ll be it till spring, neighbors.

So, please, if you pass by my house and judge me by the state of my yard, know that it’s that I’ve been more busy bee than lazy slug.


For the record, though, some slugs aren’t so lazy. This guy’s 7 feet up.

Wine charms

Despite what my Pinterest boards may have you think, I don’t spend much of my time on craft projects. I often have the desire to paint or cut or stamp or otherwise make something, but I mostly stifle those urges because: 

  • Crafting costs money. (Yes, even “upcycling” costs money. Don’t kid yourselves.)
  • I don’t have room to keep all the junk I’d make.
  • I’m not good enough at it to sell the junk I’d make.
  • I doubt anyone else needs junk any more than I do, so it’s silly to give crafty gifts.

The thing is, though, I like to do it. I enjoy making things. I suspect there’s a genetic component to that inclination: my mother paints, and makes beautiful handmade cards. Before her, my grandmother made jewelry and my grandfather worked with wood to make beautiful boxes and carvings. I feel like I should be working harder to keep all of that alive.

I recently bought some beads and wires at the craft store, thinking maybe I could make some jewelry. Sadly, I stayed true to my indecisive self and left the shopping bag in the backseat of my car for weeks as I argued with myself about whether or not to return it and get my $20 back to spend on more important things. It took a visit from my friend Michelle to remind me that things that make me happy are important things, too. Mostly, she played the reverse psychology game with me and bullied me into making things – and I’m grateful that she did.

Here’s the result of that creative push:


I made things! Wine charm things, to be specific. All I needed were a few bits and pieces, a set of small jewelry pliers, and a five-minute how-to video, and I made some pretty little things. These charms did not exist until I decided that they should, and that’s pretty great. No, I’m not going to be opening an Etsy shop for this stuff, and I won’t be unloading them on everyone I know. But it’s a way to get better at this sort of thing. And it makes me happy, which is pretty much the whole point.

Project: Bathroom Cabinet Hardware

This is what the previous owners left us in the bathroom.

I think these knobs used to be shiny brass, but that must have been a long time ago. Judging by the decor in the rest of the bathroom – tons of shiny gold-look brass – the bathroom was re-done in the 1990s and the knobs are probably 15-20 years old.
I looked into restoring them with scrubs and polishes, but they weren’t solid brass. With brass-plating, once they’re this far gone, there’s not much to be done. I considered buying a metallic spray paint and making a mess in the backyard trying to get paint onto every edge of the knobs, but they’d need to be sanded down first to even out the tarnished surfaces, and it felt like more work than I was willing to put in for a bunch of knobs. Not to mention that my husband was not delighted with the idea of me screwing around with spray paint in the backyard, even though I reassured him the grass would only look shiny for a week or two while it grew out.
A short trip to Home Depot, fifteen minutes with a screwdriver, and I’ve got a bathroom that looks a tiny bit less neglected and dated.

The white plastic knobs are a little bigger than the old ones, but not awkwardly so. Most importantly, humidity won’t bother them in the least, and they’ll be easy to clean.

There’s nothing I can do about the shiny gold trim on the shower doors, so I’ll have to live with a little bit of bathroom bling. But I’m glad I was able to upgrade the cabinets to a smooth white-on-white look. Baby steps, right? Maybe new sink faucets next!