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How’s Your Winter Going?

February 18, 2013

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Just when I thought perhaps spring was set for an early arrival, arctic air from the north extends its chilly fingers over the land. That dumb groundhog doesn’t know what he’s talking about (lol). It has been in the single digits and by 10am — with the sun shining gloriously away — it was a meager 9 degrees outside. I am SO glad I insulated the downstairs of the house when we gutted the kitchen. I’ve seen a nice drop in our heating bills, although the upstairs of this house is still uninsulated and unrenovated. This past summer, we did manage to install new vinyl replacement windows in all but two bedrooms. This has improved things somewhat, but it’s still very cold up there especially on days like these. Once we insulate, I think it will be much more temperate.

I can’t even begin to imagine how insanely cold it must have been for the original occupants. In the 1850s, most people around here installed coal fireplaces for their houses, although the kitchen here still had a pot-bellied wood-burning stove until the 1960s! But as far as I have been able to tell, there were only four fireplaces in the house– one for the kitchen in the back addition, one for the parlor, one for the dining room, and ONE for all four bedrooms upstairs! It must have been agonizing up there. As a matter of fact, the original builder’s wife died of pneumonia in her icy-cold bedroom. 🙁 Back then, they didn’t insulate (much) or even have luxuries like atrium windows reviews to find good windows at good deals. Can you believe the leaps and bounds we’ve made in modern home comforts since the 1850s? It’s pretty amazing, I think. Today, we have SO much at our disposal that the choices are dizzying and aggravating. Of course, we can access atrium windows reviews and building products to find out what’s best for our needs and climate, and I am thankful. I’m mainly self-taught by stuff like that.

So how’s your winter going where you are? In the Northeast, February tends to be the most difficult month. This is when the snow is brown, when the cold temperatures are biting instead of invigorating, the air is dry and we are sick of winter. We long for spring and green and soft air again. Many of my peers turn to their gardening catalogs about this time, too (I just got High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalogs in the mail), but it’s too early for me to think of gardening, ugh. I’m still trying to keep warm so my thoughts go toward atrium windows reviews and fiberglass batting and furnace BTUs!

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Doors, Boring Old Doors

December 13, 2012

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One of my earliest memories is walking though a beaded curtain in a doorway. I must have been about 2 or 3 years old. We’d gone to Florida to visit an aunt and I remember walking through one of the doorways in the house that was strung with long strands of pink, plastic beads. I was enraptured and walked through the doorway many times. The beads made a tinkling, snappy sound that appealed to me, enough to make me remember the experience years later. I’d never seen anything like it before.

Of course, today we’d consider hanging strands of plastic beads a choking hazard for young children. Back when I was a kid, I guess kids didn’t put things in their mouths as much and we had no choking hazard warning labels. It was tough back then, I tell ya.

I’m remembering those beads just because one of our doors fell off its hinges. AGAIN. This is the fourth door in this house to do that. The wood (hemlock) frames around the doors are so old and so soft that that old (solid wood) doors just give up the ghost after a while. We managed to screw that sucker back onto the frame but it wasn’t easy. It’s just a matter of time until another door decided to jump ship…

If I had a more contemporary (or eclectic) style home, I would consider beads in the doorways, yes indeedy. Well, today it’s more likely to hang something like PVC Strip Curtains or something, for informal areas (such as doorways leading into a game room or teen’s closet or the garage). No choking hazard. The stuff allows heat to pass through, too. You’ve probably seen them in the car wash or at automotive shops, but those are rather ugly, if you ask me. You can get them in a few colors and in varying widths today. My teenaged son would probably LOVE black curtains for his room. He’s at that age where black is “in.” Pink is such a nice color and I told him so, but he won’t believe me. 😉

Anyway, the PVC thing is interesting. Would you ever install something like that in your home? I might in a garage where such a curtain would block dust and automotive smells but still allow warmth between the rooms…. but I’d have to get an attached garage first, yeah. That’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

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Our First Venture Canning Food

September 19, 2012

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Correction: The daughter‘s first venture canning food. I stood back and watched. 🙂

We ordered 50 pounds of organic beefsteak canning tomatoes from FarmshedCNY.com. She finished the job a few days ago. I don’t know how many quarts and pints of tomatoes we eventually got, but it was a lot! Three days work!

Canned tomatoes

The only reason we only canned tomatoes is because our garden was a dismal failure this year. The barrage of flooding we suffered last year (THREE floods) really took its toll on the property. I’m just getting too old to work full time, renovate a house AND clean up the yard all day long. Whew. The kids do help out a lot but they also have their own stuff to do.

Next year, Lord willing, we will have a garden full of green beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, rutabagas….

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Built-In Bookcases Project – Halfway There

September 12, 2012

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Here’s the progression thus far:

Before photo. There’s a lot of wasted space along this wall because of the doorway and the narrow width between that and the wall (13 inches). I’d had a fleet of cheapo Chinese particle board bookshelves there, but they were ugly and starting to flex. Plus, two bookshelves are not nearly enough to hold all our books! I have boxes of them stuffed everywhere in the house.

Living Room before 2

I purchased inexpensive unfinished wall cabinets. They are narrow enough to fit in the space (12 inches) but are not tall enough. So I built a simple 2×4 frame for the cabinets to sit on. The frame adds height and provides a toe kick beneath the cabinets, too. I secured this sucker to the floor and the wall studs. This bookcase is not going anywhere!

Bookshelves2

One cabinet installed already.

Bookshelves3

The wall has a few outlets and I did not want to conceal them behind the cabinets. So the trusty daughter (who does all my measuring) drew the outline for the outlets.

Bookshelves1

The son got to use the jigsaw to create the outlet holes.

Bookshelves

This was the day’s work!

Bookshelves4

I have since installed oak plywood counters on both cabinet units, and everything is finally stained and sealed. I didn’t get a photo yet, but trust me — it looks great.

Next — the shelves!!!

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Just Sew Busy

August 30, 2012

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Blogging has really taken a back seat this summer, hasn’t it? Well, it usually does for me. Summers are when I have to cram in all the house projects on top of all the other stuff I do.

We’ve been very busy working on redecorating the living room. I am happy to say that I think i may finally get my curtain drapes done tonight. The boys are very much relieved, as they are the ones who hang the sheets in the windows every night. :S

As always, Livvy likes to join in on the projects. She’s so cute, it’s difficult to boot her out.

FTKFabric1

My built-in bookcase projects has slowed considerably. It’s a large project and I’m not the type to do a little here, a little there when I can squeeze things in. I need a big chunk of time to get it all done. I haven’t had any chunks of time lately. Hopefully, next week I’ll dedicate my efforts to it. We are all so tired of seeing the piles of books and boxes around the house!

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This Is It: Living Room Re-Do

August 5, 2012

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In 2007, I gutted the living room. It was the first “big” project here and I never intended it to be such a large project. But as is the way with old homes, as soon as I opened a wall and saw what was there, I could not close the wall back up without resolving the problems within. So I ripped out everything and rebuilt it all: new electric, shoring up of the wall studs, insulating the walls, adding additional lighting, new flooring….

While I am very happy with the new wiring and Lord knows I’m thrilled to have an insulated room in the house, my final decorative touches were very rushed. I slapped up new paint and quickly installed a snap-together, laminate floating floor system. I originally wanted carpeting or hardwood but it is just too expensive right now. And after all was said and done, I hauled in our junky, second-hand furniture and settled for that.

Fast-forward several years. Since a section of the room is my little office, that area of the living room is a disaster. Papers and books and computer equipment and other things are scattered everywhere. I’ve expanded and have had no where to put my reams and reams of books that I use for my writing, nor do I have any storage options for all my computer equipment and things I review. The room is always a mess, always disorganized, never a pleasant place to sit.

So I decided to redecorate it. Well– to decorate it!

Living Room before 2

Painting is easy. Some of the other projects are new. I’m going to try my hand at furniture by making an enormous built-in bookcase along a wall. I’m going to use unfinished stock cabinets (they sell very cheaply), stain them myself, and use them as the base for a plywood system of shelves. Everything will be secured to the wall. I hope to give the room that “English library” look. I also hope that a 12 foot wall, 9 feet high will be able to house my very extensive collection of old and new books. I have boxes and boxes of them that have been in storage for decades because I’ve had no place to keep them.

I also have to create a faux chimney box. It’s not for a chimney, it’s for a gas fireplace insert that we are saving up for. I’m trying to plan for the future by making it now, so I won’t have to cover everything in sheets again! I’ll create my own wooden mantelpiece from stock wood, too.

And finally, I’m sewing some new curtains. I’m using this project to teach my daughter how to use the sewing machine, so next time I need curtains, she can sew them. 😉

So I’ll be pretty busy for the next two weeks. The kids are going to do a lot of the grunt work (staining, patching holes in the walls, etc). They already primed the living room trim so we can start painting tomorrow. Thank God the heat has abated, we were going in slow motion for a while, like fish in a murky pond.

Living Room before 1

It will be very good to have this room finally and completely done. I’m going to work hard and create an organized work station for all my stuff, too. I can’t wait until it’s done!

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LED Lights: Expensive But Very Nice

July 12, 2012

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I’m fresh from writing an article (for SF Gate) about light bulbs, and it got me thinking about LED bulbs. I got one from Home Depot last year and I haven’t really used it much. But after that article and seeing how much energy LEDs save compared to incandescent, I’m very curious and eager to try more of these bulbs.

Home Depot has a terrific chart comparing incandescent, CFL (those “swirly” bulbs I always complain about) and LED bulbs. While I don’t care much for the CFL (they are so expensive and never last as long as they say), I rather like the LEDs. Look at the comparison!

Chart courtesy of HomeDepot.com.

Energy costs are very, very high in the Northeast so there’s been demand for.. well, for energy costs to go DOWN but that ain’t gonna happen here…. so we’re scrambling to get better bulbs and adjust our lifestyles to save money. That’s really the only choice we have. LEDs are still rather expensive, but the prices are starting to fall. Last year, this bulb I got cost $35. This year, it’s under $20. Other styles and brands are $10. It would still cost me a small fortune to rig up my home with LEDs, but I already pay a fortune in energy costs.

I’m seriously thinking of getting LEDS, at least for the kitchen which consumes the most lighting in the house. To do so would cost me about $180! But they also produce less heat, last longer and save energy. Hmmm.

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How to Build a Walkway Using a Concrete Paver Mold

June 22, 2012

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You can spend thousands of dollars and hire a professional contractor to pour your walkway or install commercially made concrete pavers, or you can use Quikrete’s Walkmaker form or some other type of form. Walkway with Stones The Walkmaker, constructed of a durable plastic material, greatly simplifies the construction of a concrete walkway and produces exceptional results. For a customized look, purchase powdered cement coloring to add to the concrete mixture. Here’s how we made our lovely walkway with the mold.

Stuff You Need:
Paver Mold- we used Quikrete’s Walkmaker
Crack-resistant concrete
Flat-bladed spade
Gravel
Hand tamper
Wheelbarrow
Powdered cement coloring
Measuring cup
Bucket
Hoe
Trowel or shovel

Step 1

Determine the amount of concrete material needed for the project. Quikrete recommends one 80-pound bag of concrete for every 2 feet of walkway.

Step 2

Measure the walkway area and remove the sod with the spade. You can lay the pavers directly onto the ground, but for best results Quikrete recommends that you remove 2 to 4 inches of soil and pour gravel into the trench. Tamp the gravel so that it is level and compacted.

Bust Sod

Step 3

Pour a bag of concrete into the wheelbarrow. Remove approximately 2 cups of dry mix and set it aside. Add the powdered coloring to the dry concrete mix and stir well with a hoe.

Step 4

Fill the bucket with approximately 3 pints water. Slowly pour half the water into one part of the wheelbarrow. With the hoe, rake the dry concrete into the pool of water, mixing until all the water is absorbed.

Mixing Concrete

Step 5

Add another 2 to 3 pints of water to the bucket, and pour the water into the concrete mix. Rake and chop the concrete into the water until the water is absorbed. The mixture should have the consistency of mud. When you chop the mixture with the hoe, the mixture should stay in place. If the mixture is too crumbly or stiff, add more water. If the mixture is too soupy, add some of the dry concrete mix you have set aside, and mix well.

Step 6

Place the Walkmaker form at one end of the walkway. Shovel or trowel the concrete into the form, patting down the mix to ensure that it fills the corners and cavities of the mold.

Filling Form

Step 7

Lift the form straight up so it does not snag on and damage the wet concrete pavers. Hose off the form immediately to prevent the concrete mix from hardening.

Lifting Form 2

Step 8

Repeat the process of mixing concrete, laying the form in the walkway and adding the mix to the form until the walkway is complete. Allow the pavers to dry for at least 24 hours.

Step 9

Sprinkle cupfuls of Portland cement sand mix or jointing sand over the pavers. Spread the sand mix between the paver form lines with a broom so the mix completely fills the form lines.

Sweeping Sand Mix 3

Step 10

Mist the pavers with a garden hose, wetting the sand mix but not washing it out of the form lines. Allow to dry completely.

Spraying Water

Secret Garden Blooming

Notes and Tips

To make a curved walkway, reposition the Walkmaker form onto the wet concrete mix in the direction of the curve. Press the form down to form new paver lines. Smooth out the previous paver lines with the trowel.

To prevent the Walkmaker form from sticking to the wet concrete, lightly spray the form with water or very lightly with cooking oil.

To create a nonslip surface, lightly brush over the wet pavers with a stiff broom. The broom will create small ridges on the paver surface.

To allow the concrete to properly cure, choose an overcast day when the temperature will not drop before 50 degrees and no rain is expected within 24 hours. If it does rain, cover unstained concrete pavers with plastic sheeting. In an area with sun, cover the concrete pavers with plastic sheeting or burlap to prevent the concrete from drying too quickly. Lightly moisten the burlap periodically when the material becomes too dry.

Do not cover stained concrete with plastic sheeting or burlap, as they may cause discoloration. Apply Quikrete Concrete Sealer to the surface of the concrete instead.

Concrete is caustic. Do not breathe in concrete dust. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves while handling concrete.

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Cool Aluminum Foil Garden Markers

June 7, 2012

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Garden markers are so helpful when the little seedlings are just starting to pop up in the garden. All those seedlings look the same and if you are like me, you totally forget what you plant where. In the past, I’ve tried popsicle stick markers (the pen ink fades and the popsicle sticks never go in far enough so they topple over) and skinny tree limbs stuck in the ground with colored string (I always lose that list that tells me what color belongs to what plant!). So when I saw a unique fix at lifehacker.com/5915201/make-garden-markers-with-aluminum-duct-tape, I flipped. This is so neat!

Crafting weblog Aunt Peaches shares how to make inexpensive and attractive garden markers using a bit of aluminum duct tape and a box of plastic dinner knives. Cut out a piece of aluminum tape and sandwich it around the handle of the plastic knife. Then write the plant name in reverse on the tape with a ballpoint pen – this will press out the letters on the other side and you’ll have an embossed metallic garden marker.

The key is using aluminum foil duct tape, the kind used for taping heating and cooling ducts together. I tried it using aluminum foil. It didn’t work out very well.

marker

The duct tape markers should last a while. And they look kinda quirky and cute.

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Soundproofing

May 31, 2012

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I have written a number of articles on soundproofing lately (for online publication SF Gate Home) and here. The science behind it is very interesting. There’s s new product called Green Glue. It’s a “viscoelastic damping compound” that looks like green caulk. Apparently, you spread it between a sandwich of drywall boards, and it converts sound waves to heat. Amazing! According to a number of people who have used it, the stuff actually works.

I’m storing all this information for two reasons. One, when sitting in my office, I can hear a pin drop upstairs, right through the floor. It’s simply staggering, how sound travels through this old house. Two, I’m going to be converting the garage into a family music room, and I’ll want it to be soundproof, or at least somewhat soundproof.

Another reason is that we have dogs. Yorkies. They are adorable dogs but they YIP YIP YIP all day long. Not very conducive to recording music in a studio!

Soundproofing is not very common in homes. It should be mandatory in apartment houses, I think. It isn’t very expensive to soundproof or even muffle noises. I don’t know why more landlords don’t do it. I wish mine had!

So this is my latest venture, investigating the science and construction of soundproofing. I haven’t been able to start my built-in bookshelf project yet….

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