Friday, July 26, 2013

Wagon Ho!

As most things do, it all started garage-saling with friends...

I had already scoped out my treasures and I was waiting while Jerri worked her haggling magic over a couch she just had to have. My eyes wandered past the owner's garden into the backyard of the neighbor where I saw...IT!

The most engaging, 1880's era delivery wagon I'd ever seen!

I loved the lines, the vintage, the logo...everything about it appealed to me. I wanted to get a closer look but Jerri had just sealed her couch deal and we were behind schedule.

That wagon lingered on the edge of my thoughts for over a year until I finally worked up the courage to knock on the owner's front door. A very nice older woman answered and I asked for a tour. She was delighted to discover that I planned to build my own wagon based on her antique. (Actually, I think she thought I planned to steal it so but was quite relieved when I started measuring and drawing construction plans.)

You see, I already had these old tractor wheels I'd picked up for $25 in Oatman (after one too many cocktails at that old western bar in town) and I was sure they'd be perfect for a wagon...

Except they were too small...but...that's what ratios were invented for right? Based on my complex and in-depth figuring, my wheels were about 2/3 the size of the original wagon so all I had to do was multiply all my measurements by 2 and divide by 3...easy-peasy!

But I needed some old barn wood to make my wagon look realistic (although midget-sized)...which would have been easy to find years ago before EVERYONE decided that old wood was cool.

My friend Jesse had an idea - he figured old pallets might have aged-looking wood that would work so he brought me some. All I'd have to do is deconstruct them into usable planks.

Let me tell you -- the folks who make pallets make them to LAST! Not "last during shipping" last...more like, "last through nuclear war" last. It took me a whole day and three band aids to make this little pile of lumber!

Let me stop a moment to say that everyone thought I was crazy...and perhaps I am around the edges...


But I had to build it...

First the box...

Then the sides...

My neighbor, Ken, was helpful at several key junctures. He'd been a trucker for decades and knew all about axles and old delivery wagons (he said he'd seen more than a few as a boy). He also has a killer stash of old wood and cool metal parts that came in very handy along the way.

My friend Virginia helped me upholster the roof - leather look vinyl from Walmart...the look is perfect - we'll see how it holds up outside long term.

I found the perfect lanterns - solar path lights the right size for my 2/3 scale model.

The construction went fairly quickly but there was one part left to make it look authentic. Logos!

No surprise that I wanted a vintage sewing machine design but figured that there was no fun in painting the same thing on both sides so let my other half choose the other side. Hendrick's Gin ran a fun ad of a lady in a martini glass in the late 1800's so that was his pick.


But the weather had heated up and the paint was drying on my brush so I had to move the wagon into the shade. We have a lovely covered trailer with a big ramp that would make the perfect painting studio (or so I thought). With the help of Ken's wife, Pat, I rolled the wagon slowly and carefully into the trailer - nothing broke although the whole thing seemed to be not much more stable than a heavy pile of toothpicks.

I was able to finish the lettering on one side before the really hot weather hit and it became clear that shade was not enough - I needed air conditioning!!! Which we have in our we just needed to move the wagon about 20 feet west.

Seems simple doesn't it? would have been except I enlisted the help of my other half who never quite sees things the way I do.  Maybe it's the "Y" chromosome but he firmly believes that every problem is better solved by the use of things with engines (is diesel in their blood or something?)

I thought four people (one per wheel) could lovingly coax my rickety wagon (oh why did I take English Lit classes instead of Physics so I could learn about forces and construction?) into the garage. Dave wanted to hook up the trailer, drive it down the driveway and simply push it back up into the garage. It will be, "faster, easier, and safer for your wagon," he promised.

I knew he was wrong. But he is right about so many things...he can fly helicopters and jets and drive darn near anything with a motor (of course my wagon doesn't have a motor so that should have been a clue) but I gave in...

Our friends, Virginia and Bill came over to help secure the wagon in the trailer. All went well until we reached the bottom of the driveway...though each wheel was secure - the force of gravity or perhaps the force of marital discord struck a lethal blow and the wagon was ripped savagely off its wheels.

A blue cloud of nasty words formed above my head and I must apologize again to Virginia and Bill for that glimpse into my darker side. My lawyer assures me that the incident would have been ample grounds for divorce in my state and almost defensible had I chosen to murder him right then and there (who knew the crime of passion clause was so broad?) but I did neither.

I love my husband. And although I have brought up the wagon-breaking incident most every day since then, our marriage is still intact.


Regardless of it's wheel-less state, the wagon still needed painting. My friend Danny used to own a sign shop so had helped me get the lettering right. All I needed was a glass of wine for inspiration...

And then it was time to move the wagon outside to it's final resting place on the hill in our front yard. Dave said he would help. He said he would listen to me this time. He swore he would let me call the shots on how to move it...and then on the actual morning of the big move...he left the state.

Friends said he was lying about flying that jet to Denver; they suspected that he was hiding out in the hangar waiting for the all-clear...

So Jesse came over and helped me reattach the wheels. Then Aaron, Danny, and Mark came over (after downing a few beer-mosas) to help. They'd heard the story of the wagon-breaking and my "wagon-break-down" so they were a little nervous and needed some Dutch courage.

I wanted to go "old school" this time - no motors, no mechanical intervention...heck, I didn't even want the wheels to roll! My plan involved using two old pieces of broken ladder to hand-carry the wagon down our steep driveway stretcher-style...or should I say, "coffin-style".

And it worked...well right up until the turn onto the rocks...then one of my old ladder pieces snapped in two. The wagon fell to the ground but luckily no one was hurt (thankfully - can you imagine filling out the insurance claim for that? "Miniature wagon moving crew experienced injury when 1930's era wooden ladder fails..."

Even the wagon survived!

We moved it into place on the rocks and artfully arranged the boulders around it. Jesse staked it into the ground to ward off would-be wagon thieves (as if the thing would hold together - we'd find pieces of it in the street out front I bet).

My wagon moving crew high-tailed it out of there - almost running into the wagon in their haste to leave the scene.

And then it was done! And I love it! I admit...I may be a "Wagon Ho."


Monday, July 30, 2012

Baby's Got Back...

...all the crap she's been storing with us since she moved out.

Yep - that's right, we are finally free of every last scrap of elementary school artwork, the family china she couldn't possibly live without, and even her old car.

I think somewhere there may be angels singing - I hear they do that when an adult child finally takes physical possession of everything he or she has left behind, "because my apartment isn't quite big enough."

Actually, in my daughter's case, that might have been true. She and her fiance have spent the last two years in a studio apartment just blocks from Fisherman's Wharf. It was a good thing the view was big (of the Golden Gate Bridge) because the apartment definitely was not.

After scouring the Bay Area for larger abodes to begin their married life in, they happened across a charming 2 bedroom in Walnut Creek. This hidden gem not only boasted actual bedrooms with doors but even had a balcony! Walking distance to local restaurants and the BART - well, what's not to like?

We were delighted to help them settle in to their new place (and hand-deliver the aforementioned crap of ages).
This is her "Moving sucks! I need my mum!" face.

We were also delighted to help test out the local eateries...Sushi, Turkish, BBQ, and the most amazing breakfast place sadly are all located too close to burn off any of the calories one consumes there.

Bring on the raki!
But even more fun than eating out (hard to believe) was the chance to shop and decorate their new digs!

Of course the lines at IKEA weren't helping things move very quickly...and yes, I am pushing TWO carts!
Weeks before we arrived, the apartment manager had asked them to select a color for their accent wall so they'd picked a lovely shade of grey to complement their contemporary furnishings.

But come moving in day my daughter noticed that her new "accent" wall was less of an "accent" and more of whole new language. It wasn't the color so much as the size of the wall itself. It was huge. And even with all their furnishings in place there was still a gaping blank spot that fairly cried out for a large piece of furniture.

You can almost see the tears on that left side can't you?

"We need a china cabinet," she emailed me Thursday afternoon (no doubt thinking of the family china I was schlepping across two states).

"They're very expensive," I typed back knowing that they are saving for their wedding next spring.

"I looked online," she wrote...

"And?" I asked.


So I suggested Craigslist thinking that maybe she'd have time to look over the weekend when we were visiting. Within minutes, my techno-age daughter had sent me 11 links to second hand china cabinets she liked that were currently listed for sale.

After a flurry of texts she'd settled on one that met all her criteria: cheap ($60); local (less than a 20 minute drive); and suitable to burn if the refinishing didn't go well (it's solid wood).

Here's our starting point:

The glass was long gone from the upper doors and some cat had re-purposed the piece as a personal scratching post.
Then team Brandon-Erica-Mum flew into action refinishing the piece with a little Rustoleum Cabinet Paint magic. Personally, I think the results are stunning even if they took four days, ten sets of gloves, and half a bottle of aspirin to achieve.

Brandon did a great job on spray-painting all the hardware.
The rest of the apartment turned out pretty slick looking too...

The living room flows together with the new rug and Erica's artistic wall decor arrangement.
The dining area is small but flooded with light and perfect for four.
Erica's new spice rack looks terrific and only took about 6 hours (GAK) to finish after washing the tins, making the labels, and then filling them with the spices while trying not to inhale anything too peppery!

The kitchen is newly renovated and full of storage options once we added some extra shelves.
The new quilt I made them fits perfectly as a bedspread - it will be regular quilt sized if they decide to buy a king bed.
A pretty screen hides the color-sorting laundry baskets and new shelving in the closet makes putting things away a snap!

Dave set up the office spending hours getting all the computers and printers to play nicely with each other.
Finally the balcony was clear of boxes, the BBQ was ready to light and the table awaited an evening meal.The best part of the whole trip though was spending time with the kids!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Come Back Shane

I like to soak in a bath for hours. I've always liked it. In fact, when I was young, I can remember placing a board across our tub so I could do my homework while in the bath.

Good baths are important - the Romans thought so - and the Turks are darn near famous for theirs...but ours? Well lets just say perching in a large cake pan would be a similar experience. So I had to replace see that don't you?

And new bath tubs don't have to be expensive...(most are of course but they don't have to be)

But they have to fit.

So after securing Dave's vague nod of approval (I've learned to ask while he's focused on doing something else that he'd love to get back to asap) I started chipping away tile and haunting bath dealers.

Look how shallow that old garden tub is - you can't even get your belly wet in that one!

I was the Goldilocks of the tub world.

I sat in big ones, little ones, deep ones and shallow ones. I lounged in curved ones, squared ones, and a few that looked more like art than basins. I became well-versed in acrylics and enamels and even stone manufacturing processes.

I visited luxury bath galleries where they run your credit before letting you in the door and I visited the local builders supply stores in search of the perfect fit. Why I even climbed up on the shelves at Lowes to slip into a tub display 4 feet off the ground (they shouldn't leave those rolling ladders unattended).

And then I found it.

The perfect tub.

At 22" deep it promised a lingering soak. It had armrests and a gently sloping back designed to cradle me while almost whispering soothing words. It even had handles that I could use to pull myself out after my muscles all turned to was called the Jasmine.

And that's pretty much where the romance ended because in order to make the Jasmine a permanent part of my world I needed to remodel my entire bathroom. Anyone who has ever remodeled a bathroom knows that romance is the last word to describe the month's long nightmare of disruption.

Enter plumber. Shane is great. He's the kind of plumber you can trust to fix what's wrong quickly and inexpensively. The kind who when called out to replace some rusted open angle stops casually mentions that he has time to chop up the old offensive tub while he's here...

He's a wily one.

So we chopped up the tub and he gave me a punch list of what I had to do in order to make the Jasmine mine.

Removing that old tub was with exposed insulation for 3months...not so much!

So I did it.

The first wave required re-tiling the vanity counter and backsplash. I also re-worked the cabinetry to create a new look and a spot to conceal the trash can. I selected the sinks and new faucets and then cleverly left the country leaving Dave to make the call.

"Come back Shane!"

My friend Nancy and I combined new tumbled marble with the stone mosaic she had left over from another tile project.

Nancy's not much for pictures but she let me capture her grouting gloves.

I love the new look!

Pretty baskets on the new oak shelves I retrofitted hold extra TP.

The trash can is accessible but tucked away. I love the new vessel sinks and faucets!

So Shane came back and installed the new vessel sinks and faucets.

And then the Jasmine was delivered. Dave went to pick her up in the trailer and when he brought her home we moved her right into the bedroom where I slid in while holding my breath.

The fit was perfect and I couldn't wait to install her. So I made the call.

"Come back Shane!"

So Shane came back and we measured the height of the drain connection and the tub sides and four more measurements that made no sense to me. And again I was given instructions on how to build and tile the tub deck.

Okay so you're supposed to by an "alcove" tub with a flange and apron front when you are installing a tub in an "alcove" - why be ordinary? Why follow the crowd? Why not make every stinking project five times more complex than it has to be? Now that's a motto I can live by!

So I stripped away more drywall and evened out the opening so the Jasmine might actually fit in my alcove...and then I discovered that the wall behind the old tub was leaking. So I made the call again...

"Come back Shane!"

Shane came back and determined that the leak was not plumbing related at all - it was a faulty roof flashing enter the roofer...and the contractor to replace the glass block window that was rotting out of its opening as a result of the leak...a "quick" 6 week process that ground the entire project to a halt.

I took this pic during the rain to show the roofer the problem - now wonder that window rotted out.

Here's my tub deck and first set of tile.

Imagine the torture of walking my past my lovely Jasmine soaking tub every single night as she sat waterless smack in the center of my bedroom. Her very presence was a siren song reminding me of the bath I longed for...course it could have been the bruise on my thigh from running into the dang thing every time I crossed to my side of the bed...

Finally winter arrived and so did my new window. As the silicone set, I rushed to build and tile the new tub deck and made the call...

"Come back Shane!"

Shane returned and in less than an hour installed the Jasmine...using vice-grips and an open copper pipe we filled my luxury tub and watched the water turn was a red-neck meets spa moment...

The redneck spa experience...

You see I couldn't have a proper faucet until the entire tub surround was tiled. So I set to work. The tile guys at the supply place had advised that wall tile is really hard to get straight and the best approach for a person at my skill level is to do three rows at a time, wait a day, and repeat.

On the first day, I lifted a 50 lb bag of thinset and threw out my back...a week of pills, therapy and whining later, I tiled the next set of rows pressing Dave into porter service for bucket after bucket of thinset and grout.

I'm smiling because I'm heavily medicated with back pain pills...

Finally the tile was in. The grout was in.  It was time to make the final call...

"Come back Shane!"

And so he did. Shane installed the faucet and spout. Then I installed the pretty girly towel racks and curtains.

I love the new vanity and sinks!
I love the new lighting fixtures - this is the view from the bedroom.

And I LOVE my new tub!

And then I soaked.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Insomnia leads to...a new sewing center

So it turns out that one of the "joys" (a term used rather loosely here) of my experience with menopause is insomnia.

You know what I mean - the tossing, the turning...and that's just Dave trying to get back to sleep after one of my hot flashes. For me insomnia is dreadful because it means some days I muddle through in a cloud of exhaustion and of the walking wounded of middle age.

And yet...with more waking hours on my hands, I have a lot more time for projects (assuming I am rested enough to use my power tools). 

For those of you who are now worried about my safety, rest assured, Dave has established some house rules that I follow religiously:

1. Always wear my safety glasses
2. Always alert someone capable of calling 911 prior to using my table saw

Even after a decade of use, the table saw scares me...but I love what it can do!
But I digress (no surprise as it's 3 AM as I type this). I met my girlfriend Jerry last year on the "trail" (off-roading) and found that we had lots in common (home renovation...sewing...and more home renovation) so a month ago she asked if I would be interested in adopting some of her sewing cabinets.

It seems Jerry is too tall for the munchkin-sized built-in sewing center that came with her new house. Imagine an entire wall of compact custom-crafted oak cabinets (including a sewing lift and an ironing board drawer) lining a guest room wall. Lucky me as I just so happen to be a member of the Lollipop Guild!

After wiping the drool off my chin, I said I was very interested...I just didn't know where I could install the cabinets. Now my house is half the size of Jerry's and if I installed the cabinets in our teeny guest room, guests would have to sleep on the pull-out ironing board.

I toyed with a few other ideas - building a room in the garage (nixed by the man of the house); enclosing the back patio (nixed by the dogs of the house) and finally had the revelation that the solution lay less in location and more in locomotion - I didn't a permanent spot for my sewing center...I needed WHEELS!

Luckily for me, Jerry knows every building supplier in our town and was happy to take me to a local source of high quality wheels (I still have a longing for the 4 1/2" blue ones but they made the cabinets too tall for little old me).

I picked the no-mark, smooth gliding ones...with the locking wheel feature of course.
From the original 9 cabinet pieces I decided to create 3 discrete units:

1. a desk-like unit to house the sewing machine lift (sooo cool) and two sets of drawers;

2. a dresser-like unit to house the super cool ironing board drawer and various quilting supplies;

3. a console-table-like unit to store books

I took this pic to help decide which leg suited the scale of the console unit.
Things went pretty smoothly at first, but there are real dangers in operating with a lack of sleep...

Case in point:

Friday, I noticed a great deal of wasted space under the ironing board drawer and determined that an additional shelf would be ideal...all I needed was some MDF board the right size.

I glanced around my lumber-strewn garage and my gaze landed on the perfect piece.

Following protocol, I alerted my 911-safety call buddy (Dave) and fired up the table saw. Zip, zip and the shelf fit perfectly! I admired my handiwork and almost tweaked my shoulder patting myself on the back for my ingenuity...that is until I went looking for the piece of MDF I had so carefully cut, measured and put to one side to use as the countertop...sigh***.

***In all honesty - I didn't "sigh" the moment I figured out I'd just chopped up the top - I used many of the words in my extensive 4-letter vocabulary.

So I needed more MDF - which only comes in 4' x 8' sheets...

Did I mention that they know me by name at Lowe's?

I'm there a lot.

Did you know they open at 6 AM?

I know because it's 3:45 AM now and they won't be open for another 2 hours and 15 minutes.

I wonder if I should just ask for a key?

Anyway, the construction of all three pieces was progressing but I was still unhappy about a minor aesthetic problem I was having with the "1980's tract home kitchen" medium oak stain color.

I hate it.

But re-staining means...gulp...sanding...every little nook and cranny...ugh.

The original 1980's stain is on the right - the new look is on the left side doors.
So Saturday, after the early morning Lowe's staff meeting (I wasn't actually invited to the meeting but they welcomed me into their midst), Sherrie (my paint counter connection at Lowe's) shared that Rustoleum has a new cabinet re-finishing system sold in a kit that would solve my problem WITHOUT sanding. Of course the $78 was not really in my budget for this project (official budget was $0 but is cresting at $350 as of this writing) but did I hear, "NO SANDING"?

So this is how the 4-step system works:

1. Degloss the surfaces with a scrubby and their deglosser (kind of like washing so fairly easy to do and fast)

2. Paint the cabinets with a "bonding" paint that really looks like a cross between pale yellow and flesh - 2 coats (also easy).

3. Brush on the stain and wipe off - you have 5 minutes until wiping becomes impossible (sounds easy enough but oddly panic-inducing)
Step 2 painting results on the left, the stain coat makes the upright dark brown but wiping it off reveals all the natural beauty of the oak grain. I still don't know how it does that because the paint seems opaque and obscured the grain almost entirely. It must be magic.
4. Top with a clear coat (easy).

I LOVE this product! The results are amazing.

But I love my sewing center more - especially all the cool features:

The ruler holder:

Got to use my dado blade on the table saw to make that!
The ironing board drawer:

I need to sew it a new cover but how cool will it be to iron while seated?
Jerry and I went shopping for some pretty organizational boxes which it turns out I have a weakness for that some might term an addiction...
I also shopped for a few desk top's how it all turned out:

I've already stored all my cookbooks and quilting books inside.

That rounded box holds my iron and the jar holds my seam pressing tools. I couldn't resist the ballroom dancing sillouete.

It took me hours to get the height and opening right for my sewing extension table as it's larger than the sewing lift cabinet but it turned out better than I expected. The boys love a blanket in their comfy chair - not sure they'll stick around when the sewing machine starts up though.
I'm ready to sew! Right after I take a nap...