Sunday, December 7, 2014

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It's hard to believe, but it is December already! It's even harder to believe that even though we've only lived in this house for 2 and a half years, we have somehow managed to accumulate a LOT of Christmas decorations.  A LOT.  One of the things that really attracted us to this house was the thought of how awesome it would look decorated for the holidays, and we have not been disappointed!  Of course we didn't consider the fact that we are hermits and rarely have people over, and no one else ever actually sees it.  We had originally thought about having a Christmas party this year, but the last couple of weeks have been tough, and we decided we don't need any added stress this year. So, I thought I would share a few pictures here instead!

One of the cats has decided he loves to curl up and snooze in this basket.  A wire basket full of burlap doesn't sound that comfortable to me, but he doesn't seem to mind.  Of course, he jumps out and runs away every time I try to take a picture of him in there, so a shot of his ears was the best I could get:

These are new ones we found at Target this year.  I wish we had a fireplace mantle to put them on, but since we don't (what 120-year old house doesn't have a single fireplace!?), they can just hang out on the buffet for the time being:

I took an old apothecary jar we had sitting around and filled it with small Christmas balls. I would have liked to fill it with candy, but that wouldn't have lasted very long around here. I'm reasonably certain neither of us are going to be tempted to eat ornaments, so this should last through the season!

I used the same table centerpiece that I made last year:

We also put a couple of decorations up on the porch:

We used to have an old runner sled, but ended up selling it.  Now I wish we still had it, because it would look really nice out here with the ice skates and some greens on it.  I'll have to put that on my list for garage sales next spring!

And finally, we have the bird cage.  This is something that used to hang in my grandparents' house, and then my parents had it, and now we have it at our house.  It looks really nice out on the porch all lit up at night.  Up until a couple of years ago, it still had the original lights on it, and even after 50 years, they still worked! Unfortunately, after we got it, the lights finally died.  Lance knew that the bird cage was pretty important to my family, so he painstakingly removed the old lights and strung on new ones, and now it is as good as new!

Once we get a good layer of snow, I will go out and take some pictures of it from the outside, too.

There are still PLENTY of decorations that I didn't include, so I'll save those for another post :) In the meantime, Happy Holidays from the Doumas!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Oh Sew Fancy

In my last post, I mentioned that I had just gotten a new sewing machine and had all kinds of ideas for brightening up all of the BROWN in the living room.  I have an old Singer Featherweight my mother gave me that I think used to belong to my great grandmother.  Supposedly these are highly sought after and there are quite a few people out there who prefer them over the newer computerized machines.  However, when I tried to figure out how to thread it, I decided it is NOT for beginners.  So instead I did some research and ended up choosing this one. I was a little skeptical about one that goes along with a TV show (a TV show that I love, but still...) but the reviews were really good and it's made by a reputable company, so I decided to try it out.

The flaw in my plan of course was that while I had a brand new sewing machine, I didn't actually know how to USE it (minor detail). So, after I spent an entire afternoon reading the instructions and teaching myself how to thread it, wind bobbins, etc., I was ready to try an actual project! I searched Pinterest and settled on a really cute little reversible tote bag. It looked pretty easy and I figured it would make a good present for some adorable little nieces I know.

Shockingly, it ended up being fairly easy! Each tote bag was SUPPOSED to take around 30 minutes to complete.  For me it was more like 3 hours. Per bag.

So once I had figured out the basics, I figured I was ready to get started on new couch cushions! My plan was to just sew pillowcases to go over the existing cushions.  Originally, I thought of doing them envelope-style, so that I wouldn't have to mess with buttonholes or zippers.  But then I saw this tutorial that made zippers look so (sew?) easy! I was a little intimidated, but hey, I just made tote bags! I could totally do zippers! Or.....could I?

As it turns out, I.HATE.ZIPPERS. First of all, I had to change between two different feet on the machine, which is not that big of a deal, but here I had just barely learned to sew a straight line, now you want me to put on a different FOOT!? Then, despite the directions making it look easy, I had SO much trouble sewing around the zipper pull when I got to the end. Probably 75% of my time on this project was spent just trying to do the stupid zippers!  So overall, it took almost two entire Sundays and one weeknight to essentially sew 8 square bags.

Here is the couch before, with the brown pillows against the tan walls, brown carpet, etc. So blah.

Here is the new and improved couch!

Unfortunately now that it is winter, there isn't any bright natural light in the living room, so I had trouble getting decent pictures.  We decided to go with orange and blue, since we already had orange in the room (tv stand and curtains) and the blue ties in the foyer as well.

Of course, we didn't consider that the dark blue pillows might not hide cat hair very well, so it looks like we need to invest in even more lint rollers. But overall, the new covers brighten up the room substantially.  Just don't look too closely at the seams, and for the love of GOD, do not judge my terrible zippers! We just keep the zipper sides on the bottom, so they aren't as noticeable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reclaimed Wood Table

You may recall way back in April when Lance came home with a carload of furniture he bought from someone on Craigslist.  At this point we have re-done and either sold or used everything from that purchase, with the exception of one table. It was similar to this one, but shorter and narrower.  It had a great weathered wood top, but unfortunately the wooden legs were rotted.  Originally we thought we would just cut down the legs above the rotted part and turn it into a great coffee table.  However, the more Lance worked on it, the more rotted parts he found, and the more it fell apart.  So we scrapped the idea altogether and kept only the wooden planks for the top.  They've been sitting in our garage ever since, while we waited to find just the right legs to finish it off.

FINALLY in September, we decided at the last minute to go to the citywide garage sales in Waterloo.  It was Saturday morning and we got a late start, so we weren't too optimistic that we'd find anything good that day.  But we happened upon a sale where a lady was getting rid of furniture from a friend's estate, and while we were there, she just happened to bring out a table that had been made from the top of an old Globe Wernicke book case and some metal hairpin legs.  We picked it up for $10, mainly just because we liked the legs (and normally a set of them costs at least $40, so we figured $10 was a great bargain).

Lance decided that the legs would be perfect for the boards we had sitting in the garage, so he got to work cleaning them up, sanding them down, and staining them.

He filled in the old nail holes with wood filler, then sanded it down, stained it a dark walnut color, and finished it off with several coats of a satin poly. Then he added some wood pieces to the underside to hold the planks together and provide some stability so that he could attach the legs.

We have been debating for the last week about what to do with the table.  We thought about taking it to the antique mall, but given the moisture in the air there, we were worried the boards would warp, and after several incidents in which furniture in our booth has been ruined (either intentionally or by careless mall customers, not sure which), we weren't sure we wanted to risk putting it there. Plus, we both really liked the table, and I don't think either of us were in a hurry to see it go.

Then this morning, I started thinking about trying to put it in our living room as a coffee table.  At 23" tall, its a little high, and it seemed too big for the space we have, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

And as it turns out, WE.LOVE.IT. I'm sure there are plenty of high priced designers out there who would cringe, because this is the wrong "scale" for the room, but the height is actually perfect because we pretty much live in this room (it is a "living room," after all) so the table functions as a desk, place to eat, and work space.

So of course once we figured out that the table actually worked, I decided I wanted to take photos so I could share them on this blog.  This meant having to clean the living room (ie toss the clutter to the side so that it wasn't in the shot). Then Lance decided that the stuff on the wooden tray (which we used to have on top of a large leather ottoman) really needed to be dusted and washed. And as I was rearranging the pillows on the couch, I decided that there is just way too much brown in the room and that we should really change out the pillows on the couch to brighten it up.  Luckily, I just got a new sewing machine last week (!!), and once I get better at using it (so far all I've managed to do is thread it and sew some random seams in fabric scraps, but I have plans.  BIG plans.) I can make easy pillow covers to go right over the existing cushions on the back.  Then, when I uploaded the photos, I discovered all kinds of cool photo editing software I didn't know we had, which has given me even MORE ideas.  So, the simple act of putting the table in the living room has led to a whole new list of things to do.

I also wanted to comment on the flowers on the table because they are possibly the best $5 we ever spent.  We have a flower bed along our driveway that is a mess.  The dirt is terrible quality, it is full of rocks, and we have not been able to get anything to grow there.  Finally out of desperation we bought a bag full of zinnia seeds mixed with fertilizer (it was on clearance).  All we had to do was dump them on top of the soil, water them and wait.  They sprouted pretty quickly, then took a couple of months to actually bloom, but when they did, they bloomed like crazy!!! And they are extremely hearty flowers- we have had a couple of mornings of frost and they are still looking fresh.  Most of the ones in the picture have been in the vase for over a week now (a couple are new ones I added this morning), and they haven't even started to wilt. I definitely plan to do this again in other parts of our yard next spring!

My next task for today is to spend some more time with the sewing machine, so that I can make new pillows for the couch.  Hopefully that doesn't turn out like the scarf I started knitting for Lance almost two years ago......maybe I will finish that in time for Christmas 2017.......

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fence Finishes

Well another school year has started and as usual, we've gotten busy with work and the pace of home improvement projects has slowed considerably.  But since we are in the midst of some gorgeous fall weather, we have been able to get outside and finish a few things up.  Namely, the fence.  I know, you probably thought it was all done, didn't you? When we last left off, here is what we had:

In August, Lance built a gate for the opening in the back and the next step was to coat the fence with a sealant.  After reading a lot of reviews, we chose one made by Wolman called F&P (Finish & Preservative) Exterior Wood Stain. Unfortunately, we had to wait for a while because we needed to have a few days of dry weather before coating the fence, and a few days afterward as well.  Finally this week we had a good forecast and Lance was able to get started.  He started off using our handheld sprayer, but soon found that it was just too small and it wasn't spraying well.  So he bought a backpack-style one and found that it worked much better.  And the bonus is that it made him look like a Ghostbuster when he wore it- I only wish I'd thought to take a picture of that!  It took a few days, and he had to go back over quite a few parts with a brush, but it ended up looking pretty good!

The final touch was to put caps on all of the fence posts.  Not only does this make them look cool, it also helps keep moisture from soaking in.  That would be REALLY bad since those babies are seriously cemented into the ground, so having to replace a water-damaged post would be a nightmare involving a jackhammer.  We decided to do a combination of post caps, alternating solar lights and copper (or rather, plastic that looks like copper). The lights are attached with screws and we adhered the other ones with caulk. They probably won't withstand a tornado or anything, but as I said yesterday, if we have a tornado, I think fence post caps will be the least of our worries.

I tried to take a picture of them at night, but I was using the camera on my phone and this was the best I could do.  You will just have to trust me when I say they look awesome all lit up.

Meanwhile, we have a bunch of other non-fence things in the works, one of which is almost done, so check back soon for updates!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors- Part 2

Don't Please Fence Me In

What!? The fence we have been talking about for two years is finally DONE!? Indeed it is! When I left off after my last post, we had spent an entire day digging holes and prying huge rocks out of the ground, and we were exhausted and crabby.  But we were motivated to get it done, so we hiked up our big kid pants and got back to work.

The next step was to set the posts in the holes.  All of the videos we had watched beforehand suggested using 1-2 bags of concrete per hole, but as we got going, we discovered that we really had to use at least 4 bags per hole, which meant a return trip to the store for more concrete mix. We used the quick set stuff that you can mix right in the hole (basically just add water  and poke it with a stick!), and it sets in 20-30 minutes and is ready for light foot traffic in 8 hours (which is irrelevant here, since we weren't planning to walk on it anyway).  And true to claim, it sets FAST. As in, we had to make sure the posts were exactly in the right place and perfectly level, because once the water got mixed in, it firmed up almost immediately.

It took us several hours to do the posts, and we let the concrete firm up overnight to make sure it was solid before we put up the rails.

Unfortunately the neighbors came back from their camping trip on Sunday, so we've been working under their watchful glares all week.  If you look closely, you can see their falling down, poorly (drunkenly?) installed chain link fence, from which their unruly dogs have escaped on multiple occasions.

Anyway, the next step was to cut the posts to all the same height and put up the rails.  For the 6' part of the fence we used 14' 2x4's cut down to span 2 6' sections, and in the front for the 4' part, we used 8' boards.  Since I had to go to a meeting one afternoon, Lance recruited a nephew to help with the front section and when I got home I was pretty excited to see how much they'd gotten done.

FINALLY yesterday it was time to put up the pickets.  It took us several trips to Menard's over the past couple of days to pick up all that we needed (110 of the 4' ones and 220 of the 6' ones) and we had to dig through a LOT of piles of wood to find enough pieces that weren't split or warped.  We finished the 4' tall section last night and were expecting the backyard to take most of today, but we were surprised to find that once we got into a rhythm, we were able to work really quickly and the whole backyard was done by a little bit past noon.  Unfortunately it was raining today, so while that kept us cooler, it also meant that the wood was soaking wet and we were covered in mud.

And here is the final result:

We still have plenty of work to do, like build a gate for this space so that we can easily get behind the garage, put down the stone border on the outside of the fence, and put on a coat of wood sealer.  But for now we are happy just to have the hardest part done AND we have effectively blocked the view of the junkyard next door.  Not bad considering we have no fence building experience and learned pretty much everything from watching youtube videos!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Part 1

We are now knee deep (3 feet to be exact, but more on that later) in our fence-building project, and as expected it is turning out to be our biggest and most difficult undertaking yet. The good news is that the neighbors (the very reason we are building the fence in the first place) appear to be out of town this week, so we don't have to deal with them sitting on their porch sneering at us through a haze of cigarette smoke, or with their two mangy dogs barking at us nonstop from the backyard.

Our first task was to remove a gnarled old half-dead pine tree that leaned precariously over our garage.  Not only was it ugly, it was also right in the path of where we need to put the fence, so it had to go.

This turned out to be more difficult than we'd anticipated.  The first tree service we called offered to come out and give us an estimate, but at the agreed upon time he never showed up and never called.  In fact, we never heard from him again. Then a series of major storms hit the area, which meant that all of the tree removal services were busy clearing storm damage and they told us it would likely be a month to six weeks before they could even give us an estimate. Finally we called K&B in Beaver Dam and they came out the next day to give us an estimate, but said it would be a few weeks before they could do the job. So we were thrilled when they called a week later and said they could do it the next day. We figured it would be a couple of guys and a truck, but instead they came with a whole crew and several trucks, including a GIANT wood chipper (obviously we made some Fargo jokes).

In under an hour, they had trimmed back the giant tree next to our driveway and taken down the pine tree.  It was really entertaining to watch! After they left, we were left with a pile of logs that we can use for firewood, so Lance went out with a chainsaw and cut them down. And he cut back the cherry trees in the backyard while he was at it.

Now, on to fence building, right? Umm... No. The next step was to get the building permit.  Lance went down to City Hall to ask some questions, and got nothing but attitude.  We looked up the regulations for fences online, but found that there are two different sections in the code, and they contradict each other. We decided to go with the section that benefitted us most. In some cities, fences can be right on the property line, in others they have to be one foot inside the line.  In Columbus, they have to be TWO feet inside the line, which is ridiculous. This means that if you want to put up a fence, you are agreeing to substantially reduce the amount of usable yard space, and if two neighbors have fences, you end up with a four foot strip of no-man's-land in between, which is just stupid.  The exception is that you can get written permission from the neighbor to go closer to the lot line.  The guy behind us (his driveway borders our back lot line) was completely agreeable to the idea, so we were able to go right up to the line in back and save both of the cherry trees.  We didn't even bother asking the degenerates next door because we're sure they know how much we dislike them and we didn't think they'd be too friendly about it.  Plus, we want as much of a buffer zone between us and them as we can get. So on that side, we are going two feet off the line, and then we will line the outside of our fence with a bed of river rock so that we don't have to mow back there.

FINALLY, after over a week of phone calls and waiting, we secured the permit. Yay! We had already had a load of cement and river rock delivered (also a pretty cool thing to watch), the Digger's Hotline guy had already marked off all of the gas lines for us, and we were eager to get started.

First we measured and marked off both the lot line and the fence line with string. Lance and my dad had already done the measuring a couple of weeks ago, but then the neighbor behind us had a new driveway poured and one of the workers had removed the stake marking the line in the back.  When Lance went out to ask him about it, he insisted he knew exactly were it went and he put it "back."  Not even close to where it was supposed to be.  So we had to re-measure, and this time Lance marked the spot with spray paint.

Then we set about removing sod from the strip where we will put the river rock (basically a two foot wide strip all along the side of the yard).  Lance cut out the pieces of sod and I helped move them to the trailer- it ended up looking like we were digging a moat- which, given the neighbors, really isn't such a bad idea.  Does anyone know where we could get sharks with laser beams attached to their foreheads? Or just some basic mid-size alligators?

While we were working on the "moat", we discovered a nest of baby birds in the little tree in the front yard.

And there was a crew of adult robins (seriously, not just one of them) who were NOT happy that we were working so close to the nest.  They spent most of the day dive bombing us and flying directly at our heads, coming WAY closer than we were comfortable with.  Of course, once we got the sod taken out, they had no problem hopping happily along the dirt path pulling out worms. You're welcome, stupid jerk birds.

The next phase of Operation Neighbor Repelling Fence was to go pick up the fence posts.  Unfortunately we don't have a lot of options for lumber around here.  Both of the independent lumber yards we called were charging THREE times as much per board as the big box stores, however the quality of wood at those stores is pretty dismal.  We checked both Menard's and Home Depot and found that Home Depot had very few fence boards even available and what they did have was all split and warped.  So we hitched up the trailer and went to Menard's instead.  And believe me, we had to search through piles of wood for a LONG time before we found enough posts in good, usable condition. This is why we opted to pick it up ourselves instead of having it delivered- we wanted to pick out the good boards ourselves.

So yesterday we started digging the post holes.  We are doing posts every six feet and the fence will be 6 ft high around the yard and then drop down to 4ft high in the side yard out to the front. So the majority of the holes need to be 3ft deep, with the shorter ones being 2ft. Only 3 feet! That doesn't sound too hard, right? WRONG!!!

First Lance cut 12" square pieces of sod from the location of each post. Then we went to the local hardware store and rented an auger.  We were expecting one of these, but were pleasantly surprised to find they had one of THESE instead:

However, while definitely easier than a smaller auger, this was still not an easy task.  Okay, that's an understatement.  Digging the holes SUCKED.  First of all, this thing is HEAVY. And the yard is not level, which meant that Lance had to really fight to keep it steady while drilling the holes. Then, we had expected to have a lot of issues with tree roots (and we did), but it turned out that our biggest problem was rocks.  And I am not talking little stones here, I mean HUGE rocks. So Lance went through and dug holes, and I followed along behind with a shovel and pried out ginormous boulders. Then he went back and dug them out some more, and I went through with a post hole digger and dug out the rest.

We also found that at just about 3 feet down, there is a layer of clay.  Like the exact kind of thick, hard gray clay that you use in art class.  Not going to lie, I resisted the urge to make a pinch pot out of it. And while that clay is all fun and games when you are in art class, it is a nightmare to dig out with a post hole digger.  This whole (hole?) thing took 4-5 hours and now we have a yard full of 2 and 3 foot deep holes, 28 of them to be exact.  I commented that I was worried we'd come out in the morning and find a raccoon or some other critter had fallen in a hole overnight, and Lance added "or a small child?" But I assured him that Baby Jessica is no longer a small child, so we should be good.

I am leaning on the counter because I am too exhausted to stand up

We were so tired last night we could barely move, and we were in bed by 8:30.  I would love to go back and tell my 7-year old self that someday I would VOLUNTARILY go to bed in the summer while it was still light out. I don't now how Lance is feeling this morning, since he had to go help a friend bale hay at 6am, but I am definitely HURTING.  Can't wait to get back out there today and haul around 50lb bags of gravel and concrete so we can set the posts......

But when we have a nice tall fence blocking our view of next door, it will all be worth it! I hope.