Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's Summer, Let's Talk About Your Backyard

It may not technically be summer just yet, but after the severe winter we had, it's been summer to me ever since the temperature started to stay consistently above thirty degrees.  Now that we've got that straight, let's talk about your backyard.

People always tell me how lucky I am that we have a hot tub and a pool.  I suppose it's true that a little luck was involved, but it certainly doesn't have anything to do with money.  It's no secret that we got both our pool and hot tub from people who didn't want them.  We found them under the "free" listings on craigslist.



It's the hot tub that I really want to talk about, today, because I have a little secret for you if you should decide that you would like one in your yard.  Unless you're buying a new one and having it delivered and set up, you're going to need a strategy for getting it out of it's current location and into your yard and that's where the secret comes into play.

If you find a hot tub on craigslist that is calling your name, you're probably thinking that you need a big truck or trailer and half a dozen big, strong people to help you move it.  The truck/trailer thing, that's true, but you don't need a large group of friends to help.  You can do it with one or two friends and the help of six (or more if you've got them) pieces of six foot long PVC pipe.  At one time, we had multiple hot tubs (long story) and Mr. W used this method to move one from our yard to our neighbors yard by himself.  It's a long, bumpy, grass covered distance and he did it in less than 15 minutes.

Start by lifting the edge of the hot tub just enough to push one piece of PVC pipe underneath with your foot.  Push it back as far as you can, about a foot or so, then set the hot tub down on it.  Repeat with each of the remaining pipes, pulling the hot tub toward you each time to distribute the pipes approximately a foot or so apart.  You will now have "rollers" to move the hot tub to your truck/trailer.  Every few feet you push it, you will need to pick up pipes and move them in front to continue.  Try to keep two or three pipes under the hot tub at all times and you will be able to follow your path fairly effortlessly.  You will need one or two strong people to help you lift it (or tip it, if possible) into your truck or trailer.  When you get home, reverse the process.



One more thing I'd like to add.  We don't find it to be a lot of work to keep our hot tub clean, but you do need to use a test kit (or strips, if you prefer) to monitor the chemical levels of your hot tub.  Some people use bromine, but we prefer liquid chlorine for sanitation.  Not only because we use it for our pool, but it works much faster than bromine tablets.  A skimmer works well to get out bits of grass and other debris, but for anything that sinks to the bottom (dirt, sand) a suction type water shooter (from the dollar store) is useful and fun!


Willoughby


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do You Do It?

Do it yourself, that is!

In this house, we're all about DIY projects.  There is an immense sense of satisfaction for us in taking something and turning it into something else.  Or starting from scratch and ending up with something you've visualized.

A few years ago, we found this door at our local Habitat for Humanity store.  It was dirty and beat up, but it had its original hardware (love, love, love original hardware) and it was the perfect size for our office.  



We had two pieces of leaded glass that were given to us by one of Mr. W's friends, and we wanted to use one in this door.  We had a little retrofitting and some painting to do, but  here's what that door looks like now:


As you can see in the picture, our office is a pretty narrow room.  There was no way we were going to be able to use pre made furniture and get a good fit, so the window seat and the bookcases were also DIY projects.



For the bookcases, we purchased unfinished wall cabinets (base cabinets would have been too deep) and mounted them on a base to lift them up high enough to use the same baseboard trim we used in the rest of the room.  We built the shelves separately and then installed them on top of the cabinets.  After that, we primed and painted and then added trim and hardware.  They give us a lot of storage for such a small room.

The window seat doubles as a guest bed.  Underneath the cushion, we installed the top of the frame from a cot (the kind you would take camping).  It acts like a box spring would in a bed.  There is more "give" to the cushion/mattress than there would be if it were sitting on a solid piece of wood.  It's very comfortable.  We ordered the foam and had it cut to our specs at a local shop.  I made the slip cover.   The niches underneath have storage bins.



Most of the decorating in the room is DIY, too.  The art on the back wall, above, is a collection of artwork my kids have done over the years, as well as some photos my son and I have taken.  Most of the frames are from the thrift store.  They were all different colors.  I spray painted them all black.

The desk is more a matter of repurposing.  It's an antique sideboard that belonged to my grandma.  I've thought about refinishing it, but I kind of like the flaws it has.  The pictures on the desk, all but the heart shaped frame, are thrift store frames spray painted black.  The doorknob?  We found it laying around somewhere in the house when we moved here.  I just like it.



On the wall next to the door, I have a really special piece of DIY artwork.  It was given to me by a fellow blogger, Joanna at The Fifty Factor.  She's from the real town of Willoughby and picked up this poster for me (along with some other goodies) at a festival.  I matted and framed it in, you guessed it, a spray painted frame from the thrift store.



I didn't want to display my collection of paperbacks in the bookcases, so those are in an old suitcase (I heart old suitcases) on top of the armoire in our bedroom.



There are quite a few more painted frames around the house with family pictures and photographs Mr. W. and I have taken.






Painting frames and accessories black is a simple way to create a cohesive look.  I found a pair of bookends (um, yeah, thrift store, again) that were shiny gold.  I loved the shape and the weight, but the gold wasn't my taste.  I sprayed them with black spray paint, but intentionally left a little gold peeking through.



You would think I had gone through dozens of cans of spray paint, but I only used three or four to paint everything I've shown, plus a half dozen more things that I haven't shown.  I really like the kind that is primer and paint in one.

When I can't spray paint something, I can screenprint it.  This was a leftover piece of deck board.  I white washed it and then Mr. W. and I screenprinted it.



We've done lots of projects around here and I have ideas for lots more.  How about you?  Do you do it yourself?



Willoughby


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Less Thinking Yet More Productive And Oddly More Punctual

We haven't had a home phone for almost ten years.  That's not entirely true, we do have a phone line that plugs into our cable modem (I think that's how it works, you'd have to ask Mr. W), but we don't use it.  I couldn't even tell you the phone number without looking it up.  The only reason that we have it is because we got a better package deal from our cable provider if the phone was included.  It would cost more to get rid of it than to keep it.  How much sense does that make?  In any case, it's not even plugged in.  You can still leave a message for us because the voice mail system works regardless of whether the phone is plugged in.  We don't check the messages, though, because anyone we would actually want to talk to would call our cell phones.   The only calls we get on that line are from telemarketers and political candidates.  Small wonder we never bother listening to the messages, right?

For a long time, we had flip style cell phones.  I loved my bright red Razor.  You couldn't do anything but make and accept calls on it (we didn't have texting in our plan back then), but it was cute.  I had a Breaking Benjamin tune as my ringtone.  We were happy with those phones until they became dinosaurs that dropped calls because Sprint didn't support them anymore.

Next up, we got sliding phones with the text and data plan.  The guy at the store told us they were a great, affordable step toward smart phones because you could access the internet with them.  We thought that would be a handy benefit.  Ha!  We got lost on a bike ride one day and tried to pull up Google maps.  After nearly twenty minutes of "thinking", the information finally loaded, but you couldn't enlarge the screen and I didn't have a magnifying glass in my saddlebag so the whole internet thing was worthless.  The camera worked pretty well, though, so I was able to take a picture of our surroundings and send it to the search party.

About six months ago, we finally caved and got smart phones.  As soon as I figured out how to turn it on and do a little bit of navigating, I heard the sound of angels singing.  Where had this tiny wonder been all my life?  I could go on and on about all the fun gadgets (I used the built in flashlight when we lost power last month), or gush about being able to wax poetic in my texts with no character limit.  I could also tell you how much I love reading ebooks or watching Netflix while I'm sitting in the school parking lot waiting for my daughter or tell you how invaluable this phone has been for managing our shop and staying in touch with our customers when we're out and about.  But the thing I love most is Siri.

Siri is the automated navigation app you can access by voice.  She is my best friend, my personal assistant, my secretary and my alarm clock.  She organizes my notes, finds information on the internet and reminds me when I need to do things.  It's like having an external brain, so much so that I've been considering not using my real brain at all anymore.

Truth is, I still have to think because I have to tell Siri what information I want her to find or what tasks/appointments/deadlines I need to be reminded of.  The down side is that now I have no excuse for being late.  I also can't say "I forgot" when it comes to important things like getting out of bed in the morning or cooking dinner.

Gotta go!  Siri just reminded me I have something to do....






Willoughby


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Monday, April 28, 2014

Sundog

On March 15th, a little after 10:00 pm, my dad passed away.  He had been receiving home hospice care and they had told us he was beginning the process of "winding down" several weeks before, but still, I wasn't prepared.

He had been struggling with a number of health issues for a long time.  Over the past year he had undergone bypass surgery and two amputations and had been bouncing back and forth between the hospital and a rehabilitation center.  When they finally sent him home and recommended hospice care, we knew our time left with him was short.

We were told to expect ups and downs; a roller coaster ride.  Really, though, he had more good days than bad.  He was confused at times and would say things that we didn't understand or would call out for me when I was sitting right next to him.  Occasionally, he would ask about their dog.  "Maggie has been gone for 15 years, Dad."  "I know," he said "I'm talking about the dog that looks like Maggie that comes in and sleeps on the floor.  I don't know her name so I just call her Maggie."  There was no dog but I didn't see any point in telling him.

The whole family spent as much time with him as we could.  We did our best to keep him comfortable and happy.  He couldn't go places and do things, but we could bring him his favorite foods.  The nurses told us we didn't have to worry about keeping him on his diabetic diet, anymore, and that he could eat whatever he wanted so that become much of our focus.  If he wanted pizza, he got pizza.  If he wanted McDonalds, someone would go pick it up.  If he had asked for lobster, we'd have driven to Maine.

We also watched a lot of movies.  He had always loved bad, old movies.  The worse they were, the more he seemed to like them.  We'd pick apart the plot or laugh at the clothes the actors were wearing.  Like food, it was one of the few pleasures he had left.  Sometimes, though, I found it upsetting when the channel would go to a commercial break.  They would promote an upcoming movie, something that was scheduled to air a week or a month away.  I couldn't get it out of my head that my dad would probably be gone by then.

The last good day I spent with him was the Thursday before he died.  He was in a really great mood and seemed to feel good.  My sister in law and I watched movies with him all afternoon and brought him whatever he wanted to eat.  We talked and laughed a lot.  It was such a good day.

It may have been foolish to feel hopeful, we all knew he wasn't going to get better, but we started to believe we had a little more time.  Since everyone was planning to visit on Saturday, I came up with the idea to have a cookout.  There was still snow on the ground and the weather was more winter than spring, but I thought it would be fun for everyone.  I especially thought my dad would enjoy it.

On Friday, my oldest brother said he was going to bring lunch and spend the day visiting, so the rest of us took a day off.  Mr. W and I went shopping to pick up hamburgers and hot dogs.  We exchanged phone calls and texts with the rest of the family discussing what everyone was going to bring to the cookout.  We were all in a party mood.

Saturday, since Mr. W had to work, I prepped the food so we could leave as soon as he got home.  Late in the afternoon, though, my sister in law called and said my dad wasn't doing well.  They had put in a call to the nurse and I should come right away.

He had fallen asleep after breakfast and my mom hadn't been able to wake him up.  We tried squeezing his hand and talking loudly to him, but he didn't respond.  Even on oxygen, his breathing was labored and his color was draining.  The nurse confirmed what we already knew, it wasn't likely he would make it through the night.

We took turns sitting with him, each of us having time alone to say our goodbyes.  I don't know what anyone else said, but I didn't say goodbye.  Not because I thought it would change anything, but because it wasn't what I felt like I needed to do.  I just sat and talked to him the way I would have if he were awake.  A few hours later, we were all at his bedside when he quietly passed.

Mr. W and I stepped outside shortly after.  It was a cold night, but the sky was clear and there was a gorgeous ring, like a circular rainbow, around the moon.  It was unlike anything I have ever seen.  I have no doubt that it was a sign from my dad telling us that he was at peace.

I've since found out that the ring was a sundog.  I didn't know you could see them at night, but I've always loved spotting them because they appear so rarely.  A few days after my dad died, I was driving home after shopping with my mom and I was thinking of him.  It had been cloudy all day, but just then the sky brightened up and a sundog appeared.  I pulled over and took a picture with my phone.  Every sundog I see is not a sign from my dad, I know that, and yet I find an odd sort of comfort in seeing one.



Although I'll never stop missing him.




Willoughby


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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stocking Up On Chocolate Bunnies and Bandages

Easter is coming.  It's about a month and a half away, so it's a little too soon to worry about what I'm going to make for Easter dinner.  Still, I'm a little scared because I've managed to hurt myself in the kitchen on every holiday since last Easter.

Along with the ham, I had decided to make scalloped potatoes.  I was using the mandolin (with the guard) to slice the potatoes, but I was rushing to get it done.  The guard slipped and I ran my middle finger across the blade.  For a split second, I wasn't sure I had cut myself because it didn't hurt.  But then it started bleeding, and I mean BLEEDING, and it hurt like crazy.  I had cut all the way to the bone.  I could actually see it.  Really.  I grabbed a gob of paper towel and put as much pressure on it as I could.  Then I put a bandage on it (which wasn't easy, I was home alone at the time and more than a little woozy after seeing bone), slipped on a disposable glove and finished cooking dinner.  Amazing as it sounds, I only have a slight scar.

On Thanksgiving, I was basting the turkey when I bumped the edge of the oven rack with my arm.  This time it hurt immediately.  I ran the burn under cold water, which probably stopped it from getting any worse, but it still left a nice scar on my arm.

Christmas was probably the strangest injury of all because, while it happened in the kitchen, it was not cooking related.  We were all sitting around the kitchen island after dinner.  My son got up to get something, so I stood up to give him more room to get past me.  He accidentally bumped me and I fell against the stool I had been sitting on.  It came down on my foot, hard.  In trying to lift it off my foot, I lost my balance and fell against it, driving it down harder. The pain was pretty intense and I truly thought I had amputated my toe with the leg of the stool. I asked Mr. W if there was blood on my sock (I had closed my eyes because I was in so much pain).  When he said there was, I was terrified to look.  Eventually, I got up the courage to take off my sock.  Luckily, my toe was still attached.  Crushed, but attached.

So that brings us back to this coming Easter.  Maybe I should just make reservations?


Willoughby


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cabin Fever

Being indoors all the time is starting to drive me crazy.  Today is sunny and the sky is clear blue, but I can't get out and enjoy it because it's wicked cold outside.  The wind chill bottomed out somewhere around -16 degrees this afternoon.  It snowed for a short time, but instead of coming straight down, the wind whipped it into a horizontal blizzard.

All day long I've felt overdue for a nap.  Sure, there are things I could do to keep myself busy.  I've got a few loads of laundry waiting for me and those tax returns aren't going to do themselves, but I don't have the energy or the focus to deal with either one of them.

Yesterday, we got an advertising circular from a local home improvement store.  The front page was filled with paving blocks, landscaping timbers, planters and hose reels.  Everything about it screamed spring.  It made me feel hopeful and sad at the same time.  Hopeful that spring is coming, sad that we still have five feet of snow in the front yard and nearly as much in the back.

I was working on a custom order for our shop the other day and I needed to find a particular picture to create a mock up.  Going through my files, I got sidetracked looking at pictures I took last spring and summer.  Flowers we grew, day trips we took, our pool and hot tub, summer sunsets.  All the things I've been missing so much during this long, long, long winter.






If spring flowers, road trips, an open pool and summer sunsets don't get here soon, I'll lose my mind!

All work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl.....



Willoughby


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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rotten Tomatoes!

Tomatoes are a total mystery to me.  I buy them, I grow them, I eat them, but I can't say that I understand them.

First of all, why is it so hard to get a good tasting tomato in the middle of winter in Michigan?  I know some tomatoes are imported from warmer places and some are grown in green houses.  Unless they're labeled, I usually can't tell the difference.  Neither one has much flavor and they're usually mushy.

Next, I just don't understand what to do with them.  Whether it's February and I'm getting the flavorless ones from the produce department, or the middle of July and I'm harvesting fresh tomatoes from my garden, I've always followed the conventional wisdom that you should not refrigerate an uncut tomato.  So I don't.  I leave them sitting on the counter.  This poses two problems.  Number one, I like tomatoes to be cold (I don't care that someone, somewhere says they're more flavorful at room temp.).  Number two, they go bad rapidly.  RAPIDLY!

My mom recently gave me some extra grape tomatoes she didn't want.  She had kept them in the refrigerator, so I refrigerated them when I brought them home.  The next day I took them out to put them in a salad.  Here is what they looked like:



On the flip side, I picked up a nice looking hot house tomato from the supermarket a day or so later.  I left it on the counter overnight.  The next day it looked like this:




So which is it, refrigerate or not?  I just don't know.  I guess the best choice is to buy them and eat them the same day or wait until summer and pick them fresh moments before I need them.  Or stop eating tomatoes.


Willoughby


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