Posts tagged ‘new house’


Whatcha doin', Ma?

Our German shepherd, Diezel, is a bit of a nut job.  Due to overruse of a laser pointer when he was young, he is completely obsessed with the movement of shadows and “flashies.”  There are several things that he immediately comes running for, because he associates them with flashies that he can chase: opening a CD case, pulling out the tin foil, doing dishes in front of the kitchen window, opening the back door (since light from the window runs across the wall as you open and close it), and picking up a camera will all result in a big dog standing at attention on your feet, ears up, tail wagging, with a big doggie grin on his face.  And shadows are fair game too — you can spend hours waving your arms around like a flight controller and wiggling your fingers to keep him entertained.  And even when the flashy or the shadow is gone, he will still spend an hour or more at attention, waiting for it to come back.

Cara isn’t the least bit obsessive about that kind of thing, but she will get in on the act for a real laser pointer, or a flashy, if it is bright enough and persistent enough.  The thing that drives her crazy is flies.  We’ve had several in the house recently, and she will stand or sit on alert, totally still, ears cocked, waiting until the fly gets close enough for her to hear it again before she lunges towards the sound in an attack.  She can barely get her back legs off the ground when she jumps, but there are lots of jaws snapping shut on empty air during the assault.  And the funniest part of this is, for some unknown reason she is very concerned about the flies landing on her butt.  She keeps her tail clamped down, and sits down hard, tucking her butt up against the furniture or one of us, to make sure that it is protected, and she constantly looks back at her butt to make sure everything is okay.  Diezel also trys to snap up flies, but he’s not as determined or energetic as Cara is, and he doesn’t worry at all about butt defense.

One of the reasons for all the flies is the fact that I have been grilling a lot lately, and so there’s a lot of trips from the kitchen out the back door, which sometimes gets left open when my hands are full of cutting boards, tongs and plates.  And a fair amount of time has also been spent recently just hanging around next to the grill.  And I have noticed that, for some reason, we have a ton of dragonflies in our yard.  They zoom all around the yard to Diezel’s delight, but he doesn’t actually chase the dragonflies — instead, he chases their shadows flying over the grass.  We only have three saplings in our yard, and one of them was dead when we moved in, so there is plenty of sun to cast dragonfly shadows.

As I was waiting on my steaks to grill a few nights ago, and watching Diezel run hither and thither, I realized that our dead tree had become the perfect dragonfly perch.  It was like a little candelabra of dragonflies!  So I snapped a whole bunch of pictures.

And when a dragonfly zooms past Cara?  Well, she comes and sits down hard, right next to me, making very sure to protect her butt.


DIY Pet Waste Composter

backyard pet waste composter

Last spring I was watching an eco-friendly home improvement show and saw a family install a dog poop composter in the back corner of their yard.  It looked like a quick an easy project, so I did a little research, and found several places where you can get instructions for making one, including a really detailed paper put out by the USDA for Alaskan dog owners.  While maintaining above-ground composting bins with a variety of composting materials seemed extremely complicated, the simpler and more popular versions were below-ground, and essentially created a mini septic tank in your yard.  This is the style I went with.

You might be wondering why anyone would bother making a dog poop composter.  There are a number of ecological reasons to do so: it keeps dog waste out of landfills, allows it to degrade naturally, prevents it from being washed into storm drains to contaminate rivers and lakes, and prevents us from taking a naturally biodegradeable product and wrapping it in plastic so it can never degrade.  Some cities (Seattle for one) don’t allow pet waste in municipal garbage, and there’s too much grit to flush it down the toilet with our waste, so this is a great solution to the problem.  In my case, the fact that I don’t have to carry it from the back yard through my house to the trash can is a plus.  If you just want the waste to have someplace to break down naturally, one poster commented that he had been using the same bin for 10 years and had never needed to empty it.  But it is called a composter, and in my case I would like to be able to use the resulting product to amend our soil, which is clayey silt and not very good for planting.  Every site I went on said to NEVER USE COMPOSTED PET WASTE ON EDIBLE PLANTS.  The microbes in the poop will not be killed, and you don’t want to risk them getting onto any vegetables you will harvest and eat.  However, several of the sites said it is okay to use in flower beds, which is my plan.


plastic garbage can with lid (Most of the directions I saw said to use an old trash can, but I didn’t have any old ones lying around, so I had to go out and buy a new one.  If you can find one that a friend, family member or neighbor doesn’t need anymore, that would be an even more eco-friendly way of doing this.  And I assume you could use a metal can as well as a plastic one, although I would be concerned about the metal rusting away eventually.)

rocks (I used a bag of landscaping river rock)

Rid-X septic tank treatment

Start by digging a hole that will allow your garbage can to sit flush with or just above ground level.  Use your trash can lid to mark the size of the hole to start.  Ideally, you will need a round-nosed shovel to do the digging, but I did not have an ideal situation.  As someone who has dug holes for a living, you would think that I would have all the necessary tools on hand, but T has started driving my car to work due to high fuel prices, and my dig kit was in the trunk, so I had to be creative.  (I’m going to describe my digging process for the sake of my fellow archaeologists who might be amused, but the rest of you can feel free to skip over the next paragraph.)

my tools

First off,  I found a short-handled, flat-nosed spade, which T apparently usually keeps in his truck bed as an emergency snow shovel.  Luckily my pick was in the garage as well, since I was putting the composter in the back portion of the yard, which is intended for RV parking and has a layer of partially-compacted gravel on it.  The flat-nosed shovel would be fairly useless against that.  So I used the pick to get started, and began digging myself a hexagonal hole.  Things went pretty well for the first few feet — I was afraid I would hit pure clay, but our soil is actually fairly silty, with zero gravel in it, and still moist so it cut like butter.  However, at a certain point the handle of my spade was simply too short to comfortably reach the bottom — not to mention the handle kept hitting the sides as I tried to scoop out the soil, a problem that anyone who’s ever dug a 50 x 50 STP is familiar with.  I looked in the garage again and discovered a very narrow, curved shovel the likes of which I’d never seen before.  T said it’s a trench digger, and it was brilliant for cutting the sides of my hole and ensuring I wasn’t angling in, although it automatically bathtubbed the bottom.  The longer handle really helped with leverage, too.  Unfortunately, the narrow blade made trying to bring soil up with it almost impossible — I felt like I was digging with a teaspoon.  I still needed something to bring up loose soil.  I don’t have a sturdy metal dustpan, but as I was headed into the house again I saw something that would do just as well — a sturdy dog bowl.  Using the archaeologist’s time-honored head-in-the-hole dirt-bailing technique, the bowl made pretty quick work of the loose soil in the bottom of my hole.  I had my trash can with me to test the depth of the hole as I worked, and when I got close to deep enough, I used a few hand tools to make sure I had square corners and a nice, even bottom.  My favorite hand digging tool, my rock hammer, was in my car, but I figured the claws on a regular hammer would work.  They did an okay job, along with some scraping from a little three-pronged hand fork I had laying around.  I’m sure I could have had uneven sides and an irregular bottom, but you know, old habits die hard.

Once I had an appropriately-sized hole, I needed to make some modifications to my trash can.  In order to allow for drainage into the surrounding subsoil, I needed to cut out the bottom of my can, and make several holes in the sides.  I actually cut out the bottom first, but I would recommend putting the holes in the sides first, since the rigidity of the can is compromised once the bottom is out.  But this is what I did.

I discovered just as I was about to start this portion of the project that T’s drill was missing.  Turns out, he loaned it to a friend.  In my case, I used an awl to make a hole for the keyhole saw to start, but a drill would be quicker and easier.  With the can upside-down, I had to stand on the rim to keep it from moving while I cut, which was a two-handed process for me.  Having someone else around to hold onto the can might have been easier, too.  Getting around the two insets was probably the most difficult part, but the whole process took less than 5 minutes.

bottom off!

The next step was to put holes in the sides, which could be done quickly and easily with a drill, especially if the base is still intact to keep the sides rigid.  Most of the directions I saw said to put in about a dozen holes, and weren’t more specific than that.  I’m sure you could put in a lot more holes of you wanted, it would only increase drainage, which can’t be a bad thing.  I decided to keep my holes near the bottom, in the belief that any liquefied poo would tend to flow downwards, and having holes up high probably wouldn’t do much good.  I could have just waited until T had his drill back, but I was being stubborn, and since I had triumphed over a lack of proper digging tools through creative problem solving, I felt like I needed to keep going here.  So I replaced a drill with these:

drill replacements

I used the awl to make starting holes at the corners of small triangles, use the keyhole saw again to cut two of the sides, and then (because it was easier than finishing the third side with the saw) used a pair of pruning shears to clip the third side of the triangle.  I had to stick my knee into the can to brace it, and be very careful not to saw into my own leg.  Really kids, take my advice, make sure you have a drill on hand and put the holes in before you cut out the base.  This was an unnecessary pain in the butt.

my ragged triangular drainage holes

 The next step was to get the can outside and into the hole I’d dug.  In order to help with drainage, most directions say to put rock/s in the bottom.  I assume that any kind of gravel, baserock, river rock, or even some larger stones you have hanging around would work, but again, I had to go buy rock to fill the bottom of my composter.  One small bag was just enough to come to the bottom row of holes.

interior of composter

There was a gap between the sides of the trash can and the sides of my hole, so I poured some of the backdirt in to fill the space a little bit.  Now all that my composter needed was, well, something to compost.  So I cleaned up the yard and threw everything in.  I know you don’t need a picture of that, so instead, here is a picture of the source instead.

the dogs “helped” from afar

Once the poop was in the composter, there were two more ingredients necessary to get my mini septic tank working: water, and septic enzymes.  I sprinkled the Rid-X over the top, just enough to coat everything in a thin layer, and then poured in a few gallons of water.  I figured, if the directions said to use half a box for a true septic tank, I could use a lot less for a system as small as this one.  And then the can lid went on.

UPDATE: I realized that people are still viewing this post on a regular basis, and I would like to provide my long-term results with this project. We live in an area with clay soils. Therefore, I could never get this septic system to work quite correctly. I don’t think I had anywhere near enough holes in the plastic sides of the trash can, and I probably should have made sure there was a thick layer of gravel below the barrel to help with drainage. In the summer, it also gets very hot here and this was out in full sun, so keeping the system wet may also have been an issue. For about I year I would do my weekly yard cleanup, dump it in, add a few buckets of water (usually enough to just cover the…deposits), and a sprinkle of Rid-X. By the end of the year, the bucket was almost full. I let it sit over the winter (without keeping up on water/Rid-X since it was below freezing) to see if it would decompose a bit more, but there wasn’t much more room come spring. I tried again during the first few months of the second year, and pretty quickly got to the top of the can. Since then, I have just let it sit, covered, in the back corner of the yard. I am pretty sure that black widows have moved in under the domed lid, and the weeds back there are quite lush. It isn’t safe to use composted dog waste on food, and with a young daughter I haven’t felt safe using it in my flower beds either. So while I was excited about this going in, and it was a very convenient disposal site during the first year, I never got it to work as a self-sustaining system.

New Loves

Cara and her new love(s)

A few months ago, T and I invested in a new couch.  We began the process by immediately agreeing that neither of us wanted a leather couch.  After visiting our favorite furniture salesman and sitting on about 20 different couches of all shapes, sizes, colors, fabrics and densities, we fell in love with a leather sectional.  And we are both thrilled!  It doesn’t hold on to dog hair, you can wipe the muddy pawprints off with a damp paper towel, it’s squishy but still somehow magically provides lumbar support, and the leather actually holds onto your body heat so you can snuggle in and be cozy even when the house thermostat has been set by someone who is obviously related to polar bears.  Plus, the sectional is long enough for T and I to both lay full-length with room left over, or for both of us and both dogs to sit together comfortably.  And it’s just the right size for our living room.  Really, it was a fantastic choice.

When the new couch came home, I decided to break out some throw pillows.  And then Cara fell in love.  If she is on the couch, which is most of the time, she HAS to be lying on the pillows.  She hugs them, as you can see from the picture above.  She tries to get all four paws onto them.  And she doesn’t like to share them.  If T decides to stretch out and put his head on a corner that she isn’t laying on, he suddenly gets a barrage of puppy kisses all over his head and face to try and make him move.  If Diesel is laying on one side of the pillows and I’m on the other side, she’ll shoehorn her 70-lb self into the space inbetween us, just so the pillows are all hers.  It’s pretty hilarious.

Now I guess we just need to find Diesel a new love.  An electronic chest-and-belly-scratcher, perhaps?

Quite the scare

happy Cara

I got home from work yesterday, pulled into the driveway, opened the garage door, and Diezel popped out from under the door as usual to greet me.  But as I pulled in and closed the garage door, Cara, who’s usually right behind her big brother, didn’t show up.  Occasionally, I can sneak in through the garage without Diezel hearing me if he’s hanging out in the back yard, but this had never happened with Cara before.

I went into the house and poked my head out the back door.  It was pitch black out already.  I whistled, but no Cara.

I thought maybe she had snuck out the garage door without me noticing and gotten stuck outside, so I stuck my head out the front door and whistled.  Nothing.  Diezel and I walked across the front of the house, checking the front yard gate, which was closed, and the neighbor’s yard, which Cara investigates whenever she has a chance.  No Cara.

I went back into the house, and she still wasn’t anywhere to be seen.  I started looking through the house, and headed upstairs.  Cara was standing at the top of the stairs, and she was completely covered in mud.  I thought she and Diezel had been wrestling in the back yard, since he often rolls her on her back when they are playing and gets her flithy.

I tried to get her to come downstairs with me, but she was hesitant to move.  It looked like she didn’t want to put any weight on her front left leg.  Now I figured Diezel had been playing too rough and she had pulled a muscle or something like that.  I flipped on the light in the stairwell to get a better look at her front leg.

That’s when I noticed the blood.

She had a huge gash in her left thigh.  I starting thinking about how she could have gotten hurt in our yard, and realized that the pit bull who lives in the house behind us must have gotten to her somehow.  He tends to bark and growl aggressively when we are in the back yard, and he throws his entire body against the panel fence when we are back there.  He’s always worried T and I.  To make things worse, he likes to dig holes from his side of the fence, and Cara likes to dig from our side.  There had been a hole he could get his whole head through when we moved in, so I had laid down a couple of long 2×6 planks to block him from our side.  But it’s been a few weeks since T and I have checked on the yard to see if there are any new holes.

At this point, I grabbed my phone and called T.  He knew where there was a vet clinic nearby, and since he was just getting off work, he said he would meet me there.

Now to get Cara down the stairs.  I tried to lift her with both arms under her, and she whined.  This is a dog who nearly ripped off her dew claw and simply walked up to me and offered me her back foot without a sound, so when she whines we take it very seriously.  I tried to get her to walk down the stairs, but that was obviously too painful.  When I took another look, I could see a bad cut on the inside of her leg, too.  I felt around on her belly, but it didn’t seem like she had any bites there.  So I hooked one arm under her and one arm around her chest.  This didn’t seem to hurt her, so I got her down the stairs.

She limped to the car, and then despite Diezel wanting to come with us and the awkwardness of trying to get a 70-lb god lifted into the back seat of a small car, I got her loaded up and Diezel back in the house.  I peeked into the back yard, but it looked like all of the fence panels were in place.  I left Diezel at home and headed for the vet.

As I walked into the vet’s office, I saw the tech behind the counter disappear into the back room.  The place was deserted.  I was shaking from adrenaline, and very worried about Cara.  The few minutes I had to wait for someone to come out felt like forever.  Eventually, a tiny blonde came out of the back office, and I told her I thought my dog had been bitten and I needed help getting her out of the car.  The blonde tech, who couldn’t have been more than 4’10”, started out to the car on her own, until I mentioned that Cara weighed about 70 lbs.  She went and got a rolling table and another female tech to help.

It was awkward, but they used the blanket she was laying on as a sling and got her out of the car and onto the table, with a muzzle on her for good measure.  They wheeled her in back, and showed me into an exam room to wait.

The vet came out fairly quickly, and reported that she had several bad puncture wounds on her back leg.  He talked a little about what they might need to do, and then headed back to clean her up a little more.  I remembered thinking that her front leg was hurt too, and mentioned it to him to he could check that out as well.  I waited on my own for a little while, texting T to update him on what was going on.  They walked Cara out to weigh her, to make sure they gave her the right dosage of meds, and that’s about when T got to the clinic.  They took her back to keep working on her, and he sat in the exam room with me while I gave him all the details I could.

After a few more minutes, the vet came back in with Cara and showed us what they had found.  She had a U-shaped bite mark on the outside of her left thigh, a gash on the inside, two slices on her belly, and a puncture on the inside of her front leg.  The gashes were actually deeply torn flaps of skin.  There was still a lot of hair and grit in the wounds.  If she were a few pounds thinner, he said he might be worried about an abdominal puncture, but she was just plump enough he didn’t think there was any way another dog could have gotten its teeth in that deep.  For once, being bad dog parents was a good thing. 

The vet said he could stitch her up at this point, but if the skin had been pulled away from the muscle during the fight, it would be damaged underneath, and might slough off in a few days, requiring more surgery and stitches.  He asked if we were comfortable taking her home, debrading the wounds ourself and keeping an eye on her overnight, and then bringing her back in the next day when we had a better idea of her injuries and how they were going to start to heal.  Since T was a firefighter and has EMT experience, he said he’d be comfortable doing that.

I knelt down to pet Cara, and saw just how dilated her pupils were — she was completely stoned from the pain meds they’d given her.  She was weaving a little bit while just standing there, and mostly staring off into space.  At one point, she peed and pooped a little, and we’re not even sure she knew what she was doing.

The doctor sent us home with both pain meds and antibiotics, some surgical brushes for scrubbing out the wound, a Lidocaine patch, a muzzle, and lots of instructions about what to do for her overnight.  Surprisingly, the bill was only a few hundred dollars, but we knew there’d be more the next day.  We got her into the car and got her home.  I grabbed a towel and got her to lay down on her dog bed in the corner.

It was already 8 pm by this time, well past Diezel’s dinner time.  I gave him some food and his nightly bone.  I knew Cara was out of it when he ate his bone inches from her bed and she didn’t budge.  I thought I would try getting the prescription meds into her, as instructed, and got her favorite food in the whole world: string cheese.  A few months back, I picked up some string cheese, and the second I opened the wrapper she was all over me.  I then remembered that four years earlier, this had been the training treat during the obediance class she took at the shelter I adopted her from.  She hadn’t seen or heard string cheese since, but she knew exactly what it was.  It’s been our go-to pill delivery system ever since.

I put the string right cheese next to her nose.  She didn’t even move.  Now I was kinda worried, but I set the pills aside for the moment.

T investigated the back yard, and found that the fence was all intact, but there was blood all over our side of the yard, our gate wasn’t latched quite properly, and there was new wood blocking the hole I had laid the boards in front of, with the oatch work done on the far side of the fence.  He went to talk to the neighbord, but they spoke mostly Spanish.  He was able to understand it was a cousin’s dog, but the cousin wasn’t home.  He let them know he would be back until he could speak to the dog’s owner.  And the dog was nowhere to be seen.

T came back in, and then while I changed into bath-friendly clothes he got the pills into her, using a little butter to slick them up and get them down her throat, which is our other pill delivery technique.  She was so doped up, I had to help hold her head up while we gave her the pills.  We decided to wait an hour for the second pain pill to kick in before we cleaned her up.

snuggling with Dad on a good day

Since she was already laying on a towel, T and I used it as a sling to get Cara up the stairs.  He had already started running the bath, and we laid her in a few inches of warm water, towel and all.  We washed all the sand and dirt off her, and he literally scrubbed her wounds clean with a plastic-bristled brush that surgeons use to scrub in for surgery.  We had the muzzle on her, just in case, but all she did was whine a little bit, and even that she only did when he was really getting into the wound flaps.  He had to trim the hair away from the edges, using a combination of a clipper and his moustache scissors.  I mostly just held her head, so that she could essentially lay on her side without having her face underwater.  He kept telling her over and over what a good girl she was, how tough she was, and how impressed he was with her.  He’s had road rash wounds debraded, and knows exactly how much the process hurts.  Then we drained the brown water and ran clean water over her wounds to flush them out.  She probably whined more at this point than she did during the scrubbing.

We got her out of the tub on her now-soaked towel sling, and swabbed her dry as best we could.  Then we put on the Lidocaine patch.  She immediately started whining and shaking.  T let me know that unbuffered Lidocaine burns like hell for the first several minutes, so we covered her in a dry towel to keep her warm and waited for the Lidocaine to stop burning and kick in.  Once she seemed a little better, we used the towel sling to get her back downstairs and onto her bed.  She was still whining just under her breath, so we checked with the vet (he had given us his personal cell to call him at home, which was awesome of him) and added some Neosporin with a topical painkiller to her cuts.  It actually seemed to help, since she stopped whining almost right away.  After that she dozed off.

Then the doorbell rang.  It was the owner of the pitbull.  His English wasn’t great, but it was a lot better than our Spanish.  He explained that his wife had called him at work and said his dog was in their yard and hurt.  His boss gave him a few hours off, and he came home to find his dog with cuts on his head and neck and ear.  He immediately came over to talk to us, around 4 pm, but neither of us was home yet.  He also patched the hole under the fence at that point.  He knew that his dog sometimes fights with other dogs, even though the dog is good with people and is trusted around the owner’s small children.  He offered us antibiotics and pain medication that he had left over from when his dog got in a previous fight.  We let him know we had already been to the vet.  Since we couldn’t prove which dog started it, both dogs had injuries, and we both knew about the possible hole but hadn’t fixed it, T and I decided it wasn’t worth it to try and file a report or to go after him for the cost of the vet bills.  Even our neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance probably wouldn’t cover the cousin, and we didn’t think they were well enough off to be able to cover the vet bill out of pocket any better than us.  T thanked him for coming over, and we agreed to both keep a closer eye on the fence from now on.

T slept on the couch to keep an eye on Cara during the night, especially in case she needed to go potty.  We also didn’t have a cone on her, so he was making sure she didn’t lick her wounds.  He woke me up when he needed to get in the shower and go to work.  I had already called into work the night before, because I needed to get her back to the vet midday so he could assess her condition and actually stitch her up.  T managed to get her to take some water and dog jerky, and also got her to pee, before I got up.  She was walking around okay, and was much more alert than the night before.   She was extremely lovey and just wanted to be snuggled and pet constantly.  Once T left for work, I gave her her pills.  I also got her into a cone, which she isn’t crazy about, but she’s gotten used to it.  I got her to drink some water, and then she tipped over the whole bowl with the edge of the cone.  *headshake*  I should have seen that coming.  She also investigated the yard for about 20 minutes, walking around just fine once she got the stiffness out.

And that’s been my day, babysitting my injured dog.  It could have been much worse, and I am greatful that it was “only a flesh wound,” for real.  I know that we joke about the dogs being our substitute children, but they really are important members of the family.  They are actually the reason that T and I met.  So we would have been devastated if something had happened to her.

Now back to the vet this afternoon, for sutures or staples.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Decorating the New House

I promised pictures of the house once I got it into order, and since I scrambled to get some decorating done before my family came, I should post some pictures of it now.  Some rooms are still unfinished, but this is what I was able to get done so far.

I started by going a little nuts with textiles and hanging pretty much every piece of my fairly extensive collection.  Most of my textiles are from Kyrgyzstan, but I have pieces from Peru, Panama, and Cameroon too.

Kyrgyz shyrdak upstairs

Kyrgyz souzani in the stairwell, Kyrgyz and Panamanian squares above

Kyrgyz shyrdak, knotted carpet and embroidery near front door

Cameroonian batik and elephant paintings in dining area

The first room we got set up was our bedroom, which is all in chocolate tones.  The walls are a kind of nasty, mustardy brown, but we needed to live in here, so we haven’t repainted it yet.  Note the curtain on the right hand side of the frame, which acts as a door to the master bath.  It’s actually a dark purple, but it blends pretty well with the browns in the room.  You can see I haven’t put anything on the walls or the shelves in there yet.

our bedroom

Then of course there is the guest room, that I repainted for my folks’ visit.  I’ve always wanted to do a room inspired by the colors of the winter sky, snow, and dry oak leaves, and I think I got something close, even though the blue walls are a lot more saturated than a winter sky.  I had some nice carved woodblock panels that I think go really well in this room.  I also had a couple of short shelving units that I think worked really well as bookshelves/bedside tables.

guest room

 We also set up the upstairs den as a kind of media center, since the projector, screen, and DVD player that came with the house are up there.  I moved in shelves of books, DVDs, and CDs to enjoy, with a few more tapestries and a painting I have.

media room

The futon usually goes in this room, and we have a recliner that we want to put up here too, so that folks have somewhere to sit if they want to watch a movie, or just read.  But my sister J needed someplace to sleep while she was visiting, so we moved the futon into the jungle room for her.  It’s a fairly small room, and the full-sized futon pretty much took up the whole space.  I wanted to get more up on the walls, but I don’t think J really minded. 

jungle room with futon

We want to keep the tree, even though it takes up a lot of space, because we plan on using this as a baby room in the future (knock on wood, tu-tu-tu).  But it will be our office/craft room in the meantime.  Once the futon gets moved back to the media room, I am planning on moving the card table and folding chair we bought for extra Thanksgiving seating up there to use.  It should help me get through all of the Christmas presents I need to make this year!

And speaking of Christmas presents, this weekend I was a knitting maniac.  Of the three knitted presents I am making, I finished one, got 90% of the way through a second, and halfway through a third.  But I have 10 more non-knitted presents to finish, and only about 15 crafting days before Christmas — yikes!

Proud to be an able woman

When I was single and in graduate school, I tried to install my first set of shelves.  It didn’t go well.  I had one of those “tool kits for women”, with a small saw, a hammer, some screwdrivers, a tape measure, and that’s about it.  I didn’t know about finding studs or drywall anchors, and didn’t have a cordless drill.  I wanted to put books on my shelf, but when all was said and done, I think all it would safely hold were stuffed animals.

When I moved, I asked a guy I knew to come and install my shelves at our new rental.  By then, I had invested in a small stud finder, drill, and level.  He said he’d come help, but then stalled for months.  When he finally showed up, I asked if I could watch him work, so I would know what to do next time around.  I watched him completely butcher the drywall, put in screws at odd angles, and install a set of shelves no more sturdy than the ones I had put up the year before.  Suddenly, I realized that guys didn’t magically know more about tools and household repairs than I did.  Which meant I could learn just like anyone else.

There’s a list of 75 things that every guy should be able to do in Esquire Magazine this month.  I can do 54 of the 75 things on the list, and that makes me proud.  Sure, some of these things are “feminine” skills that my mom would have taught me in the olden days: #20: sew a button, #31: make a bed, #7: cook meat on something other than a grill, #71: iron a shirt.  Some of them needed to be adapted a bit to apply to me: #19: I can approach a man who is out of my league, #73: I can caress a man’s neck (I could probably pull these off with women as well, but why would I?).  In the multiple part categories, I can only pull off one or two: #35, I can jump start a car without drama and change a flat tire, but I have never bothered to change my own oil.  And some of these skills, that are arguably the most “manly”, I don’t have at all: #13: throw a punch, #4: score a baseball game, #25: drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.

I like being a competent female, someone who isn’t helpless, who doesn’t mind getting dirty and can get things done, who doesn’t NEED to play the damsel in distress.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a man with skills — I am amazed and impressed that T could rewire the screwed up light switches at our old house, can do extensive repairs on both his truck and my car, and can hold his own in a bar brawl if the need should arise.  I also like knitting, watching sappy romantic comedies, and going window shopping with my girlfriends.  I don’t want to be a guy — I just like knowing that I can get stuff done.

Since moving into our new house, I have installed a new shower curtain rod and painted an entire room, both without help.  And last weekend?  While T watched football, I installed three sets of level, sturdy curtain rods using a stepladder, his cordless drill, my stud finder, drill bits and screwdriver bits, his level, my tape measure, a hammer and drywall anchors.  And he was proud of me when they were all done.  So was I.  *smile*

My First DIY

So, I have been a faithful follower of several shows on the DIY channel for the past few years.  Some of the work they do is mysterious and complicated, some seems quite easy.  I feel like I could instruct someone in the proper way to lay tile in my sleep by now.  But when we were renting, we never had the opportunity to actually use any of this knowledge.  So when I decided we needed to paint our guest bedroom before my parents come for Thanksgiving, I could hardly wait.


The room was a very pale blue, with black tire tracks painted all over the walls.  The previous owners’ young son was living there, and there was a whole motor sports theme.  It was very cute, but not ideal for a guest room for grownups. 


To make things more complicated, the tire tracks weren’t put on as a stencil — it looked like they dipped some of the little boy’s toys in black paint and just ran them over the walls.  This meant that the tracks were often raised, with thick drip marks coming from them.  Even if I painted over them, you’d still be able to clearly see the texture.

I asked several people for advice, and decided that sanding the excess paint down would be my best bet.  Once I got to the hardware store on Friday afternoon, the older employee I spoke to recommended using a screen that they use to sand down drywall seams, instread of a sanding block.  He pointed out that, unlike sandpaper, they were washable and reuseable, and they seemed like they would work as well as anything.  They were supposed to be mounted on some kind of pole, but I decided to just use them by hand.


sanding screen

I started on Friday evening, sanding everything down.  There was dust EVERYWHERE.  I probably should have been wearing a mask, and my contacts would have been a lot happier if I’d had goggles on.  I was careful to not sand down into the drywall paper, trying to keep it to the point where the sheen was taken off the surface of the existing paint, or a few points of white were showing through, but no more.  The screens did clog up from time to time, but I could rinse them off and could keep going even when they were damp.  Plus, I was able to feel whether there was still a bump in the paint with my fingertips through the screen, which I wouldn’t have been able to do with a sanding block.

On Saturday, T had to work from noon to dark (yeah, I know, but it doesn’t happen often), so I ran out to the hardware store again once he left for work.  I had grabbed some paint chips while I was at the store the day before, and run the colors by T Friday night, and he had approved. I was going from a light blue with black tire tracks to a slightly darker blue on three walls, and a dark blue on the fourth wall, hopefully without any tire tracks.   Oddly enough, I chose a paint color for my feature wall that was approved by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! The woman in the paint department looked like she might have an attitude, but she was actually very helpful, especially when I told her it would be my first time trying to paint.  She gave me advice on painting techniques as well as which supplies I would need.  Even though I was going from blue to blue, I went with the paint with built-in primer, to make sure those tire tracks completely disappeared.


taped, tucked and gorgeous

So I got home, vacuumed up the paint dust, and started to work.  The first saleslady advice I followed was taping down the two plastic dropcloths to cover the whole floor.  The reasoning for this?  “If it’s your first time, you’ll make all the mistakes.  You’ll probably step in the paint and get it everywhere.  So just cover the whole floor.”  So I laid out the dropcloths, taped the seams together, and taped them to the baseboards all the way around the room.   I figured this was overkill, since I’m pretty good at staying clean and paying attention to details, but it couldn’t hurt. 

It was a windy day outside, but nice and warm, and T had opened the windows to air out the house.  Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of a Jiffy-Pop popper.  With my window closed, and the lower pressure in the rest of the house from the blowing wind outside, the plastic sheeting was billowing up thigh-high around me!  I closed the other windows and cracked mine, and suddenly the sheets were suctioned to the floor.  Problem solved.

I continued to tape the room to within an inch of its life.  I actually had to run out and get a second roll of painter’s tape.  I followed the saleslady’s recommendation and put a double row of tape along the ceiling, to make sure it was wide enough to protect the ceiling from my roller.  I also realized that, if I was going to do a dark feature wall, I should double-tape the corners of the walls, too, and I would probably have to split my painting between two days.  Considering my late start, and my obsessive taping job, it was evening before I even finished the first coat on the one feature wall.  I kept telling myself that spending a lot of time on the prep would ensure a better job in the long run.

feature wall, first coat

One thing I had not learned from the DIY channel over the years was the fact that paint has a nap, just like fabric, depending on how you roll it on.  While DIY says to paint a big W and then fill it in, the saleslady had insisted that you should just put the paint on in up and down motions, no matter what you see on TV.  But then she added a final step that DIY doesn’t: run the roller in a smooth pass from top to bottom once the paint is on.  That way you get a nice finished texture that runs the same direction all the way around the room.  She also made sure to tell me to work in three-foot sections, doing the trim with a brush and then rolling the rest of the wall.  If you trim the whole room and then go back to roll it, apparently you get a ribbon effect around the edges of the room because your trim work dries.  Both good things to know. 

done for the night

I did the first coat, waited three hours, and then did the second coat.  I knew that you were supposed to pull the tape while the last coat was still a little wet, to help it come off cleaner, but I decided I’d rather just keep the whole place taped until the next day.  I think I finished my second coat around 8 pm.  Then I stayed up until 1 am waiting on T to get home from work.

The next day, I pulled off just the tape on the sides of the feature wall, and realized that a lot of paint had leaked under the tape.  So I put tape on the other side of the corner, and made sure to really seal down the edge, hoping I could cover the previous day’s leaks without making any new ones.  The feature wall was my only unbroken wall in the room, which reduced total area on the rest of the room, but also meant I had a lot of things to work around.  I had a large window on one wall, sliding closet doors across the way, and a bathroom door on the third wall.  I also couldn’t figure out how to get the venetian blinds out of the window — it’s a four-sided box bracket on both ends.  I don’t even understand how they were able to install them, to be honest, since you can’t move the blinds enough to get to the screws that hold the brackets in.  The blinds are mounted to the inside edge of the window frame, which is painted blue, and there’s no molding around the frame.  I couldn’t paint the inside of the frame without painting the blinds too.  So I decided to run tape around the inside edge, and just leave the inside of the frame a few shades lighter than the wall.  I don’t think anyone will even notice, since it’ll just look like the difference in how the incoming light hits the edge of the frame.

can you tell?


I got the second coat done in the evening again, and again let everything dry overnight before I tried pulling off the tape.  I had a late morning on Monday, so I got up at my usual time and had an hour before work to get everything cleaned up.  The full-floor dropcloth?  Yeah, I needed it.  I stepped in a little bit of paint the first day and tracked it around.  As for my clothes, I got two small drops of paint on the toe of one shoe on day two, and that was it.  I did have a few moments of panic when blue paint ended up on the ceiling or the white bathroom door, but those were taken care of immediately with a spit-moistened bit of toilet paper. 

Once the tape was pulled, I could gauge how well I’d done.  There were several spots on the ceiling and trim where paint leaked under the tape, especially the darker paint, which seemed to be thinner than the lighter blue.  But there were also spots on the trim where the original paint color had leaked and mine hadn’t!  So I decided not to feel too bad.  There is also a little spot in the corner where I rubbed too hard when making sure the tape was well-sealed onto the fresh feature wall paint, and paint came off with the tape.  But I can patch that up.

As for the tire tracks?  Well, you can still see the texture of the tracks when you look sideways along the wall in the right light.  But I don’t think it’s going to be noticeable to anyone but me.  Overall project results?  Success!