Fifty Shades of Pink

20170803_161236.jpgWhen I moved into my house, I took one look at the bathroom, and reassured myself that I could fix it. It was functional, but yucky—another of those technical terms I like so much. A three-quarter bath, it had a generous shower stall in a corner, alongside the toilet. There was also a thirty-inch vanity, and a gray marble-tile look vinyl floor. Sadly, it also had flat white, mildew-stained walls. White walls have just never worked for me, and because the room was quite damp, flat paint practically begged mildew to move in and set up house—and townhouses, condos, and apartments.

The vanity was usable, but aside from being painted a dull blue color, the drawer runners had rusted in the damp room, making them nearly useless. Non-functional drawers would not have been quite so bad, if there were some other storage available. With no medicine cabinet, toilet paper holder, or towel rods, living with the little bathroom was tricky. It didn’t take me long to make changes.

First, I scrubbed away the mildew. It wasn’t the dreaded “black mildew.” I checked. It was garden variety mildew, but it was ugly, and it made the bathroom smell bad. When I have painted things that were greasy or dirty, I’ve wiped it down with alcohol. For mildew, I used vinegar. Bleach would also work, but not together. Like ammonia and bleach, vinegar and bleach can produce toxic fumes. I scrubbed the walls down, rinsed thoroughly, and left them for 24 hours to dry.

I ran into a puzzling lack of studs, which seemed to exist only at corners, and alongside doors and windows. Normally, builders put studs every 16 inches. I tapped, thumped, used commercial stud finders, pushed nails through the sheetrock walls, and even drilled holes. I could not find a stud. What I did find were a number of nails popping out of the sheetrock. The thing is, nails should not have popped out like that unless they were not solidly anchored in wood.

I knew, though, that I would be hanging towel racks and coat hooks for robes and towels. I also knew that anything nailed or screwed into the wall was going to fall down as soon as any weight was put on it. I had to figure out a way to provide support for the things I needed to hang.

A 1” x 4” board can be fastened to studs with screws, so I bought some to reach from corner to corner—or door frame. Even with those few solid connections, weight was distributed evenly enough to allow me to hang shelves and towel racks.

With no windows, the room tended to be dark as well as damp. I wanted to paint it a color that would make it feel warm and cheerful, and I decided on pink—a lot of pink, in a lot of different shades.  I had never been able to have a pink bathroom while I was married, but I finally could.  At a local hardware store, I used money received as a birthday gift to buy semi-gloss paint in three shades of pink. In a damp room, semi-gloss was a good choice because it repelled moisture and wiped clean easily. A simple paint job was not enough for me.  I am tragically discontented with quick and simple.

I started by marking a line 12 inches down from the ceiling. Everything above the line, including the ceiling, was painted light pink. I know white is standard, but people are more adventurous with ceilings now—and I’ve always been more adventurous than most. A light pink ceiling was fine with me.

Below the line, I painted the walls a slightly darker pink. The lack of fixtures was convenient at this stage, because it made painting the walls that much easier. I had to work around a set of vanity lights, and the vanity itself, but that was about all. With the walls painted, I hung the 1 x 4, which I had painted a bright, even darker pink, at the line I had marked. It divided the light ceiling and upper wall from the medium-pink lower walls.

Before I hung anything else, I painted polka dots all over the walls. I had used sponges before to paint repeated patterns, from leaves and flowers to puppy footprints. A simple kitchen sponge works just fine, and can be cut to shape with scissors. This was where I let my imagination go. I considered using the sponge to stamp cherries, strawberries, or even flowers. For some reason, though, plain polka dots appealed to me. Maybe it was because polka dots are so innocent, and made me think of times when life was simpler. At any rate, I cut three round pieces of sponge for stamping polka dots on my walls. Small dishes of paint allowed me to use all three shades of pink, as well as white, to randomly place dots of different sizes on the walls. The real trick to doing random patterns though, is to be very organized. I established a pattern that looked very random. If I had been really random, I would have ended up with clusters of the same color, or areas missing one color. It takes a lot of planning to do a random pattern. Finally, the walls were done, and the polka dots, and the shades of pink, made me smile every time I went into the bathroom.

I had found a small white antique-style medicine cabinet at a garage sale, and I hung that from the painted 1 x 4, right above the vanity. I hung two oak towel rods, and a decorative oak shelf with another towel rod. Because I used a hot tub several times a day for therapy (a cheap, inflatable, flat-bottomed one, not a glamorous but expensive stone-look contoured one) having places for a lot of towels was essential.

Of course, I couldn’t hang the toilet paper from the 1 x 4. That would have been incredibly awkward. Hanging one at the appropriate level was a challenge. Screws pulled out, because I couldn’t find a stud. Molly screws, which have expanding wing-like pieces intended for this kind of thing, didn’t work either. I’m sure it was my fault. Finally, I put wood glue on a molly screw and tried again. That seemed to work. I just hope I never have to take the toilet paper holder down!

I still had the vanity to worry about. The dull blue was not appealing. I’m not fond of dull colors, and it was done with flat paint. I just really wanted semi-gloss paint on everything. I scrubbed the whole vanity down, having learned over the years that skipping that step leads to trouble, and then I painted it with a primer. Next I painted it with the lightest of my three shades of pink. It looked a bit too plain, but covering it in polka dots seemed like too much. Instead, I got out an old bath sponge I have used for dozens of projects over the years. I put a little of my other pinks in a glass pie pan, dipped the sponge into one at a time, and wiped off the excess so the texture would show. I touched the sponge lightly to the vanity, covering it with one color, and after that dried, with the other. I considered trying to make it look like marble, but decided (for a change) to leave well enough alone—thought I did play with a little smudging. I found that the drip marks from the previous paint job were very obvious when painted over, so one day I will need to sand or shave the edges of the drawer fronts to get rid of those.  The vanity is bright and pretty and doesn’t show the spatters of mud that sometimes mysteriously appear after I’ve worked in the garden.

The pink towels I bought didn’t quite match the pinks I had used on the walls. Towels are available in a limited number of colors, so the only way to get a good match would have been to buy the towels first, and find paint that matched them.  I decided that if it bothered me, I could buy white towels instead, but my first priority was to have as much pink as possible.

I had already hung one oak cupboard near the vanity, for hand towels and a few other things. I hung another one—a tall, narrow version of the oak shelves with heart-shaped cut-outs that were popular for a while—above the toilet.

So far, I only had four shades of pink: my three paint shades, and the towels. To expand the pinkness, I brought in a few of my favorite pink-themed knick knacks. I had a small metal canister set with pink roses, and a ladybug planter that had held a miniature rose (which I promptly murdered), and a few other pink things. I filled the tall, narrow shelf with those. A porcelain light switch plate with pink and blue flowers went up next. I hung a pink jeweled wall clock, and kept a pink swim suit (for the hot tub) on a coat hook. Some people might say I got carried away, but a pink soap dish in the shower, pink throw rugs, pieces of rose quartz, and even pink wastebasket liners added to the overall pinkness of the room. If I looked hard enough, I suspected I could find forty or fifty shades of pink among all of those things. Frankly, I prefer that to any number of shades of gray anyway.

Shelter from the Rain

20170803_161848When my daughter got a dog, I knew we needed a doghouse. Here in western Washington, we see just a tiny bit of rain. I wanted the dog, who would be outside part of the time, to have a place to hide when the rain came down. As we began our search, though, we learned that commercial doghouses were usually at least $100. We looked in stores and online, but I could not bring myself to spend that much for a doghouse. I have this narrow-minded attitude about wanting to buy groceries each and every month, and spending that much money on a doghouse would have limited the grocery buying.

We started watching for a used doghouse at garage sales, in classified ads, and online. No one seemed to be getting rid of doghouses when we were looking. We checked Goodwill, and small local thrift stores. Finally, we checked at a large thrift/antique store that actually consisted of booths from about a hundred different sellers. The owner/manager thought for a moment. “Hmmm,” he said, “I may have something that would work.”

What he showed us was a large dollhouse, four feet in each direction. We could have put a great dane into that house, and what we actually had was a small mixed breed dog. It even had a second story, and a mix of vinyl and carpeted floor coverings. We walked around it, looked inside it, and evaluated the frame and structure. If it had possessed tires, we would have kicked them. Finally, since the price was far below the prices we had seen on doghouses, we bought it, knowing I would be doing significant remodeling.

I knew I had to make the house weatherproof. It was built for the indoors. For us, it was going to be outside, in the rain. I bought a bundle of cedar shingles for a reasonable price. Using my circular saw, I cut two or three three-inch strips off the thinnest end of each shingle. A table saw would have been easier, but I sold mine when I left North Dakota. When I had as many strips as I could salvage (we ended up with a pile of cedar scraps for kindling) I used a small hatchet to cut the strips into two-inch pieces. To keep things even, I put the thinner pieces on one half of the roof, and the thicker ones on the other. Starting at the bottom edge of the roof, I used a finish nail gun (best tool EVER!) to fasten the shingles in place, offsetting the rows so the shingle edges never lined up and allowed leaks. When I connected the two halves of the house, I used a piece of corner trim on the peak. The roof took a lot more shingles than I expected, and it wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked. It has, however, kept the rain out.15022976773941112703758

MNext, I needed to re-side the whole structure because, like the roof, it was not made of weatherproof materials. Before I could do that, though, I had to cut doors for the animals. We had decided that the dog could have the roomy downstairs, while the cats could claim the upstairs. To make that possible, I cut a door on the front of the lower level for the dog to use. On the upper level, I removed the glass and frame from a window, and expanded the opening to reach the floor. I didn’t know how the cats would get to the door, but it was ready. As it turned out, the male cat decided to jump to the roof and cross it to get to his side of the house. I could have just built him a balcony.

I considered a number of options for the siding, including vinyl, plywood, and cedar—but I was really sick of cutting miniature shakes. Eventually, I bought 1 x 4 boards and used them for siding. Looking back, I think I could have bought 1 x 2 furring strips instead, or even bundles of lathe. Either one would have been less expensive, and better as far as scale. Still, what I did worked. I used more miniature cedar shingles for the front eave of the house.

One concern I had was that, when the house was put together, there was no support for the upstairs floor except on the outer walls. Cats are not terribly large, and my female cat is dainty and delicate. The male, though, is a healthy, muscle-bound feline who honestly thinks he is a lion. Picking him up, even at his sleekest weight, is like picking up a bag of cement. He’s a heavy cat, and I did not want the floor to sag beneath him. I installed rustic wood pillars (also known as firewood) to support the middle of the upper floor. Like pillars in a home or public building, those provided support without the need for the division created by walls.20170809_094206

I only put siding on three of the walls, because one wall was going to be up against a fence. Right or wrong, I figured it would be protected enough. Unable to leave well enough alone, I moved on to ornamental details. The house did not have as many windows as I would have liked, and that left the sides looking a bit blank. Given the house’s size, four windows on each side, and three plus the door on the front, seemed about right. I didn’t want to cut more holes in the walls for additional windows. I could call that “preserving structural integrity” but the truth is, it was more work than I wanted to do, and I really didn’t think the dog or cats would care. Instead, I marked off rectangles the same size as the existing windows, and painted them black. I have been amazed at how real those black-paint windows actually look.20170803_161709

Still not content, I cut pieces of leftover cedar for shutters, and painted a small blue seahorse on each one. Another seahorse, this one a wooden cut-out, went on the front eave. Originally, I nailed a small wooden sea star onto the eave at the peak, partly to cover the join in the trim. I have not yet mastered the art of mitering corners, so covering it was a good thing. The cat knocked the sea star down while crossing the roof, though, and the dog ate it. Seriously. The shingles set the windows off and made the house look a bit more polished. Corner pieces, painted royal blue, finished off the trim.

The front door was a rectangle, but we wanted something a bit classier. The Hobbit movies were so popular that everyone wanted hobbit houses, or at least hobbit doors. I wasn’t willing to cut a circular door opening with my little jigsaw, but I did manage to cut a circular piece of plywood to be the door, and then mark a matching circle on the house, which I painted black. Like the black-painted windows, it fooled the casual observer into thinking there was actually a circular door opening. The upstairs door, for the cats, was on the side away from the house and since it would not be seen, I didn’t get fancy with it.

It took three adults and a furniture-moving dolly to get the house set into place. First we set a wooden pallet under a hemlock tree, where it would be visible, but sheltered both by the tree and by the solid wooden fence behind it. I used a four-foot level to make sure the pallet was straight, and we supported it with cement blocks and pressure-treated 4x4s. It took us a while to get that all done. Then we lifted the house and moved it the few remaining feet onto the pallet.

The house itself was complete, and the animals were curious, but they didn’t really have access. The small hill on which the house stood meant it was quite a jump to get into the ground floor, and several feet to get into the upstairs door. There was no motivation strong enough to convince them to attempt that. I had to find a way to provide easy access.

I had done some tree cutting, and saved any straight branches that looked like they might be usable. Four of those pieces, each four feet long, formed steps as wide as the house, leading to the front door. An old 2 x 6 I had found laying around made a top platform—a porch, if a small dog was interested. There wasn’t any lemonade, but the people watching was pretty good.20170809_095754

That left the upstairs door still unreachable. As I sorted through wood I had collected for future fires, I found a log about six feet long and six inches in diameter, that had somehow been sliced on one side for its full length. That slice provided a flat surface, so I attached one end of the log to the side of the house, using 4-inch screws. I keep a lot of those on hand, because they are good for so many things. Not only did this provide access for the cats, it made the upstairs handicapped accessible, just in case we ever have a cat with a tiny wheelchair. We put an old blanket upstairs, and although the female cat has remained completely uninterested, the male was soon making himself at home. Every so often, he gets lazy and tries to move into the downstairs part of the house, but I just close the door for a while, and he gets the idea. The ground floor is not for him.20170803_161540

This was a time consuming project, but the large yellow dog and cat house sits under the hemlock tree. It’s kind of cute, and the animals have shelter when they need it. It cost more than I had hoped, but less than the dog houses in the stores. It’ll do.20170809_095905

Hoses Away, My Friends!

20170725_173811I love growing things—herbs, vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs. However, I hate hauling hoses around to water all of them. I’ve done it. For years, I dragged a hose around, stopping to un-snag it from branches and rocks and posts, tugging and pulling and untangling and un-kinking it– and I hated it. It was frustrating, sweat producing, and frankly, painful. I am not fond of sweat. Or pain.

Aside from gardening, though, I love finding solutions to problems. In my desperate attempt to escape the hose torture, I looked at commercial soaker hose kits, and at black rubbery soaker hoses. A commercial system that would water everything in my yard would have cost more money than I had. Moving a sprinkler–or even a soaker hose–from place to place was exhausting.  I tried hand watering, with a hose or watering can, but I have too many plants and too little patience. Finally I found a solution that worked for me.

First, I began to hunt for old hoses. I watched garage sales, household auctions, and the piles of discarded things placed by the side of the road for people to take home. (Really, they do that here!) I took any hose I could find, even if it was in terrible condition. I found some excellent rubber hoses at garage sales. A few had been cut by lawn mowers, chain saws, dogs’ teeth, or other things. I found even more that were cracked and brittle from sun damage. Over the years, though, I repaired a lot of leaky hoses with the inexpensive yellow plastic repair pieces you can buy in garden departments. Repairing damaged hoses other people threw away gave me some real assets for watering.

Not content with the number of hoses I was able to salvage, I bought a few very inexpensive ones, both the green ones and the black soaker kind. These were not high quality hoses. In fact, for normal use, I would not recommend them. Within a few years, they start to crack and split and leak. However, I did not buy them for normal use. I bought them to make my own permanent watering system.

I invested in a couple of the brass four-outlet faucet attachments you can also find in the garden section. They cost between $10 and $15, so I only got a couple. At my house, we just call these “fourplers.” They eliminated constant attaching and detaching of hoses, which was important because if you aren’t really, really careful, you can slice open a knuckle when you tighten an adjacent hose.  I have the scars to prove it, because I tend to be a relatively slow learner.


I also bought a couple of yellow plastic y-connectors, which only cost a couple of dollars. I have learned to be careful about these. I once bought a metal y-connector, thrilled that it cost very little more than the plastic ones. Plastic, after all, is easily damaged, and can crack and split, providing beautiful soaring fountains where you do not want them–like right outside an open bedroom window.  Metal connectors are so much better that I yearned for them—but they cost four times as much. The metal y-connectors were a dream come true–until I hooked one up and realized that it did not have the switches needed to divert the water from one place to another. It watered two things at the same time, and my water pressure wasn’t good enough to do that. I wanted to water one area, and then turn the switches to stop watering that area and water another one instead. I never bought a y-connector again without making sure it had switches.


I used my best scrounged hoses to lead to watering areas. A relatively short hose led to the vegetable garden’s sprinkler. I kept one hose attached to the fourpler just for other uses. You do sometimes need a hose to wash a car, fill a wading pool, or spray down an obnoxious child. Sadly, my children are too old to allow me that pleasure any more.

The third hose led to my bulb garden, filled with gladiolus, dahlias, Stargazer lilies, and an assortment of small flowering bulbs. Initially, I set up a small sprinkler on the bulb garden, but it watered the car more than the bulbs, and I couldn’t seem to get it adjusted the way I wanted. Then I chose a worn out hose I had found. When I had tried using it in the normal way it had kinked up every few minutes, cutting off the water flow completely. That’s one of the problems with cheap hoses. I kept having to back track and figure out where it was kinked, to get the water moving again.


I laid my horrible hose in a looping design in the bulb garden. There was a narrow flowerbed nearby that I had always had a hard time watering, so the last 20 feet of the hose went onto that bed, which was planned for flowering ground covers. At first, it was a hodge podge of baby ground cover plants, sedums, annual flowers, and strawberries. Then, when the hose was dry and empty I drilled holes in it. Trust me, had learned from experience that drilling holes when the hose was full of water was not a good idea.  If an unexpected fountain outside a bedroom window is inconvenient, imagine one shooting up into your face!

20170719_133313~2I used a 1/8” drill bit, and my electric drill, and I put holes in the hose, about every six inches. When I have put the hose in position before using the drill, I was  even able to drill holes specifically for individual plants.  Whenever I have just needed general areas to be watered, though, I can drill the holes and then put the hose in place.  An occasional ill-place fountain could always be deflected by an ornamental stone, or extra mulch.

When I turned the water to the homemade soaker hose on, small streams of water soaked the bulb garden and flower bed—as well as a nearby apple tree and wisteria. Then, using the y-connector, I was able to bypass the bulb garden and send water to another soaker hose along the driveway where I had planted rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and other flowery things. I did have to learn to carry a pair of pliers around with me, for turning stubborn switches, loosening immovable hose ends—and, you know, bonking myself over the head when I did something particularly idiotic.


A fourpler on a second faucet in the back of the house had one hose for watering large pots of herbs and flowering plants kept by the door. That hose was also used to fill small decorative ponds when the water level got low, and for a variety of other tasks.

A short hose led to a sprinkler that covered the tiny kitchen garden, where peas, radishes, lettuce, and one tomato plant grew. The final hose from the faucet led to yet another fourpler. From it, one short hose went to a commercial soaker hose in a terraced garden holding annuals and perennial shrubs. Another went toward the driveway, pausing at the herb garden where it was attached to a y-connector and sprinkler. Then it continued along the second side of the driveway, where a soaker hose waited to water more rhododendrons and other flowering plants and bulbs.

When I need to water—which is frequent, with our sandy soil—I turn on the main faucet and work my way along the system, adjusting y-connectors as needed. Sandy soil requires frequent, short watering sessions, and I can get everything watered in about an hour, changing watering sites easily while I go about other tasks. It all happens without my having to haul a single hose around—unless I need to wash a dog or something.

In the beginning, the system was pretty ugly. There were green hoses lying everywhere, and some of them were cracked and faded and quite hideous. However, as I gradually accumulated (and moved) wood chips and compost, the soaker hoses were all buried and out of sight.

20170719_132405 The hoses leading to them were buried as well, except near the faucet. Only the two hoses not connected to sprinklers or soakers remained visible. The water soaked into the ground, and no one was the wiser. Between salvaging old hoses, and buying cheap ones, my watering system cost me less than $100 for everything. I’ve looked at quite a few watering systems. This one has a price I can appreciate.

Making Marble


A year or so ago, I needed a small freezer. Stores had them, but they cost hundreds of dollars that I did not have. I began to scout the thrift stores. My life is spent scouting thrift stores and otherwise scrounging for the cheapest possible items. Free is my favorite price for anything.

In a local thrift store, I found an old refrigerator that was about the right size, and though it was not my favorite price, it was close at $20. The manager of the thrift store told me that an older fridge like that, with the freezer inside the main compartment, would work as a freezer if it was turned to its coldest temperature. I decided to give it a try, even though the avocado green door on the interior freezer compartment and other trim told me it was from the 1970s and not exactly energy efficient. It was what I could afford at the moment, and we had blackberries, blueberries, and huckleberries to freeze, as well as food picked up on special sales.


I had to remove the door of the freezer compartment, and the temperature was a bit warmer than is recommended for freezers. However, it kept food solidly frozen, as long as no one left the door open. I had to train myself to shut the door firmly, because it was really easy to accidentally leave it open an inch or so, and there isn’t a freezer in the world that will work with the door open—not to mention using horrifying amounts of electricity.

About six months ago, I decided I needed a refrigerator in the small apartment above the garage instead, so I returned the little refrigerator to its original purpose. The stairs are very narrow, and everything has to be smaller than life sized, so a little refrigerator like that was perfect—and again, much less expensive than buying a new one. I put the freezer door back on, and returned the drip tray to its position under the freezer compartment. Soon, the refrigerator was maintaining an appropriate temperature for its new use.

One problem remained. The poor little fridge was ugly. Really ugly. Its size and shape were fine, and it was white, which worked because I actually prefer white appliances, but it was scarred by a blight of rust. I knew I would never be able to live with that. Sometimes, knowing what you can tolerate is the first step in deciding what project to undertake. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with the rust, I had a new project.

Ideally, I would have sanded the freezer down to bare metal and followed that with a metal primer. That’s the right way to do it. Age and degenerative disk disease has made using my arms more difficult than it used to be, so sanding that much wasn’t appealing. Or possible. I’m getting old, too, and that doesn’t help.

In my usual half-baked manner, I sanded the worst of the rust off the outside of the refrigerator. I got it pretty smooth, but I didn’t get down to bare metal. I wiped the whole thing down with rubbing alcohol and a soft, lint-free cloth, and let it dry. Terry cloth isn’t good for this unless it’s really, really old. Neither are paper towels, because they can catch on imperfections and leave shreds behind. I prefer plain old cotton dish towels, or pieces of old sheets, which make awesome cleaning rags for things like this. Old underwear makes great rags, but my son informed me a few years ago that no matter how I cut it up to disguise it, he was never going to be comfortable with the idea of me using rags made from my old underwear. It was too embarrassing for him, so I was stuck with a piece of old sheet. Wiping everything down this way got rid of dust and debris that would have been visible in the paint. Sometimes, I have to do this more than once.

To prevent rust from bleeding through the paint I planned on applying, I primed the surface. A small can of primer costs less than ten dollars. In this case, I already had some from a previous project, so it was free. Primer also helped the latex paint to adhere to the surface of the refrigerator.

I have learned to be cautious in my frugality. I hate cheap paint brushes, because they leave loose hairs behind, making it look like I painted with a dead animal. At the same time, I can’t quite afford really good brushes. Sometimes I buy mid-priced brushes. Most of the time, though, I buy disposable foam brushes. They are usually less than a dollar apiece, don’t shed any hair, leave a smooth coat of paint, and can be thrown away without concern if and when they no longer function—even if it’s because I forgot to clean them.

Although these are supposed to be used once and discarded, I have found ways to re-use them. They can be washed, but only a couple of times. After all, foam brushes basically consist of a piece of sponge glued to a plastic rectangle attached to the handle. Repeated washings make them come unglued.

More often than washing the disposable brushes, though, I simply preserve them. A brush that is rolled tightly in plastic will stay soft and useful. My sister puts brushes, still full of paint, into plastic bags, and sets them in her freezer. I had never heard of freezing used brushes, but I have rolled them in plastic for many years. I have done that with regular brushes, too, and it works unless I forget about them for a couple of weeks. Given enough time, brushes will still dry out and be ruined. When that happens with an expensive brush, you’re out of luck, with money wasted. When it happens with a foam brush, you can throw the brush away and get out another one. I keep a few on hand, for that reason, and for impromptu projects that come up. I used one with the primer, and then washed it out so I could also use it with the paint.


I have learned to research my projects. I really don’t just jump into things without thought. It just looks that way. In my young married days, I checked books out of the library, often going home with a large armload of books about a project I was interested in. I read books about raising animals, and building shelters, feeding equipment, and nests for those that needed them. It’s a good thing I did that research, because it never would have occurred to me that rabbits needed nests! Nowadays, I do a lot of research on the internet. This time, I searched for information on painting things to look like marble.

I had seen, many years ago, a technique for making small items like vases and plates look like marble. The process involved large tubs of water, and spray paint. You sprayed the paint, which was oil based, on the surface of the water, and then stirred it gently to create lines and swirls. Then you dipped things into the water, and the floating paint clung. I didn’t know how to dip a whole refrigerator, so I was hoping for some revised method.  Here is one I found and adapted to my own needs:

Marble painting projects usually use neutral colors, so I saw a lot of grays and beiges. I am a person, though, who loves color. White walls have never worked for me. In my world, purple is a neutral color.

First, I painted the entire refrigerator royal blue with a latex paint.

20170717_091423After it dried, I used a bath sponge to dab other shades over it. Because the room the fridge was going in was painted in pastel shades of blue and turquoise, I used those colors.

20170717_095211-COLLAGEWhile the paint was wet, I rubbed the sponge around in a wavy motion.

20170717_091732Then I chose where to put veins in the marble, and painted inch-wide lines of white paint to make those veins. I smudged them with a clean sponge.



I know marble doesn’t come in the bright blues I used. I also know refrigerators are not made of marble. When I was done with the paint, though, I was thrilled. It was beautiful!

As time passed, I learned from my mistakes. The paint on edges and corners wore off, revealing the white surface beneath. I could have avoided that by finishing up with a couple of coats of a clear acrylic varnish.


I don’t do things perfectly. I try, but nothing turns out as well as I would like. I learn from my mistakes. Still, the refrigerator is strikingly pretty, and it meets my needs. That’s all that matters in the long run.


Down the Drain


The other day, I replaced the bathroom faucet, because it was icky–a technical term well known to DIY people. It was cheap plastic, painted chrome-silver. It leaked, wobbled, and collected mildew around the base and handles. Icky.

Installing a new faucet is not complex, but it can be—well, painful. Really. Think about it: You have to lie on your back, with your arms extended upward, often using every ounce of strength your muscles possess, with the bottom edge of the cupboard cutting into your back like an instrument of torture designed by the Marquis de Sade, despite its innocent appearance. Before I even started I put a sofa cushion on the floor in front of the cupboard. If I’d been really conscientious, I would have put the cushion into a plastic garbage bag for protection. I also needed a blanket to raise the level and cover the edge of the cupboard. The Marquis may have been brilliant, but I can defeat him.20170626_112109

I couldn’t afford an expensive faucet, and I didn’t need anything fancy. At the same time, I knew from experience that cheap things either don’t function properly or fail prematurely, so I bought a nice, mid-priced faucet. Then I stared at it sitting in the corner for almost two months, while I tried to summon my courage. I had done this before, and I knew I was not going to enjoy the process.

Finally, I was ready. There were instructions with the faucet, but over the decades (I installed my first faucet before the rocks were hard) the instructions provided by faucet manufacturers have become generic and vague. They did not apply to my faucet, and they seemed to assume I was already a skilled plumber, so I didn’t really need instructions anyway. On-line videos weren’t specific either. I just had to find my way.

Removing the old faucet was my first worry. I’ve seen strong men struggle with this, sometimes forming complete sentences comprised only of swear words. If the water is hard, or if there are any leaks, a crust of minerals or rust can freeze nuts and bolts in place. Occasionally, people literally have to break a faucet free. I was lucky this time. Not only were the nuts undamaged, but there were shut-off valves under the sink. That meant I could turn the water off there rather than turning off the water to the whole house. Sometimes, something goes wrong, and if you aren’t able to finish the job right away, it’s best not to be completely without water. I feel so strongly about shut-off valves that if I ever have to work on a sink (or toilet) that doesn’t have them, the first thing I do is add them. One way or another, you have to shut off the flow of water to the faucet—but only after you mark the pipes. Most sinks now have flexible plastic water lines. Sometimes they come through a single hole in the wall, or one above the other, or they are otherwise confusing. I learned from hard experience to mark the pipes with red and blue tape or paint, to help me connect the pipes correctly. I got it wrong one time, and although I tried to live with backward faucets, it meant I turned the wrong faucet on everywhere else. I ended up re-doing the connection, which meant more work. I really don’t like doing more work. Or any work, to tell the truth.


Most of the instructions I have read say to finger tighten all of the nuts and bolts, but whoever put in the faucets I’ve worked on got them really tight. Most likely, a man did it, and men have stronger hands than I do. I had no hope of disconnecting the water lines without a wrench. An adjustable crescent wrench worked well. Pliers did not. There is such a thing as a sink wrench that is supposed to work well. It costs $15 or more. I have never felt like I could afford to buy one, because I always think I am never going to have to replace another faucet in my life. We are all entitled to our dreams.


The reason someone invented a sink wrench is that there is so little space to work under most sinks that you can’t move the wrench very much. I resorted to using it endwise, so the handle was pointing down. It wasn’t ideal, but I got a good grip that way, so I managed.

The supply lines and drain pipe had water in them, so I was glad I kept a pan nearby to catch it. I have gotten pretty wet working on plumbing, but I tried not to let it become a complete bath. The bath came later, and it was hot and clean.

Though “righty-tighty, lefty loosey” has always helped me turn nuts the right way, sometimes it was a little confusing to me. I don’t know why. It refers to movement at the top of the nut, but I have actually done better to remember that clockwise is tightening, and counter-clockwise is loosening. I disconnected the supply lines, chanting “counter clockwise to loosen” the whole time.

All of the other connectors for plastic pipes were plastic. There were wide plastic mounting nuts that held the faucet tightly in place. I had to remove those to get the faucet out. There were fins, and those helped. The drain pipe was in sections, connected with white plastic nuts, and translucent washers, in some cases. I paid attention, and even drew pictures, so I could put back what I took off. With everything disconnected, I just pulled the faucet out, and then I was ready to start installing the new one.

Because of the leaks, there was slimy stuff that needed cleaned off every surface, so I did that first. With the faucet set into its place I climbed back under the sink. I didn’t like all the effort of climbing under and getting out again, but I couldn’t do everything from underneath. The mounting nuts threaded right onto the bottom of the faucet handles. I tightened them as much as I could, and went back to tighten them more later—with my fingers.

Not everyone uses what we used to call Teflon tape—but they should. It’s called different things now, but I’ve made friends with the guys in the local hardware store, so when I ask for “that white plastic-y tape you use for plumbing” they know what I mean. If water will run through a pipe, I use the tape. It helps seal the connection. I have learned to cut ten or twelve inches off the roll (people with stronger hands just break it) and wrap it, nice and flat, over the threads, in the same direction as the nut will turn–clockwise. Then, when I thread the bolts on, the tape squishes into the grooves.


I had to make a trip to the hardware store, because the new drain assembly didn’t quite fit with the old one. I also had to cut a couple of inches off the new drain pipe. A small hack saw worked for that. I suggested using my chain saw but the hardware store guy said no.


Once everything was connected, I had to set up the pop-up drain plug. I thought it was pretty straightforward. There was a hangy-downy thing that had a tightener. I threaded a piece through that and tightened on it so it stayed. Then there was a rod that went into the drain pipe. Oh. It may not be as straightforward as I thought. I guess you had to be there.

I removed a threaded cap, put the rod through the cap so a little ball was on the inside, and threaded the cap onto the drain pipe—after applying the tape, of course. The rod slid through holes in the hangy downy thing. It’s supposed to stay there with only a little metal clip holding it, but I’ve never had a drain that didn’t repeatedly come undone there, even when a plumber installed it. I put duct tape on it to keep it in place, after I checked to make sure it worked.


After I had everything installed, I came to the moment of truth. I turned the water back on at the shut-off valves. At first, I only turned the valves partway on, but I noticed a tiny leak, so I turned them all the way on, and that stopped it. I have had times when the supply line connections were so bad water sprayed everywhere. This time, it didn’t. I did notice that the drain was leaking a bit. I put a pan under it for the moment. I put down a layer of paper towels, so any leaks would show. I’ve tried testing with my finger, but sometimes a cold pipe can feel wet. Other times I thought things were fine until I found a puddle—usually with a bare foot at 2:00 a.m. With paper towels even a single drip shows. I did have a slow drip from the hot water connection, but by that point I was so tired (and frankly, hurting so much) that I had to leave it. I waited a few days, then I went back. I often have to re-do parts of projects, and this was no exception. I disconnected the drain, put a small strip of plumbers putty—a gray clay-like substance that never gets hard—under the rim of the drain, and tightened it back down. Once reconnected, it was leak free. The hot water pipe was even simpler. Couch cushion in place, I climbed back under the sink, with an “oof” and an “ouch” and maybe a “dagnabbit” or two, and used my wrench to tighten the nut just a bit. You can over-tighten them, so I was cautious. A new layer of paper towel proved that nothing was leaking.


The faucet is shiny, clean, pretty, and functional. It doesn’t leak, even when the sink gets heavy use, like hair washing. My back hurts, and my elbows are sore, but it was so worth it. I go into the bathroom several times a day just to look at my beautiful new faucet. I think it’s important to pat ourselves on the back when we successfully complete a project. Of course, that hurts my shoulders, but it’s still worth it.


Bears, Bears, Bears!

I woke up this morning to the sound of bears. They were rummaging in things across the street, and being quite vocal about their activities. Although the presence of bears should not have been a surprise, the noise level was.

We were told when we moved here that bears were common. Keeping a strap on our garbage can was advised, and we saw straps and chains on garbage bins, even in the tiny downtown area. We were, after all, forewarned. In my year-and-a-half here, though, I had not seen a bear near our house. The only one I saw was a few miles away, by a major road. I had found a large mound of bear droppings about three feet away from the garage door, so I knew they were around. The droppings consisted primarily of completely undigested (and unripe) cranberries from nearby cranberry farms. I scooped it onto my garden, so I could brag that my tomatoes were delicious because they were grown in bear manure. It sounds so much more exotic than cow or sheep manure, and is much more available in this area than bat guano or elephant manure.


Other people in the area have been more fortunate than I have been so far–that is, if seeing a bear can be considered fortunate. On a fairly regular basis, the neighbor has found bags of household refuse scattered around his yard because he was not completely consistent in securing the lid. He often saw the bear at work, and stayed safely indoors until it left. My daughter and her husband had watched on more than one occasion, as the bear chewed on the garbage it stole from our neighbor. Our own garbage can was also a target, and we sometimes found the big black receptacle tipped over, but still fastened closed. We even found deep tooth marks on the edge of the hinged lid. Still, a cargo strap was effective, and the lid stayed firmly closed. It was actually because of the bears that I embarked on my ongoing fencing adventure—more on that another day.


It was also because of the bears–and my frustration at never seeing one for myself–that I began a shorter-term project.  If I couldn’t see a bear, I would just make one.  I had an old half-sheet of plywood that was warped and rotted around the edges, making it unsuitable for most projects.  This one, though, didn’t require sound wood or clean appearance.  I looked around online and found a simple outline of a bear.  After printing it onto graph paper, I drew a grid on the plywood and transferred the bear’s outline onto the plywood.  I didn’t have any fancy tools, but I got by with a plain old jig saw, though the size and curves made the project a bit difficult.  I strayed off the lines a few times, and had to take a number of rest breaks, but eventually I had a large cut-out of a bear.  After painting it black, with a little shading and a tan muzzle for realism, I propped it against a tree in the yard.  It didn’t scare the bears away, or even the neighbors, but I did see some of the very few vehicles on our road slow down and stare, and my son-in-law was startled by it regularly, even though he knew it was there.  I had a bear in the yard, even if I never seemed to see a real one.


Recently, the neighbors’ landlord decided to sell the house, so our kind and helpful (though extremely messy) neighbors had to move. They left behind a large pile of furniture, mattresses, equipment, and bags (and bags and bags and bags) of garbage. The soon-to-be new neighbors emptied the garage, workshop and add-on storage shed by piling all of those things outside and arranging for a giant dumpster to be delivered. I did worry a little about a bear being attracted to the piles if any food was included in the contents of the bags. Then again, I had never actually seen the bear myself. I would have wondered about its existence, and suspected urban legend, except I had seen the video my daughter and her husband had made, as well as several mounds of droppings.


This morning, though, I finally saw the bear. First I heard clattering, and then definite bear voices. They sounded just like the bears on television. I was a bit concerned about the bear, though. They had never been that vocal before, and in the half-light, I wasn’t sure what was happening. I could dimly see a bucket moving, and I worried that the bear had gotten its head stuck inside a food bucket of some kind. I was actually preparing to go outside to try to get a better—but not too close—look, so I could call the proper authorities if the bear was in trouble, when it moved into sight. Both of them did.

There are a lot of trees on our property, for which I give thanks daily. Between branches, old eyes, and the time, it was difficult to see clearly. The half-light of 4:30 am. makes accurate vision difficult even under the best of circumstances. Then, I saw a large black bear climbing over the pile, pawing at the black garbage bags. I had heard that the neighborhood bear was large, and the stories were true. It rooted around in the rubble for a few moments. Nearby, a very small bear rummaged hungrily. It was the smaller bear—the cub—that was making so much noise. Just as the nature shows depict, the cub squalled and squealed as it moved around.

As if she saw me watching and disapproved, the mother bear turned and hurried off toward the woods behind an abandoned house at the end of our little dead-end road. The cub soon followed, stopping only to climb a wooden fence. It fell after getting a couple of feet off the ground, and ran, defeated, after its mother.


The neighborhood grew quiet. The bears retreated into the trees and brush. Later that morning I told my daughter calmly, “I saw the bear! I saw the bear! I saw the bear!”

I have always enjoyed watching wildlife. In North Dakota, I often saw deer in my yard, and a flock of pheasants rose from my garden whenever I went through the gate. A dead skunk curled near the chicken coop confirmed my suspicion that skunks were living underneath, though they could not access the inside. I relished the bird tracks in the winter’s snow, and the tiny mouse tracks, with the line left by a trailing (and very cold) tail. I watched rabbits that ranged from small brown bunnies to large white jack rabbits. Now, in Washington, I see deer and raccoons in my yard. I watch for tracks, and saw a large bear track in the mud one day. This was my first time watching a bear, though, and as exciting as it was, I was happy to be watching from the safety of my upstairs window.



Life Is Better At The Beach

SAM_3953A few years ago, I found myself in a dark place. It wasn’t because I lived in North Dakota. As dark as the winters are, there are actually a great many sunny days, even in the winter. In fact, I loved North Dakota, with its big skies, 360 degree sunsets, and distinct seasons. I loved the friendly people, the low population, and the clean, clear air. The truth was, increasing health problems had left me ill and in pain. Although I was hoping to work until at least 65, I was facing the prospect of an early and unwilling retirement. After 15 years of college teaching, I was exhausted and lonely. As much as I loved teaching, and North Dakota, I suddenly found myself wanting to go home, to the Washington coast where I had grown up and raised my children. I wanted to be near my sister, especially after the sudden deaths of two of my brothers, and I wanted to be close to the ocean beaches, where I could wade in sea water, listen to the surf, and feel the sand between my toes. I wanted to dig clams, and buy seafood that had never been frozen. I wanted to hear the call of seagulls that ate fish, not garbage scraps–but I couldn’t. My income was very low, and I needed to work as long as possible, to save money for retirement. I was stuck.

Rather than letting myself be miserable, though, I decided to focus on on a positive future. I had seen a sign that gave me hope. I saw the same words on postcards, wall plaques, and pillows. It made me smile.

It was very blue, with sand and shells at the bottom, and lettering that said, “Life is better at the beach.” As soon as I saw it, my heart lifted. There was a price tag, though, for anything of decent size, so I knew I needed to make a sign of my own, out of scrap lumber and leftover paint, to hang on my wall and keep me going during the short, dark days of the North Dakota winter. The activity distracted me, and the price tag was agreeable.

I’m not a skilled woodworker. I did manage, though, to cut a few 1×4’s to the same length and nail them vertically to two short horizontal pieces of wood. I painted the major portion of the sign sky blue, and printed the words in white paint.

Lettering isn’t always as easy as it looks. To make it work for me, I have to do much more complex math than I am comfortable with. Like many signs, this one had words that carried over several lines. I have actually made a fair number of signs, over the years. Some have been gifts and some have been informational signs for church or community events. I’ve learned just a few tricks.

First, I decided how many words I wanted on each line, and whether I wanted them centered (yes, in this case) or lined up on the left margin. I counted the letters on each line, and added the spaces. Then I measured the width of the sign, and allowed an extra inch on each end. My measurements helped me decide how wide I could make each letter. For example, whenever I have a 16-inch wide sign, and seven letters on a line, I know I can take two inches for each letter, and still have an inch on either end of the line. I usually want all the letters the same size, so the amount of space available for each letter of the longest line sets the letter size for the entire sign. Of course, if I want the lines to be different sizes, as I did in this case, I can figure them out separately.

To center each line, I always start by marking a space in the center, and putting the middle letter of each line in it. Then I work my way out. I pencil in the letters, then paint them in with a small artist’s brush. I don’t fill the spaces completely, because I do want a slight space between letters.

Once I got the lettering done on this sign, I was ready for the fun part. I had drawn a line showing where to stop with the blue paint and start with the decorative beach scene at the bottom. I gave that bottom portion a generous coat of an expanding, permanent glue named after a large primate. Copyright laws are complex and difficult, so I err on the side of caution.

The glue is very strong, and turns into a vaguely sand-colored foamy substance as it dries. I had already chosen a long-necked clear glass bottle, and put a little sand and a few small shells in it. With a cork in the neck, it was ready for use. I set it on the fresh glue at bottom of the sign, at an angle not too far from horizontal. The glue was strong enough to hold the bottle in place easily. Around the bottle, the glue foamed and bubbled as it began to dry. It was still sticky, so I laid a number of small shells in it, and then sprinkled sand over the entire section. After a few hours, the glue had dried, so I could brush away the sand on top of the shells. The remaining space, where sand had adhered to the glue, created a realistic beach sand texture, so the sign gave the impression of a bottle lying in the sand beneath a sunny blue sky.

I hung the sign in my bedroom, where I saw it every morning and every evening. It was colorful enough to attract my eye. For the last year I taught, that sign kept my spirits up a little bit, and gave me hope that one day I would be able to return to the beach.

I did retire, albeit unwillingly, and within a few months I had sold my home and moved to a very small town on the Washington coast. The sign now hangs in a place of honor in the small house I bought. I had hoped to be able to live right on the beach, but those houses are quite expensive, and as frugal as I had been all those years, I just didn’t have enough money. Instead, I bought a lovely cabin in the woods, with trees and bushes on two sides, about a mile and a half from the beach. It’s a quiet neighborhood. At night, when the air is still, I can hear the sound of the surf. I tell people that I can’t see the beach from my house, but I can hear it. The sound is incredibly soothing, and the sound of wind in the trees is also very restful.

I live a quiet life, and do all the normal things. I go grocery shopping, plant flowers, and garden. I sew, and I build things. I keep very busy. On sunny days, though, or when clam digging is open, I go to the beach. I wade in tide pools, pick up shells, and wiggle my toes in the sand. Is life better at the beach? You bet your bottom sand dollars it is.IMG_20161004_080245300