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Category Archives: Room for Improvement

Only Took Nine Years

As of August, we have officially been the owners of this house for nine years.

For nine years, I’ve thought about hanging family photos. I have hung precisely none. Not only do I not take many pictures (and let’s not even talk about having photos done by a professional), but the commitment of how to frame them, and what size? Color or black and white? Ugh. Too many choices!

So, the kids came home from Grandma Camp this summer with the most adorable self-portraits on canvas. Oh my gosh — too much! They went straight up on the mantel. Then, I started thinking that it would be cute to have actual photos beside them. Fun, right? And don’t forget, I was still riding the high of hanging the kids’ other artwork. Things were happening! But here we go with the choices again. Never mind — I dove into the files online to peruse.

And that’s when I discovered that I’d lost several years worth of photos. Noooooo. I’d transferred them to an external hard drive, which appears to have somehow fried. I can’t even think about it without wanting to cry. My favorite picture of Joey on his 6th birthday, with a bottle of root beer in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other, and the happiest little face? Gone. Gone gone gone. OK, where was I? So looking for pictures, discovered many years missing, decide to print some of the remaining and give them a better life immediately.

Which brings us to today, when I framed them and hung them on the wall in less than half an hour:


I am too excited to have brought this idea to life! The photos of the kids captured them at about the same age; I think Bridget was almost four, and Joey may have been in Kindergarten. I had really cute ones of them at exactly the same age, which would have been perfect, but the photo size wasn’t good for printing on one of them or something like that. Whatever. We’re not going for perfect, here. If we were, I surely would not have hung these using push pins. Yes, push pins, and yes, there are about five holes behind each frame. Hey, this method was good enough for my apartment, and it’s good enough for this place. Also, I got the frames for $3.99 at Hobby Lobby, and just used pieces of scrapbook paper for the background. Totally easy and affordable.

[In case you’re wondering, Joey is wearing a hat in his painting…and a monocle. And is holding up a mustache on a stick. Why not?]

One Thing Leads to Another

Now, if you had a three hours all to yourself on a Saturday, what would you do?

Read a book?

Watch a movie?

Start a fun new project?

Me? I pulled a Frankie Heck and started taking care of random crazy home improvement projects. If you give a moose a muffin….


We were doing a family pick-up in the living room before the rest of the crew took off, and came across this fine piece of Joey’s artwork. There’s no way “Pig of Glory” (yes, that is the official name he was tagged with by the artist) was going in the trash, so I stashed it in the closet for later.


Then I realized that “The Winter’s Night” — from winter — was still sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to come back to it. Hmm. OK! No time like the present. I grabbed a couple of canvases and just wrapped the paper around the edges, tacking the sides down with electrical tape*. Quick and dirty, but thanks to a couple of push pins, they were up on the walls within the hour.

Next up: finally changing the lightbulbs in the chandeliers. The situation in the workroom was particularly bad, because it was hard to see, and kind of depressing. The ugly smoked glass domes were so dusty. Rather than try to dust them, I took them down to clean them. Two and a half hours later, I had to leave, and the globes were only half done. Look, though!

First, fine 70s glass. I really don’t know if they came this way, or if they were just coated in the thirty years of the original owner’s cigarette smoke.


Either way, kids, don’t smoke. Look at the next stage, after a soak in a vinegar bath and some time with the pot scraper:


Can you see why I couldn’t stop?! Wait — there’s more:


TA DA!! And you would not believe what a difference it made. This room is BRIGHT. I had no idea it was so bad!

Funny thing, though, rather than be sad that my peaceful hours were wasted on this kind of madness, I think this was the best Saturday in weeks. Now the only question is how else can I transform this house for zero dollars?


The Little Things: Bag Dispenser

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Years ago, I made a bag dispenser from a tutorial which utilized a dishtowel. It didn’t specify the longest of all dishtowels, but the one with the best graphics in my collection made for a dispenser the size of a windsock. It got knocked down constantly, my husband did not like it (which says something, because he rarely makes a comment on these kind of things), and it was just annoying. When the ribbon “hook” snapped, that was that. Sure, it could have been easily repaired, but why?

Well, mostly because the alternative — stuffing the loose plastic bags into any corner of the hanging over-the-door baskets — was doubly annoying. And messy.

The dandy little version you see in the picture was made using a pattern from Stitch magazine, earmarked long ago and finally made after the great magazine clean-out. It only took me an afternoon, and is perfect for the job. Of course, the dimensions veer from the original pattern, because I changed the way I put the patchwork together, which meant math was involved, which of course meant that the dimensions would change. C’est la vie.

Are there bags in it? Why, yes there are, so it all ends well!

Much Better

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As it turns out, there’s a certain amount of getting what you paid for when it comes to those cheap stacks of hand-towels on the end cap in Housewares. Eight years ago, when I was setting up housekeeping here, I grabbed a pack of white ones and figured they’d surely do the trick. Also, since they were white, they could easily be bleached and made good as new whenever I pleased.


They could become crummy almost immediately, and cause me to want to tell guests to our powder room, “No, really — the towel is clean! I just changed it today!”  For the next eight years.

Then I came across this genius idea, and new I had the answer to my problem. Actually, two problems, the other being what to do with the faded chenille-like Shabby Chic bath towel that was losing its chic and heading straight for shabby.


One short year later, I got down to it. Since it was a bath towel, rather than a beach towel, I was only able to get two generous hand towels out of it. The borders used up a piece of fabric that has been on my shelf FOREVER, just mocking me. You would laugh at the happiness these towels have brought me. Already, they have been completely streaked with markers [why won’t kids rinse their hands properly?!] — seemingly within hours of me hanging the first one — and came out of the wash pristine. They just feel so…fancy…compared to the old thin ones.

We’re nothing if not fancy.

Hibernation is Underrated

I know I said that things were going to be happening around here, but probably not before my long winter’s nap.


Oh, we’ve been to the library, and I’m ready to settle in for a nice long while. The Long Winter was yesterday’s treat; I finished it this morning. The rest are books that I’m “screening” for potential 2013 gifts. How can I make good recommendations if I haven’t read them? It’s my duty!

Actually, though, I sewed something yesterday (but there aren’t any pictures. It’s no big loss, trust me.) In the process of re-organizing the sewing area, I peeked into the bin that holds all of the clothes we’ve weeded out that may be good candidates for re-fashioning. In there was a skirt that I’d intended to cut down for Bridget last year, but never got around to it. Why must I make such a gigantic project out of every single thing? If it requires any sort of figuring, it just doesn’t get done quickly. Well, I yanked it out, measured the girl, and had a “new” skirt for her in less than an hour. There! A small but significant step in the right direction.

Moving Right Along


Oh, November — where have you gone? Thanksgiving already kind of seems like it was a long time ago (although the fact that we’ll be eating leftovers tonight should be enough to clue me in to the fact that it was only day before yesterday), and we’re heading straight into Christmas. Ho ho ho!

This morning, as promised, I dragged our family room tree down the stairs and set it up. It still sounds strange to me, this “setting up” of the Christmas tree. Not chopping it down? Or picking it out? Nope. Since we’re all allergic to pine, it just makes sense to go artificial, but…yeah. Sounds strange. And I do love my white tree. I say if you’re going to go fake, GO FAKE. Anyway, it took all of fifteen minutes to get it in place, and then I let the kids do the decorating. It only took me fifteen more minutes to sneak back in and move some of the ornaments around for a more balanced look. What is it about kids, that they beg and beg to help and then race through at top speed to get the job done? About 90% of the ball ornaments were hung in one section of the tree (of course), perched on the very tip of the branches. (So thankful for non-breakable ornaments!) But we had a good time, so it was a success.

In other news, the annual craft sale is behind us;  most of my Christmas sewing is complete, except for maybe two or three projects; and the majority of the shopping is DONE. Instead of going out shopping yesterday morning (or Thursday night), I shopped online. So much more fun! And a little bit dangerous, because every time I got a new sale email, I wanted to buy a little more…and a little more…ooh, and maybe one more thing. Whoa! Back away from the keyboard! After a break, I was feeling much less frenzied and so relieved to have made some serious progress.

Know what else? I didn’t even buy a bunch of stuff for myself, nor did I go to Joann’s for the flannel blowout bonanza sale. Every year, I say how much I hate it (because I do), and then every  year, I wake up at five and go anyway (because I love it! The flannel — not the wild-eyed, crazy shoppers or that horrible never-ending line.) Not this year. Nope. You see, this year, by the end of my 31 Day project, I didn’t have the house transformed and my life in order. I did, however, come away with a revelation: There’s just too much. The idea of a place for everything and everything in its place isn’t really enough. For me, everything has to be in its place, and that place can’t be in the third shoebox from the top in one of those cupboards. One of the reasons I can’t find things is that there are too many places for it to be stashed. Neater stacks are still stacks, and we are kind of drowning in them. So, one of my goals for the new year  — big surprise — is to create more space instead of a finding a better system. Therefore, it wouldn’t really be prudent to haul in a sweet load of $2.00 flannel when I currently have three shelves devoted to just that. Even if the prints were really cute. I wouldn’t know if they were cute, actually; haven’t even been by to check them out.

Things are happening, friends. Here’s hoping that we can all slow down just a little to really enjoy the spirit of the season. It’s going to speed by so quickly!

31 Days: Welcome to the 21st Century!

As much as I hate having to stay at home all morning when a technician is working in the house, it actually does me a lot of good. Yesterday was one such morning. In two hours, I:

  • finished and folded three loads of laundry
  • prepared (well, finished preparing) the next five weeks of materials for Children’s Church
  • cleaned the powder room
  • cut the invitations for our holiday boutique (which is only three weeks away — what?!)
  • washed the dishes

Lots of stuff! Oh, and played two hands of something which resembled War with my girl. Card games with pre-schoolers are highly improvisational, don’t ya know. While I did all that, the nice gentleman from ATT hooked our home up with UVerse, thus bringing us up to speed with the rest of the neighborhood. Yes, we now have a few — very few, according to the disappointed man of the house — new channels, but that is not the best part.

Want to see the best part?

That hot mess is no longer littering my kitchen!!! OH HAPPY DAY! And that is after I’d already removed the phone from the windowsill. Yes, there was previously a phone sitting on my windowsill. With a modem. And a power strip. Care to take a guess how many times I tripped over that nest of cords, and toppled the whole blasted arrangement? Or opened one of the drawers under the oven and accidentally unplugged the power strip? So many times, but no more, my friends! No more.

I can’t tell you how happy this one little change has made me.

Even better? With the new and improved lines, we can now use the phone and the internet at the same time. Sweet freedom! So long, Pioneer House — we’re taking this place into the future!
Or ten years ago. Whatever — we’re forging ahead!

What I Did In My Free Time

This year, both of the kiddos are old enough to attend my mom’s much anticipated annual event: Grandma Camp!

For five magical mornings, the two of them and their cousin spend the morning at Grandma’s house having all kinds of fun and lunch. Oh, how we all love Grandma Camp! (Actually, I half want to attend myself — they get to have so much fun!) That left me with a few precious hours to myself every day, which felt kind of like an embarrassment of riches.

Unfortunately, I don’t do all that well with blocks of free time. I’m prone to wander around kind of aimlessly, wondering what to do first. On top of that, I’m also tempted to cram in bunches of errands, since just about anything can be done more quickly and inexpensively without “helpers”. And — last but not least — what about just relaxing and reading a good book? That’s lots of fun, too, you know.

As luck would have it, it has poured down rain every day this week. That cut down on the errand running, that’s for sure. Since I made a commitment to try to clean up our work room this week, I made myself put down the book and get with it.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. As far back as I can remember, though, I have always allowed my workspaces to get super crowded. Everything gets spread out, and I end up trying to write or cut or cook in eight square inches of space; it’s ridiculous. Part of that has to do with my tendency to drop things wherever, and then simply leave them there until they’re needed again — obviously not best practices. Anyway, you can see why I haven’t been in much of a mood to sew, even when I did have a spare minute.

But now?

The only question is what to make first. So much better, right? Especially after I completely cleared the sewing table. Hey, take a look at the “before” shot again. See that tray of papers, to the left and behind the lamp? That’s on the sewing table. I had a tray of papers sitting at my elbow every time I sat down to sew. Hardly a model of efficiency for a left-handed person. See what I mean about crowding? You think I’d have moved it the first time or two that I sent it flying, but that would make too much sense. Besides, the where factor was kind of a problem. Get rid of enough stuff, and the “where” starts presenting itself!

Of course, I haven’t cleared out nearly enough stuff, but that’s a different matter. With this area, it’s definitely a process. We’re getting there, though!

The sheer number of unfinished projects is back to an overwhelming level, too. As I was clearing out bins and piles, though, I came across a couple of really small tasks. Why not just go ahead and finish them? Instead of transferring the sure-to-become-mangled fabric strips to yet another pile, why not just sit down for a few minutes and whip up a bracelet?

And — while I’m at it — how long is it really going to take to make facecloths out of the kids’ old flannel pjs?

Not that long. Certainly not long enough to warrant the six months of procrastination I’d already allowed.

Finally, the third and final apron may just be for me (and it’s a Christmas one, at that), but it’s taking up valuable real estate on the ironing board.

Aww yeahhh. See you in December, my friend.

It took me the majority of two mornings to get the room squared away, but it was totally worth it! Now, hopefully, I can find time to actually have some fun in here — I can’t wait!


[Actually, I did wait: I’ve managed to cram quite a few more things in here and there this week, but none of it was sewing-related. You’ll see.]


Starting Small. Really, Really Small.

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You know what? I’d probably get a lot more done if I spent less time stumbling across cool new-to-me blogs. Know what else? I can’t stop! There are so many inspiring people hiding in plain sight. Right now, one of the things that has me all twitchy is Jules’ William Morris Project. Oh boy! I wanna play!

I’ll tell you Secret #1: It took me a week to actually sit down and put pen to paper to make my list. Like it’s a binding contract? I don’t know — maybe I just didn’t want to come across one more “this time for sure” list two years from now. Well, I’m all about trying again, so The List was made and this girl is ready to tackle it!

But, one mustn’t rush, so I chose something super manageable (if somewhat embarrassing.)

It may sound strange, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time in my son’s room. Usually, I’m either there to wake up, tuck in, or put away laundry; there’s always a purpose. Truth be told, though, it doesn’t take long for the unusual to become very…not unusual? Not exactly normal, but nothing that would draw my attention, either.

All this to say: Yesterday, I decided to take matters in hand and box up The Boy’s Christmas decorations. Now, I know that I’d mentioned it to him several times since New Year’s Day, but never really cared enough to be the enforcer. Then, the other day, we had bedtime stories in his room instead of ours. Halfway through the first chapter, my eye came to rest on his Santa Snoopy lights strung across the wall. And — glance to the left — yep! There’s the tree on the desk.

Son! It’s really time to take down the lights and the tree.

Aww,  Momma — not yet!

But if not now, then when? So, without further ado, I [miracles of miracles!] remembered to stop in while he was in school and boxed it all up. That was yesterday; to my knowledge, he hasn’t even noticed. The rest of the room is slated for a little updating this summer, but I already feel better about the state of affairs around here.

We’re doing things!

KCWC: Day Three

The Dreaded Pajama Pants — done and done!

I still don’t know why I make such a big deal over making these. It might be because there are usually several pair lined up and ready to go, and cutting them all out takes up about all of the energy I’m willing to put into them. That having been said, banging out the actual pinning and sewing over the course of two hour-long sessions was the way to go! Once they were done (about half an hour into Day Three), I was able to start working on one of the two dresses left sitting in the basket. Turns out that the prep work that I did way back when really left something to be desired; I only cut out one of the main dress pieces. Of course, I didn’t discover this until I’d attached the sleeve pieces to the front…and didn’t find a back to attach them to in the next step. Yepper. Well, that explains why there was so much of that fabric leftover! So, I spent the last ten minutes of sewing time cutting out the back piece.

And then I got distracted by errands and re-organizing the kitchen on Day Four, but thought that I’d sneak in an hour of sewing in the evening.

Then The Girl got up from her nap with a roaring fever, so we got to go to take a field trip to the pediatrician instead. [It’s a virus — hooray? Well, could be worse!]

Hey, I can show you something else, though. There’s another thing spurring me along this year: I recently re-organized my fabric collection. By “recently”, I mean sometime in January. Anyway, thanks to this genius idea (which I found through the magic of Pinterest, naturally), I ran right out, bought a pack of comic book boards, and got to winding. So exciting! My shelves were going to look so good! And then…

… I ran out of boards, and had to go get some more. That was a little sobering.

After some [what felt like ruthless, but probably wasn’t] fabric purging, here’s a look at what’s left:

My, but isn’t flannel bulky?

And my, don’t I like blue?

That gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with here. My 2012 goal is to shrink the collection significantly, and so far great headway is being made! My little stack of empty boards is growing by the week. There’s still a lot of work to do, or else I’m determined to make another sweep next January — partly because I’d like to make better use of the space and partly because I’d like to buy more fabric.

There, I said it. There are beautiful collections coming out every day and I want more! But I’ve been showing great restraint. It’s hard to justify “needing” something with a cotton army staring you down from their perches.

Here’s wishing you a healthy and productive (or relaxing, if that’s your thing) weekend!